Sydney or Melbourne?
The Ultimate Travel Dilemma Solved
Sydney or Melbourne, both amazing cities that offer plenty to see, do, and eat. How do you choose between the two if you only have time to visit one of them? I recently embarked on a week-long solo trip to Melbourne to revisit some of my favourite places and explore the most popular tourist attractions and consider the eternal debate: Sydney or Melbourne, which is the superior travel destination? Today I am going to put them head-to-head and see who comes out on top!
So how do you decide how many days on your itinerary to devote to each? Between the two biggest cities in Australia, does one city stand out?
- How do they stack up statistically
- Exploring the Harbour City: What Sydney offers
- Discovering Melbourne: What are the top things to see and do
- Sydney or Melbourne: Which Suits Your Foodie passion?
- Culture Clash: Comparing the Art and Music Scenes of Sydney and Melbourne
- Sydney vs. Melbourne: Which City Has Better Weather
- Transport and Logistics: Getting Around Sydney and Melbourne
- Exploring beyond the city: Does Melbourne or Sydney offer better day trips?
- The Ultimate Sydney vs. Melbourne Showdown: the Pros and Cons
- Why Choose Between Sydney and Melbourne When You Can Have Both?
This page may contain affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy for more information.
I am a proud Sydneysider. I love Sydney. I mean, I run an entire blog dedicated to exploring it. However, Melbourne has always tugged at my heartstrings, and I visit often. The idea of packing up and moving south has often fluttered through my thoughts, but the charm of Sydney’s coastal living always proves too hard to resist.
The longstanding rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne dates back to the early days of the nation. Sydney began as a penal settlement, while a free man, John Batman, founded Melbourne, via an informal agreement with the First Nations people, the Wurundjeri. This distinction in their origins often led Melburnians to feel a hint of superiority over their northern cousins.
The gold rushes of the mid 1800s saw Melbourne overtake Sydney’s development, with grand buildings popping up in its centre. As the city overtook Sydney in size and grandeur, so began the Sydney vs. Melbourne debate, which has never subsided.
Melbourne’s population recently topped Sydney’s, making it Australia’s largest city.
If you have over two weeks up your sleeve, then I think you should visit both city centres. The number of days you should spend in each spot depends on your interests, so we will go over some of these now to help you decide.
However, even if you can only allow three days in Sydney and three days in Melbourne, you will have enough time to see the top spots and get a bit of a feel for each city.
How do they stack up statistically
Melbourne has taken out the international Most Liveable City award multiple times Ranking in position one seven years in a row! While Sydney has appeared on this list, a few times, it’s never ranked above Melbourne.
When it comes to Australia’s largest city, Sydney and Melbourne are neck and neck, often changing places.
Below I have summed up the highlights and the pros and cons of each, to help you decide which Australian city, Sydney or Melbourne, you should see.
Exploring the Harbour City: What Sydney offers
There is no doubt Sydney is a gorgeous city. Even as a local, the stunning views of the harbour from the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge never fail to impress. These views alone are worth the trip, but there’s so much more to explore when visiting Sydney.
This global city might be world famous for its iconic landmarks, but Sydney offers more than just picture-perfect vistas. It’s also boasts a vibrant coastal lifestyle, a bustling CBD with a mix of heritage buildings and modern architecture, world-class dining, natural attractions, and a thriving arts and culture scene.
We visiting make sure you spend some time exploring the city’s open spaces, from the Royal Botanic Gardens to the newest green parkland, Barangaroo Reserve. Then make your way by ferry over to Mosman or Cremorne for a short hike along the pristine walking tracks of Sydney Harbour National Park. You might even like to take a swim at one of the many harbour beaches.
Sydney is a very photogenic city. Every time you turn a corner, there’s something worth capturing.Hugh Jackman
Sydney also has some fabulous museums. Art lovers should check out the Indigenous collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the innovative Museum of Contemporary Art or the PowerHouse Museum, which all offer free admission.
If you are keen to learn more about our colonial history, pop into the Museum of Sydney and Hyde Park Barracks or take a free walking tour in the Rocks.
