Melbourne’s original laneway walking tours, Hidden Secrets, celebrates 20 years

Melbourne’s original laneway walking tours, Hidden Secrets, celebrates 20 years
Edited by Travel Weekly

    Melbourne’s original laneway walking tours, Hidden Secrets, is celebrating 20 years of guiding locals and tourists alike through the colourful back streets of the southern capital.

    From the first Hidden Secrets tour in May 2004, founder Fiona Sweetman wanted participants to experience what makes Melbourne tick. With a focus on the city laneways, and its entrepreneurial and creative stories, the Hidden Secrets tours give visitors the chance to really meet Melbourne, plus support small business along the way.

    “It really is the theme of the business – supporting locals – its life is in the passion of the guides who take the tours and the characters of the city. Without this Hidden Secrets would not be. These many human interactions add to the knowledge base and training of the tour guides,” she says.

    “The observations give context to the spaces and developments of the last decades, and the 20 years of walking the beat with a keen eye for customer engagement has given this team wonderful insights.”

    How it all began

    After living in France for a few years in the mid-90s, Sweetman began to see Melbourne’s city streets anew. The lanes felt more like a village, and she found a community here, a little like the small town in France, where people knew your name and asked how you were.

    Like many people born and raised in Melbourne in the 80s and 90s, Sweetman thought the city held few attractions, aside from the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library and the Myer Christmas windows.

    Hidden Secrets Tours came about thanks to a City of Melbourne grant that was about to expire. A good friend of Sweetman proposed a shopping walking tour but didn’t have the capacity to make it happen so she embraced the opportunity and took the first paying customers on a walking tour of Melbourne in May 2004.

    Since then, Hidden Secrets has offered carefully thought-out tours that allow guests to peak behind the curtain of Melbourne’s rich culture and character. Flash forward to 2024, and Melbourne’s heart is the city, and the home for Sweetman’s unique walking tour company.

    With close to 700 reviews on Trip Advisor and a five-star rating, Hidden Secrets holds private and corporate walks, including the Melbourne Lanes and Arcades Tour, Foodie Tours and The Golden Mile Heritage Walks of Melbourne.

    Hidden Secrets Tours has also picked up several awards, including a Victorian Tourism Award, ARA Lord Mayor’s Retail Innovation Award, Business 3000 Female Entrepreneur Award, with Sweetman winning the prestigious Melbourne Award for contribution to the profile of the city.

    Art in the Street walking tour

    Stepping into its next decade, Hidden Secrets has a new tour highlighting one of Melbourne’s most popular attractions – street art. As Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne’s creativity and innovation delivers exciting architecture, public art and design. Her new walk, Art in the Street, does more than take visitors to a series of street art hot spots.

    It’s an observation and introduction to the ever-changing street art scene including sculpture and installation. And as the art is as changeable as Melbourne’s weather, the walks will continuously evolve and include contemporary pieces from celebrated and lesser-known artists.

    Hidden Secrets is also sustainability focused, operating on foot or via public transport. Hidden Secrets also donates $2 from every direct booking to a selection of Melbourne relevant charities such as StreetSmart, and the Koala Clancy Foundation. The company are also proud sponsors of the Malthouse Muse program, and Travellers Aid.

    (Feature image: Hidden Secrets Tours founder Fiona Sweetman leads a group through Degraves Place)

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