Although Canberra is the capital of Australia, it has nothing on Sydney and Melbourne, two beautiful cities that are very different sides of the same coin. Both offer a boat load of culture and gorgeous architecture. But where one is renowned for its beaches and bold attitude, the other gets top marks for an eco-friendly attitude and hipster vibe.
So which city is for you to visit? Here’s our lowdown on Australia’s greatest debate.
While technically Sydney actually received more rainfall per year than Melbourne, the region typically gets its rainfall in large downpours that are predictable, contrasting with Melbourne’s patch and erratic weather.
Sydney’s climate is generally temperate and comfortable, meaning you can expect warm summers and cool winters, rarely experiencing too extreme climate of either, apart from some occasional 40+ degree days during the hottest times of the year.
The transition of seasons isn’t as harsh or strong as it is in Melbourne, which makes it easier to deal with, but doesn’t add the same level of charm that the autumn and spring scenery bring. You’ll know exactly what to expect weather-wise in Sydney, making it easier to plan trips – this factor alone makes the weather much preferable here than in Melbourne.
The weather in Melbourne isn’t exactly bad, but it’s unpredictable and very variable, which can be inconvenient and quite annoying.
The variation in weather conditions is largely due to its geographic location – being on an intersection of hot inland region, mixing with cold sea breezes from the south. This can cause severe thunderstorms, sudden temperature drops and heavy rain. Melbourne is colder than most other Australian cities, with the colder months being more extreme.
The only upside is perhaps the variation of Melbourne’s seasons and weather, meaning the beautiful gardens in the city boast beautiful autumn colours.
In a clear victory, Sydney’s consistent and warmer weather is definitely more appealing than Melbourne’s annoyingly unpredictable climate.
Oh dear. If there’s any category that’s going to be the downfall for Sydney in this Sydney vs Melbourne debate, it’s the transport. If it wasn’t for the city’s ferry system, the transportation in Sydney would be pretty rubbish – its roads are poorly planned, and its trains use an extremely dated ticketing system that is old-fashioned for a global city.
Sydney’s CityRail service isn’t great at all, and it’s legitimately overpriced to boot. But sticking to driving isn’t much better, as Sydney’s roads are difficult to navigate and very tight. It’s as if the roads were built in a hurry and without much thought in order to cope with the city’s fast growing population.
The one saving grace for Sydney’s public transport is the ferry system, which is handy for tourists as it allows visitors to access many of the sightseeing points of Sydney including Manly and Taronga Zoo.
Melbourne’s transportation system used to be one of the best in the world, and although it has gradually fallen down the ladder as the city’s population has ballooned, it is still generally good. The logical grid structure makes travel by road much easier here than in Sydney, and Melbourne’s excellent tram system is a great alternative for getting around central locations within the city – just try to avoid rush hour!
Melbourne’s public transport is typically cheaper than Sydney’s, and if you’re travelling in the “Green-Zone”, you can jump aboard the trams and travel for free.
Melbourne’s transport situation beats Sydney due to better planning, a handy tram system, and a much great road layout.
Landmarks and sightseeing
Considering Sydney Harbour is one of the most picturesque waterways in the world, Sydney’s many landmarks are what many other people from overseas imagine as symbolising Australia. Compared to Melbourne, Sydney is the must-visit destination for the memorable Aussie tourist snaps.
The harbour is home to some icons including the Sydney Opera House, Fort Denison and Harbour Bridge. The atmosphere at Circular Quay is fantastic, with street performers captivating audiences with music, comedy, magic tricks and more.
Outside of Sydney Harbour, the city has plenty of more natural offerings rather than the architectural focus standing in opposition to those of Melbourne. While Sydney has all the usual spots such as botanical gardens, art galleries and museums, it’s the beautiful beaches spread along the coast that help it to stand out from Melbourne.
With numerous examples of fantastic architecture along with its various iconic sporting venues, Victoria’s capital has no shortage of tourist spots to visit.
The best example could be the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The MCG has played host to some of the biggest football and cricket matches in Australian history, as well as numerous live entertainment performers.
For a more historic focus, the State Library of Victoria and the Shrine of Remembrance are architectural marvels in and of themselves and are must-visits. Melbourne’s heritage shines through with arguably more buildings than Sydney.
If you’re looking for a spot to enjoy the best views of Melbourne, the Eureka Skydeck atop Eureka Tower provides some gorgeous scenes of the Melbourne skyline and out to Port Philip Bay.
While Melbourne is far from lacking in places to visit and things to see, it falls at second place by default when faced with the trump card of spectacular Sydney Harbour.
