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orange bulletThe Hidden Lanes Of Melbourne

Behind the shiny, modern, high-rise facade that the city of Melbourne presents to the world, lies another, history soaked part of the city that has become a popular destination for both locals and holiday makers visiting Melbourne.

Hidden between the modern high-rise and tucked away behind the main streets are almost two hundred laneways, variously named as alleys, arcades, places, lanes, walks and ways.

The original town planners designed a city layout of traditional rectangles bounded by major roadways, but the Governor of the day had a liking for English mews and so "little" streets were added to the map. And from there lanes and alleyways were built to service the properties and businesses that were springing up in the fast growing city.

To this day, many of those original lanes still exist and offer a fascinating insight into some of Melbourne's early history. They also offer colourful alternative venues for shopping, music and the arts, boutique bars and restaurants. They are also places to stroll and to party. Many of the businesses in Melbourne lanes pride themselves on being a little bit "off the wall", quirky and novel, offering shopping experiences not found in the big name shopping centres on main street.

The converted warehouses and factories now house trendy boutique bars, restaurants and bistros that can be at street level, upstairs, downstairs or along a laneway leading off another lane. As you stroll the laneways, look for any little nook and cranny with a colourful sign, often quite tiny and easy to miss. A splash of neon colour among the street art is often a sign of an alternative shop, bar or food experience.

Melbourne's laneway environment is never static whether its about bars, cafés or street art. Places like Hosier Lane can offer beautiful street art one day but graffiti "artists" might have left their mark the next day. It's a free flowing environment that creatives enjoy. Just as the laneway precincts are being redeveloped, there is plenty of other recycling taking place. Don't be surprised to find yourself sitting on a former milk crate or barrel or drinking out of a glass that once was a food jar.

There are numerous organised laneway tours available and most tour operators and backpacker hostels offer them. One unique and popular tour is a street art tour led by the street artists themselves. But there is more to laneway art than short-lived street art. The laneways are also home to artist-run spaces and an occasional gallery.

A popular laneway precinct is the area bounded by Collins, Bourke, Spring and Exhibition Streets. In Meyers Place, you'll find dining opportunities in establishments such a the Waiter's Restaurant and San Telmo Argentinian restaurant .... or a drink at Lily Blacks bar.

There is also a wide variety of good quality Melbourne hotels and apartments in this area. In Little Collins Street you will find the Italian Lupino restaurant, the Portugese Larinha Bar and Sakura, a Japanese sushi train restaurant. For freshly-baked bead and rolls there's the popular Vietnamese N Lee Bakery.

If you are taking a self paced tour, you might want to download the Victorian Heritage iPhone app which will allow you to quickly check out the heritage listed sites that are in the immediate vicinity.

Take the opportunity to meander through Melbourne's laneways before they are lost to the developers wrecking balls or fall victim to shareholder profits. Sadly, it is inevitable that they will disappear or lose their character so a timely visit is recommended.