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Little Lon
Photograph: Supplied

7 secret spots to visit in Melbourne

From hidden bars to secret gardens, Melbourne is a city that likes to play it cool

Written by
Time Out editors
Cassidy Knowlton
Adena Maier

Given that Melburnians pride themselves on being able to traverse the entire CBD via an intricate system of connecting laneways, it's no surprise the city has a few secrets up its sleeve. If you're looking to explore some of Melbourne's lesser-known highlights, here are some of our favourites. 

Looking for more secret spots? Check out Melbourne's hidden laneway barssubterranean art spaces or places to go for a little quiet contemplation without crowds of people. Just don't tell anyone, OK? 

RECOMMENDED: 101 things to do in Melbourne at least once in your life. 

Hidden gems in Melbourne

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Collingwood
  • price 2 of 4

In a city packed with secret bars, there's a special place in our hearts for Above Board. Hayden Lambert (ex-Bar Americano) rules the command centre at the heart of a tiny room, with only a handful of seats facing Lambert as he dispenses drinks that put the art back into artisanal. The menu proudly declares that Lambert delivers cocktails and bad banter: something worth mentioning as he’s had years honing his daggy dad jokes, dry wit and old-man grump. This adds to your experience, rather than takes away, as the offering at Above Board is not just personalised, but personal. Sure, a chat with Lambert will help you determine if you’re after a classic or a signature cocktail (all $21), but you’re also getting a little bit of his life story with every drink.

Once you've visited here, check out more of Melbourne's hidden bars.  

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Melbourne

There is no more colourful district in Melbourne than 'Little Lon', the former red-light district and slum between Exhibition and Spring, Little Lonsdale and La Trobe. It included Madame Brussels' famous brothels on Lonsdale Street, but the seedier houses of ill repute were down laneways, such as Casselden Place. The laneway was home to seven three-room brick cottages, and only number 17 remains. Number 17, the only single-storey house remaining in the CBD, definitely has a storied history. It was a seedy brothel (its most famous madam/working girl was a Chinese prostitute nicknamed Yokohama (real name Tiecome Ah Chung), a sly grog establishment and the site of numerous police complaints. Now it's the site of boutique gin distillery Little Lon and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it tasting bar, which can hold maybe 12 people, and only if they're very good friends. 

Need a different kind of fire water? Check out this (admittedly not very secret) whisky distillery.

This inner-city botanic garden
  • Things to do
  • Williamstown

Of course, you know about the Royal Botanic Gardens, but did you know one of Victoria's first public gardens was actually in Williamstown? A seaside gem, Williamstown Botanic Gardens is a lush green spot to read or hold a picnic. It was originally established by early colonies as a way of assessing how well plants would fare in the Australian climate. As a result, the garden's main features include a plethora of exotic plants, an Edwardian ornamental pond and a formal palm avenue. It's also a stone's throw away from Williamstown Beach if you need some sandy respite.

Here are some of our other favourite secret gardens in Melbourne.

  • Attractions
  • Community centres
  • North Melbourne

Given that the Stables is located in the Meat Market complex, itself a bit of a hidden performance gem in Melbourne’s north, it’s surprising that so few of Melbourne’s savviest arts lovers know about it. It’s effortlessly cool, with concrete floors and high ceilings. It’s wonderfully flexible, embraced as an art gallery and performance venue. It’s also bloody hard to find, and therefore has Melbourne written all over it. It’s been a space for hire for the last couple of years, notably for Poppy Seed Festival, and has hosted visual arts exhibitions like Stephen Baker’s Moonshine. It’s a secret weapon for an arts complex that already has an arsenal of them.

Here are six of our favourite hidden art spaces around Melbourne

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Melbourne

The dish is Yao's ramen. If you’ve ever met someone who says they love ramen, Yao Wong of the Elysian could probably top them. Despite being a coeliac (yes, sometimes he cheats), he’s managed to develop a bowl of ramen named after him, which can only be ordered directly from the chef. The noodles have a harder texture than usual, after being air-dried for 24 hours for the perfect texture, and come in a thick, 48-hour tonkotsu broth that you can request to be spicy or not spicy, topped with teriyaki chicken. Slurp it up, prepare for the food coma and tell them Yao sent you.

Here are our other favourite off-menu items (and yes, you have to know to ask).

  • Things to do
  • East Melbourne

The scenic Fitzroy Gardens are certainly no secret, located just behind State Parliament and smack-bang in the middle of Melbourne's busy cityscape. But not everyone knows about all of the park's secret spaces, like the model Tudor Village created by London pensioner Edgar Wilson back in the 1940s. This miniature village is a replica of a typical Kentish village built during England's Tudor period and was unveiled in 1948. But our favourite secret in Fitzroy Gardens is the Conservatory, a small greenhouse at the bottom of the hill. The air is always warm, moist and heady with the scent of intensely perfumed tropical flowers. Classical music is piped in, and it mingled with the gentle tinkle of the fountain inside for the ultimate in inner-city relaxation. 

Check out some more of Melbourne's secret gardens in the meantime.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries
  • Melbourne

The State Library of Victoria is a cultural landmark that houses books, podcast facilities and an enviable audiovisual collection as well as several exhibitions and galleries with a lot of history. It also has a secret collection of magical paraphernalia, which is about the most Hogwarts thing we can think of. It’s called the William Alma Magic Collection, and it contains approximately 2,000 books, 60 magazines, 1,500 photographs, 300 posters and 400 files about all things magic. If you fancy yourself a bit of a witch or wizard, you can request to view items from the collection – we assume all requests will be delivered by Floo Network straight to your tower.

Find out about the truth behind Melbourne's most famous urban legends.

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