Melbourne’s busy streets can be overwhelming at times, but fortunately there is a solution: the laneways. One of the most endearing and unique of Melbourne’s features, the laneways are pedestrian alleys between the main streets, and harbour some of the city’s best bars, cafés, and restaurants.

From European-style lanes where tables spill onto the pavement, to narrow back alleys covered in graffitis with secret doorways, there are laneways for all tastes and times of day.

A good place to start your exploration of laneways is Degraves Street, right across from Flinders Station, Melbourne’s iconic and enormous yellow train station. Already busy at 11 AM, this wide lane is occupied by many Italian eateries and cafés with outdoor tables, giving it a very European feel. Stop here for a cappuccino and some good people watching.

People watching from a cafe on Degraves Street

People watching from a café on Degraves Street

As you continue walking north, you’ll come to narrow Centre Place, filled with tiny hole-in-the-wall cafés and restaurants and some street art. Next up is Centre Way, a rather dull looking indoor mall, mostly commercial except for a sushi place.

Centre Place

Centre Place at lunch time

Cross Collins Street, angling slightly to the left, and you’re in for a treat. The Block Arcade is an elegant 19th century indoor galleria with a beautiful mosaic floor, reminiscent of Milan, lined with fancy and quirky shops (Dr Seuss Gallery anyone?) It’s also home to Hopetoun Tea Rooms, an extremely popular tea house (you’ll understand why when you see the cakes in the window!) Before you enter the arcade, take a look at the ceiling inside the Crabtree & Evelyn shop on Collins Street.

Block Arcade

Block Arcade

The arcade is L-shaped, but if you continue straight ahead you’ll emerge in another fairly narrow outdoor alley covered with awnings called Block Place. If you’re feeling peckish, you could have a meat pie at Dinkum Pies Café, or another eatery here.

Block Place

Block Place – even more eating options!

Cross Little Collins Street and veer slightly to the right and you’ll see the Royal Arcade, another elegant indoor mall lined with interesting shops (a psychic store, a game store, and so on) as well as an overpriced macaron stand at its centre. Turn around and look up to see the Gog and Magog clock (characters from a Breton legend). From here you emerge onto the Bourke Street Mall, a mainstream shopping street with interesting facades.

Royal Arcade

Royal Arcade

If you feel like having dessert right about now, stop at Laurent, a French-style patisserie on The Causeway, which runs parallel to the Royal Arcade. If you’re looking for more restaurants with outdoor terraces, you’ll find them on Hardware Lane, a little further to the northwest.

Getting my cake and coffee at Laurent

Getting my cake and coffee at Laurent

Tired of all that elegance and looking for something a little more grungy and mysterious? Head east to Chinatown, on Little Bourke Street between Swanston and Exhibition Streets.

The hard-to-find Croft Alley (from Little Bourke Street you have to turn into Paynes Place first) is narrow and covered in graffiti and murals (referred to as “street art”). This is the kind of place where most people would hesitate to venture. After about 50 metres, the alley dead ends in front of a mysterious door, that of the Croft Institute, a bar which only opens at 5 PM. The ground floor is designed like an old school science lab with all manners of glassware, and the staff can custom-make your cocktail.

Croft Alley

Croft Alley

Market Lane, parallel to Croft Alley, stands in complete contrast, airy and full of exotic flavours with Chinese, German, and Japanese eateries.

Hosier Lane, running off Flinders Lane (just north of Flinders Street) has to be seen to be believed! Every centimetre of wall (on both sides) of this block-long lane is covered in street art. Tour groups and the occasional filming crew come through here, hinting at its popularity. Don’t forget to explore the C-shaped laneway running off Hosier where even the dumpsters are painted!

Street art gone crazy on Hosier Lane

Street art gone crazy on Hosier Lane

A quieter (but smaller) alley for street art is the ACDC Lane, a little to the East, which seems to double up as a smoking alley for nearby office workers.

Mural on ACDC Lane

Mural on ACDC Lane

If you feel like having a drink during the afternoon, stop by Russell Place for eclectic Bar Ampere, sitting on top of an aged electrical substation. Open from morning until 3 AM, they provide food and a large variety of drinks, including absinthes! At 4 PM the place was virtually empty and the bartender took me on a tour of the different lounges at the back.

Front room of Bar Ampere

Front room of Bar Ampere

If you’re interested in fashion, then Howey Place is your lane, featuring labels such as Oroton and Melko, while Scott Alley caters to a younger fashion crowd.

Howey Place

Howey Place

These are just a small sample of all the laneways in Melbourne. To find out more, drop by the tourist office on Federation Square and pick up the “Laneways” brochure, as well as “Arcades and Lanes” (#4 from the Melbourne Walks series).

Many of these laneways and arcades are also visited during the free walking tours that depart from the State Library of Victoria every day at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM, but be warned that these groups tend to be large and move very fast. Yet, if you only have a few hours to spare, it could be worth it.


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