Sydney in recent years has developed a perhaps unfair reputation as being an unsafe place for nightlife, which can be justified if you’re visiting a dodgy suburb you may find yourself in a hostile environment. Stick to the obvious entertainment areas such as The Rocks, the Potts Point area and Darling Harbour, or more reputable establishments on Oxford Street.
Generally, Sydney is a little more focused on the flashy side of things in comparison to Melbourne. It 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 things you’ll be in your element. Sydney definitely gives off that “bright lights, big city” atmosphere a little more than Melbourne’s more intimate vibe, which can be either a good or bad thing depending on your preference.
That doesn’t mean to say that Sydney is lacking smaller scale spots and bars. While there are fewer here than in Melbourne, many of the top award-winning bars and pubs can be found in Sydney – many of which have various themes and niche targets that make them special.
Melbourne’s artistic focus comes through to its nightlife scene, with less emphasis on massive venues than the majority of Sydney’s offerings. Melbourne’s nightlife has a more mature tone, with an abundance of live music working alongside its numerous rooftop bars to make for a pleasantly different experience.
The most live music venues that can be found within Melbourne and its surrounding suburbs include Fitzroy and St Hilda. The variety of Melbourne’s nightlife gives the city its reputation. And as a final point in its favour, if you’re into casinos, their Crown Casino and its surrounding complex is perhaps Australia’s finest.
It’s not easy to break down two major city’s entire nightlife cultures into a sentence or two, but here’s how we will: Sydney for clubbing, Melbourne for bars and live music.
Sydney’s food is generally on the top-end of the dining spectrum, but that is to say that if you’re willing to pay for it. Sydney has some of the top restaurants in the country that produce some of the most unique and mouth-watering cuisines.
Of course, the majority of us don’t fall into this range of food connoisseur, and it’s in this middle-tier of restaurants that Sydney is surprisingly lacking given its diversity and size. The best restaurants that are reasonably priced tend to be restricted to Asian cuisine, which is fine if you enjoy it, but feels quite limited in comparison to Melbourne’s more diverse European offerings.
One major advantage is the dining experiences you can get in Sydney: we can’t compare much to dining on Circular Quay while gazing out to the illuminated spectacle of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, something that’s likely to be one of those bucket meal options for tourists.
Not only does it have a great range of eating options, but eating out in Melbourne tends to be more cost-effective than it is in Sydney. The city’s large Greek and other European influence combined with hints of Asian produce a great fusion of food styles. A visit to the Bourke Street Mall will be all you’ll need to be greeted with varied food options.
Melbourne’s culinary aptitude wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its coffee culture. The amount of cafes on offer is staggering. If you’re a coffee junkie, Melbourne makes choosing a long-standing café with a solid reputation vital – something you’ll have plenty of options with here.
For variety and value of dining, Melbourne comes above Sydney. But if you’re happy to splash out, dining on Sydney Harbour is something that can’t be beaten.
Things to do
Unsurprisingly, being Australia’s largest city, Sydney does come out on top here. Being a much more tourist-oriented city, it kind of does the whole sight-seeing thing a little better here. Sydney’s got plenty for people of all ages, including the nightlife as described previously. There are some great animal facilities within easy reach of the Circular Quay. The Harbour itself is also an attraction with loads of things to see and do.
Ride the monorail, go to the top of Sydney Tower, climb the Harbour Bridge, visit the Art Gallery of NSW and much more. If you want to venture further than the Harbour, the Jenolan Caves, the Blue Mountains and the Jervis Bay are all worth a visit.
Melbourne falls slightly behind in comparison to Sydney’s huge number of offerings. It’s still got a good range of places to visit, but you would get the gist that anything Melbourne does in this category, Sydney does it better.
Melbourne Aquarium is fun, but not as big as Sydney Aquarium. The Eureka Skydeck is tall, but not as tall as Sydney Tower. The Yarra is nice, but it’s no Sydney harbour… I’m sure you get the gist. Melbourne does serve as the ideal place to visit some of the more unique attractions that Victoria can offer. This includes Wilson’s Promontory with its rugged coastal scenery, the charming town of Sovereign Hill. Also the wildlife haven of Phillip Island just off the coast where you can encounter seals, penguins and more.
Melbourne may be better at what it does than Sydney, but Sydney wins with greater volume of things to see and do – particularly for youngsters.
Overall, Sydney and Melbourne do match up in their different ways to be evenly fantastic cities. Sydney beats Melbourne with its famous landmarks, better weather and sheer variety. However Melbourne comes on top with its easily accessible transportation, exceptional food choices and a vibe that is different to a big city theme.
Personal preference is the name of the game here.
If you’ve been to either or both cities, share with us your thoughts!
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