It's the eternal question when it comes to Aussie travel - Sydney or Melbourne, which is best for me? Being Australia's largest – and generally, most famous – pair of cities, Melbourne and Sydney both shine as wonderful examples of everything Oz's urban areas have to offer - and here we attempt to provide an answer.
Both cities frequently appear on annual lists touting the world's most liveable cities, and both have populations that, while relatively large for Australia, still allow for plenty of room to move without ever seeming overcrowded. However, the question often arises from people planning to visit – Sydney vs Melbourne, which one is right for me; and, perhaps more importantly, why?
While it might seem like a simple question at first, looking below the surface it quickly becomes quite complicated. What is important to you as a traveller? Are you looking to see wildlife? Is shopping or nightlife a main focus? Want to take in famous landmarks, or are you more interested in culture and history? All these factors and more come in to play when determining which of Sydney and Melbourne is best for you.
In order to give you a comprehensive summary that will (hopefully) make the decision that little bit easier for you, we'll break down each city's offerings based on different criteria point by point with a rating out of 10, and come up with an “overall” rating. In this clash of the titans of Aussie cities, which of Sydney or Melbourne will come out on top? Read on to find out – and bear in mind this is far more of a “best place to VISIT”, not “best place to LIVE” approach.
Landmarks and Sightseeing
The musical analogy of Sydney being a giant, internationally-known pop group while Melbourne is a hard-working, critically acclaimed indie band seems doubly appropriate when comparing the sightseeing aspects of the two cities. While it's arguable that the latter may be more “respected” than the former, the global, widespread appeal of the first can't be denied, particularly if it's only going to be sampled in the shorter confines of a holiday, and that's exactly what Sydney offers. Sydney's many landmarks are the epitome of what many over people from overseas imagine as symbolising Australia – and it's hard to argue against, considering Sydney Harbour is one of the most picturesque waterways in the world.
The harbour – with its card-carrying icons of the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Fort Denison and more – is a wonderful place to visit, even for an Aussie who has been there countless times before, as it has a certain undeniable energy on top of the oodles of sightseeing spots and fun attractions which can be found within its surrounds. There's always plenty of street entertainment happening, and its proximity to the heart of the city make either grabbing a bite to eat from a small cafe or eater on the waterfront or taking a short walk for a bit of shopping a breeze.
"The musical analogy of Sydney being a giant, internationally-known pop group while Melbourne is a hard-working, critically acclaimed indie band seems appropriate here."
Outside of Sydney Harbour, the city has plenty of other offerings that tend to be of a more natural rather than architectural focus that stands largely in opposition to those of Melbourne; while Sydney's got all the usual spots such as botanic gardens, museums, art galleries and everything else you'd expect (mentioned in further detail below), it's the many beaches which can be found throughout various suburbs in the city which help to separate it from its southern brother.
There are also various man-made landmarks that are all unique in their own way and are well-worth checking out for both their historical significance and visual appeal; the likes of St. Mary's Cathedral (Australia's oldest and perhaps most beautiful church), the Cenotaph (a fine testament to our fallen heroes) and Government House (explorable via regularly-conducted free tours) round out Sydney's landmark offerings. Lastly, Sydney Tower (formerly known as Centrepoint Tower) provides some of the best views you're likely to get in any capital city, and serves as an ideal starting point for getting your bearings around the city and kicking off the first of many potential Sydney adventures.
It's going to be hard for many modern cities throughout the world to measure up to Sydney when it comes to landmarks, but Melbourne gives it a valiant effort. With multiple examples of impressive architecture along with its various iconic sporting venues which have played host to some of Australia's most famous and memorable athletic events, Victoria's capital has no shortage of tourist spots to visit.
Perhaps its best example – for its sheer size as much as its national significance – is the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which might seem as a strange example to someone visiting from abroad (really, a stadium is your most famous landmark?) but is obvious to any Aussie. Able to comfortably fit in over 100,000 people, the MCG has played host to some of the biggest football and cricket matches in Australian history, as well as World Cup qualifiers and even an Olympic Games, not to mention numerous live entertainment performances from the likes of Madonna, U2, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones and many others.
"When all is said and done, however, Melbourne falls short of Sydney in this category simply due to the vibrance of Sydney's harbour."
For a more historical focus, both the Shrine of Remembrance (the focal point of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Australia each November) and the State Library of Victoria (much more than a mere library, with numerous fascinating exhibits including armor worn by famous bush ranger Ned Kelly) are must-visits and architecntural marvels in and of themselves. Melbourne's heritage also shines through with perhaps even more buildings than Sydney established during its younger days, and the marvellous St. Patrick's Cathedral serves as a worthy counterpart to St. Mary's in Sydney to the point where you don't have to be religious in the slightest to appreciate and emanates an atmosphere of intimacy and comfort for all who visit.
Lastly, if you're looking for the spot from which to garner the best views of Melbourne, the Eureka Skydeck atop Eureka Tower provides some great 360 degree views across the Melbourne skyline and out to Port Phillip Bay, although it falls short of Sydney Tower in terms of pure height, clocking in at 297m high as opposed to Sydney Tower's 309m.
