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The Gold Coast is a stunning coastal region on the East Coast of Australia, just north of Brisbane. It’s one of the best places to visit for a family vacation because it’s packed full of things to do.
It’s often referred to as the Theme Park capital of Australia because of the many amusement parks, wildlife parks, zoos, and rollercoasters you will find there.
But what about us budget travelers? What if you don’t have money to splash out on theme parks and tours?
Don’t worry, because there are also many free (and cheap) things to do on the Gold Coast that are perfect for those traveling Australia on a shoestring.
If you’re looking for free Gold Coast attractions or cheap things to do, then keep reading for our top suggestions!
Best Free Things to Do on the Gold Coast
Below are some examples of fun free things to do on the Gold Coast for any type of traveler. Whether you’re traveling as a family with kids, or as a couple, or by yourself, you can enjoy these budget-friendly activities.
1. Cycle the Gold Coast Oceanway
We’ve done parts of The Gold Coast Oceanway, which is a network of pathways along the beaches of the coast which range up to 4 km long and are popular with cyclists and walkers.
But we’d love to cycle the full length, 36 kilometres in total from Point Danger Lighthouse (Coolangatta) in the south to the Gold Coast Seaway (The Spit) in the north.
This would make for a fantastic day out to get some exercise, fresh air, and take in the magnificent coastal views.
When you do it, be sure to pack your own lunch, bring plenty of water, your swimmers, and a camera. Stop off along the way at any of the beach towns for a dip and a cold drink.
2. Free Lorikeet Feeding at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
If you don’t want to pay the $49 admission price to see all the Aussie animals and the adventure side of the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, twice per day at 8am and 4pm you can feed the wild lorikeets for FREE!
Hundreds of rainbow lorikeets descend upon you from the surrounding trees to get a lick at the sweet honey nectar that you hold out in a bowl in your hands. They will climb up your arms, on your head, and just sit on your hands drinking.
We did this a few years ago and it is worth an hour’s visit to see these beautiful birds of Australia up close and personal.
3. Go Walking on the Coast OR in a National Park
Walking is free, good for you, and one of our favourite ways to explore a destination.
Get up at 6am for a Gold Coast walk and it feels like midday with everyone out walking or running. You can’t help but get caught up in the energy of the place.
But you don’t have to drag the kids out of bed at 6am, and it’s not just the coastal area that offers great walking opportunities, the hinterland and National Parks offer lovely walks too!
What’s on our list:
- Burleigh Heads National Park – grab a coffee from Nook Espresso then head to the point and catch the magnificent sunrise before doing the 2.5-kilometre coastal walk around the headland to Tallebudgera Creek. About halfway back you’ll come to Tumgun Lookout which offers awesome views over Palm Beach.
- Federation Walk – a 3.5-kilometre pedestrian walkway located at the northern end of the Gold Coast Oceanway on the Southport Spit.
- Springbrook National Park – the Purling Brook Falls walking track circuit, the Natural Bridge Rainforest Circuit, Canyon lookouts, and Twin Falls walk.
- Lamington National Park – has many fantastic walking trails from short walks to all-day hikes. O’Reilly’s Tree Top Walk is 180 metres in length and made up of 9 suspension bridges. Also, do the Booyang Boardwalk and Tooloona Creek circuit.
- Coolangatta to Point Dangar – a great little coastal walk via Greenmount and Rainbow Bay. I suggest saving it for late afternoon as the sunset views from Rainbow Bay looking over to Surfers Paradise are magical.
- Tamborine Mountain – is the third oldest National Park in the world with 12 walking tracks, each one is no longer than 3 kilometres.
- The Oceanway – instead of cycling walk one of the sections each day.
4. Hit the Gold Coast Beaches
Obvious I know, but is there a better free day out on the Gold Coast than hitting up one of the beaches along the 57 kilometres of pristine coastline?!
They don’t call it the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise for nothing! Not only famous for fun, the Goldy is renowned for its beaches which also happen to be home to some of the world’s most famous surf breaks.
But you don’t have to be a surfer or even a water baby to enjoy them, just soak up some sunshine, play on the sand and most of them have grasslands, playgrounds, and BBQ areas.
Our favourite family Gold Coast beaches are:
- Rainbow Bay – Queensland’s most southerly coastal town. Gentle rolling surf, safe swimming conditions, and year-round surf patrols make Rainbow Bay the perfect place for a relaxing family beach day. And home to “Snapper Rocks” which holds the annual Quiksilver Pro Surfing event.
