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I’m weighing in on one of the biggest Australian debates – is Melbourne or Sydney better?
When it’s your first time visiting Australia and you only have limited vacation days, the age-old battle between Melbourne or Sydney might be on your mind. Do you spend a few days in both cities or base yourself in one or the other? Alternatively, do you skip them altogether and head to my current state of choice, Queensland – home to the Great Barrier Reef? Well, I’m here to impartially settle the Melbourne versus Sydney debate.
Melbourne versus Sydney – commonly-asked questions
Let’s start with some commonly-asked questions, before answering whether Sydney is better than Melbourne.
Is Melbourne near Sydney?
In Australian terms (it takes approximately six hours to fly from coast to coast), travel between Sydney and Melbourne is relatively short. Melbourne, in Victoria, is about a nine-hour drive or a 1.5-hour flight southwest of Sydney in New South Wales. However, these two Australian cities couldn’t be more different, which you will discover for yourself below.
Are Melbourne and Sydney in the same time zone?
Yes, Sydney and Melbourne are both in the Australian Eastern Standard (AEST) time zone.
Is Melbourne or Sydney bigger?
Sydney is slightly bigger in terms of population, with over five million residents. Meanwhile, Melbourne has just under five million residents. Sydney also receives nearly double the number of tourists versus Melbourne.
Is Melbourne or Sydney more expensive?
Sydney is more expensive than Melbourne in terms of cost of living. In fact, rent in Melbourne is estimated to be about 30% cheaper in Melbourne versus Sydney. This blows my mind because I paid a lot of rent to live in Melbourne 😂.
Melbourne or Sydney – let the battle commence!
Here, Melbourne and Sydney battle it out across 13 categories to help you decide whether to visit Sydney vs Melbourne.
Sydney has better beaches
Let’s start with an important question you will inevitably ask before visiting Australia – does Sydney or Melbourne have better beaches? Well, Sydney wins this section hands down, as it’s home to over 100 beaches. Its best beaches include the world-famous Bondi Beach, Bronte Beach, Shelly Beach and Palm Beach – where Home and Away is filmed. Melbourne does have good beaches like Brighton Beach and St Kilda Beach. However, the downside is that because of their location on Port Phillip Bay, the water is pretty cool year-round.
Melbourne is Australia’s culture capital
If you want to be submerged in cultural attractions during your visit to Australia, I highly recommend visiting Melbourne over Sydney. One of the (many) reasons why Melbourne is Australia’s culture capital is that it’s home to a plethora of art galleries and museums. This includes the National Gallery of Victoria – Australia’s largest and most-visited art gallery, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. There’s also Melbourne Museum, the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere. I actually worked at the Melbourne Museum and it has a selection of family-friendly interactive displays. Furthermore, it features exhibits on natural history, indigenous culture and fashion and technology.
Melbourne also wins points in the culture department for its burgeoning theatre scene. Finally, as a street art addict, I have to mention that both cities have some cool street art displays. In Melbourne’s central business district (CBD), start in Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane and Union Lane.
Related posts: Here are over 50 things to do in Melbourne and free things to do in Melbourne, which will undoubtedly keep you busy!
Both cities host great festivals
It’s difficult to determine whether Sydney or Melbourne have a better festival scene. This is because they both host a slew of fun annual festivals. Let’s start with Sydney, which hosts the light spectacular that is Vivid Sydney; music festivals like Electric Gardens and Field Day; and Sydney Festival, a major three-day arts festival that happens each January.
On the other hand, Melbourne hosts annual events like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, and St Kilda Fest, a free one-day music extravaganza. Take a look at this page to see an exhaustive list of Melbourne festivals. So although Sydney has better music festivals, Melbourne probably wins for cultural festivals.
