The Virgin Mary stands next to Sesame Street’s Bert (Ernie is nowhere to be seen), who is looming a little menacingly over Betty Boo. Irene Wellm laughs, a little embarrassed by her sprawling collection of toys. In turn, I feel a little awkward that she feels the need to explain her hoard of little dolls – after all, she is an established artist, this is her studio, and the toys offer her occasional inspiration.

My intrusion into Wellm’s studio is part of the Walk To Art tour, which takes place twice a week in Melbourne. Led by the diminutive Bernadette Alibrando, who is an artist in her own right, tourists are taken to the creative frontlines of the city to visit artists at work, to learn about culture and have dozens of otherwise easily missed installations explained in an informative and entertaining way. While the city centre’s Ian Potter Centre and the National Gallery Of Victoria house hundreds of works by artists such as Sidney Nolan and Salvador Dalí, this tour is more about the artistic processes of lesser-known artists in unnamed buildings and clandestine alleys around the city.

“I spend quite a lot of time just looking at a blank canvas,” says Wellm. “Sometimes the inspiration will come in a dream, or from an old photograph.” She enjoyed quick success in her career – recognised with UBS Art Award and Darebin La Trobe Acquisitive Art Prize – and her work has been shown in London and Munich galleries. But soon enough she felt “inhibited by deadlines” to produce a certain number of works to please “the machine”. More recently, she has moved away from the art establishment to paint expressionist works to her own schedule.

“This piece is actually about my relationship with my mother,” she says, pointing to an otherworldly landscape with two wolves in the foreground. It’s no surprise she feels a little awkward, I think: this must be like showing a stranger a half-completed diary entry.

Our tour-leader Alibrando is also a photographer and friends with most of the artists she visits on these tours. In a bid to cut down on preconceptions, she changes each tour, visiting different numbers of artists in different locations over the three hours she schedules for each session. With cheese, wine and analysis at the end, she rarely finishes on time.

We head back out on to the streets of Melbourne and hop on the train towards the city’s Central Business District (CBD). Here it’s a matter of keeping pace with Alibrando as she buzzes from one place of artistic interest to another. One permanent fixture – and one of Melbourne’s most vibrant artistic features – is its semi-professional graffiti. While authorities don’t officially endorse it, there are certain areas – such as Hosier Lane – where tolerance is to everyone’s benefit. There are hugely colourful and skilled paintings stretching for hundreds of yards along the city centre’s laneways, featuring bizarre cartoon skulls, luminous aliens and outlandish calligraphy.

Melbourne is – or rather was – home to an original work by infamous British street artist Banksy, believed to have been stencilled in 2003. After debate over whether or not the work – a deep sea diver on the corner of Swanson Street and Flinders Lane – was genuine, it was decreed an original and a slab of plexiglass installed to protect it in 2008. While this may have fended off the elements, it didn’t protect it from the large amount of silver paint that was poured across it last December.

“Maybe it wasn’t Banksy in the first place and someone didn’t like him getting the credit for their work; or someone was protesting about the amount of attention his one painting had been given,” says Alibrando. “Either way, silver paint in the street art world represents blood so it’s significant.”

Watching and listening to Alibrando as she flits around, it’s no surprise to learn that Melbourne’s art scene is fuelled by some bitingly strong caffeine. Cafés of uniformly high quality are found throughout the CBD – some are granted short-term leases by local government who would rather see land used productively, even if only for a few months. Yet none are more popular than the institution that is Pellegrini’s, where actors, artists and accountants rub shoulders as they seek some coffee-fuelled inspiration. “Ah the artists,” laughs Sisto, the owner. “A lot of them come in here – you can spot them before they’re through the door.”

Truth be told, for somewhere that’s both famous (as Pellegrini’s most definitely is) and very busy, the small, nondescript café on a corner on Bourke Street on the northern edge of the CBD is pretty hard to find. Its narrow walls house a hive of Italian theatricality: all hand gestures and braggadocio, not to mention the espresso. Like the artists’ studios, it is a gem that rewards those seeking something special.

Our last stop of the day takes us back to Flinders Lane and up to a dingy seventh floor studio to meet Marcus, a jeweller who’s been resident here for 20 years. The place is a marvellous jumble of paint brushes, tools, paper, scalpels, toys and 1940s ballads creeping out from unseen speakers. With wild hair and eyes, Marcus explains he doesn’t care whether his quirky, ornate pieces sell, as long as “I make enough to eat and pay the rent.”

He shares this space with Nick Jones, a sculptor who specialises in creating works from books, with stunning results.

City businessmen rush past below, mostly unaware of the endeavour of these and other artists around town, but the men are granted sufficient tranquillity to work on their respective projects. “Besides,” says Nick, “working in the CBD means we can get some great coffee.”

Where to stay: For the best access to the city’s creative Central Business District, the Crown Towers are a superb choice. The luxury facility includes great views along the Yarra River, fine dining restaurants and an enormous casino.

What to do: To experience Melbourne’s vibrant artistic scene, sign up for the Walk To Art tour. They take place every Wednesday and Saturday and include wine, cheese and conversation.

Getting there: Emirates flies from Glasgow to Melbourne, via Dubai, daily with prices starting from £780. Etihad Airways fly from London Heathrow, via Amsterdam, also daily from £818.