When all is said and done, however, Melbourne falls short of Sydney in this category simply due to the vibrance of Sydney's harbour and true uniqueness that the Sydney Opera House's combination of design and location can offer.
The verdict: While Melbourne is far from lacking in things to see and places to visit, it falls to second place by default when faced with the trump card of spectacular Sydney Harbour.
As mentioned above, Sydney checks all the boxes one might expect when visiting an internationally renowned city on the cultural side of things; it's got its fair share of galleries, churches, theatres and museums while often serving as the city of choice for international peformers from around the globe to conduct any one-off shows.
Why is it, then, that “culture” is typically the first thing Melbournians bring up when they attempt to lord their city's virtues over Sydney? What is it that Sydney is supposedly “lacking” that gives Melbourne its reputation as Australia's culture capital? This divide seems to be created by exactly what people mean by their own personal definition of “culture” - and if we're going by the commonly-accepted arts-based view, then it's perhaps understandable why Sydney can be seen as missing out; art and music are generally embraced as an everyday part of the Melbourne lifestyle, while Sydney is seen as more blasé in this regard.
"What is it that Sydney is supposedly “lacking” that gives Melbourne its reputation as Australia's culture capital?"
That said, Sydney is hardly a cultural vacuum – the Sydney Opera House itself is not just an opera house in name, and has long served as a wonderful venue for concerts, musicals, orchestral performances and, of course, operas throughout its 40 year history. Likewise, the annual Sydney Festival in January is the biggest display of performing arts in the country, blending various genres of music and dance into a showcase to which few other events can compare. Sydney also has a thriving alternative rock scene that – despite the much greater level of love thrown at Melbourne's independent music – has produced some of Australia's biggest exports over the years.
Moving towards more educational – or perhaps “edutainment” may be better word in this case – matters, Sydney has plenty to offer the afficianado or other interested party with the Art Gallery of New South Wales being a prime example and a detailed reflection of Australia's multicultural history. Everything from Aboriginal to Asian art is on display here, while those looking for a more modern take will want to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Simply put, while it not may have the intense artsy reputation that Melbourne and its citizens enjoy, Sydney is far from lacking although it may not be the cultural hotbed you may expect from Australia's largest city.
The cliché label of “Australia's culture capital” has long been thrown about in regards to Melbourne – but what, exactly, does that truly mean? It all starts with the diversity of its people; Australia is a massively multicultural society as a whole, but Melbourne is an example of what can be achieved when such a melting pot works well as one. This international influence can be found throughout all aspects of the city, and culture-wise it shows within the fields of music and other performing arts, visual arts and – of course – cooking and food culture in general.
Art is prevalent in all facets and noticeable by simply taking a walk around the city; you'll encounter painted murals, live performances, trendy jazz bars and the like in Melbourne's streets in no time whatsoever. It's in this respect that Melbourne's cultural scene truly shines; it has an organic feel to its art that Sydney simply can't match, and seldom feels forced (Sydneysiders will of course take this and call it “pretentious”, while Melbournians will rebuff them by labelling them “shallow”, and the process will repeat itself ad infinitum for another couple of hundred years.)
"Art is prevalent in all facets of Melbourne and noticeable by simply taking a walk around the city; you'll encounter painted murals, live performances, trendy jazz bars and more."
We'll get to the food aspect of Melbourne later on, but suffice to say it's a major contributor to the so-called “European” atmosphere that the city is often touted as having. This also falls in line with the emphasis on fashion that Melbourne has and its residents tend to take pride in, and “dressing arty” is refined to an artform in Victoria's capital with a strong alternative scene that walks the delicate line between trendy and hipster.
This cultural emphasis is also reflected in its wide number of great venues open to the public, with its art galleries in particular some of the best in the country and featuring a wide variety of architectural designs as diverse as the people who inhabit Melbourne – the city boasts over 100 galleries of various kinds in total.
The National Gallery of Victoria is the jewel in the proverbial crown of all-things-artistic, and features one of the widest arrays of paintings and sculptures in the country, although many of the other numerous smaller galleries do a better job of catering to their respctive niche audiences. Couple these with other cultural buildings mentioned in the “Landmarks” section above with the likes of Federation Square and its multitude of museums, and Melbourne more than earns its reputation in this department.
Music is, of course, a prime focus of the Melbourne arts scene as well with its live scene being highly regarded not just throughout Australia but also on the international stage. Sophisticated and slick, progressive and perhaps a touch pretentious, Melbourne is brimming with live music venues – many of which have acts playing every night of the week. It's this enthusiasm for the art of sound which has lead Melbourne's music scene to produce innumerable internationally-recognised artists and groups including such big names as Skyhooks, Hunters & Collectors, Nick Cave, The Living End, Cut Copy, Gotye and countless more.
