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Arcades, Laneways and Cafés – Exploring Melbourne’s City Centre

There is so much squeezed into Melbourne’s carefully gridded city centre. So, it’s hard to know where to start when deciding what to see and do! Turn one corner and you’re on a wide, tree-lined street, standing in front of the iconic State Library Victoria. Another, and you’re surrounded by busy shoppers and green trams trundling up and down Bourke Street Mall. 

However, it’s often found that by exploring the little, unassuming side streets between these major landmarks, you can uncover some of the city’s most exciting secrets. Joined by Tia and Mehak, two international students eager to uncover this unique side of the city, we bring you a guide to Melbourne’s arcades, laneways, and some of the best cafés in town.

Getting there

As a central hub, getting to and from the city centre is incredibly easy. With trains, trams and buses all running at regular intervals, the city’s CBD is accessible from wherever you are in Melbourne. By using Public Transport Victoria’s handy Journey Planner, you can see what transport options and routes are available to you. Once you’re within the city grid, you’ll be in Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone, but it’s important to know where the boundary of this zone stops and you enter Zone 1.

Luckily, as an international student, you may be eligible for an International Student Travel Pass, which means you have access to unlimited travel between Zones 1+2 – this makes your trips to the CBD even easier. 

Stop 1: Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar

We start our day of exploring as most Melburnians do, with a cup of coffee. Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar was established in 1954 and is claimed to be the first bar in Melbourne to use an espresso machine. Tia suggests grabbing something to read from Paperback Bookshop next door and enjoying it with your latte.

Stop 2: Hosier Lane

Found proudly displayed on the Instagram feeds of anyone who has ever visited Melbourne, this famous laneway and ‘graffiti tolerance zone’ is an ever-changing gallery of colourful street art. So, of course, we had to stop for a few snaps! 

Stop 3: The Block Arcade and Block Place

The Block Arcade is a beautiful, Victorian-era boutique shopping arcade. Featuring mosaic-tiled floors, skylights, a glass canopy and stained glass windows, this iconic L-shaped arcade is a must-visit in Melbourne. Make sure to stop by The Tea Rooms 1892, which is listed in the Victorian Heritage Register. This means that all decor you see has been kept as close to the late-1800s originals as possible. Other highlights in The Block Arcade include enjoying a quick tasting at Haigh’s Chocolates, and the Trevor Victor Harvey Gallery’s ‘The Art of Dr. Suess’ exhibition. Exiting into Block Place, you’ll find a range of cool, hole-in-the-wall coffee and lunch spots.

Stop 4: Degraves Street and Flinders Lane

The always-busy Degraves Street, and the intersecting Flinders Lane, are both Melbourne foodie hotspots. Whether you’re after a quick brunch (we decided to have ours at the incredible Roule Galette, a French crêperie), a delicious espresso, or a hearty pasta dinner, these streets are the place to be. 

Stop 5: Fed Square

While weaving in and out of the city’s laneways, we had to stop by the unmissable Fed Square. You’d need a full day to enjoy this area properly. So, when you have 24 hours in Melbourne, check out The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, the Australian Centre for Moving Image, and the Koorie Heritage Trust. Also, remember to grab a photo of the instantly recognisable Flinders Street Station.

Stop 6: Chinatown

Did you know? Melbourne’s Chinatown is the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western world! After a long day of window shopping in arcades and discovering our new favourite cafés in laneways, we headed over to Chinatown for a meal. With plenty of different affordable food options, the area is always bustling. It’s especially popular with students looking for a feed between study sessions. Tia recently took Mehak for her first yum cha experience in Chinatown, and today, she taught us the proper way to eat a soupy xiao long bao.

How will you spend your day in Melbourne’s city centre?