- Coolangatta / Greenmount Beach – an 800 m long north-facing beach protected by the headland. Generally safe with usually low waves and two surf lifesaving clubs and lifeguard towers.
- Currumbin / Currumbin Creek – is a popular spot with families where you can enjoy a range of watersports including surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding.
- Tallebudgera Creek – on the southern side of Burleigh Heads National Park. No waves of course and a nice spot for a swim, stand-up paddle board, or kayak.
- Burleigh Heads – voted #1 by travelers on Trip Advisor and is one of the best swimming, body boarding, and surfing spots on the coast. The headland of Burleigh, known as “The Point”, is a favourite for weekend BBQs and sunset drinks. On a Sunday afternoon, local musicians and fire twirlers come out to the park beside the surf club for a jam session.
- Broadbeach – towards the northern end of the coast. The long, clean stretch of beach is bordered by large grasslands and a playground perfect for a picnic. Also home to weekend markets.
5. Shop at the Gold Coast Markets
Wherever we go we always try and hit up the local markets, and I’m amazed at the choice of markets open on the Gold Coast,
From fashion to farmer’s markets, to art & craft, to music to everything in between. Now that we are living here, it will take us some time to explore them all!
They are all free to attend and quite often there are lots of free samples on offer or bargains.
We especially love farmer’s markets for stocking up on supplies for self-catering when having picnics and BBQs, or when staying in apartments with kitchens.
As much as we love eating out, you can save a pretty penny preparing your own meals and it can be more relaxed with young kids.
Our favourite markets on the Gold Coast are:
- Burleigh Farmers Markets – Our local. Every Saturday at Burleigh Heads State School this gourmet food market offers stalls selling locally grown fruit and vegetables, bakery, meat, fish, deli items and live entertainment. It’s a great vibe!
- Miami Marketta – another locals favourite is Miami Marketta. It feels like we were back in Thailand as the market comes alive with street food, live music, boutique wines and craft beer. It’s open every Friday and Saturday.
- Miami Farmers Market – open every Sunday at the Miami State school. The area’s first truly Organic Growers Market straight from the farm.
- The Village Markets – it opens every 1st & 3rd Sunday at Burleigh Heads State School. The original boutique fashion and lifestyle market plus live local music and food from around the world thanks to the lineup of food trucks. They have awesome live music too!
- Marina Mirage Farmers Market – held every Saturday. Located at Seaworld Drive on the Broadwater Spit, Main Beach, opposite the Sheraton Mirage Resort.
- Carrara Markets – it has over 500 stalls and is a Gold Coast institution with locals and tourists looking for a bargain. It’s open every Saturday and Sunday.
- Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets – every Wednesday, Friday & Sunday night along the beach Esplanade at Surfers. It has over 100 stalls and would be especially nice on a warm evening.
- Famous Beachfront Markets – it opens each Sunday in a different beachside location from Broadbeach, to Coolangatta to Burleigh.
6. Hit the Playgrounds and Parks
If you’re looking for free things to do on the gold Coast with kids, then this is an obvious past time activity.
Having only lived on the Gold Coast for two months, we were constantly amazed at the quantity and quality of playgrounds and parks on offer.
At almost every beach, or green space, there is a playground with picnic benches and BBQ’s. The council does such a great job of providing and maintaining these facilities for everyone to enjoy, and usually right on the beach.
You can let the kids play on the equipment, kick a ball around, or just relax with a picnic or BBQ. And besides the cost of your BYO food and drink they’re all free!
Here are some great playgrounds to check out:
- Paradise Point Parklands, one of the most beautiful parks on the Goldy overlooking the broadwater.
- Justins Park in Burleigh Heads, right on the beach next to the surf club.
- Pat Fagan Park in Coolangatta, right on the beach with views all the way to Surfers Paradise.
- Mcintosh Island Park in the middle of Surfers Paradise.
- Laguna Park in Palm Beach, huge adventure playground with pirate ship.
- Kurrawa Pratten Park right in the heart of Broadbeach.
- Aquasplash, Australia’s first open water fun park, open Nov-Apr in Southport Broadwater Parklands.
- Broadwater Parklands, three kilometre stretch of parklands along the foreshore in Southport.
7. Experience the Gold Coast Festivals and Events
There are several free events and festivals held throughout the year on the Gold Coast celebrating music, art, sports, comedy, and our multicultural society.