All the above elements couple with the strong cuisine and coffee aspects of the city – as well as a government that enthusiastically promotes its culture – to justify the reputation Melbourne has for being a beacon of all things cultural.
The verdict: If you've got a passion for music, art, architecture or fashion, there are few reasons to recommend Sydney over the more carefully-cultivated and quirky Melbourne cultural scene.
Perhaps more than any other element in this breakdown, the quality of nightlife in each of these two cities is such a subjective factor that it's hard to allocate a definitive “winner” as it will largely depend on what floats your proverbial boat when it comes to a good night out.
As far as Sydney goes, it's developed a rather nasty - and perhaps unfair - reputation in recent years as being an unsafe place to enjoy a night on the town, which is justified in the sense that if you're visiting a dodgy suburb (as in any major city throughout the world) then you may find yourself in a hostile environment. Stick to the obvious entertainment areas such as Darling Harbour, The Rocks, the Potts Point area or the more reputable establishments on Oxford Street and you'll most likely be fine (although by the end of the night your wallet most certainly won't be).
When it comes to the nightlife scene in general, Sydney is definitely a little more focused on the flashy side of things when compared to Melbourne; many of its most popular venues are showcases of the “beautiful people” out to strut their stuff, and some of the largest nightclubs in the city draw the biggest names in DJ and other live talent from around the world on a semi-regular basis.
"Sydney gives off that "bright lights, big city" vibe a little more than Melbourne's generally more subdued, yet intimate atmosphere."
In this vein, Sydney tends to be more focused towards the dance/clubbing crowd as it serves as home to some of the largest nightclubs in Australia, so if this is your thing (I.e, you're most likely aged somewhere between 18 – 25) then you'll likely be in your element. Check out the likes of The Ivy, Home Nightclub or the Chinese Laundry if this is the type of evening that piques your interest. Sydney definitely gives off that “bright lights, big city” vibe a little more than Melbourne's more intimate atmosphere, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.
That's not to say that Sydney is lacking for the likes of quality bars and other smaller-scale spots to while away a night and grab a drink, however; in fact, while there may be fewer per square metre than in Melbourne, many of the top award-winning bars and pubs can be found within Sydney. In 2012, Australian Bartender magazine awarded the titles of Bar of the Year, Cocktail Bar of the Year, and Pub of the Year - among others - to venues that all reside in Sydney (pay a visit to the suburbs of Darlinghurst or Surry Hills if you're after a quality bar), many of which have various themes and niche targets that make them special.
As far as Sydney's unsafe night spot reputation goes, it's mostly simply a matter of avoiding a select few areas. Kings Cross in particular leans far towards the, shall we say, “adventurous” side of the scale and is generally recommended to be avoided at all costs unless you're in pursuit of a wild night. Other than this suburb and a few of the seedier sections of George and Oxford streets, however, Sydney is generally an enjoyable – if slightly superficial and overpriced – place to party the night away, and is definitely recommended to those looking for your typical big city clubbing experience.
Click the following link for a more detailed breakdown of Sydney's nightlife.
Melbourne's artistic focus also largely carries over towards its nightlife scene, with less of an emphasis on massive, Top-40 type venues than the majority of Sydney's offerings. Without generalising (OK, we will actually be generalising), Melbourne's nightlife has a distinctly more mature tone overall, with the aforementioned abundance of live music working alongside its numerous rooftop bars to make for a pleasantly different experience.
The key word here is, of course, “different” - just because it's typically more laid-back and artsy doesn't inherently make it “better”, although the trendiness of the scene can't be denied. Melbourne's overall vibe does in large part feel more safe than not only Sydney but also many other nightlife hotspots (think the Gold Coast or Cairns) around Australia, and this lack of aggression can make for a much more relaxing evening on the whole.
"Would you prefer to have to roll your eyes at a scarf-in-summer-wearing hipster as he criticises all your favourite bands in Melbourne, or have a higher likelihood of being glassed at one of Australia's other shadier nightlife regions?"
The alternative nature of the scene can, however, tend to rub some people the wrong way, particularly the predominant “hipster” culture that has been a part of Melbourne since the 70's but has become especially more prevalent within the last decade – the counterpoint to which has always been: “Would you prefer to have to roll your eyes at a scarf-in-summer-wearing hipster as he criticises all your favourite bands for being “too commercial” in Melbourne, or have a more likely chance of being glassed in the face at one of Australia's other shadier nightlife regions?” which, as far as we can tell, is a point well made.
As a result, the sheer quantity of live music venues that can be found within Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs (Fitzroy and St Kilda in particular make for solid choices) can be almost overwhelming, and your choice of venues is often best determined by basing it on your favourite genre of music. Like house music? Go to Prince of Wales on a Saturday night. Want a dose of R&B? Head to Alumbra on Fridays. Are you a bit of a metal-head? Both Bang and Next should satisfy. A bit older yet still looking to have a dance? Club Retro or any other numerous small jazz bars around the CBD should satisfy.
