If there’s one thing you have to check out in Melbourne, it’s the alleys.
I know, I know — it’s not the most popular advice for visiting a new city. More often, dark alleys are best avoided, right? Melbourne truly is an exception to this general rule of street smarts. Here, the laneways form the backbone of the city’s cultural heart and soul.
By day, al fresco diners spill into the narrow sidestreets; by night, some of the city’s coolest hidden bars open their doors in the dead-ends of alleyways. Melbourne’s laneways are home to some of the city’s highest-rated restaurants and popular intimate music venues. They even birthed one of Australia’s biggest indie music festivals, the eponymous St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. (It’s since outgrown its roots and spread across the country and beyond. After attending Singapore’s version twice, I’m willing to bet it’s one of Asia’s best music festivals! But hey, I digress…)
As much as I loved getting to know Melbourne’s foodie side when I lived there, the laneways’ eats and drinks aren’t even my favorite part. For me, hitting the laneways is all about checking out the city’s famous street art.
In fact, exploring the laneways downtown was one of the very first things I did when I moved to Melbourne last year. I went with a group of friends from my hostel, armed with a handy map drawn by a guy who worked there. Sadly, the map is long gone. Luckily for me, my friend Jake has a much better head for remembering directions than I ever will. And so, way back when, before I fled the cold of Melbourne for Broome’s tropical comforts, Jake and I spent a couple of afternoons hitting the CBD to revisit Melbourne’s most popular street art hotspots. If you’re new to Melbourne, these are the laneways you should hit first. For a map, scroll to the bottom of this post.
When it comes to street art, Hosier Lane is by far Melbourne’s most famous laneway. No trip to Melbourne is complete without a stop here. The best part? On Hosier Lane especially, the art is always changing. When I took my sister around Melbourne just last week, I didn’t recognize a lot of the pieces. Most of the art pictured here doesn’t even exist in the laneways anymore — so no worries, you’re not spoiling anything for yourself by scrolling on! Located just a couple of blocks from Federation Square, Hosier Lane is easy to find — an ideal starting point for your walk.
At the end of Hosier Lane, take a right onto Flinders Lane. ACDC Lane will be on your right after just a few blocks. Melbourne loves AC/DC; though the band originally hails from Sydney, playing at Melbourne’s Hard Rock Cafe was big in the development of the band’s early career. Not far from this laneway, which Melbourne’s City Council unanimously voted to rename in honor of the band back in 2004, AC/DC filmed its music video for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (if You Wanna Rock n’ Roll)” from the bed of a truck on Swanson Street. Today, ACDC Lane (the backslash had to be omitted per the city’s street-naming rules) is one of Melbourne’s best-known laneways.
Strachan Lane might not have as much to explore as either Hosier or ACDC, but it is home to one of the city’s most impressive pieces of street art. It’s hard to get a photo that does this one justice — it’s huge! — but it definitely ranks among my personal favorites in the city. To reach Strachan, take a right out of ACDC Lane and a left onto Exhibition Street. You’ll see this piece on your left.
From Strachan, continue down Exhibition Street and take a left onto Little Bourke Street to enter Chinatown. You’ll come across Croft Alley — one of Melbourne’s street art favorites — on your left. You’ll see some other standalone pieces walking through Chinatown as well. It’s worth mentioning that two of the city’s best hidden bars are around this area, too. You’ll find The Croft Institute (21 Croft Alley), a mad science lab-themed bar, tucked into the end of Croft Alley. Berlin Bar (2/16 Corrs Lane) is one of my Melbourne favorites — a bar inspired by Cold War Berlin and divided into Eastern and Western bloc-themed spaces — is located just down the street.
If you continue walking through Chinatown, you’ll find Tattersalls Lane on your right. I love this area’s street art, but the reason I love stopping here most is to grab a drink or two at Section 8, an art-filled container bar that might be my favorite of all the bars I’ve checked out in Melbourne’s CBD. It’s perfect for a sunny day in the city, a beautiful outdoor space with lots of local beer offerings and delicious sliders to snack on. If you’re going to stop anywhere on your walk, make it this bar.
Last but not least, head to Literature Lane. Named partly in honor of Melbourne’s status as one of the world’s first UNESCO Cities of Literature and located near the university RMIT, the narrow cobblestone streets around Literature Lane are some of my favorites in Melbourne. To get here, take a left onto Lonsdale from Tattersalls and then turn right onto Swanson Street. After a couple of blocks, turn left onto Little La Trobe. Literature Lane will be on your right.
Hungry after all that walking? After our exploring, Jake and I ended the day with dumplings — just one of the foodie scenes Melbourne is known for. When it comes to cheap dumplings, my Melbourne pick is Shanghai Street Dumplings (342 Little Bourke Street). You can easily loop back here via Elizabeth Street.
Notes for Visiting
While this walk is only just over two kilometers, I’d give yourself at least a couple of hours to enjoy the walk, linger in the laneways and take photos — and more, of course, if you plan on stopping for drinks! While we’re talking Melbourne laneways, Little Bourke Street and Hardware Lane are two of my favorites for exploring and eating.