Even the locals find surprises in Melbourne’s cobblestone laneways.

You never quite know what’s in store when you wander off Melbourne’s grid of city streets into the maze of gothic laneways behind them. Even the locals find surprises here, where the venues for food, fashion and art are small, quirky and sometimes hidden.  Discover a late-night jazz bar or watch the world go by from a tiny trattoria, browse the boutiques and check out urban art. You can unlock the city’s real secrets in these distinctively Melbourne streets.

Melbourne’s lively laneways wind unpredictably between the wide, ordered streets where bullock carts hauled goods in the 19th century.  Today you can escape Melbourne’s modern-day traffic in these charming backstreets.

Let the aroma of good coffee and gourmet outlets tempt you to Degraves Street and Centre Place. Stop in at home ware stores along each. There’s more great café culture along Crossley Street, as well as stylish boutiques and small, popular lunch places. Nearby Liverpool Street is lined with good-value Asian eateries and friendly Italian restaurants.

GA-6.1 Degraves Lane, Melbourne, VIC

You’ll find more hearty Italian fare along Hardware Lane, where exuberant waiters wave you into their eateries. Over summer it’s all al fresco, and bands serenade you from the pavement. Dine underground in wood-paneled basement restaurants along George Parade, which sits off the ‘Paris End’ of Collins Street. Or head to the enchanting Chinatown district for a yum-cha lunch. Wander Chinatown’s main strip of Little Bourke Street, or explore the tiny side lanes lined with stylish bars. The Block Place and The Causeway are also good spots to grab a place to eat.

Check out the funky boutiques and flagship stores clustered around Little Collins Street. Hunt down a piece by a local fashion designer in Manchester or Flinders Lane, where the city’s rag trade began. For true retail elegance, visit the heritage-listed Royal and Block Arcades, with their mosiac-tiled floors and opulent finishings.

GA-6.2 Hosier Lane

Beyond the buildings, Melbourne’s laneways have increasingly become spaces for artistic expression. See colourful, constantly-changing graffiti murals in Hosier Lane and along Union Lane. Cocker Alley features the work of grafitti artist Banksy, while Jane Bell, Rutledge and Spark lanes have been tattooed with local street culture.

Melbourne’s laneways bustle with little bars, offering every type of ambience. The fun is in finding them tucked away in secret alcoves and behind unassuming doors. Meyers Place, the city’s nightlife hub, has everything from stylish cocktail bars to a 1920s-style speak easy. Bennetts Lane, Manchester Lane and Goldie Place have intimate live jazz venues, or you can soak up local rock’n’roll history along ACDC Lane. Visit Melbourne’s oldest running pub, which straddles Bank Place and Mitre Lane. Or seek out the well-concealed nightlife secrets of Croft Alley, Sniders Lane, Presgrave Place, Goldie Place and Warburton Lane.

From old-fashioned café culture to vibrant street art, you’ll find lots of surprises in the Melbourne’s secret laneway heart.