The variety of Melbourne nightlife on offer makes recommending a single venue impossible, yet it's that array of choice that gives the city its reputation – plus if you are willing to wear thick-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans, you may just guarantee yourself free entry to every place with a cover charge (just kidding Melbournians).
Plus, as a final point in its favour, if you're into casinos, Melbourne's Crown Casino and its surrounding complex is perhaps Australia's finest.
The verdict: It's hard to break down two major city's entire nightlife cultures into a single sentence, but here's how we'd do it: Melbourne for bars and live music, Sydney for clubbing.
One of the more humorous debates that often pops up between the two cities is which of them offers the best food and dining, with Melbournians often immediately raising their nose in the air as if they win the argument by default. Many Australians also consider this an open-and-shut case – but is Melbourne getting by based simply on reputation alone? Yes, and no.
Where Sydney shines food-wise is generally on the top-end of the dining spectrum; that is to say that, if you're willing to pay for it, Sydney has some of the top-rated restaurants in the country that produce some of the most exclusive, unique and mouth-watering cuisine you're likely to sample while still on Aussie shores. If you're willing to open your wallet, Sydney has offerings that even the top-tier spots in Melbourne can't match, with four entries on the World's Best Restaurants list as opposed to Melbourne's one.
"Where Sydney shines food-wise is generally on the top-end of the dining spectrum; that is to say that, if you're willing to pay for it, Sydney has some of the top-rated restaurants in the country."
Of course, the majority of us don't fall into this range of food connoisseur (or at least, can't afford to on a regular basis), and it's in this middle-tier of restaurants that Sydney is surprisingly lacking given its size and ethnic diversity. It's not that options are limited – the quantity is what one might expect from a large metropolis – it's just that the best restaurants that are reasonably-priced tend to be restricted to Asian cuisine, which is fine if you've got a taste for it, but feels a bit limited in comparison to Melbourne's more diverse European offerings. The Asian food is, however, largely delicious, with Sydney's Dixon Street providing some of the best band-for-the-buck Chinese, Thai, and Korean food you're likely to find this side of the Orient.
Sydney's one major advantage when it comes to dining experiences also ties in to its upper hand in the “landmarks” category above; that is, if there is a more beautiful waterfront dining location in Australia than Sydney Harbour, we'd like to hear it. Not to disparage the Yarra River, which has its own sense of charm, but sipping on a wine on Circular Quay while gazing out and seeing the illuminated spectacle of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge is something that can't be replicated in Melbourne, and from a tourist's point of view in particular this is likely to be one of those “bucket list” meal options.
Much like its nightlife scene, Sydney excels where flash, pizazz and sexiness are concerned – eating food has never looked so good.
Does Melbourne only offer such a great range of eateries because people have to be inside all the time? While most Sydneysiders would claim this to be the main driving factor, regardless of the underlying reason it's a simple fact that Melbourne's dining is a point of pride for the city as a whole; as they say, stereotypes exist for a reason. It's not simply the range of options, either; eating out in Melbourne tends to be a more cost-effective endeavour compared to Sydney as far as getting value for your money is concerned, with it highly possible to get a decent feed in the Melbourne CBD for $10 -$15 that isn't likely to give you salmonella poisoning.
The city's large Greek and otherwise European influence combines with Asian touches to produce a great fusion of food styles, and in terms of locations, a visit to the Bourke Street Mall (which lies next to Melbourne's Chinatown) will likely be all you'll need to be swamped with food options – Italian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Aussie pubs and more all blanket the area to tempt you with their offerings.
"The city's large Greek and otherwise European influence combines with Asian touches to produce a great fusion of food styles."
It's this ability to gain a substantially enjoyable feed at a reasonable price that truly separates Melbourne's dining from the majority of Sydney's – that is to say, it's more of a matter of pricing and options than it is pure quality, unlike some would have you believe. From high-end offerings such as Esca Grill to cost-effective Italian dishes at Pellegrini's to entirely-unique dining experiences like the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant that surrounds you with the city's urban scenery, dining choices in Melbourne are limited only by distance and your wallet.
Lastly, no mention of Melbourne's culinary aptitude would be complete without a tip of the cap to its coffee culture. It's often said that “the Yarra River runs brown”, which isn't to say it's overflowing with sewerage; rather that coffee is the lifeblood that keeps the city's heart pumping. The proliferation of cafes on offer in Melbourne today is staggering; unfortunately, this reputation has also had the side effect of many new cafes opening up in an attempt to capitalise on the city's name in an attempt to make a quick buck, dragging down the public perception of the coffee quality as a whole.
Thus, if you're a coffee junkie attempting to get your fix in Melbourne, it makes choosing a long-standing cafe with a solid reputation all the more important – check out the likes of Cup of Truth (Degraves St Subway, Flinder St), Assembly (Pelham St, Carlton), Sila Espresso Bar (Brunswick St, Fitzroy) and Little Wish (CBD) for a reliable brew.
The verdict: For sheer depth, variety and value of dining, Melbourne has Sydney beat – yet if you're willing to splash out, dining on Sydney Harbour is something that can't be matched.
