Very rarely does a city’s list of must-see attractions include “the alley behind Chinatown”.
Or “the dead-end street covered in graffiti”.
But Melbourne isn’t your usual city and you aren’t looking for the usual destinations.
If your idea of travel involves “doing as the locals do”, then head to Melbourne’s laneways and arcades and learn to love the city from the inside out.
What Are Laneways and Arcades?
Melbourne’s laneways (small, tucked away alleys) and arcades (covered shopping plazas) boast a diverse array of hidden, locally owned cafés, boutiques, shops, restaurants and bars. This cosmopolitan heart of the city is the true definition of a “hidden gem”.
In fact, much of the magic of the city is found in Melbourne laneways and arcades. We’ve pointed out some highlights, but while you’re in Melbourne there’s nothing like a walking tour with a local guide to show you around and chat you up in person.
See Amazing Street Art
One of the first things you’ll notice in Melbourne’s laneways is the large amount of street art lining the walls. Not even the dumpsters and trash cans are immune to being beautified by local artists. Here are some of the best places to see colorful works in person.
You may not even notice the entrance to Hosier Lane tucked between a handful of non-descript offices and apartment buildings on the south-east end. But once you enter the innocuous alley, you’re confronted by walls of bright, colorful artwork.
Hardly a single square inch of brick or stone is left unpainted. Much of the art on Hosier Lane has been commissioned and permitted, but the rest exists in a legal grey-area. You may even see an artist at work adorning the wall with a new piece. Regardless, we think you’ll find it a beautiful place to begin your laneways and arcades tour.
AC/DC Lane / Duckboard Place
These two laneways circle around a cluster of restaurants and the infamous Cherry bar. The walls on Duckboard Place are covered in great art, but the standouts are the larger than life pieces that adorn the western and eastern corners.
Once you turn on to AC/DC lane, you can’t miss the mural of Angus Young from the Australian rock and roll band for which the lane was named.
This barely-there laneway is almost narrow enough to touch both sides with your arms outstretched. The wall to wall covering of paint makes this laneway one of the most covered in the city. At any time of day, you’re likely to encounter artists making their own mark.
Parts of the wall are covered in so much paint that you can press down with your fingertip without ever touching the brick behind it!
Shop Local Boutiques
Melbourne is a chic Aussie city. As such, they take their fashion and shopping very seriously. You’ll find some chain fashion brands, but Melbourne is best known for its boutiques and one-off shops.
Impressive arcades and tucked away lanes house some of Melbourne’s best boutiques to find unique clothing and other gifts. Check out local clothiers and artisan fashion shops to get decked out like a fashionable local.
This shopping plaza is aptly named for its architecture that looks like it was pulled straight from Victorian royalty. The building itself is a true Victorian antiquity. It was constructed in 1870 and stands to this day as the oldest shopping arcade in Melbourne. Shopping at the Royal Arcade feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
Natural daylight fills the inviting space from overhead skylights supported by intricate arch-work. At the Royal Arcade you’ll find everything from bespoke clothing and tailors, jewelers, game shops and more.
In the past, this thoroughfare laneway served as Melbourne’s textiles manufacturing center for more than 100 years. These days, Flinders Lane continues its fashion tradition as the home of some of Melbourne’s best fashion boutiques.
Nearly 20 one-off shops are clustered on Flinders between Russell St and Elizabeth St alone. You’re sure to pick up a fantastic find from a local clothier.
Take a quick turn on to this laneway for high fashion finds. Somerset Place is home to high-end menswear staple Comme des Garcons. Just a few doors down, Belmore Australia is a local bootmaker that specializes in timeless design and craftsmanship. It’s rare to find a local shoemaker, but Belmore’s entire manufacturing process is done right in Melbourne.
While you’re trawling the laneways for local art and goods, grab a pick me up from one of the local, independent coffee shops that line the streets. There are so many cafes in Melbourne that you’re never far from a great cup of coffee. After all, this is the city that lays claim to inventing the flat-white! The latte like beverage recently rose to international fame when Starbucks began offering it at it’s locations worldwide.
Cafe culture in Melbourne is world-renowned and each space offers a unique and distinct local experience.
These hidden laneway cafés are easily missed and they like it that way. When you happen upon a good one, you’ll feel like a true “in-the-know” local. Skip the Starbucks this time and try a local brew from one of these cafes:
Good 2 Go: Blink and you might miss this endearing hole-in-the-wall, surrounded by and covered in Hosier Lane’s swath of spray paint.
Krimper: Look up “rustic charm” in the dictionary and you’ll find Krimper. A café where the clientele is as hip as the decor
Manchester Press: A small door opens in to an airy space in this tucked-away café. Manchester Press focuses on coffee at its purest, with featured single origin blends and no frills.
Have a Drink and a Bite
Melbourne holds the distinction of having the highest concentration of restuarants and cafés per capita than anywhere in the world. The large, multi-cultural population is represented by more than 140 nations. This means that Melbourne’s food scene is eclectic, diverse and never dull. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it in Melbourne.
MoVida: A hip, Spanish-tapas bar just off Hosier Lane with a street-art covered façade – pure Melbourne.
Rice Paper Scissors: Other than the fact that we love the name of this Southeast Asian-fusion spot, the street-food inspired tasting menu is perfect for both a quick lunch or a date night.
ShanDong MaMa Mini: Located on the infamous Centre Place (one of the most photographed spots in Melbourne!), this dumpling bar is a Melbourne staple.
Lustre Bar: Right across from ShanDong MaMa mini on Centre Place, this chic cocktail bar is perfect for after-dinner drinks. The crimson, plush interior is like if David Lynch opened a cocktail bar. Upstairs location provides prime people watching to the street below.
Laneway Greens: A health-foodie’s paradise featuring salads, juices, smoothies, acai and grain bowls and more.
See Melbourne Laneways and Arcades
Want to learn more about Melbourne’s hidden gems? Let one of our Destination Specialists give you the low-down on more unique Melbourne finds. We’ll make you feel like a local and ensure you don’t miss out on any off-the-beaten-path sights.
Phone us Toll Free on 1-888-359-2877 (CT USA, M-F 8.30am – 5pm).
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Tags: ac/dc, arcades, australia, cafe, coffee, flinders, hosier lane, laneways, Melbourne, restaurants, shopping