Melbourne is a shopper’s Paradise.
Or a nightmare for the non-shoppers amongst us!
The one good thing about Melbourne’s shops is that often they are housed in the most stunningly elegant and historic arcades.
The City of Melbourne produces a whole range of maps that guide you systematically through a variety of different Melbourne themes.
Melbourne Walks No. 4 – Arcades and Lanes, informed us that many of Melbourne’s ‘little’ lane ways began as a simple rear access to the shops and businesses facing the main streets. Some of these were then roofed to protect people from the elements and were eventually completely enclosed.
With the walking tour map in one hand and my other hand firmly clamping my wallet closed, my gaggle of girlfriends and I set off for some architectural and retail therapy.
According to the map, the Royal Arcade is the oldest shopping arcade in Australia, established in 1869. The arcade is a joy of tessellated tiles, filigree ironwork and glass. While the shops are enticing and filled to the brim with glimmering jewellery, funky clothing and calorific chocolate, my eyes can’t help but be drawn upwards to the ceiling.
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to spot two ugly ogres ogling me from on high! Gog and Magog act as two unlikely timekeepers and they have been striking the hour since 1892.
Gog and Magog were modelled on the figures erected in London’s Guild Hall in 1708 to symbolise the conflict between the ancient Britons and the Trojan invaders. Traditionally Gog stands to the North and Magog stands to the South.
Credit cards re-holstered we exited the Royal Arcade for…
Block Place and The Block Arcade
Block Place is typical of Melbourne’s coffee culture. Dim, narrow lanes, a tad grubby and slightly drafty, but jumping with caffeine-craving diners keen to be seen in the grooviest part of town.
We navigate the tables and crowds and enter the next glorious arcade, The Block. I could almost hear the rustle of a bustle brush the ornately tiled floors, such was the step back in time.
Again, the Block was full of possies of women all on a serious shopping mission, however it was a relaxed and refined atmosphere as the cello and violin player serenaded us from store to store.
A big hit amongst our party was The Art of Dr Seuss store which featured limited edition prints of Dr Seuss characters. The store took us all on a little trip way back to our childhood.
The Hopetoun Café was another highlight although we didn’t have the time or inclination to queue for a table. It opened its doors in 1891 as a small tea room set up for the Victorian Ladies Work Association and named after its founder, Lady Hopetoun. I could almost feel the calories hitting my thighs as I drooled though the window.
Time to walk a few more quirky coffee-lined alleyways to…
The Cathedral Arcade
This arcade is only tiny and if you didn’t have the map, you could easily miss it. It is a more modern incantation built in the art deco style in 1925 and is a riot of glorious glass work.
We just strolled the ground floor gazing up at the intricate glass ceiling, but apparently there are many other architectural delights on the higher floors too. I am in awe that such delicate and detailed work has stood the test of time.
Out onto the streets and into…
The Manchester Unity Arcade
Again we stepped into more modern times, with columns, spires and bold brass details. It was like walking through the history of art and design.
Constructed in 1932, the gothic and art deco Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows (!!) building was considered to be the most technologically-advanced building in all of Melbourne at the time! If only they could see the buildings of today. Far more technologically-advanced, but I would question whether they are more beautiful.
Apparently they run monthly tours of this building. Check their website for details.
The walking tour map says that this tour should take around 1.5 hours and covers a distance of 2.5km. Naturally we took much longer and walked much further as we were happy to dawdle, backtrack and revisit. The frequent forays in the shops themselves absorbed a lot of time, but that was all part of the fun of the weekend.
As we strolled, we saw a number of more formal guided tour groups and that would be a fun option too. Lots more information and history would be imparted, but perhaps not ideal for those with more serious shopping tendencies. Having to stay together in a group and walk past all those enticing shops could be incredibly challenging!
Take the time to stroll the streets and laneways of Melbourne and savour the graceful and stylish arcades. You won’t be disappointed.
And don’t forget to look up!
Where are your favourite arcades?
What: Melbourne is also known for its delicious food. For a sumptuous Greek dinner, queue up for Stalactites on Lonsdale Street. It is worth the wait! Lamb is their specialty, but it is all incredibly moreish. Eat until you burst.
Where: The Arcades and Lanes walking tour covers about six blocks in the Melbourne CBD.
When: An unseasonably warm weekend at the end of May. All the beanies, scarves, gloves and wet-weather gear we packed, remained in the suitcase
Why: A girlies weekend to relax and chat uninterrupted for hours and hours and hours!
How: We flew to Melbourne from Dubbo with JETGO…now no more.
Who: Melbourne is for shoppers, culture vultures, foodies, architecture fiends, history lovers and more.
Related Posts: For a different city, but another lovely walk suggestion, check out my post describing a stroll around the edge of Sydney Harbour.
Related Blogs: Want to see more of Melbourne? Then get Nomadic Matt’s tips of the best things to see in the city.
Read About it: For a fabulous historic read about Melbourne’s early days, check out the Mystery of the Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume. Available from Book Depository.