Comparing the two cities in terms of shopping – and we have to do it here, as it's a topic that we often get asked about – is, quite frankly, similar to comparing apples to slightly-different-coloured apples. By this we mean that, if you're after distinctly different larger franchise shopping experiences, both Sydney and Melbourne offer much the same – you can get your likes of upper-end brands Gucci, Prada, Armani, and even Zara in both Sydney and Melbourne, while mid-tier department stores and fashion outlets can almost universally be found in both.
The difference in shopping between Sydney and Melbourne is mainly, then in the details of the more eccentric, alternative shopping options. Sydney does quite well in this regard, and does a nice job of incorporating old-style architecture into part of its shopping ethos – and this is perhaps best exemplified by the iconic Queen Victoria Building on George Street in the heart of the city.
"The difference in shopping between Sydney and Melbourne is mainly in the details of the more eccentric, alternative shopping options than large department stores."
It's a wonderful, grandly-designed building with its domed staircase and stain-glassed windows adding a pleasant atmosphere for browsing some of the most popular fashion outlets while also offering art galleries and chic coffee shops. Simply put, it feels “classier” than other shopping options, and stands as one of the “proud old ladies” of shopping located right in the heart of a modern metropolis.
Meanwhile, other options abound throughout the city, with various large complexes dominated the shopping scene including Westfield at Bondi Junction which features a mass of stores spread out over 6 levels, Chifley Plaza which serves as the hub for those looking for designer labels, and the Broadway Shopping Centre which resides inside the historic Grace Brother's building. If you can't find what you're looking for at once of these locations, then you're unlikely to find it anywhere else in Sydney.
These large-scale shopping options are also augmented by the regular outdoor markets which take place throughout the city on weekends and are the destination of choice for those in Sydney looking for hand-crafted goods and niche knick-knacks of all sorts. Paddington, Bondi, and The Rocks all have great market shopping, while the king of Sydney's market scene goes to Paddy's Markets that stock everything from clothes to electronics to freshly-cooked delicacies. Simply put, Sydney is a shopper's delight and – despite popular opinion – the prices of most items are rarely much more expensive than those found in Melbourne.
Click the following link for a detailed breakdown of Sydney's best shopping spots.
As mentioned, Melbourne's shopping isn't so much “better” than Sydney's as it is different; all in all, they are both outstanding cities for shopping while Melbourne has the slight edge in terms of smaller boutiques and – here's that word again – artsy products.
The “laneways” style of shopping is what gives Melbourne its unique take on the experience, with the layout of the city conducive to stumbling down a hidden street and discovering an absolute gem of a store by complete accident. Fashion is the name of the game when it comes to Melbourne, and there are a metric ton of uniquely talented designers who operate stores where you'll no doubt be able to grab something that reflects “you” (at least, as much as something as shallow as fashion truly can).
"The “laneways” style of shopping is what gives Melbourne its unique take on the experience, with stumbling down a hidden street and discovering an absolute gem of a store an often enjoyable accident."
Queen Victoria Market which runs from Thursday to Saturday as well as Tuesday evenings is, in terms of sheer size, the most diverse and impressive spot in Melbourne for a market experience, with the different ethnicities giving way to countless stalls filled with foreign foods, drinks, clothes, accessories and everything else under the sun.
The Prahran Market on Commercial Road, meanwhile, is widely known to provide some of the best delis in the city, with fresh produce of all kinds being the order of the day and live entertainment complimenting the proceedings nicely. Lastly, art aficionados will want to pay a visit to the Rose Street Artists Market that showcases a cavalcade of works from some of the budding local talent which – due to the lack of gallery fees – allows them to sell their work at a far more competitive price.
In terms of bigger-brand and more typical shopping options, Melbourne again delivers here. Many will choose the Bourke Street Mall as their starting point for a shopping adventure, and with good reason – it's filled to the brim with a variety of shops and treasures and is widely considered to be the heart of Melbourne's retail therapy. Other spots will depend on what you're after; Bridge Road in Richmond is considered the go-to spot for designer clothes, Melbourne Central train station's complex provides massive variety of over 300 stores, Toorak Road offers everything high-end, and there are numerous other spots in between. Prices are as varied as the options on offer; how much you want to spend in Melbourne is entirely up to you.
Click the following link for a detailed breakdown of Melbourne's best shopping spots.
The verdict: It's a matter of “potayto-potahto” when it comes to shopping in Sydney and Melbourne – both are world-class venues that are a dream for retail therapists.
One of the biggest factors working in Sydney's favour is that, despite its status as the largest city in Australia, it's still managed to maintain far less of an overwhelmingly concreted feel than that which plagues the like of big international cities such as Tokyo or New York.
Yes, there are areas directly in the heart of the CBD where you'll have sunlight completely blocked, but this is only in very specific and isolated situations – and even then, you'll likely only ever be a short walk from the likes of Hyde Park which serves as a beacon of nature that adds plenty of welcome greenery to the urban jungle. In general the city goes a nice job of regularly interspersing park land, botanic gardens and a general distribution of trees to help break up the monotony of the CBD.
