Review: Melbourne laneway tour shares the inner city’s hidden secrets

Between the main thoroughfares of Melbourne's CBD, a network of lively laneways is home to an eclectic mix of food, fashion and quirky street art-scapes. Join this popular walking tour and you'll soon be navigating the lanes like a local. Review: Vanessa O'Hanlon

Melbourne laneway tour

Melbourne laneway tour: Degraves Street

5 stars

Melbourne laneway tour with Hidden Secrets Tours

This small group, award-winning Melbourne laneway tour reveals the exciting street art and cultural scene hidden in the inner city’s network of lanes and arcades. Discover local designers and specialty retailers, and sample some tasty treats. Duration: 3 hours (approx.)

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

This may sound a little cocky, but the pulse of Melbourne practically beats in my veins.

You’ll often find me decked out in my finest black street-wear, zigzagging along laneways, dodging espresso martini-wielding waiters and enjoying the heady aromas of various international cuisines. So when I was asked to review Hidden Secrets Tours’ Melbourne laneway tour, I couldn’t help but think I already had this city covered. I had a lot to learn!

On cue it starts drizzling. Luckily our guide Zoe, poised with a large yellow umbrella, is prepared for the ever-changing Melbourne weather. Zoe’s introduction at our meeting point in Federation Square reminds us of the controversy originally caused by the square’s architectural design; it’s now as synonymous with Melbourne as the laneways we’re about to explore.

Zoe has a unique way of transporting me back in time, to when Flinders Street Station was the hub of the city and The Block Arcade (constructed in 1892) was the spot where women and men would promenade for stature and prestige — and perhaps the excitement of riding Melbourne’s first escalator!

Melbourne laneway tour

Melbourne laneway tour: Block Arcade

From Flinders Street we head down into the grungy 1950s commuter underpass known as Campbell Arcade. I have always avoided these dark stairs, but they lead to the first of many surprises on this Melbourne laneway tour. The arcade features a cool art space, an eclectic mix of shops and an unassuming hole in the wall espresso bar named Cup of Truth. Disappointingly it’s closed on the weekend, but I’ve earmarked it for a weekday hit of caffeine-infused honesty very soon.

The air of creativity in the arcade wafts back up into the graffiti’d laneways off Flinders Street and along Degraves Street with its European vibe. The Saturday brunch crowd is huddled under outdoor heaters on the cobblestones, entertained by a cool duo of rockabilly buskers.

Melbourne laneway tour

Melbourne laneway tour: Centre Place

While doing this Melbourne laneway tour, I try and look up from time to time to admire what’s above street level. This presents the curious case of pairs of sneakers draped over street light poles. Zoe explains it with an urban myth about hospitality staff and ‘shoe-flinging’ following their final day of work at a local cafe or restaurant.

Time for a refreshment stop and while the rest of Melbourne feeds its coffee addiction, in this wintry backstreet setting I have a penchant for the warmth of hot chocolate. So at the top of the opulent Royal Arcade, within the decadent décor of Koko Black’s Bruges Room, I indulge in the creamiest Belgian hot chocolate possible, and a mouthwatering piece of Chai Tea chocolate.

Melbourne laneway tour

Melbourne laneway tour. Image: Adam Ford

With warm bellies our chatty group heads across Bourke Street and along Postal Lane. Here I think I may have just been introduced to Melbourne’s best-kept secret. Between the clinking of wine glasses and clattering of knives and forks coming from the blend of Italian and Vietnamese restaurants, a hidden stairwell leads straight down to a freshly cleaned bathroom!

We make our way on to Howey Place — a former arcade of bookshops. Its modern incarnation includes is a hook-shaped alley spur, which is lined with rubbish skips and crates. It’s an almost forgotten city nook — but look closely for an obscure art-scape: a brick wall covered in tiny photo frames — and a little further on, outside a bar and cafe, a 20 x 30 centimetre artwork enclosed behind glass. This is one laneway treasure I would never have found on my own!

Melbourne laneway tour

Melbourne laneway tour: Howey Place. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria

Zoe delights in pointing out underground movements, such as a store where emerging fashion designers can rent small retail spaces to showcase their work, a city composting venture that’s now 80% sustainable, and a project called Rooftop Honey — which is bringing bees back into the city. I can’t wait to taste their spring offering.

Melbourne’s laneway network is a treasure trove of hidden secrets, but it doesn’t give them up easily. Let those in the know be your guide.

Vanessa travelled as a guest of Hidden Secrets Tours.

Additional images: Bigstock


Vanessa O'Hanlon

About the writer

Vanessa O’Hanlon is an Australian television news presenter with the Nine Network and an avid traveller. Her travels began with a flight to Egypt, a visit to the pyramids and a camel ride and instantly she knew there was no turning back. Since then Vanessa’s backpack has seen a thing or two, from discovering relatively untouched Bhutan to bracing the cold winds on the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro. Her travel tales span nearly 50 countries. Combining a love of writing, photography and exploring the unknown, Vanessa is pleased to share her adventures with The Big Bus tour and travel guide readers.

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