From street art to backstreet bars, Melbourne’s attractions are well known. But what about the hidden secrets, the things only a local would know? Here’s our guide to the city’s insider experiences.

 Knowing which random laneways have the best street art 

Everyone knows Hosier Lane is Melbourne’s street art hub. But delve deeper and you’ll discover less-publicised artworks hidden across the city. Like Gallagher’s Place, with street art by Mike Makatron and Conrad Bizjak. This urban canvas is an ode to Melbourne, from its trams to its buildings and sculptures. Only here, the city’s icons are being taken over by lush jungle foliage. For more hidden gems, seek out Carson Place, Caledonian Lane, Russel Place and Higson Lane (this is where Baby Yoda is).

A tall mural in a laneway
Princess by Baby Guerrilla in Russell Place

Going to a rooftop bar that isn't in the CBD

You’ve drunk cocktails under the stars at a rooftop bar in the city centre. But have you sipped a glass of wine in a rooftop oasis in Carlton? Quirky Wolf’s Lair is hidden inside Carlton institution Jimmy Watson’s. European curios decorate the walls of the cosy downstairs bar. Upstairs there are treetop views from picnic tables. No wonder it’s known as Carlton’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The outside of a restaurant
Enter the lair if you dare

Navigating to the secret waterfall

We’ve all seen the floral clock in the Queen Victoria Gardens, opposite the Arts Centre on St Kilda Road. But did you know there’s a waterfall hidden away inside these parklands. Take a walk here, and you’ll discover an ornamental lake, flowerbeds and sculptures. The Lake Waterfall tumbles into the south side of the lake, cascading down rocks and stones. You’ll find it near the Queen Victoria Monument.

A waterfall in a garden
Lake Waterfall

Iconic dining off the main drag

Some of Melbourne’s most iconic restaurants have been around forever. Yet they still remain hard to find. Most quintessentially Melbourne would be Waiters, aka Italian Waiters’ Club. The platefuls of spaghetti and lasagne are as no-frills and generous as they were back in 1947. That’s when this 1st-floor restaurant was established as an Italian social club. You’ll find it at the top of an unassuming staircase in Meyers Place. Or if you find yourself in North Melbourne, visit Mr Price’s Food Store. Mr Price will serve you a home-cooked meal in his lounge room, surrounded by trinkets and bric-a-brac.

A street with outdoor dining
Meyers Place is home to the likes of San Telmo, Pizza Pizza Pizza and the Waiter's Club

Accidentally finding the city’s best views 

Princes Bridge and Flinders Street Station get pretty crowded with happy snappers at golden hour. True heads know you can see the city’s best views from inside. At Rocksteady Records there are lovely vistas over the Lonsdale Street treetops. Not to mention a killer roundup of local indie vinyl. For great people watching, strike a pose outside Flinders Lane Gallery. It’s in the Nicholas Building. There’s more shopping and people watching in the ground-floor Cathedral Arcade. And for an internal panorama, take in the view over the reading room from the State Library Victoria dome.

A library reading room
State Library domed reading room

Locating hidden bars in basements and 19th century brothels 

For a subterranean rather than rooftop vibe, visit Bar Clara beneath Chinatown. Luxurious velvet lounges pair with industrial chic in this intimate underground bar. And the cocktails not only taste fabulous, they also help the planet. Why? Because Bar Clara is planting a tree for every cocktail sold. Or step inside the tiny brick cottage that’s home to Little Lon Distilling Co. Order a superbly crafted gin cocktail and drink in the history of this backstreet bar. Some of Melbourne’s most notorious 19th century crims called this place home back in the day.

A neon sign outside a bar that reads 'Bar Clara'
Bar Clara's neon-signed basement

Enjoying the city’s smallest art galleries

The teensiest gallery in the city would have to be Mailbox Art Space. Site-specific artworks are displayed in 19 glass-fronted wooden letterboxes. Step inside the foyer of Art Deco Pawson House to see what’s showing. Or head underground to the grungy Campbell Arcade, where the Dirty Dozen takes over with regular window installations. Time your visit right and have one of the best lattes in town (and on earth, probably) at hole-in-the-wall Cup of Truth. Over at QV there's the coffee-fuelled No Vacancy, a hybrid cafe, gallery and event space. Don't miss their latest exhibit, The Ecstasy of People Watching, from prolific artist and local Melburnian Mark Chu.

An underground art gallery
The Dirty Dozen in Campbell Arcade

Visiting the unofficial Japantown

We all love Chinatown for a classic night out. But Melbourne insider’s know MidCity Arcade is like a detour to Japan. Go full Nippon with an anime-themed manicure at Japan Nails. Think Totoro, Hello Kitty and Gudetama manicures. Drop into Kaneda for a deluxe bento box beneath a giant mural of Hokusai’s Great Wave. Or try Hakata-style house-made noodles at Mr Ramen San. The Japanese atmosphere is authentic, from the staff's chorus of greetings to the Studio Ghibli decor. There’s even a secret sushi train upstairs (outside the Chinese theatre), plus a pastry-making robot at super cheap dessert spot Royal Custard Puff.

The outside of a sushi restaurant
Kaneda Sushi in MidCity Arcade

Last updated on Tue 23 Feb 2021

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