"Sydney stands out from Melbourne in terms of nature in two major areas: bushwalking/hiking opportunities and, of course, its beaches."
Sydney also stands out from Melbourne in terms of nature in two other major areas – bushwalking/hiking opportunities and, of course, its beaches. In terms of walks and hiking, there are a surprising number of charming areas both in and around the city that provide a dose of the greenery that nature lovers may be looking to encounter whether it's around the Harbour or on the outskirts of the city where plenty of national parkland can be found.
The majority of the most popular tracks are well-signed and maintained, meaning getting lost will seldom be a concerned, and many offer wonderful view points from which to take in some of Sydney's highlights. Walking the Spit to Manly or Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach provide wonderful blends of bay and bush, while heading to the city's perimeter provides even more options. Plus, the tempting spectacle of the Blue Mountains beckons not-too-great a distance away and provides some of the best scenery in all of NSW.
Beaches (and beach culture in general), meanwhile, are what truly separates Sydney from Melbourne on the natural side of things; while big names like Bondi and Manly steal the show, there are many other far less commercial – yet no less impressive – seaside locales in Sydney which offer plenty of surf and sandy fun. Bronte, Clovelly, Dee Why and Coogee beaches are all impressive in their own way, and all easily reachable from the city's CBD.
When compared to Sydney, one of the main differences in natural terms is that Melbourne feels like it was designed with being built around greenery from the ground up, whereas Sydney has had clumps of nature added periodically by force to add a splash of colour. In that vein, Melbourne does a better job of integrating its architecture and layout around pre-existing nature than Sydney does. Park and tree-lined streets just seem less forced in Melbourne than in Sydney, as if they are part of the city itself rather than a later addition.
"Melbourne feels like it was designed by being built around greenery whereas Sydney had to have clumps of nature added periodically by force."
This trees-and-greenery touch also ties in nicely with the Yarra River snaking its way gracefully through the city, making riverside dining a popular activity, and there are plenty of gum tree forests in various suburbs by the riverside that provide the feeling of being far further away from the city than one might expect.
Unfortunately, other than its various quality parks and the occasional sunset by St Kilda bay, that's pretty much it when it comes to Melbourne's natural offerings; as a fairly flat city there isn't much in the way of viewing points or lookouts, and its relative lack of quality beaches when compared to Sydney serve as a negative for those who enjoy coastal environments. Mount Dandenong is one of the few natural destinations within the city's greater boundaries that offers a good view of the city, and other than that you're looking at a several-hour trip at least to take in the more spectacular features such as the Grampians or Great Ocean Road.
In all, there's nothing wrong with Melbourne's nature – it's more simply a case that there isn't really any “wow” factor to be found without a hike outside its limits, and the weather puts a damper on attempting to enjoy it. Melbourne is generally a pleasant, well-laid-out, green city – but that's about as far as it goes.
The verdict: While Melbourne is by no means an ugly city, it misses out on many of the impressive view points and great seaside environments that Sydney can offer.
Oh boy. If there's any one category that is likely to be the downfall of NSW's capital in a Sydney vs. Melbourne debate, it's the transport – and what a debacle it is. If it wasn't for the city's impressive ferry system, the transportation situation in Sydney would earn a thumbs-down all around; its roads are a poorly-planned mess that make getting out to the suburbs from the city an ordeal, and its trains use an extremely dated ticketing system that is appallingly old fashioned for a global city.
Sydney's CityRail service is often dis-affectionately referred to as an unprintable word which begins with S and rhymes with its name, which should give you an idea how most Sydneysiders feel about it – and it's legitimately overpriced to boot.
"Sydney's CityRail service is often dis-affectionately referred to as an unprintable word which begins with "S" and rhymes with its name."
Sticking to driving isn't much better, as Sydney's roads are notoriously tight and difficult to navigate, and driving through the city if you don't know EXACTLY where you're going can be something out of a nightmare. This is largely a result of a significant lack of any rhyme or reason to the layout of the roads themselves; it's as if the roads were built hurriedly and without thought in order to cope with the city's rapidly expanding population.
Sydney's bus system is adequate – there are always sufficient numbers of buses, and their price isn't too exhorbitant – but they are facing an uphill battle in that they are forced to share the crowded roads with fellow motorists, making them not much of a better proposition. Couple all of these factors with some dodgy train lines (with the trains themselves frequent targets of graffiti) as well as significant gaps in the public transport offerings in various suburbs, and it's a situation that has caused headaches to residents and visitors visiting all but the most central of CBD locations for a long time.
The one saving grace for Sydney's public transport is the ferry system which is based out of its hub in Darling/Sydney Harbour. This is especially handy for tourists as it allows visitors to the city to access many of the prominent sightseeing points of Sydney – Taronga Zoo, Manly, etc. - while getting a dose of the harbour's landmarks along the way. In all, if you're sticking to the city centre then Sydney's transport situation isn't too terrible; however venturing further than that can be an exercise in frustration.
