When it comes to finding a tour, whether that be in your own city or afar, there are a few ways you can go about it. In the past I've searched online myself and booked a tour 'hoping' that it would be good and cover everything that I wanted to see and experience.
Whilst I've often had great experiences, I've also been let down by companies like Expedia, particularly the time in Gibraltar, where my tour was cancelled at 9pm the night prior and it cost me hundreds of Euros to rearrange a private tour so I wouldn't miss out.
Aside from the extreme, sometimes I've found the tours a little underwhelming and with little recourse other than leaving a negative comment online, it left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
That being said, when it came to undertaking a laneway tour of the Melbourne CBD, I decided to leave it to the experts. With access to hundreds of top level tours available around the world, I knew that I would be in good hands when Freedom Road Travel took care of our booking. Unlike the impersonal service you get online, the experienced consultant at Freedom Road Travel arranged a luxury tour with tour provider Abercrombie and Kent that managed to teach a local Melbournian quite a bit more about her home town.
About the lanes
After the chaos that ensued from building Sydney as expansion required, early town planners decided to build the Melbourne CBD using a grid system. With the larger roads like Collins and Bourke St functioning as main roads for shopping and business and the smaller roads like Little Collins and Little Bourke for housing, warehouses and smaller businesses. In addition to the main and smaller roads, a large network (around 700 hundred) laneways were established as a means to get between the main roads and to service businesses.
It is said that 'business' was conducted in the main roads, 'leisure' in the smaller roads and 'pleasure' in the laneways. Now used for a variety of purposes and featuring a variety of architectural styles, both original and new, the laneways are a huge drawcard to those visiting Melbourne and the playground of many locals, not too dissimilar to their predecessors! Hosting funky bars and unique street art, the lanes can be enjoyed during both day and night, and with over 700 to explore, they'll certainly keep you busy!
Exploring the lanes
Enjoying historic features such as the original bluestone cobble stones in the laneways and the heightened walls of 'secret mens clubs' (raised when the women's club was built on the opposite side of the lane!) we continued up the hill until we reached the Old Treasury Building, which stands grandly on the hill. Margot's keen eyes pointed us to the two slits in the masonry which were installed for the use of snipers should the building ever came under attack.
After strolling past the Princess Theatre and it's friendly ghost Federici, for whom its bar is named, we headed down into China Town. An iconic part of Melbourne, China Town is distinguished by its brightly coloured oriental arches and the sheer variety of asian food and shopping available. Featuring top restaurants like the Flower Drum, it is a hub for people who love Chinese food. This is one part of the laneways that was quite familiar to me, but even I managed to learn something new. Tucked in behind the new shops and facades you can see taller brick buildings that still have the high doors and pulleys in place from their time as merchant warehouses. Whilst this isn't so common in the CBD anymore, these relics of a time gone by really help you to picture what Melbourne would have been like 100 or more years ago.
The round up
Both the booking and tour ran very smoothly. We were impressed with the service that we received throughout and particularly that our guide Margot had so many interesting facts and stories to passionately share with us. She was also very flexible making sure that we visited places of interest to us as well as 'must see' locations.
The tour was a great combination of the old and new and is suitable for locals and tourists alike. Being an experiental travel agent, means that Freedom Road Travel offer tours that involve the guest in the experience and we can attest to that! Quite tired after reaching home, we realised that we'd walked for around 2 hours and clocked up around 10km. We were so engrossed in our tour that we didn't even realise it at the time!
We highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Melbourne and we would definitely book with Freedom Road Travel again as we were so pleased with their service and the style of tours they offer.
Whilst were guests of Freedom Road Travel, all opinions are our own. If you are looking to do a laneways tour, we highly recommend doing it with a guide - particularly Margot if they can arrange it for you!
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