The laneways of Melbourne are a wondrous thing. Embark on a trip into the colourful and bustling CBD of Melbourne, and wander amongst the tall skyscrapers anonymous in the crowds. Look up to the twinkling glass of the swish offices high above your head, look across the road to the heritage facades of the buildings, and keep your eyes peeled for the plethora of colourful street art that adorns Melbourne’s laneways. When immersed in the CBD, the city’s secrets reside in the laneways, off the beaten track, and if you don’t take a wander down these darkened alleys then you’ll be missing out on a treat.
Now join me and take a look into some of the top things to experience in Melbourne’s laneways and be sure to scout the city for your own secret findings – I’m confident I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Exploring the laneways of Melbourne
Where to stay – Adelphi Hotel
Whilst the inner suburbs of Melbourne harbour some great hostels and an abundance of Airbnb’s, when exploring the city centre you should stay right in the thick of it. A few generic, corporate hotels are available with their characterless decor, but the Adelphi Hotel is one design hotel you should rest up in.
The subtle doorway on Flinders Lane is only a 2 minute walk to Federation Square, a cultural hub and free wifi zone for all visitors, and a 4 minute walk to Flinders Street Station, a well-connected train station that can whisk you all over Melbourne and beyond. Oh so central and smack bang in the middle of all the fun, The Adelphi makes a great choice for a hideaway when you’re exhausted from exploring.
This design hotel was created by the famed Melbourne-based architects, Denton Corker Marshall, who integrated slick touches to every space. From the tall and proud horse in the reception made from intricately bent wire, to the perfect colour palette in the rooms of powder pink armchairs holding printed cushions that match the rugs – every touch has been thought about. The Adelphi Hotel is a boutique hotel that doesn’t intimidate or make you feel uncomfortable as everything is functional and generous – I definitely dug into the free sweets basket and free mini bar (alas, soft drinks only) after my complimentary glass of bubbly on arrival.
But the crowning glory of this hotel that has been so carefully slotted into its narrow space in the laneway, is the rooftop pool. From pavement level, cast your eye up to the overhang of the pool which shows a slither of the glass-wrapped water. Up on the very top floor, jump into the cool water and look up to the surrounding skyscrapers that tower above. The rooftop pool makes for a welcomed relief on those sporadic 40 degree Melbourne days that can pop out of nowhere and be sure to catch dawn up there as the pool opens at 6am.
The Adelphi is just a short walk from all the fun in the CBD, but when you’re exhausted, a cool swim in the pool, a delicious world-class dessert ordered from room service and a solid nights sleep in complete silence from the surrounding city noise is just what the doctor ordered.
What to see – The laneway art
When you’re doing some shopping in the city, be sure to peer down the laneways to see what the local artists have been up to. In the light of day, roam the streets and see the recent graffiti art for some real, eye-opening street art. Melbourne sure does graffiti well and is known for top artists applying their skills to the walls to leave their mark. The quality is world renowned so be sure to wander the CBD with a charged camera in hand to capture all the good stuff.
Hoosier Lane, near Federation Square, contains a colourful array of art that leaves no piece of wall bare. Designs are splashed far and wide, climbing up on the building facades high above your head and onto the dumpsters lining the walls. And do check out the legendary restaurant MoVida and the lovely cocktail bar, Misty, nestled in amongst all this colourful art!
Look up, look down, look around the laneways and don’t be afraid to go down a dead-end. Don’t be distracted when exploring as you’ll miss out on all the hidden secrets that the city quietly showcases.
And now, Melbourne’s laneways have been revamped by local graffiti artists who covered the walls on a night of intense painting! The Aussie media are calling it the ‘Moonlight Makeover’. No one had asked them to do this and no one knows the organising body who rounded the locals up for one night, but the artists decided to give Melbs a new lick of paint and replenish old tired walls – now’s a perfect time to check out the rejuvenated Melbourne street art.
Where to eat
Melbourne is similar to New York and London; places pop up and disappear quickly, and the few that stay become city legends. Melbourne is saturated in restaurants making it hard to list a definitive guide to the top places to eat, but there are a few laneway eateries that I hold dear to my heart… and they mainly revolve around the Aussie-Asian fusion eateries.
If you’re after trendy cocktails and some hearty American-inspired food, then head to BelleVille. This is hidden down a laneway, Globe Alley, off China Town’s main strip and involves a few flights of stairs up into the industrial warehouse space. A neon X marks the spot above the doorway to the restaurant – grab a table in the large echoing cavern full of loud beats spun by a DJ, and decide on your grilled chicken feast.
