13 Incredible Secret Alleys Around The World
Back alleys can be some of the most unexpectedly lush, intimate spaces in cities around the world. Once home to Dumpsters and deliveries, these small streets are being rediscovered worldwide, as locals plant trees, install public art, plan festivals, and open shops.
"Alleys are like someone’s private diary of the city," says Daniel Toole, a Harvard Graduate School of Design alum who has studied these hidden corridors around the world. Toole’s recent book, Tight Urbanism, predicts that as metros grow denser, small spaces like alleys will become increasingly important.
Detroit’s Green Alley project, for example, demonstrated how rain gardens could beautify a blighted zone and prevent flooding, while in Montreal’s classic Plateau Mont-Royal and Villeray alleyways, neighbors are hosting happy hours and creating pop-up restaurants.
For travelers, these wide-ranging back routes are perfectly suited for urban adventures. Here are some of the best tucked-away treasures around the globe.
ACDC Lane in Melbourne
In the past, 19th-century bullock carts would unload goods in Melbourne's cobblestone laneways. Those same alleys are now famous for their wide-ranging commercial offerings, from tiny trattorias to quirky galleries. The edgiest alley in town is the graffiti-jammed ACDC Lane, dedicated to the Australian hard rockers. There, you’ll find Cherry Bar, an after-party favorite for touring bands; Oasis’ Noel Gallagher appreciated the place so much he once offered to buy it.
Callejón Angosto in Cartagena
In Cartagena’s atmospheric Gesthemaní neighborhood, the Callejón Angosto (or “Narrow Alley") offers a glimpse at Colombian daily life. The passage near Trinidad Square is too tight for cars, but vendor carts come through selling mangoes, tropical juices, and arepas.
The Detroit Green Alley in Detroit
This once-rough Midtown alleyway in Detroit, reclaimed with porous paving and herb plantings, hosts eco-business incubator the Detroit Green Garage and brewpub Motor City Brewing Works. The city’s mounted police have been known to stop in and park their horses along the green alley, too. And it’s incredibly picturesque: the setting is now so lush that wedding photos are regularly taken there.
Ross Alley in San Francisco
Chinatown's Ross Alley was once a notorious hub for gamblers and prostitutes. These days it’s done up in colorful murals and is home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The food vendors in alleys of San Francisco’s Chinatown are so varied, there are walking tours dedicated exclusively to them.
Golden Gai in Tokyo
Ruelle Champêtre Henri-Julient/Drolet in Montreal
Even among Montreal’s more than 250 official Ruelles Vertes, or green alleyways, Ruelle Champêtre Henri-Julien/Drolet stands out as a secret garden. In 2007 it was closed it to traffic and covered with plants. Now the alley is famous for its block parties and get-togethers.
Mârten Trotzig’s Gränd in Stockholm
In the wider alleyways in Stockholm's old town, diners can duck into dungeon-like bars in colder months or enjoy lush meals al fresco when it’s warm out. And although it doesn’t hold enough space for outdoor tables, passages like the steep Mârten Trotzig's Gränd are unique are worth a visit—it tapers to just under three feet.
Concrete Alley in Miami
Miami’s Design District has quickly become known for luxury retail, with storefronts from brands like Prada and Hermés. Concrete Alley remains a work in progress, with boutiques and an outdoor restaurant poised to move in within months. Its existing elegant archways make it striking.
Dongsi Shiyitiao Alley in Beijing
Beijing’s old walled alleyways, or hutongs, are now home to cutting-edge architectural offices and modernist treasures like Tea Café, where visitors can duck out of the dark, narrow Dongsi Shiyitiao Alley and into an airy courtyard surrounded by bamboo and glass. The cafe’s exceptionally delicate tea is worth seeking out, too.
Nord Alley in Seattle
Once grungy alleys like Canton, Post, and the newly christened Nord have taken off in Seattle, hosting special events like string concerts, book readings, and World Cup screenings. In 2011, the city officially dubbed Nord Alley, in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, a “festival street.”
Pontocho in Kyoto
In Kyoto’s geiko district, Pontocho offers beautiful restaurants that spill onto the Kamo River, with temporary wooden terraces jutting off the back of the buildings in summer.
The Santee Alley in Los Angeles
L.A.’s Fashion District encompasses some 100 blocks, but Santee Alley—with 150 shops in two blocks—is considered its retail heart. There, you’ll find a dream bazaar of $99 suits, six-inch stilettos, and baby princess dresses, all under a rainbow of umbrellas.
Güneşlibahçe Sokak in Istanbul
Istanbul’s streets feel like medieval warrens in the best sense, with strong Turkish coffee served everywhere (and “coffee fortune tellers” ready to predict your future by gazing at your leftover grounds). Passages like Güneşlibahçe Sokak in Kadiköy are particularly snug, often canopied by trellises woven with grapevines and globe lights. It’s the alley of choice for Kadiköy Market’s produce vendors, who often set up their wares there.