20 (almost) free things to do in Townsville

Whether you’re after an adventure, something tasty, or you just want to take advantage of the (average) 320 days of sunshine Townsville North Queensland is blessed with per year, one thing’s for sure: you don’t need a heavy cash flow here to have some fun!

From crystal creeks and drive-in movies to ghost tours and twilight sailing, here are 20 free and cheap things to do in Townsville for under $25.

1. A day at the Barracks

Jezzine Barracks

You don’t need to be a military buff to enjoy a day at the Jezzine Barracks (although if you are, you’ll definitely want to hit up the Army Museum while you’re there).

As part of a $40 million facelift, the parklands has been decked out with a scenic coastal boardwalk that winds it way from The Strand to Rowes Bay, an ethno-botanical trail, and over 30 specially commissioned art installations giving a nod to both the Aboriginal heritage and the role the site played for the Australian Army.

So pack a picnic and make a day out of this outdoor gallery.

COST: Free! Though donations at the museum are appreciated, so bring a gold coin. 

2. Secret street art trail

While Townsville is known for its laid-back take on city life, beneath the cruisey exterior you’ll be surprised to find there’s a vibrant street art scene giving those Melbourne laneways a run for their money.

Grab your camera and discover the best-kept secrets lurking in the alleys and warehouses of the CBD and outer suburbs.

COST: Nada.

3. To the Castle (Hill)

Caste Hill

Sadly, you won’t actually find a castle atop Castle Hill (ironic isn’t it), but you will be rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views of the city. So lace up those runners and get set to huff and puff all over this giant pink granite monolith as you explore its many walking tracks.

Would you rather bypass the whole exercise thing? Drive your car to the lookout to gawk at the scenery, which stretches all the way out to Magnetic Island.

COST: Zilch. If anything, you’ll gain from this activity because your bod is going to love you for it… unless you opt for the latter option, obviously.

4. Riverway

Riverway Lagoons

Whether you’re the next Libby Trickett or your spirit animal is the dugong, when the temperature is a risin’ there’s no better place to be than the Riverway lagoons.

Nestled under shady trees with the Ross River as your backdrop, the lagoons – which cover an area in size of more than three Olympic swimming pools – cater to lap enthusiasts (hit the upper lagoon) or aqua relaxation (the lower lagoon is your spot, complete with sandy banks and shaded timber decks for lounging).

When you’ve had enough water time, you can stroll the boardwalk and public art trail, grab a bite to eat at C Bar cafe, take a squiz in Pinnacles Gallery, or even catch a free flick (follow this link for more info on movie nights).

COST: Entry to the lagoon and parklands is free! Same goes for the gallery and many of their events and exhibitions.

5. Rise and shine, it’s market time

Townsville Markets

No weekend is complete without a trip to the markets. 

On Saturday mornings, the North Shore Markets have got you sorted with an abundance of fresh fruit and veg. If you want to treat yo’ self to something delicious or locally made, Cotters Markets and Willows Rotary Markets on Sundays have got everything from terrariums and handmade jewellery to Belgium crepes.

Not much of a morning person? From February to December each year, on the first Friday of the month, The Strand Night Markets light up the park with entertainment, live music, and stall upon stall of every market offering you could think of, and then some: think traditional Italian cannolis, essential oils, fairy floss sticks, vintage clothes, henna, and even home-made dog treats!

COST: Free entry = more spending money.

6. Tick off an Australian wonder

Wallaman Falls

Road trip two hours north-west of Townsville to come face-to-face with Australia’s highest permanent single drop waterfall.

Hidden in the rainforest-lined gullies of Girringin National Park, Wallaman Falls is a sight you sure don’t see every day. From the main lookout, watch as Stony Creek plunges 268 metres in a clear single-drop, often through a rainbow-fringed cloud of mist. #mothernaturerules

There are two walks you can take while there – the Banggurru and Djyinda tracks – but we highly recommend the latter, which will take you from the lookout right down to the base of the falls on a 3.2km round-trip. Just make sure you bring plenty of water and wear sturdy shoes (because thongs/pluggers/flip flops will not suffice).

*Note – While it’s not recommended you swim at the pools at the waterfall’s base (the rocks get super slippery), once you’ve returned to the lookout you can make your way back towards the campground on Wallaman Falls Road where there’s a refreshing swimming hole to cool off in.

COST: Only the fuel to get you there.