Melbourne is also Australia’s sports capital
Melbourne and Sydney both have AFL, NRL, cricket and national soccer teams. However, Melbourne gets to wear the crown in this instance. This is thanks to the fact it hosts major sporting events like the Australian Open (I’ve also worked there 😂), the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Boxing Day Cricket Test. There’s seriously a sporting event happening in Melbourne year-round.
Sydney has more outdoor adventures
There are definitely more outdoor adventures waiting for you in Sydney. Water-based outdoor adventures include open water swimming pools like Bondi Icebergs, snorkelling at Gordons Bay and Shelly Beach, and surfing at Bondi or Bronte Beach. Then there’s the legendary coastal walk stretching from Bondi to Bronte Beach. Back on dry land, Sydney is also home to multiple urban parks, like Centennial Park, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park. If you love the outdoors, you’ll love Sydney.
As for Melbourne, it also has urban parks and coastal walks. I recommend walking from Port Melbourne to St Kilda Beach or walking around Albert Park Lake. However, compared to Sydney, they just aren’t as scenic.
Melbourne has a more diverse nightlife scene
The biggest difference between Melbourne vs Sydney when it comes to nightlife is that Melbourne has more nighttime options. Both cities have pretty strict lockout laws (rules dictating when bars and nightclubs can no longer serve/must close). However, Melbourne has plenty of local live music venues, like 170 Russell, the Corner Hotel and the Northcote Social Club. This is where you can see Australian musicians at affordable prices. It’s also known for its rooftop bars, cocktail bars and hidden bars. Basically, if you want a unique night out in Australia, you’ll find it in Melbourne. Head to a bar down a darkened alley that resembles a laboratory, step inside a secret whiskey room or go glamping in the Melbourne CBD.
Read more: The best things to do in Melbourne at night
Melbourne has a wider variety of day trip options
So, does Melbourne or Sydney have better day trips? Well, I believe there are great weekend getaways available from Sydney, but Melbourne offers more convenient day trips. For example, from Sydney, you can do day trips to the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley, but I think they’re more suitable for a weekend escape. Whereas from Melbourne, you have the option to do day trips to the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Phillip Island and along the world-renowned Great Ocean Road. Not to mention, you can also hop on a train to the gold rush towns of Bendigo and Ballarat. If you were to base yourself in Melbourne on a visit to Australia, you could easily spend a week exploring the city and its surroundings.
Read more: 9 Melbourne day trips you need to do
Sydney has more fun-filled, family-friendly and renowned attractions
Melbourne does win when it comes to cultural attractions. However, its Federation Square and Flinders Street Station can’t compete with Sydney’s world-renowned landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. We’ve mentioned quite a few Sydney attractions already. But other attractions not to be missed include Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, the Australian Museum, Sydney Fish Market and The Rocks – one of Australia’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Read more: 8 fun things to do in Sydney
Melbourne is a top foodie destination
If you’re trying to work out whether Sydney or Melbourne is a better foodie destination, I’m here to tell you that Melbourne wins. Australians love indulging in brunch and there are so many Melbourne cafes serving delicious brunches. Some of my favourites include Darling Cafe, The Hardware Societe, Green Refectory, Proud Mary and Archie’s All Day. If you visit Archie’s, please get the chicken and waffles or fluffy pancakes 🤤. Melbourne is also Australia’s coffee capital, so you will find independent cafes literally around every corner and down every alley in Melbourne CBD.
Furthermore, the city has everything from cheap eats to fine-dining establishments. I love heading to Chinatown for an affordable and delicious dumpling-focused meal. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Chin Chin for Asian fusion cuisine and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, if you want an unforgettable fine-dining experience. So no matter your budget or taste, there’s plenty of foodie opportunities waiting for you in Melbourne.
Read more: My favourite Melbourne eats, where to eat in Richmond (my old neighbourhood) and a mini Melbourne food diary.
