Melbourne Lanes and Arcades Walking Tour

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Lanes, alleyways, little streets, arcades, café society and fascinating shops is what you will see on this Melbourne lanes and arcades walking tour.

Key Information
HighlightsLanes, alleyways, little streets and arcades
Café society and fascinating shops
Walking time1.5 hours
Distance2.5 kilometres
StartFederation Square, CBD
FinishFederation Square, CBD
Recommended forCoffee lovers

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Melbourne’s little laneways began life as rear access to properties facing big streets. Many were later roofed as ‘arcades’ to provide refuge from the weather and crowds and to provide more space for shops. Today, some lanes have been reborn and hum to the rhythm of daily city life. Others are still waiting to be discovered.

Begin your walk by crossing from Federation Square (1) to a traditional meeting place ‘Under the Clocks’ (2) at Flinders Street Station (3). Cross Flinders Street, turn left and continue on. Turn right into Degraves Street where William Degraves’ steam flourmill pumped away in the 1850s. Nowadays, it’s expresso.

Degraves Street (4) is a mecca for Melbourne’s café society. Check out the healthy delights at the organic shop or the juice bar. Order a coffee at Degraves Expresso Bar, where the seats are recycled cinema seats and benches from a former magistrate’s court.

At the end of Degraves Street, on the other side of Flinders Lane, is the Majorca Building (5) – still as stylish as in its 1920s heyday. The building’s terracotta has Spanish or Moorish influences, reflecting the exotic destinations that captured the imagination at that time.

Cross Flinders Lane and you will hit Centre Way, housing some of the funkiest accessory stores in town as well as fantastic cafes. Take a brief detour when you see the creperie and head down the laneway opposite Hosier Lane. Down here is City Lights, a series of light box installations by underground artists.

Centre Place (6) is a breeding ground for cafes – some so small that you can barely stretch to stir your coffee. Ask for the delicious soup of the day at pocket sized Jungle Juice Bar, squat on the box seats and enjoy noodles and Yen or retreat upstairs to dimly lit Hell’s Kitchen and look down on the passing throng.

Step up to Centre Way (7) (1913) – an early steel-framed building with a post-modern makeover – then cross Collins Street and turn left before entering the exquisite 19th century European-style Block Arcade (8). The arcade was named after the fashionable Collins Street block between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets where 19th century Melburnians liked to promenade or ‘do the block’. Today, it is Melbourne’s plushest arcade offering jewellery, leather goods, handmade toys, lingerie and shoes. Check out its mosaic floors and fascinating shops.

Block Arcade turns into Block Place (9), a small laneway cluttered with outdoor cafes and the scent of fine Italian coffee and sizzling Mediterranean cuisine. Pick a table at Block Place and grab a bite to eat before you cross over to Little Collins Street, arguably Melbourne’s premier signature shopping strip featuring Melbourne designers such as Alannah Hill and Jason Grech.

Cross Little Collins Street to discover the elegant Royal Arcade (10) – the oldest shopping arcade in Australia. Built in 1869, Royal Arcade features Gog and Magog, (11) the two folklore giants of the ancient Britons who have struck the time every hour since 1892. Small specialty shops sell everything from magic tricks and spells to old board games and Russian Babooshka dolls can be found here, along with Koko Black selling some of the finest chocolate in Melbourne.

Royal Arcade meets Melbourne’s shopping heart at Bourke Street Mall (12), the pedestrian-only centre of the city and home to Melbourne’s two department stores and heritage-listed GPO, site of the former Post Office. Covering an entire city block this multi-storey shopping precinct breathes new life into the heart of the CBD and features numerous Australian and international designers.

At Bourke Street Mall, turn left and cross the Bourke Street Mall, pass the sculpture the Public Purse (13) outside Melbourne’s GPO, then turn right to continue along Elizabeth Street. The Underground Public Toilets (14) are historic; the men’s were built in 1910, while the ladies waited longer, until 1927.

Go left up Little Bourke Street (15) and cross two laneways before you discover a superb group of 1880s warehouses at 23-31 Niagara Lane (16). Look for the picturesque barrel hoists. The lane was named in the 1860s after the Niagara Hotel in Lonsdale Street (17).

Round the corner, after a short walk up Lonsdale Street, bustling Hardware Lane (18) epitomises Melbourne’s laneway renaissance. With cobbled stones underfoot and café umbrellas overhead, stay awhile and enjoy the lane’s alfresco seating, fascinating facades and small specialty shops.

At 63-73 Hardware Lane, look up through the café umbrellas to check the date of Dynon’s Building (19), a set of four (originally five) warehouses designed by William Pratt, the celebrated architect of Princess Theatre and some of the finest gothic revival buildings in Collins Street. Named after Hardware House (20) in the 1920s, Hardware Lane was built on land formerly occupied by Kirk’s Horse Bazaar.

Stroll back down to Bourke Street, cross over and take a short cut through Galleria Plaza (21) – then turn left onto Little Collins Street (22) where the serious fashion begins. Pass a dozen lanes and arcades before reaching the delightful Howey Place. Between the 1890s and 1920s, the western side of Howey Place (23) was part of Cole’s Book Arcade, which stretched from Collins to Bourke Streets and was probably the ‘biggest bookshop in the world’ with over two million books.

Continue on through Capitol Arcade (24) to Capitol House, opened in 1924 and designed by Walter Burley Griffin (architect of Canberra) and Marion Mahony Griffin. Upstairs, the Capitol Theatre (25) was once an extraordinary ‘picture palace’. These days during term-time, you may see students from RMIT University, attending lectures in the impressive auditorium.

Walk through historic Manchester Unity Arcade (26) and then cross Collins Street to Manchester Lane (27) and Flinders Lane. Once the centre of the city’s rag trade Flinders Lane (28) is now a unique shopping destination for the hip and happening, as well as home to some of the best galleries and bars in the city.

As you head back to Federation Square, stroll down Scott Alley (29) and pass through Port Phillip Arcade (30) and turn left at Flinders Street. Your final stop is Young and Jackson’s (31) where the beer has flowed for over a century. Upstairs is the nude portrait of Chloe (32) that shocked conservative Melbourne and made the hotel famous. Enjoy one last drink here as you take in the grand view of Federation Square (1).

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