7. Palm city

Townsville Palmetum

The Strand ain’t the only palm-studded star near the city and isn’t the only thing to do in Townsville – say hello to the Palmetum Park, a whole 17-hectare botanic garden dedicated to one plant and one plant only… palm trees!

This tropical haven was designed to suit a variety of different palms originating from the dry tropics through to the wet tropical lowlands; it’s kind of like a recreated rainforest in the middle of the ‘burbs.

Start by doing the loop around the Savannah Zone and lagoon – stopping in to check out the cacti and succulent garden in the Xerophytic Zone – before exploring the rainforest section.

Don’t forget to bring insect repellent – this is the tropics after all!

COST: Free entry means you can save your pennies for a cuppa and some home-made cake at the Tumbetin Tea Rooms.

8. Mango madness

Frosty Mango

Whether you’re travelling between Townsville and Tropical North Queensland or you’re just salivating for a taste of their fresh, home-made creamy goodness, it’s a fact that the Frosty Mango is – or soon will be – everyone’s favourite pit stop.

On top of finding a BFG mango here (give the fella a cuddle while you’re there), you’ll be stoked to find ice-cream and sorbet flavours made from almost every fruit you could think: black sapote (also known as chocolate pudding fruit #saywhat), guava, coconut, lychee, mulberries, soursop, and of course mango, just to name a few!

COST: One scoop for $4.50, two scoops for $8, three for $9.50, and a five-flavour boat for $17.

9. Beach. Fish. Camp. Repeat.

Balgal Beach

If your idea of the perfect weekend involves catching your own dinner, waking up to the soothing sounds of the ocean lapping on the shore, and long walks on the beach, then a camping adventure at one of Townsville’s northern beaches is right up your alley.

You can call pitch up at Saunders, Balgal and Toomulla beaches for free, however there are maximum stay restrictions.

For more camping information check out the Townsville City Council website.

*While it’s not recommended to go swimming, there is a patrolled stinger enclosure at Balgal Beach during November to May.

COST: No fees, yippee!

10. Stalk the Strand

The Strand

It wouldn’t be a trip to Townsville if you didn’t make good use of The Strand, and the best way to take in this stunning foreshore is to get strolling.

Start at the marina and work your way up the Esplanade, stopping in to laze and graze along the parklands, making your inner-child squeal with delight under the dumping bucket at the water park, before reaching the patrolled beach and rock pools for some more water-time.

And the cherry on top to a perfect Strand day? A sweet serving from Juliette’s Gelateria.

COST: If you can hold back on the number of gelato scoops, you might be able to squeeze in a light lunch at one of the many cafes along the promenade.

11. Village escape

Paluma Range National Park

Had enough of the sand and salty seas? Day trip to the misty mountain village of Paluma, 1.5 hours north of Townsville, where freshwater creeks and Wet Tropics Heritage-listed rainforest walks await.

Start with the walking tracks around Paluma first, that way you can work up a bit of a sweat before cooling down at the crystal creeks on your way back down the range.

COST: Fuel plus any coffee and cake stops along the way.

12. Beer o’clock

Tasting Paddle at Townsville Brewery

Photo by @arii_1

Okay, so the clock atop the tower of this heritage landmark post-office-turned-Townsville Brewery doesn’t actually work, but hey, it’s the beer part that really counts.

You can’t get fresher than beer that’s brewed literally metres away from you, and while it’s tempting to order a pint of each to taste the lot – especially with that north Queensland heat – you’re probably (read: much) better off grabbing one of their tasting paddles where you can try seven of their home-grown beers plus a seasonal option.

COST: With paddles at $12 a pop, you’ve got some cash spare for a bowl of warm nuts.

13. Ahoy!

If you fancy life on the seas with Captain Jack Sparrow, a visit to the Museum of Tropical Queensland is a must.

The HMS Pandora is the star attraction and a permanent fixture of the Great Gallery, where visitors can explore the recreated bow of the ship and floor plan of the original layout, learning more about its history and unfortunate demise (after being sent from England to catch the infamous Bounty mutineers, the ship sank off the coast of Cape York in 1791 when it struck the Great Barrier Reef).

If the sailing life doesn’t intrigue, there are plenty of other exhibitions on display to check out, ranging from the reef and enchanted rainforests to creepy crawlies and giant reptiles who ruled our ancient lands.

COST: Adult admission is $15 for visitors, $7.50 for Townsville and Burdekin residents, and FREE for Charters Towers and Hinchinbrook residents.

