In Melbourne, getting lost is almost an art form. The Australian city is just a 90-minute flight from Sydney, resting on a well-designed grid that allows groups to wander off the beaten path onto vibrant laneways that crisscross in between streets. Funky boutiques, shopping arcades, cafés, bars and eateries huddle along the edges of cobblestone streets, and graffiti art is proudly displayed by local artists who have transformed some of these paths into living canvasses.
Melbourne’s laneways are quirky, fun and truly magical, but don’t take my word for it—their charms also prompted Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle to nickname them the “land of inbetween.” And if you do happen to lose your bearings as I did from looking up, down and sideways at all of the tucked away treasures, no worries—Melbournians have you covered. “It’s truly a community,” asserts Karen Bolinger, CEO of the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB). “Melbournians are fiercely proud of the city and know where to shop, where to eat, where the festivals are—they own the city.”
Planners will find countless traditional and unconventional venues across the city. In fact, Melbourne specializes in both and with the help of laneway tour guides like Hidden Secrets Tours, it’s possible to explore and experience some of them while on your walkabout, so to speak. I went treasure hunting through the massive Melbourne Central shopping center and eventually stumbled against the Bourke Street Mall, the city’s retail heart only accessible by tram and foot.
“Australia has many symbolic icons and landmarks that offer a great alternative to traditional function centers and hotels,” remarks Samantha Holmes, business events executive for Tourism Australia. “We have companies that specialize in making unique locations available for any event—conferences, meetings, corporate hospitality, cocktail parties, gala dinners and bespoke experiences.” We experienced this first hand after a hot rod scavenger hunt across the city that ended at the Carousel at Albert Park with an up close encounter with the Melbourne Cup.
Holmes says Melbourne’s walkable aspect also helps planners facilitate a creative agenda. “While big attractions can be fun, often it’s the subtler ‘insider’ experiences that leave groups feeling really satisfied.”