Other musts include:
- Taking a ferry to Manly Beach for a day of sun, surf, and sand.
- Visiting Taronga Zoo where you can see native Australian wildlife up close.
- Exploring The Rocks, and wander Australia’s oldest streets
It’s also a fantastic place to learn about our colonial and indigenous history.
Verdict: Sydney takes out the prize for outdoor life with waterfront strolls, stunning green spaces and beautiful beaches minutes from the city centre.
Discovering Melbourne: What are the top things to see and do
On the other hand, Melbourne, with its labyrinthine laneways and eclectic mix of modern and Victorian architecture, exudes an entirely different vibe. With a distinctly European feel, Melbourne is a haven for art lovers, foodies, and coffee aficionados alike.
From Sports to Shopping: Melbourne’s Must-See Places
Melbourne’s sporting arenas host world-famous events. The Summer Ashes Cricket series kicks off the new year’s sporting fun, followed closely by the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. This is the most attended of the four Grand Slam events with over 900,000 spectators in 2023. The buzz in Melbourne in January is hard to beat.
If your visit doesn’t coincide with a big sporting event, you can still visit the National Sports Museum at the MGC and explore the interactive displays and showcase of sporting memorabilia.
Switching gears to shopping, don’t miss Bourke Street Mall, in the heart of Melbourne. It’s home to the big department and chain stores.
Fashion lovers will find high-end designer labels on Collins Street to local Australian brands. You will find it all here. For interesting local designers, head to places like Rose Street Market and the main streets of Fitzroy. I also recommend a trip to South Yarra and Prahran.
If you prefer food to fashion, add one or two of the many local markets to graze your way around and discover some amazing eats.
Melbourne’s arcades are another shopping delight. The historic Block Arcade and the neighbouring Royal Arcade date back to the late 19th century and are worth a visit for their beautiful Victorian architecture. They also house some of my favourite small retailers, including the South Australian chocolate company Haighs, perfect for gifts to take home.
Finally, spend some time exploring Melbourne’s shopping laneways, including Centre Place and Degraves Street, famous for their quirky boutiques, vibrant street art, and tempting coffee shops.
Melbourne is a city that rewards patience. Its secrets unfold over time.Chris Hemsworth
For those seeking a unique shopping experience, the Queen Victoria Market is a must-visit. It’s not just a place to shop for fresh produce, but also a cultural hub that showcases the state’s finest produce.
Three things you must do in Melbourne:
- Start your day with a flat white and some brunch from one of the city’s many excellent cafes Melbourne is famous for.
- Get lost in the city’s many art galleries, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Ian Potter Centre
- Wander the Yarra River and explore Birrarung Marr and Southbank
Verdict: Melbourne wins for sports lovers and shoppers alike!
Sydney or Melbourne: Which Suits Your Foodie passion?
Sydney and Melbourne both have a vibrant food scene, but they differ in their specialties. Sydney known is for its fresh seafood, with the famous Sydney Fish Market offering a wide variety of seafood options.
Sydney also has a strong café culture, with many cafes serving up brunch and specialty coffee.
The city also has a thriving bar scene, with rooftop bars and waterfront bars offering stunning views of Sydney Harbour.
Melbourne is also known for its coffee culture, which locals think is superior to Sydney and of course for its laneway dining. The city has a diverse range of restaurants, from high-end fine dining to casual street food stalls. It is also home to the largest Chinatown in Australia and you will find food from a wide range of Asian cuisines in the surrounding streets.
In terms of price, I consider Melbourne being more affordable than Sydney for dining out. However, both offer a range of options to suit all budgets, from cheap eats to high-end dining experiences. Overall, whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a good meal, both Sydney and Melbourne have plenty to offer.
In Melbourne, don’t miss the markets. I definitely think Melbourne edges out Sydney on this one with Queen Victoria Market and South Melbourne Market a must for foodies.
In Sydney, make a stop at the Carriageworks Saturday Farmers Market near Redfern Station. I also recommend getting outside the city centre and exploring the vibrant villages of Potts Point, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, where cafes, bars and restaurants abound.