14. Let’s taco about it

The Courtyard

Photo by @arii_1

Because this should not be kept on the down-low any longer.

Introducing Taco Tuesdays at The Courtyard in City Lane, where Mexican pulled-pork beauties are being dished out at a measly two freakin’ dollars! AND you get to eat them under the watchful eye of resident gnomes in their retro beer garden.

Could a Tuesday night get any better? We think not.

COST: With tacos cheaper than chips, you can go to town on these bad boys and still have some cash left over to try their Yankee Sundae (if you’ve left enough room).

15. Just beet it

The Beet Bar

Those of you already on the superfood bandwagon would be familiar with these acai gods in the ‘ville, but if you haven’t yet had the chance to visit The Beet Bar, we highly recommend you do.

This wholefoods kitchen and superfood bar on Flinders Street is a treat for the eyes and stomach with their organic bowls and smoothies. They not only taste delicious but are visually appetising as well, with colours ranging from pink dragonfruit and activated charcoal to acai and caramel chai.

COST: Let’s just say you could get a smoothie and a bowl and still have change leftover from $25.

16. Thriller nights

Charters Towers Tour

Swap your scary movie for the real deal on a ghostly night walk through Charters Towers.

From the resident ghosts who continue to haunt their places of work to bloodstained remnants marking the spot of cold-blooded shootings, learn about the town’s gruesome and spooky past on a 90-minute tour through the old city center.

Want to make the most out of a trip to Charters Towers? Check out this express guide with the top 10 things to do.

COST: Adult tickets are $16.50.

17. Fancy a cuppa?

Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms

Photo by @arii_1

If you’ve got a penchant for good tea and lazy mornings, then the Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms are about to become your weekend regular.

This beautiful heritage-listed property – a scenic 40-minute drive up the winding range – is really something special, and not just because it has a fairy garden: it’s the home of one of the few slab-sided inns left standing in Australia, the oldest building of its type in North Queensland. #history101

Order a pot with a round of scones and stuff your faces under the shady trees in the front garden or inside the original hand-adzed hardwood building, constructed in the 1800s. Spend some more time exploring the grounds and herb garden (keep some coins handy to make a wish at the wishing well), play a game of boules or chess, or take to the outback walking trail at the back of the property.

COST: It won’t be hard to fill up your tummies when all menu options are under 20 bucks.

18. Drive-in movies

You’ve probably got the gist by now that the Townsville region has a knack for doing things old-school. Well, that also applies to their movie-viewing habits, with the Tors Drive-In Cinema in Charters Towers one of the oldest and longest-running drive-in theatres in Queensland (they’ve been continually open since 1966!).

It’s definitely worth the 1.5hr drive to catch the latest blockbuster or classic films, especially since their prices have stood the test of time too (they are ridiculously cheap).

COST: Giving those city cinemas a run for their money, admission to Tors is just $8.50 for adults and $6 for children/students/pensioners. Expect the same reasonable prices for snacks and hot foods too, with everything from burgers, homemade choc tops, lolly bags and ham and cheese toasties costing you between $1.50 to $12.

19. Stop… coffee time!

Hoi Polloi Espresso Bar

If you’re passing through the CBD and notice the bright-coloured graffiti walls down Denham Lane, do yourself a favour and check them out, because you’ll find one of the coolest hole-in-the-wall coffee spots in town.

After opening in 2014 at the rear of the heritage-listed Agora House, the Hoi Polloi Espresso Bar quickly became the locals’ favourite with their quality coffee and an edgy, artsy vibe that’s unlike any other cafe in Townsville.

Get your Insta-snapping fingers ready when you hit them up between 7.15am – 1.00pm from Monday to Friday and 8am – 1pm on weekends.

COST: Unless you’re a caffeine addict, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

20. Learn to sail

If it’s a skipper’s life you’ve been yearning for, head down to the Townsville Yacht Club for their Wednesday Twilight Sails.

This weekly social event is perfect for anyone who has always wanted to try their hand at sailing but wasn’t sure how or where to start.

All you need to do is fill out a registration form on the day and hand it in by 5pm. Then, if there are sufficient spaces available, you will be assigned to one of their club member’s boats before setting sail in Cleveland Bay. (If you can’t get on a boat that night, don’t give up, keep trying!)

COST: To register will set you back only $10.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Townsville for under $25?

This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 27 March 2018.