Sydney has better weather
Another commonly-asked question – does it rain more in Melbourne or Sydney? Well shockingly, Sydney receives double Melbourne’s annual rainfall. But overall, Sydney has better weather and double the number of clear days compared to Melbourne. Furthermore, Sydney’s winter temperatures are milder than Melbourne’s and spring/autumn are usually quite short seasons. Summers in Sydney are long and hot – a.k.a perfect beach weather.
On the other hand, Melbourne is (unfortunately) known for its four seasons in one day weather. Having lived there, I know this to be an accurate description and I never left the house without my umbrella. You never know when you might get caught in a surprise rainstorm!
Both cities have good public transport systems
Both Melbourne and Sydney’s public transport networks offer multiple transport options. Therefore, it’s hard to decide which is better. In Melbourne, you have the option of using trains, trams and buses. Melbourne also wins points for its free tram network. This means that any tram journey exclusively in the Melbourne CBD and Docklands is free.
Meanwhile, Sydney’s public transport system includes trains, buses and ferries. The extensive Sydney ferries network is a scenic way to get from point A to point B, or from Sydney Harbour to Manly. As for airport transport, you can catch the train to Sydney airport. However, the main option in Melbourne is the SkyBus. They’re both as expensive as each other though 🙄.
Melbourne is a shopper’s paradise
If you’re trying to decide whether to visit Melbourne or Sydney for shopping options, I suggest heading to Melbourne. In the outer suburbs, Chadstone Shopping Centre is Australia’s biggest shopping centre with over 500 shops. It’s easy to reach via public transport or on the free shuttle from the CBD. No matter your style or budget, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for at Chadstone. Other Melbourne shopping destinations include Collins Street for designer brands, Bourke Street Mall for the usual chain stores, Chapel Street for a combination of chain stores and independent boutiques, Fitzroy for vintage shops and DFO South Wharf for bargains.
Alternatively, in Sydney, Surry Hills is known for its vintage boutiques, while Pitt Street Mall and Westfield Sydney in the CBD are home to over 250 shops. The historic Queen Victoria Building is also worth a visit.
Both cities are great for solo female travellers
As a solo travel-focused blogger, I would be remiss not to mention that both cities also happen to be great solo travel destinations. They tick all of my “solo travel boxes”. This includes offering good hostel options and having great public transport networks and plenty of fun attractions to choose from.
Read more: Where to stay in Melbourne and other places to visit alone in Australia.
So, is Melbourne or Sydney better?
So, Melbourne or Sydney – which city is better to visit? Well, Sydney may be bigger, but Melbourne is the better Australian city according to these results. This isn’t surprising when it’s Australia’s culture, sports, coffee and shopping capital. But Sydney does trump Melbourne when it comes to weather and beaches. These are two important aspects when choosing your next holiday destination, after all.
When it comes to deciding between Melbourne or Sydney, I’d recommend Melbourne for a city break. Spend your time hopping between cafes, museums and cocktail bars. I mean, with its street art, independent cafes and nightlife venues, it’s no wonder Melbourne is constantly compared with Brooklyn in New York City. Alternatively, Sydney is better if you’re looking for an outdoor-focused adventure. Spend your days soaking up the sun at its beaches and parks.
Should you live in Melbourne or Sydney?
I also wanted to quickly talk about whether you should move to Melbourne or Sydney. Now, I’ve written a post detailing 15 reasons to move to Melbourne, which includes many similar points. Melbourne has also been named the world’s most liveable city several years in a row now and those stats don’t lie. But if you’re looking for that quintessential Australian beach culture life, I recommend moving to Sydney over Melbourne. Alternatively, if you seek a city with a definitive European/cosmopolitan vibe, choose Melbourne. As mentioned previously, when it comes to Melbourne versus Sydney in terms of cost of living, Sydney’s beachfront nature does also come with a higher price tag.
I hope this post helps you decide whether you should go to Melbourne or Sydney.
No matter which destination you choose for your Australia vacation, you’re bound to have an amazing time in either Sydney or Melbourne… or both 😉.