Having lived in Melbourne for most of my adult life, I didn’t think that a tour of the city’s laneways and arcades could teach me anything new. I mean, a tour is for tourists, right? Well almost immediately I realized there was a lot about my city that I didn’t know.
We met our guide, Sean, at Federation Square next to iconic Flinders Street Station. Despite the wet and wintry weather he assured us that most of our tour would be in the dry and that we would warm up with one of the city’s best hot chocolates half way through the morning.
As we strolled through Melbourne’s Victorian era laneways and arcades, Sean gave us a potted history of each one and its surrounding landmarks. Having made it rich during the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, Melbourne displayed its newfound wealth through the development of its grand civic buildings and sweeping avenues. However, it was the back streets and laneways that grew up in between the major thoroughfares that became the really interesting parts of the city to explore. And this still holds true today.
It is through the laneways that you get a real sense of Melbourne’s glorious past and its even more promising future. Boutiques displaying the latest trends from young independent designers rent spaces alongside galleries, specialty stores and chocolate shops in arcades that still feature their original Victorian fixtures and fittings. Hole-in-the-wall coffee shops jostle for space alongside an old barbers shop, a retro clothing outlet and a basement record store. Top street artists travel from all over the world purely to add their work to some of the city’s streets.
In many ways, Melbourne is now experiencing another golden age and the creative vitality that is seen flourishing in the city’s laneways is direct evidence of this. While you may stumble across Melbourne’s more obvious shopping arcades in your own exploration of the city, this tour encourages you to look beyond the window dressing and view your surrounds from an historical as well as a contemporary context.
And there are a few surprises too. The real delight of this tour is uncovering places you couldn’t hope to find without insider knowledge and there are plenty of fascinating shops, gorgeous old interiors and art spaces that just beg further exploration. After lunch and a glass of wine (included in the tour price), you’ll want to rediscover them for yourself too.