Melbourne's transportation system, while still generally quite good, used to be a prime example of one of the best public transport systems in the world yet has gradually fallen down the ladder as the city has expanded and the population has ballooned. This is alleviated somewhat by the city's logical grid structure that makes travel by road for those who don't know their way much less of a headache than in Sydney, as well as Melbourne's excellent tram system that is a great alternative for getting around central locations within the city.
"Melbourne's public transport system is typically a deal cheaper than Sydney's, so if you're relying on it then you'll likely end up saving a fair bit of coin."
However, this is being continually offset more and more by overcrowding issues – good luck getting a tram the first time in rush hour – that have come with the city's increased popularity. The Melbourne bus system isn't faring much better these days, with services often packed to the brim at peak times. On the plus side, Melbourne's public transport is typically a deal cheaper than Sydney's, so if you're going to be reliant on travel via bus/tram/train then you'll likely end up saving a fair bit of coin once it's all said and done.
The ticketing system on Melbourne's public transport is also substantially more passenger-friendly than Sydney's (especially if you're a first-time visitor) although it's not without its issues. Ticketing between transport types is integrated into the one ticket, so it's possible to simply purchase your fare for as long as you'll need it and then take multiple forms of transport to get where you need to go, and it's all handled electronically as opposed to Sydney's primitive paper-based offering.
The verdict: Melbourne's transport situation beats Sydney by virtue of better planning, a useful tram system, and logical road layout, however both could use substantial improvement.
If Melbourne can smugly lord its transport situation over Sydney, then Sydney can land a punch right back when it comes to weather. While it's a technicality that Sydney actually receives more rainfall per year than Melbourne, the region typically gets its rainfall in large, clustered downpours that are highly predictable, in stark contrast to Melbourne's patch and erratic weather. Sydney's climate is generally classed as “temperate” which means you can expect warm summers coupled with cool winters, rarely experiencing too great of an extreme except for some occasional 40+ degree days during the hottest times of the year.
"The size of the entire area classed as “Sydney” is large enough that it's common to have variations anywhere from 2 to 5 degrees warmer in the western suburbs compared to the coast. "
Heatwaves HAVE become a semi-regular occurrence over the years, with water restrictions often put into place for conservation purposes, and bush fires occasionally flare up on the far outskirts of the city, however on the whole Sydney's climate is very moderate and generally comfortable. The size of the entire area classed as “Sydney” is also so great that it's common to have variations anywhere from 2 to 5 degrees warmer in the western suburbs compared to the coast.
The yearly average maximum temperature for Sydney as a whole is approximately a pleasant 21.7°C (71.1°F), with the minimum average of 13.8°C (56.8°F) reinforcing the general comfort level the climate provides. Rain is spread fairly evenly throughout the year in Sydney, with June being the wettest month and September the driest. Sydney averages around 14 days of rainfall each month throughout the year.
The transition of seasons in Sydney is also not as harsh or as much of a strong contrast as those in Melbourne, and while it makes things easier to deal with, also doesn't add quite the same level of charm the variations in scenery that Autumn or Spring can otherwise bring. Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to Sydney – you'll almost certainly know exactly what to expect and be able to make plans to enjoy the beach or stay inside accordingly, and it's this factor alone that almost single-handedly makes it much preferable to Melbourne.
If Melbourne has a proverbial Achilles' Heel, it's the weather. It's not that it's exactly bad, it's just that the variable and unpredictable nature of what is actually going to happen during the day inconvenient at best, and downright annoying at worst. Many Melbournians have taken to always wearing multiple layers of clothes regardless of the season, allowing them to either strip off or rug up according to the changes in temperature and/or rainfall. There's an ironic argument to be made for this situation – that if you don't like the weather in Melbourne, well hey, at least you won't have to wait long for it to change!
This variation in weather conditions is largely due to its geographic location on an intersection of hot inland region mixing with cold Southern sea climes. This temperature variation can cause a wide variety of weather phenomena including gales, severe thunderstorms, sudden large temperature drops, and heavy rain. Melbourne is also colder than most other Australian capital cities, with the extremes experienced in the colder months more pronounced than the other major centres of
"If you don't like the weather in Melbourne, well hey, at least you won't have to wait long for it to change!"
The cooler mainland climates of Melbourne can contrast strongly with its often-hot summers; the cold fronts that often form over the region lead to a high level of rainfall in the Winter months compared to relatively dry Summers and early Autumns. The yearly average maximum temperature for Melbourne is approximately 19.8°C (67.6°F) while the minimum average hovers around 10.2°C (50.4°F), indicative of its cooler climate in comparison to the other mainland capitals.
