Whoever came up with the concept of turning grotty alleyways full of rubbish into hip, slick hubs deserves a massive pat on the back! It may sound grungy and even a little gross, but Melbourne does laneways brilliantly.
In fact, its laneways not only attract millions of tourists each year but are also cool enough to be a regular hangout for locals. They are packed full of cafes, boutiques, specialty shops and art stores.
So where do you go to experience the best of the bunch?
Flinders Street Station
One of the most popular lanes, Degraves Street, is just across the road from the massive Flinders Street Station train hub, so it’s a great place to start. You’ll lose time perusing the eclectic range of homewares and local produce at Clementine’s, where you’re bound to find a perfect gift for someone from home. It’s then a matter of choosing between the delicious aromas coming from the many alfresco cafes, for breakfast or just a caffeine hit.
Keep walking and you’ll find yourself in Centre Place and Centre Way, which are packed full of weird and wacky specialty stores and teeming with cafes. As you’re traveling through the laneways and arcades be sure to distract yourself from the allure of the storefronts to look up and check out the historic buildings in all their glory.
From Flinders Station, head over Collins Street and enter the Block Arcade, where it’s time to look down as your heels clip-clop along the 19th-century mosaic floor. If your exploring has made room from breakfast for a morning treat, now is the time to settle down for a cuppa and cake at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms. There is often a line-up so if your heart is set on experiencing high tea in all its glory, booking ahead here is a must.
From one historical building to another, you’ll next cross Little Collins Street to enter the oldest shopping arcade in Australia. Royal Arcade on Bourke Street was built in 1869 and although it has enjoyed stunning restorations, it still offers some old world charm.
Depending on your timeframe, you can either turn right and check out the Bourke Street Mall and head back towards Flinders Street or continue north through the laneways. By shooting up Elizabeth Street and left at Little Bourke Street, you’ll find your way to Niagara Lane. It’s home to a bunch of old warehouses (1880s) that make for fun exploring, with great spots to refuel, like the Sun Moth Canteen and Bar. There are also loads of great little lanes, nooks, and crannies to wander through from Bourke Street; the Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie is perfect for a sweet pit-stop.
Turning left on Lonsdale Street and another left brings you to Hardware Lane. Hubbies and boyfriends may get excited thinking they come across a Bunnings or Mitre 10, but will instead find another restaurant hub. Golden Monkey is a place you’ll want to take note of and come back for dinner. It only opens from the late afternoon, but is worth the return trip. The delicious Asian cuisine, antique furniture, lanterns and music are bound to transport you to a 1920s Shanghai opium den.
Little Collins Street to Federation Square
Now it’s time to head back towards Federation Square. You can zip through the Galleria Plaza and east along Little Collins Street, poking your head into alleys such as Dame Edna Place for a photo opportunity and peek at some terrific street art.
You’ll then find yourself at Howey Place, a laneway offering up such labels as Alannah Hill, Oroton, FCUK and more. This connects to the Capitol Arcade, home to the historic Capitol Theatre, a single screen cinema that was opened in 1924. Stepping out on to Swanston Street you’ll spy the imposing Melbourne Town Hall.
Turning into Collins Street you’ll come across Manchester Lane and into Flinders Lane, which boasts fashion stores offering the latest trends as well as a host of galleries and bars. It’s a perfect place to finish your tour, with an afternoon drop at Young & Jackson’s (, which lays claim to being “Australia’s most Iconic Hotel”. If you’re an art enthusiast you’ll want to check out Chloe’s Bar on the first floor. The famous Chloe nude portrait has hung on the walls of the hotel since 1909.
If you want your fix of Street Art, find your way to Hosier Lane, Union Lane, Croft Alley and Caledonian Lane. Even if it’s not your first trip to Melbourne, it’s worth popping your head into these alleys to see the ever-evolving art works. This is something easily done by yourself, but for a real appreciation of what goes into the stunning works, check out a tour.
When night falls…
Melbourne laneways transform for the evening shift!
Come nightfall, if you’re not completely exhausted from walking all through the city and you still have energy to burn, make your way to Meyers Place (sandwiched between Little Collins and Bourke Streets at the Parliament House end).
You can choose from restaurants offering terrific cuisine including Italian, Mexican, South American and more. Or, venture through Chinatown (Little Bourke Street) for a ridiculously good choice of all things Asian.
By the time you fall into bed you’ll really feel like you have experienced the best Melbourne city has to offer and have plenty of stories and goodies to share with your friends!
Seeing the Sights From a Street Artist’s View
Exploring Melbourne’s laneways and nooks on your own is completely achievable, but if you want to be lead to the best-kept secrets but those well and truly in the know, consider booking in with Melbourne Street Tours. The business is far from your ordinary tour co, as it’s actually run by street artists who are passionate about their craft and can tell you all about the story behind the work. You even get treated to a tour of Blender Studios, where you can see artists at work and get treated to some food and beverage.