We visited Blues on Broadbeach, which was cool and had a great atmosphere.
Here are some other great festivals and events Queensland has to offer:
- Blues on Broadbeach is held every year in May and is regarded as one of the world’s largest free festivals with multiple stages and shows spread over the four-day period. It brings together the best blues and soul music from all over the country, nurturing Australian talent, as well as providing a stage for international acts.
- Cooly Rocks On is Australia’s largest 50’s & 60’s Nostalgia Festival held annually in Coolangatta celebrating Classic Cars, Rock ‘N Roll, Dancing, Surfing, Nostalgia, and more! Cooly Rocks is a free event and open to all ages takes place in June.
- Swell Sculpture Festival at Currumbin Beach becomes home to dozens of sculptures by local, national, and international artists. Over a 10-day period in September visitors can experience the sculptures for free on twilight walks and even talks by some of the artists.
- The Quiksilver Pro Surfing Event is your chance to watch the world’s best male and female surfers battle it out at one of the world’s best surfing spots, Snapper Rocks at Rainbow Bay in February / March each year.
- For surfing enthusiasts, there’s also the Breaka Burleigh Pro Event in February.
- Bleach Festival is the Gold Coast’s largest arts and cultural Festival. It has over 50 events for all ages, over 17 days up and down the coast. It takes place in August.
- Broadbeach Jazz Festival is held every year in August and is another free event featuring entertainment on outdoor stages and in venues, along with an array of activities for people of all ages throughout Broadbeach.
- Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show – this 4 day event attracts boating enthusiasts from around the globe. The event takes place every year in May.
- Surfers Paradise Festival is one of the premier Gold Coast events and happens over the course of four weekends in November. It’s a celebration of art, culture, music, and food and includes street parades and parties, concerts, and a la carte in the park.
8. Go Whale Watching from the Headlands
Whale watching season typically runs from May to October when thousands of humpback whales migrate north from Antarctica, passing up and back down the coast.
You don’t need to fork out big bucks to get a glimpse, you can try your luck for free from one of the elevated headlands along the coast, or even from your skyrise apartment, as whales have a tendency to come in quite close to shore.
Some of the best naturally elevated viewpoints include Point Danger, Greenmount, Kirra Hill, Currumbin Rocks, Tumgun Lookout within Burleigh Heads National Park, North Burleigh/Miami headland.
Look out for the big spouts of mist that shoot up into the air. Bring a zoom lens and maybe some binoculars!
9. Watch The Sunrise & Sunset
How about starting off your day the best way possible, by watching the sunrise over the ocean. Throw in the surfers doing their thing on the morning swell and you can sit and be mesmerized.
Grab a smoothie or a coffee at one of the cafes and you’re ready for the day ahead.
My favourite place to watch the sunrise and sunset is from Burleigh Point, just follow the path up the hill from the surf club. Also, the Rainbow Bay Surf Club is a great spot for sunset drinks as you watch the sky light up in the distance behind the Surfers Paradise skyline.
10. Visit The Currumbin Rock Pools
This is on our must do list when the weather warms up again.
The Rock Pools are just a 15-minute drive from Currumbin Beach, and are a favourite spot with the locals, and sound like the perfect area for a family day out with picnic tables, BBQs, grassy river banks, and toilets at close hand.
There’s varying pool depths for everyone and rope swings, rock slides and ledges to jump off, and just another five minutes along Currumbin Creek Road is the Mount Cougal section of Springbrook National Park – looking forward to doing that 800 metre walking trail to cascading waterfalls, more rock pools and an historic bush sawmill.
Sounds like nature at its best and an one of the most unique free things to do on the Gold Coast
11. Head to The Gold Coast Lookouts
It’s not all just beaches and theme parks on the Gold Coast you know, the city is also famous for its glorious views as you’ve no doubt seen panorama shots on many postcards.
We’re planning to head to all the best Gold Coast lookouts and incorporate a picnic or BBQ into the experience.
The “Best of All’’ lookout at Mudgeeraba appears to be aptly named, and among the best lookouts. From Canyon Lookout in Springbrook National Park, they say you can see waterfalls and the main strip of the Gold Coast skyline off in the distance.
Mt Tamborine comes highly recommended, offering sweeping coastal views, and of course, the previously mentioned Tumgun Lookout within Burleigh Heads NP is a must.
We love the outdoors lifestyle on the Gold Coast, and how everyone is so active, it’s addictive.
