Ask anybody why they love Melbourne and they will probably respond with “the laneways”. It is one of Melbourne’s most prominent features, something that sets it apart from any other Australien city. Why? Because the laneways are a clever re-invention of some of the grittiest parts of the city. A celebration of the underbelly, the dark corners, and the dump.
Yet, at the same time Melbourne’s laneways are not actively promoted in the city. I tried to find a starting point by looking at the official tourist map in Bourke Street Mall, and couldn’t find a single indicator on where to start.
It is true: Visiting Melbourne’s laneways requires some detective work. A set of open and curious eyes. A thirst for the unknown.
Once you have the hang of it, you will love the surprises that await you at every other corner. Approaching a new laneway you never know whether you will be greeted by the sight of overflowing dumpsters or a colourful display of street art. Or maybe both. You just never know what expect.
And this indeed is why people love Melbourne.
A self-guided walking tour full of surprises
Follow me on a tour around Melbourne’s laneways and arcades. It is not an exhaustive tour by any means but just the highlights of my own walk around the city a couple of days ago. There is a lot more to discover in this beautiful city, but since it is so hard to find a useful self-guided walking tour online, this shall serve as a starting point for your next Melbourne visit.
What you will encounter along the way is a curious mix of provocative and/or decorative street art, quaint cafés and restaurants, cool bars, grandeur and style as well as nods to some of the greatest Australian stars.
We start our walking tour of Melbourne’s laneways at the corner of Exhibition and Collins Streets. Just a couple of metres further, off Collins Street, you will come back a short laneway, Strachan Lane. The dark exterior walls of Harley House make a wonderful street art canvas which lets colours pop wonderfully. Check out the amazing artwork that is gracing the black walls of this otherwise rather insignificant laneway.
Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane
Just a couple of metres further, turn into Flinders Lane. Very soon you will come past Duckboard Place, a laneway that is plastered with music billboards and street art, promoting music events in the city.
Walk down that lane to the very end, and follow it around the block until you arrive back on Flinders Lane. This end part of the lane is the famous AC/DC lane, so called in honour of one of Australia’s most iconic rock bands. Check out the wonderful street sign with the addition of the thunderbolt.
The lane is located in Melbourne’s bar and nightlife precinct and has been unanimously renamed by Melbourne council in 2004. A laneway to heaven, indeed.
Continue on Flinders Lane until you will see world-famous Hosier Lane to your left. Hosier Lane is like the canvas of the city, if not of the whole nation. It is constantly being reinvented, an echo of political situations and events of national or worldwide significance.
Even if you have visited before, zeitgeist reinvents this laneway and the artwork is changing continuously, quite often provoking controversy and stirring political discussion. Check out the latest output by Melbourne’s street artists and pay close attention to expressed political opinions here.
Centre Place and Centreway Arcade
Continue on Flinders until you reach Centre Place. A laneway that connects Flinders and Collins Street and that has been the poster child of Melbourne’s tourism campaigns. You cannot get it much more “laneway”-y than this. If there is just one photo you would want to take of Melbourne’s laneways, take it here. This is one of the first laneways that Melbourne council revitalised into what it is today in the 1980s.
Centre Place is home to an array of busy bars and cafés, most notably Hell’s Kitchen, the Soup Place and Café Vicolino. It does make sense to time your walking tour so that you can show up here at lunchtime. Shopping is also big here, and of course there is also a lot of street art, in particular stencil graffiti to check out.
From here walk a couple of metres on Collins Street until you hit Elizabeth Street. Follow Elizabeth Street up north until the Block Arcade appears on your right hand side. This exquisite shopping mall is part of Melbourne’s Golden Mile heritage walk and a pleasure to look at. Walk through the arcade to end up at Block Place, a small lane lined with small cafés that are perfect for cosy breakfast and intimate lunches.
As you exit Block Place onto Little Collins Street, see if you can take a quick detour down Royal Arcade where you will find the funny seven-foot statues of Gog and Magog. Of course, the Arcade itself is also quite noteworthy with its beautiful glass roof and distinguished 1860s style. Not to be missed!
Dame Edna Place
Right next to Block Place and opposite the Royal Arcade check out Dame Edna Place. If you have never heard of Dame Edna before, she is an Australian institution. Actually a cross-dressed male comedian by the name of Barry Humphries, Dame Edna Everage has claimed worldwide fame for her pointy commentary of politics and the world of celebrity.
A breathing and walking satire of class snobbery, she is particular famous in the UK.
Notice the beautiful street sign and the star-studded floor.
Just a couple of steps further enjoy the brightly coloured Union Lane, which is a wonderful canvas for contemporary Melbournian street art. Take this street which connects to Bourke Street Mall and take in the various artworks on both sides of the lane, an open-air canvas spanning 550sqm in total.
Our last stop is where you should stop and rest with a cool drink. Tattersalls Lane is full of atmosphere, in particular at night.
Follow Swanston Street north until Little Bourke Street, and you are almost there. If you are visiting in summer, you just cannot miss Section 8 with its converted shipping container. The cool vibe certainly is infectious.
Or maybe you would want to dig in some ethnic food – you are in the middle of Chinatown after all. Although not Asian, we can recommend Mexican bar and restaurant Touché Hombre (although cocktails are small and pricey).
There is, of course, so much more to see and to do in Melbourne. Which laneway or arcade is your favourite?
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