Smother your chicken in either a miso butter glaze or sea salt and pepper, and indulge in the fusion sides. Melbourne celebrates Asian food by having many menu’s holding some kind of asian inspired dishes. The maple miso greens of wok tossed Asian greens in black sesame has a sweet, yet salty, maple miso glaze making it a tasty green dish, and don’t forget to add the green mango and daikon slaw in coconut dressing to your order!
photo c/o BelleVille
Speaking of Asian fusion food, you must pop your head into Magic Mountain Saloon… but only if you can handle your spice. The very understated doorway on Little Collins Street, up towards the north of the CBD, will deceive you on the scale of the venue. I was sat right by the front door so was blissfully unaware of the mammoth size of the place until I went to the toilet – industrial stars link floors of eager diners and jostling cocktail drinkers, all painted in the dark red lighting that glows from the ceiling. A DJ has his own booth and spins tunes for the whole building, and the smell of chilli and spice in the air hit the back of your throat and can be enough to make you cough.
photo c/o Magic Mountain Saloon
The dishes are a Modern Australian and Thai fusion, and are pretty darn tasty. Go for the Wok dishes and wolf down a Peking Duck and Savoy Cabbage dish on a bed of fat rice noodles – just have an Aperol Spritzer at hand to cool your chilli-abused mouth!
photo c/o Magic Mountain Saloon
A classic favourite that all locals love include China Town’s Shanghai Dumplings House on Tattersalls Lane. You may spot it when walking up China Town’s main strip on Little Bourke Street and notice a line of people to a subtle doorway down this lane. Grab a bottle of red or a few beers to neck in this affordable BYOB Chinese, and eat stacks of dumplings until you feel your stomach cry out!
Then return to The Adelphi for a decadent dessert. The Adelphi’s Om Nom restaurant and dessert bar is downstairs, and you can really splash out on signature desserts by top pastry chefs. Eat a chocolate lovers dream, the ChocolaTerrarium, a fruity Raspberry Field, or perhaps just order a yummy dessert up to your room and get cosy while indulging on the free movies.
Where to drink
Oh boy. If you’re after a good place to drink in Melbourne’s city then you are totally spoilt for choice… as long as you can find them. Again, the laneways harbour many hidden drinking holes which involves a precise pin dropped on your Google Maps and some bold knocking on doors until the right one opens.
Just off Spring Street, down Flinders Lane, you’ll find Hihou. Well, you’ll find a black doorway with a simple doorbell which has a camera attached to it – ring the bell and smile. If there’s room, the door will open and a softly spoken waitress will whisk you up to a cosy, small bar. Paint your toenails though, as this Japanese cocktail bar means you have to take your shoes off and nestle on cushions with the other shoeless patrons. Sip perfectly put together cocktails with delicate origami birds hanging from your glass, and enjoy the dim candlelight with your heels off.
A favourite laneway bar is Section 8 – the cool, open air bar has tarp stretched overhead, long shipping containers house the bars and toilets, and there is always great music playing. This spot is nestled between the tall buildings and literally next door to Shanghai Dumplings House on Tattersalls Lane – great for a dumpling pre-drink!
If you like Section 8, then try another typical Melbourne laneway bar: Sister Bella. Again, good luck finding it as it’s tucked at the end of Sniders Lane in the most derelict building. Slip past the dumpsters into the dim bar, walk up to the hidden cave where broken skateboards hang from the ceiling above the milk crate seating and cocktails are served in mason jars by tattooed bar staff.
The coolest entrance to the coolest bar in Melbourne #Travels #Melbourne #sisterbella
Another great bar in the city isn’t quite in a laneway, but the doorway to The Workshop Bar is hidden besides the opening of an alley. You’ll see the buzzing floor of Workshop from the corner of Elizabeth and A’Beckitt Street; the second floor has a deck/conservatory area that fronts onto Elizabeth Street and is always packed with patrons sipping their pots of craft beer and smoking amongst the plants. Previously an old mechanics workshop, the venue has retained industrial charm and has mixed it with a retro feel in the decor. It’s a popular bar that showcases local artists’ work and great DJ’s. Relaxed and hip, Workshop ticks many boxes and is also the perfect joint to retreat to during the day for a drink in the city and a quick bite of handmade pizza.
If you go down to the lanes today, you’re sure for a pleasant surprise! Soak up all the amazing art, eat and drink to your hearts content. Be sure to remember to always look up for amazing pieces of artwork high above your head, and look round every corner to spot the discreet doorway of the bar you’re looking for. Melbourne’s hidden little secrets can be found with a bit of research and a keen eye.
I was staying in the northern inner-suburbs of Melbourne for the majority of my visit, so this jaunt into the city meant I had to bring a smart and light case to store my overnight belongings. I brought along my Jurni suitcase, Trunki’s first suitcase for adults, and it was the perfect carry-on case to quickly zip through the city with. You can win one of these suitcases today by heading over to the Jurni competition – it finishes on 30th April 2016, so good luck!
All photographs by Sophie Saint, unless stated otherwise.
Thank you to The Adelphi Hotel for my stay.