Getting Lost in Melbourne’s Laneways

As a loyal Sydneysider, it hurts me to admit this… but Melbourne really does have one up over Sydney when it comes to hipsters, hidden bars and high culture. We were in Melbourne for just a weekend, and I really wanted to explore the city’s famed  laneways. Australia’s second most populous city has a compact heart crisscrossed with pedestrianised, Victorian-era laneways, which were once used by service horse-and-carts.

Melbourne Laneway
Cafes line the laneway

Now, the filigree of paths host bars, pop-up restaurants, art installations, graffiti (last year City of Melbourne council workers removed a Banksy rat, parachuting into Hosier Lane), vintage clothes shops and record stores. Most big cities feel alien, and alienating, but Melbourne’s alleyways are intimate, the perfect maze to get lost in.

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Choose a cafe, al fresco, with close, cosy tables, and observe the ebb and flow of people that come and go through the labyrinth. Like the tides, the crowds swell, then peter out as the light shifts with the passing of the day. Join the river of pedestrians, be carried away.

Royal Arcade
Gracious arches of the Royal Arcade

Some of the laneways end abruptly; others deliver you to Victorian shopping arcades, like the Block Arcade, Cathedral Arcade, or Royal Arcade, where Gog and Magog stand watch over the browsing shoppers. Original features like stained glass, leadlights and intricate floor mosaics are the highlights here, as well as some high-end (and not so high-end) quality stores.

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Melb graffiti
Graffiti in Hosier Lane, Melbourne

I make my way to Hosier Lane, a riot of colours. Graffiti covers every conceivable square inch. It’s a public art gallery, where the displays come and go, often with political overtones. Mostly though, the street art is exuberant, beautiful, sometimes humourous. At the end of Hosier Lane is MoVida. Stop here. Eat some tapas, drink some sherry by the bar. There won’t be space in the restaurant, but you can still enjoy the atmosphere.

Pelligrini's Bar
Pelligrini’s Bar

Go to Pelligrini’s on Crossley Street, once known as Romeo Lane, an institution of black-and-white linoleum checked floors and red vinyl chairs. Sit at the bar and order a coffee, your second for the day. Enjoy the urban textures – brick and mortar, lead pipe, rivulets of water, garbage skips;  and the whimsical, curious names – Lush Lane, Exploration Lane, Pink Alley).

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Hosier Lane
Hosier Lane, Melbourne

As the light leaves, return to Crossley Street and make your way to Von Haus for dinner before legging it to Bennett Lane’s Jazz, housed in an old soup kitchen with blue walls. Emerge blinking from the rabbit warren, into the wideness of La Trobe Street.

Melbourne Laneway 2
Tides of people

Melbourne map

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  1. They’re great, aren’t they? And the maze has grown exponentially since I was last there 15 years ago. Sadly, I agree with you about Melbourne’s edge when it comes to the more sophisticated things like ‘culture’, and dining, and dancing, and street art … 🙂

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      I agree! Though Sydney wins on just natural beauty – the Harbour, the beaches. My bestie lives in Melb and she brought me to St Kilda’s…and I will admit I sniffed at the beach, then devoured an amazing brunch and unbelievable coffee. Each city has its own personality I think.

      1. Yes – such huge variations in all of our major cities. It’s sad we as Australians seem to crave the cities in other countries and don’t holiday at home more often. I suppose it has something to do with distance – and also, there was a time, not too long ago, when the cost of a flight to Melbourne, or Brisbane was almost as much as going to Bali or Thailand, so why would you?

  2. Heather says:

    I felt the same way when I visited Melbourne! I thought Melbourne had more funky/quirky little bars, eateries and arty attractions than Sydney…but in the end, I’d take Sydney’s stately beauty if I had to choose between the two!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      I would choose Sydney just because I love the beach…but Melbourne is a far cooler city, arts and culture wise! It’s kinda more like NYC whereas Sydney is a bit more LA? At least that is how I think of it.

      1. Heather says:

        Haha, I kind of felt like Sydney was more NYC and Melbourne was more Boston!

  3. drtrot says:

    I was in Australia for a few weeks last year and had quite a bad attitude about my experience until I read your post. The laneway cafes and restaurants and shops really were adorable and La Trobe Street is a gem! I totally enjoyed the graffiti that I’d find myself face to face with as I turned a corner or continued down a street. While Melbourne is not the most exotic or interesting place I’ve ever been, it absolutely did have unique charm all of its own that should be thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed. Thank you for helping me realize that with your post!

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