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Fiona Sweetman, Hidden Secrets Tours

If you're hoping to uncover in a hurry the Melbourne that usually only comes with years of experience, look no further than Fiona Sweetman, mastermind of the Hidden Secrets Tours to reveal the city's most coveted secrets.

'Melbourne is a big city that still feels small,' says Fiona, promising great rewards to those who are prepared to spend just a little time watching and getting to know the place.

The people and their stories are what give Melbourne its edge, and it's what they do as much as anything else that makes the city so intriguing, according to Fiona. She's constantly inspired by people working hard running quirky, creative small businesses; innovating, collaborating and loving what they do.

Fiona's top picks

Fiona's hidden gems

The sounds and smells of the city

It's also the distinct sounds and smells that make Melbourne, well, Melbourne for Fiona. 'There are birds in the city, and the ding of the trams and bikes, and buskers. It's a happy sounding city.'

Fiona concedes that there's an occasional chance of rain in Melbourne, but that rainy days offer the perfect opportunity to visit one of many, many galleries and even sneaking in a bit of wine and cheese tasting at a place like Milk The Cow in St Kilda.

She loves the smell of the city just after the summer/autumn rains, as well as the ever-present hint of coffee aromas and a bakery not too far away.

If it's coffee you're after, prepare to be dazzled. There are so many high quality options that Fiona's favourite can change daily. She does, however, love a coffee from Cup Of Truth, an actual hole in the wall in the subway beneath Flinders Street Station with the 2013 The Age Good Cafe Guide award-winning barista. She also recommends the cafe latte at Chez Dre in South Melbourne.

On sunny days you'll find Fiona and many Melburnians enjoying a picnic and a game of petanque or boules in one of the amazing gardens that surround the city, or gathering with friends at the BBQs that line the banks of the Yarra River.

Jump on a tram for surprising sights

In addition to a Hidden Secrets Tour of Melbourne's laneways and fascinating architecture, Fiona suggests you explore the city on foot so you can duck into the side streets and river walks that conceal the real Melbourne.

'Open a door, walk down a laneway, look up, ask a local where they recommend, even if it is just someone at a tram stop,' she says.

'One of my favourite things to do is jump on a tram and see where it takes me. They stop every couple of blocks, so if you see something, get off. The tram will always come back the other way to take you home.'

Melburnians are proud to share their city, and won't keep secrets just for themselves. Broadsheet and Milkbar have good information about the latest openings or cool spots to eat in.

Fiona stresses that a few days are never enough. 'There is always a gallery opening, local theatre, live music or comedy on, so plan to have more than a couple of days to get the most out of your time here.'

Fiona's fine food

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Fiona's best bars


'Cookie will always fill a spot on my list: Big, central city location, beer and lots of areas to sink into for a night. I happily take anyone there.'

Ponyfish Island

'The after-work buzz on a summer night at Ponyfish Island can't be beat: A man-made island bar under a pedestrian bridge in the centre of town!'

Eau De Vie

'I have had some great evenings at Eau De Vie. It's a place with a no-name door, secret rooms, and a focus on amazing cocktails.'


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Fiona's shopping tips

City centre

'The city centre is an amazing place to shop; from laneways filled with little boutiques, to main streets lined with other antipodean chain stores.'

Chapel Street

'Chapel Street is where you will find some of the big international brands as well as some amazing vintage and local designer stores.'

Gertrude Street

'There is some amazing shopping in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, just north of the city grid.'