Friday, 16 August 2019

Inside Guide to Melbourne (Part 1: Laneways)

A few years ago I write a "First-timer's Guide to Melbourne" for a company that sold downloadable city guides. It's since gone out of business, so here's my three-day guide for your free use and enjoyment...

As a freelance travel writer, I travel the world for a living – but I always look forward to returning to Melbourne. A great Victorian city propelled into grandeur by a mighty gold rush, Melbourne has been reinvented in the 21st century as a place powered by creativity, especially in its food and music scenes.

In this guide, I’m going to take you to my favourite places in Melbourne, from alleyway cafes to innovative restaurants, visiting some cool bars and atmospheric culture along the way.


Welcome to Melbourne

The first thing you need to know about Melbourne is this: it loves secrets. Bars hide down narrow alleyways, great cafes are located on quiet residential streets, and amazing street art pops up in the most unlikely places. Luckily, the locals are happy to share their discoveries with visitors, so don’t be afraid to ask for tips on places to visit.

Melbourne is not a city of spectacular individual sights or astonishing natural landscapes. Rather it’s a city of intriguing architecture, character-packed neighbourhoods and distinctive food. Take the time to soak up the city’s charms while sipping great coffee at an outdoor cafĂ©, browse its boutiques, or hang out in a bar or historic pub, and you’ll soon understand why people talk about Melbourne’s unique vibe.

Photo courtesy of Visit Victoria

Day 1 -  Explore the City within a City

Crepes, coffee, chocolate and alleyways

One of the most remarkable things about Melbourne is its network of 19th century alleyways, or laneways as the locals call them. Cross-crossing the downtown area at odd angles, twisting here and there, these old service lanes contrast with the broad main streets in their orderly grid, creating a fascinating “city within a city” which has been populated by funky cafes, shops and bars.

To start your exploration of the laneways, pull up a seat at one of the tiny tables at Aix Creperie in Centre Place. Order a sweet or savoury crepe and watch the flow of pedestrians pass the lively hole-in-the-wall cafes which line this pedestrian route, or spot the colourful street art on its walls.

Around the corner in Flinders Lane, Dukes is the place to stop for coffee – you’ll recognise it by the simple sign hanging out front, bearing only an image of a coffee cup. Cut back through Centre Place and the connected Centreway Arcade to Collins Street, still the gracious boulevard of upmarket boutiques and grand buildings it was in Victorian times.

Enter Block Arcade, a glamorous survivor of that era with its beautiful mosaic floors and high arched ceiling, and admire the posh shops as you pass through. One place that won’t break your budget here is Haigh’s, one of several excellent chocolatiers in the city centre.

If you fancy a snack, pick up one of their dark chocolate peppermint frogs and walk through adjoining Block Place, a bustling laneway packed with cafes, then across Little Collins Street into Royal Arcade. This grand shopping arcade is full of distinctive gifts and fashion, along with the best hot chocolate in Melbourne, served by Koko Black.

Turning right onto Bourke Street Mall, watch out for the trams trundling through this pedestrian route as you head east toward Swanston Street. Look up as you go, to spot several attractive art deco facades which are often overlooked by passers-by.

Thread right through Union Lane past colourful street art, then left along Little Collins Street until you reach the grand Melbourne Town Hall, an ornate building which was a product of the prosperous “Marvellous Melbourne” era of the late 19th century.

Here you’ll discover the City Gallery, a small, free space which hosts fascinating exhibitions connected with the city’s past. Check out the gallery, then sit on a bench near the flower stall outside and take a break while watching the passing parade on this lively thoroughfare.

Find it: 
Aix Creperie (24 Centre Pl)
Dukes Coffee Roasters (247 Flinders La, dukescoffee.com.au)
Haigh’s Chocolates (Block Arcade, 282 Collins St, haighs.com.au)
Koko Black (Royal Arcade, 335 Bourke St, kokoblack.com)
City Gallery (110 Swanston St, melbourne.vic.gov.au/citygallery)

Next week... Enter the dragon! (ie Melbourne's Chinatown)