Ok, you’re probably on holidays and not wanting to workout, but if you like keeping up your level of fitness up and down the coast there are exercise machines and equipment that are free for everyone, plus the aforementioned walking and cycle routes.
The City of Gold Coast created an Active & Healthy program to get residents and visitors up and working out, with several cheap classes on offer along the coast including circuits, boxing, core strengthening and stretching, and tai chi.
Caz has participated in the bootcamp in Burleigh class held twice per week, for $3 a class, what great value. There are classes suitable for all ages and fitness levels and you can check out the class options and times here.
13. Hit the Shopping Centres
Another popular thing to do on the Gold Coast for free is to wander around the shopping centres, which is a great way to pass the time and experience some cool air conditioning.
One of our favourite shopping centres in the Gold Coast is the Australia Fair Shopping Centre because of the array of shopping and restaurant choices.
While malls are free to visit, you will always find something to buy!
14. Picnic at the Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens
The Gold Coast Regional Botanic Gardens are a great free attraction on the Gold Coast and the perfect place for relaxation.
They are located just 10 minutes from Surfers Paradise and cover an area of 31 hectares.
There is so much to see and do at the botanic gardens, such as explore the Sensory Garden, walk through the mangroves or mountain walk, see the native Butterfly Garden and wander around the Rose Garden.
You can walk, cycle, or jog around the boardwalks next to the lake, take your kids to the children’s playground, and even take your pooch to an off-leash dog area.
The Gardens are open every day of the year from 5am to 7pm and are free to enter. Be sure to check out the what’s on calendar before visiting as there are often events held here throughout the year.
15. Visit Home of the Arts (HOTA)
For art lovers, a visit to Home of the Arts cannot be skipped. This cultural precinct spans for 17 hectres, and serves as a space for performing arts, entertainment, and culture to thrive.
There is an outdoor stage surrounded by lush, natural beauty. There’s also a cinema, art museum, and cafe.
It’s free to visit the precinct and HOTA Gallery, but events and shows are ticketed.
16. Dine at Dracula’s Cabaret Theatre and Restaurant (An Almost Free Thing to Do on the Gold Coast)
Now that we have shared the completely free things to do on the Gold Coast, let’s look at a cheap thing to do on the Gold Coast.
Dracula’s Cabaret theatre and restaurant is a place where you can watch a horror-themed show whilst stuffing your face with chocolate cake. This is perhaps one of the most unusual things to do on the Gold Coast!
The show is intended for audiences aged 15+ and is a comedy spectacle. With live cabaret with singing, dancing, burlesque, magic, juggling, and aerial performances…you’ll forget all about ordering your food!
Ways To Save Money on the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast is not known to be cheap, so here are a few ways to save money on the Gold Coast.
1. Get The Gold Coast Entertainment Book
We signed up for a membership of The Entertainment Book when we first arrived and have saved a few bucks on various activities.
It’s a way to get up to 50% off and 2-for-1 offers for many of the best restaurants, attractions, hotels, travel, sporting events, shopping and much more.
Once you purchase a membership, it’s a great way to help you save on activities. The Entertainment Book is now an app, which makes it even easier to use.
2. Book Flights to the Gold Coast Early
We’ve seen flights from Sydney to the Gold Coast for as little as $48, as long as you book in advance.
The key to finding cheap flights anywhere in the world is being flexible on your travel dates and the actual time of day you fly.
If you can avoid the peak holiday periods and travel in the shoulder-season you can save a pretty penny. And let’s face it, the weather is almost always favourable on the Gold Coast.
Keep your eyes on Jetstar’s Friday Fare Frenzy between 4-8pm on most Friday’s for your chance to snag a deal.
Relevant reading on finding cheap flights:
3. Get An Annual Theme Parks Pass
If you live local or visit the Gold Coast often enough and love getting your thrills at the theme parks, it makes sense to purchase an annual pass or holiday pass and get the best bang for your buck!
That way you can visit unlimited times and have flexibility on which days you visit, avoiding the large crowd days.
Before You Go
So there you have it, those are the best free things to do on the Gold Coast and as you can see, there is a lot of fun to be had without spending a lot of money.
I hope this guide helped you figure out what to do on the Gold Coast on a budget and gave you some inspiration.
Before you go, remember to book your accommodation in advance to get the best deal. The Gold Coast is a popular destination in Australia and so the best hotels book up early. Don’t leave it to the last minute if you want to save money!
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What tips do you have for free things to do on the Gold Coast? Please share your ideas in the comments!