When it comes to attractions in the Melbourne CBD, there's none quite as immersive as exploring Melbourne's laneways. Walking tours in Melbourne are a fantastic way of seeing the city and if you undertake a guided tour your visit to Melbourne's laneways will be steeped with history, fantastic architecture and you'll find out a few interesting facts even locals don't know about their own city.
The laneways of Melbourne are prolific... there's well over 700 of them and they all have their own unique charm. In addition to the laneways, Melbourne arcades display some of the best victorian era architecture and are a fantastic place to wander through and do a spot of shopping.
Wanting to get the most of our laneway experience, we joined one of the Melbourne Laneway Tours organised by Freedom Road Travel, and we weren't disappointed!
Melbourne laneway tours involve quite a bit of walking, so you'll want to be wearing comfy shoes. One of the best thing about walking tours in Melbourne, is that they pass by so many cafes and coffee spots. If you're in a group it can be hard to stop at will, so make sure you bring along a bottle of water and if it's sunny, a hat. You'll be out in the open quite a bit and the sun in Melbourne is quite strong.
When it comes to Melbourne day tours, there is a lot of choice. The best thing about Melbourne laneways and Melbourne arcades is that your initial tour will only last a few hours, so you'll still have a large portion of the day to explore at your own pace. None of the laneways of Melbourne or Melbourne arcades require an entry fee, so once you've discovered these gems, you're free to return and explore at your own pace as many times as you like!
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. Melbourne laneway tours are very popular and the laneways of Melbourne themselves are a huge drawcard to those visiting Melbourne. Many of the Melbourne laneways feature restaurants, cafe's, nightclubs and art installations so it's no wonder they are the playground of many locals, not too dissimilar to their predecessors! Pubs are one of the big attractions in the Melbourne CBD and of an evening laneways such as Hardware Lane come alive, with people sprawling into the lane, drink in hand, especially over the summer months.
When it comes to Melbourne tours, many people think about getting out of the city, when some of the attractions in the Melbourne CBD are well worth a look. Melbourne arcades are often walked through and considered a thoroughfare, however taking a Melbourne laneway tour really gets you stop, look up, look down and appreciate some of Melbourne's most beautiful architecture.
Linking Bourke and Collins streets, The Royal Arcade is one of the most beautiful Melbourne arcades. Featuring iron fretwork, glorious arched windows and detailled tiled floors, the transparent domed ceiling is glorious when lit up with the afternoon sun. Constructed in 1870, it is Melbourne's oldest standing arcade and also a fantastic place to shop and enjoy renaissance revival architecture. Keep your eyes peeled for the famous Gaunt's clock and statues Gog and Magog who've been keeping time since 1892.
Also of note is The Block Arcade. You'll want to look down and enjoy the detailled mosaic tilled flooring in this arcade. Based on Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele arcade, The Block arcade is one of the best examples of a 19th century shopping arcade in the world. If you are a lover of food, The Block Arcade is home to Haigh's Chocolates and the Hopetoun team rooms who are famous for their beautiful parlour and delicious cakes. The stone mounted glass canopy is simply spectacular and casts beautiful shadows throughout the arcade.
The laneways of Melbourne - Cobble stones and theatres
The laneways of Melbourne - Cobble Stones and theatres
Enjoying historic features of the Melbourne laneways such as the original bluestone cobble stones 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. Our guide'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 Melbourne 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.
Melbourne laneways - Ending the tour
Laneways of Melbourne - an essential Melbourne Day Tour
Whilst I am a local, and my husband has been living in Melbourne for around 5 years, we both got a lot out of exploring the Melbourne laneways. Undertaking a laneway tour, rather than just exploring by ourselves opened our eyes up to many sights that we'd previously just walked past and never noticed. Melbourne is a young city compared to many in the world, but it is one with a unique migrant history and such it's diversity is interesting to explore.
The laneways of Melbourne tell the story of the Melbourne gone and the Melbourne now. History is juxtaposed with modern day bars and street art. Small tours like those Freedom Road Travel offer allow you the freedom to stop and start as you please and spend more time in places of interest. They also tailor the tour based on your interests which was unique and made the tour very engaging. Whilst the free walking tours in Melbourne are great, you'd never get this level of flexibility and customisation.
Whilst there are many attractions in the Melbourne CBD vying for your attention, I believe you haven't really seen Melbourne like a local until you've properly explored it's laneways. If you're visiting Melbourne, or a local, exploring the laneways of Melbourne is a must do activity.
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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