The Backstreets and Arcades of Melbourne

Australia’s most European-looking city, Melbourne, has plenty of laneways and arcades to keep shoppers and those seeking food, drink and entertainment amused for many hours.

Melbourne was first established in 1835 by settlers from Van Diemen’s Land, which is now called Tasmania. From those humble beginnings, the discovery of gold in Victoria in the 1850s saw Melbourne expand rapidly to become one of the world’s biggest and wealthiest cities. The design of the main city, and its imposing streets, included the ability to turn bullock trains in the streets, the bullock teams carted large carts which were filled with goods, and were used because there was a lack of roads and other transport infrastructure in Victoria at the time. The upshot of this feature was that the main businesses fronted the grand boulevards, whilst many laneways and backstreets were formed at the back of these buildings for deliveries, rubbish removal and other purposes.

For many decades Melbourne’s laneways were rather grotty and havens for prostitution and gambling. Nowadays, the laneways have been tidied up, and businesses such as bars and restaurants have located there to create a thriving entertainment scene.

The former red light district of Liverpool Street is now home to some of Melbourne’s best Asian restaurants and Pellegrini’s which is one of Melbourne’s most popular Italian restaurants and a true Melbourne institution.

Another popular laneway is Meyers Place, off Bourke Street which is home to some good bars and music venues, and also the Melbourne Waiter’s Club, which serves honest, traditional Italian meals.

Melbourne is also home to some quite imposing, but glamorous and ornate arcades.

The best example is the Royal Arcade, which was built in 1869 and acts as a pedestrian hub linking Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall, Little Collins Street and Elizabeth Street.

The Royal Arcade houses some of the most well-known and beautiful shops in Melbourne, and is a window shopper’s delight. A famous feature of the arcade is Gaunt’s clock, which is flanked by two giant statues of the mythical figures of Gog and Magog. Since its implementation in 1892, the two mammoth statues have struck chimes at every hour, and can be heard resounding throughout the arcade.

Another popular arcade is the Block Arcade which connects Collins Street with Little Collins Street and is a fine example of 19th century architecture. There are many fine shops in residence here too, and another Melbourne institution called the Hopetoun Tea Rooms which offers a quiet and relaxed atmosphere, in authentic Victorian surroundings, and which boasts the largest etched mirror in Victoria. As you would expect in a traditional tea room light meals and sandwiches served with organic tea, in a variety of flavours.
The laneways and arcades of Melbourne are all centrally located in the central city area, and can keep you occupied from morning until late at night.

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