Rainfall tends to come in heavy bursts throughout the Melbourne region, with comparatively narrow downpours of heavy showers that are isolated to specific areas of the city being affected while the surrounding suburbs remain dry. Sudden, heavy showers that may contain hail are also not uncommon in Melbourne, but tend to pass quickly with the weather recovering speedily to clear, pre-downpour conditions. Perhaps the only upside in the variation Melbourne's seasons and weather bring is that the beautiful gardens the city is famous for wear their Autumn colours well, with the combination of deciduous and evergreen trees providing an impressive range of visual contrasts to enjoy.
It's this will-it-be-good-or-will-it-be-bad nature combined with colder overall temperatures that make Melbourne a clear second place in this argument.
The verdict: In a clear-cut victory, Sydney's consistent and warmer weather greatly outdo Melbourne's unpredictable and annoyingly changeable climate to the point that it can be the main deciding factor for some.
It's not going to be too much of a surprise to anyone if Sydney comes out on top here; as Australia's largest city you'd almost expect it to offer the most things to keep you occupied, and you'd be more than correct for assuming so. Sydney's landmarks, weather, variety and geographical location all come together to make it one of the most varied and diverse cities in the world in terms of activities, attractions and pure “stuff to do”. In this sense, it's not exactly a shock – as a much more tourist-oriented city (although Melbourne is always catching up), Sydney basically does the whole “sightseeing” thing a little better than Melbourne; its zoos are bigger, its buildings are larger and its landmarks are more renowned.
While Melbournians might roll their eyes at the above, when speaking from a pure tourist point of view these seemingly-superficial factors play a huge part in Sydney's appeal – if you've got only a few days to explore a new or foreign city,
"Sydney basically does the whole “sightseeing” thing a little better than Melbourne; its zoos are bigger, its buildings are larger and its landmarks are more renowned."
wouldn't you want to do the “token” things? Sydney's got plenty to keep people both young and old occupied in addition to all the cultural and nightlife factors listed previously; there are a bunch of great animal facilities within easy reach of the centrally-located Circular Quay area such as Taronga Zoo, Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife World, that are great for those with kids, and the Harbour itself is an attraction with innumerable things to see and do.
Climb the Harbour Bridge, ride the monorail, go to the top of Sydney Tower, visit the Art Gallery of NSW or the Sydney Maritime Museum... you get the drift. All a visitor has to do to enjoy Sydney is base themselves out of the Harbour and they'll have access to several days' worth of entertainment all easily reachable, while if you're wanting to venture further the Blue Mountains, Jenolan Caves, Jervis Bay and the Hunter Valley wine region are all doable within the course of a day trip.
The one surprisingly conspicuous thing Sydney is lacking for a major city (and this is true of Melbourne also) is a true theme park – while the iconic Luna Park serves as an adequate time-and-money sink with a few rides in a great location, it's hard to compare it to the likes of the theme parks which can be found on the Gold Coast, or even near Perth. This is likely to soon be rectified to some degree with the construction of the new Wet 'n' Wild Sydney water park, and if you aren't travelling with kids then it's not likely to be a concern anyway.
In terms of diversity and things to do for both visitors and residents alike, Sydney is the rightful jewel in the crown of Australia.
In comparison to Sydney's huge number of raw offerings, Melbourne falls slightly behind, and it's in this category that is proves to be relatively lacking. An indie culture is all well and good, but it's lead to an everything-we-can-do-Sydney-does-better factor that it can't shake; it's still got a good range of places to visit, but Melbourne is going to remain a distant second place here for the foreseeable future. Bars, restaurants and cafes are all well and good, but there's only so much dining and drinking a person can do in a single day, and it's definitely not as kid-friendly for travellers as Sydney can be.
This is almost always a result of a direct comparison to Sydney's equivalent offerings: the Yarra River is nice, but it's no Sydney Harbour.
"Melbourne serves as the ideal gateway to visit some of the more unique attractions that Victoria can offer such as the Great Ocean Road, Grampians and Wilson's Promontory."
Melbourne Aquarium is fun, but it's not as big as Sydney Aquarium. The Eureka Skydeck is tall, but it's not as tall as Sydney Tower... and so on. What Melbourne does do however is serve as the ideal gateway to visit some of the more unique attractions that Victoria as a whole can offer – we've mentioned the spectacular Great Ocean Road and Grampians areas before, but there are also the wonderful Wilson's Promontory with its rugged coastal scenery, the charming old-world themed town of Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, and the impressive wildlife haven of Phillip Island just off the coast where you can encounter penguins, seals and more.
Keeping things within the city limits, however, and unless you're a culinary connoisseur, art admirer or music fanatic then you may find Melbourne to be somewhat lacking when it comes to pure, shallow, raw fun.
The verdict: Melbourne may be better at what it does than Sydney, but Sydney overwhelms with a greater volume of great things to see and do - particularly for those with kids.
As can be seen from their overall scores, there is little separating the two cities, with Sydney narrowly edging Melbourne by the smallest of margins by virtue of its famous landmarks, natural offerings, better weather and sheer variety – however personal preference is the name of the game here. So how is one to truly decide which is better, Sydney or Melbourne? Trust us, it's not them; it's you, we swear.
+ Things to do