Crisscrossing the CBD, Melbourne’s eclectic laneways and arcades reflect its fascinating heritage and creative character.
While the Victorian capital is renowned for its art, fashion, coffee and dining options, ‘doing the laneways’ is at the top of the must-do list for most visitors — perhaps because this hotchpotch of thoroughfares provides a unique snapshot of those very things for which the city is so famous.
If you’ve got the time and the shoe leather you can get out and explore more than forty hidden and not so hidden laneways and arcades around the city. If you’re looking for the best, don’t blink and miss any of these ten options.
Probably the most famous of Melbourne’s laneways, Degraves Street is a microcosm of colour, conversation and delicious aromas emanating from the cafes and restaurants that line the pavements between Flinders Lane and Flinders Street. It’s all very Paris-meets-Florence. Al-fresco dining is de rigueur and there are some really lovely little artisan shops to fossick in.
Cross Flinders Lane from Degraves and you’ll step into the grungy, cobblestoned Centre Place, where cafes and alternative fashion shops jostle for space along the crowded, narrow laneway. It’s quintessential Melbourne and definitely one of the most atmospheric and evocative laneways in the CBD. Stand at the top and breathe in deep to take in the authentic scent of the city.
Dial up the glamour and head over to the Block Arcade — a true Melbourne institution that is as historic as it is beautiful. Dating back to the 19thcentury, this stunning architectural gem gives more than a nod to the Victorian and French Renaissance styles, with its huge domed skylight and intricate mosaic tiled floors. Along with stylish boutiques and galleries, the Block is home to the famous Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Expect to queue for your tea and dainties.
The Royal Arcade precedes the Block historically by about twenty years. Connecting Bourke, Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets, it’s the country’s oldest surviving shopping arcade. The soaring ceilings and striking black and white tiled chessboard floors are the Royal’s defining features, and you can shop like a king, queen or mere pawn depending on your budget. Shops range from the posh to the penny-pinching. Say hi to Gog and Magog — the fearsome guardians of Gaunt’s Clock.
Hardware Lane could be considered less ‘lane’ and more ‘precinct’, with its proliferation of cafes and restaurants. It has a really relaxed vibe, particularly in summer, and if you can’t find something to suit your gastronomic requirements here, then you might need to start double-checking for a heartbeat. A huge variety of cuisines are represented and it’s one of the best places for settling in and doing some serious people-watching.
Tip: Brave the stairs and enjoying a quiet(ish) drink at the Campari House rooftop bar.
Running between Flinders Lane and Flinders Street, Hosier Lane offers an iconic Melbourne selfie opportunity. This living, breathing outdoor art gallery is one of the most colourful, vibrant and photographed spots in the city. It’s always buzzing with tourists admiring the ever-changing graffitied walls that lead the eye down the lane to the contemporary lines of ACMI in Federation Square. If you can get up early you might have it all to yourself, which is a magical experience.
It’s a long way to the top if you… well, you probably know the rest. Any Aussie worth their salt can sing along with the AC/DC anthem, but even if you’re not a fan of the band, you’ve really got to hand it to a city that names a lane after some head-banging rock gods. Look for Mike Makatron’s sculpture of Bon Scott bursting out of a brick wall.
Speaking of underground, Campbell Arcade is one of the more hidden ones, because it is, literally, underground. Serving as the underpass beneath busy Flinders Street from Flinders Street railway station, this kooky arcade has a 1950s retro feel that extends from its low-ceilinged, almost cloistering architecture, to its array of quirky, alternative shops. The bonus point is that you emerge from the underpass right onto Degraves Street.
Despite being a busy pedestrian thoroughfare between Collins and Little Collins Streets, Howey Place has a unique character that’s worth your while to pause and appreciate. The wide laneway features lovely Art Deco architecture and a glass and wrought iron ceiling, and is lined with boutiques selling a range of fashion, gifts, homewares and leather goods. One arm leads off to the stunning Art Deco Manchester Unity building (stop off at 1932 Café). The real surprise, though, is grungy Presgrave Place — just off the main lane. Here you can check out some very original street art and get a hole-in-the-wall coffee.
Tattersalls Lane is much-loved and frequented by locals for its selection of cosmopolitan cuisine, funky bars (Section 8 is housed in an old shipping container) and striking street art. Tattersalls links Lonsdale Street with Chinatown, and in the afternoon it’s usually packed to the rafters with the after-work crowd.
Do you have a suggestion to add to our list of ten of the best Melbourne laneways and arcades? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.