Verdict: It’s tight, but I think Melbourne takes this one.
Culture Clash: Comparing the Art and Music Scenes of Sydney and Melbourne
Sydney’s once-dead nightlife has seen a resurgence post-pandemic with an increase in small bars and live performance venues. However, Melbourne stays up later than Sydney, and I always feel like there is more on offer in the Victorian capital. It’s more about enjoying the music and drinks than being seen, which is often the vibe in Sydney.
Exploring Sydney’s Night Life
The areas of Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, and Surry Hills are the best party areas in Sydney, but there are also plenty of options for late night drinks in the CBD and around the harbour.
In Kings Cross, usually referred to as ‘The Cross’, you’ll find a mix of high-end bars and grungy clubs. It’s a place where you can enjoy a cocktail in a fancy bar or dance to some great music at a club.
Darlinghurst and Surry Hills offer a more laid back vibe. These areas are filled with quirky cocktail bars, independent brewers and distillers, and cosy wine bars.
Not to be outdone, the Sydney CBD and Circular Quay area offer waterfront and rooftop bars with breathtaking views of the harbour or the city skyline.
There is also an increasing number of quirky small bars serving up creative cocktails and interesting eats, Check out places like Maybe Sammy ranked 15 on the list of top 50 bars in the world, Doss House in The Rocks for a whiskey with a side of history Jolene’s in the city centre for a country and western hits and southern American eats.
Join a small bar tour in Sydney to discover some more fun bars – Great for solo travellers
Add an array of inviting craft breweries in the inner burbs and you have a decent range of options for a night out in Sydney, no matter what you are into.
Live Entertainment Venues in Sydney
You are never short of a live performance in Sydney, from the Sydney Opera House to the Wharf Theatre, home to Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Theatre Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre. There is a vast number of fabulous performances on offer every month.
Sydney’s live music scene offers everything from indie rock gigs to classical concerts. Venues like the Oxford Art Factory, and the Metro Theatre regularly host local and international acts.
While the variety of eclectic musical performances at the Angel Place Recital Hall and Sydney Opera House will amaze you.
Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated evening at a cocktail bar, a night of dancing at a club, or an intimate live music experience, Sydney has got you covered.
Nightlife in Melbourne
Now, if we spin the compass needle a bit towards Melbourne, you’ll find that the city’s nightlife is just as vibrant and diverse as Sydney’s. Melbourne is renowned for its eclectic mix of entertainment, from underground music venues to small bars and clubs. While two years of lockdown have seen some old favourites disappear, things are coming back to life in the southern state.
Melbourne’s rooftop bars provide the perfect setting for a relaxing evening and while they may not have the views of Sydney’s waterfront, the Melbourne skyline is very pretty at night and the drinks are awesome!
Whereas parts of Sydney’s city centre can feel quite sterile at night, to me, Melbourne’s CBD feels more alive.
Live Music in Melbourne
But the true spirit of Melbourne nightlife can be found in its underground music venues. Delighting in the thrill of the clandestine, these venues are often hidden from view, nestled in basements or tucked away in laneways.
You will find it very easy to stay entertained until the early hours. And who knows? You might even stumble upon a secret gig that adds an extra dash of magic to your night in Melbourne.
Verdict: Melbourne used to win this one easily, but in 2023 things are a lot more even. I would really need to spend more time in Melbourne (and stay up a lot later!) to call this!
Sydney vs. Melbourne: Which City Has Better Weather
Sydney and Melbourne have very different climates. Sydney offers a temperate climate with warm summers and mild winters. The average temperature in summer is around 26°C (79°F) with highs in the mid 30°C and in winter around 13°C (55°F).
Melbourne has a cooler climate, with more distinct seasons. The average temperature in summer is around 25°C (77°F) but can have some really warm days in January and February. In winter, the average is around 12°C (54°F).
Sydney is known for its sunny weather and beautiful beaches, while Melbourne’s weather is well known to be changeable weather with the popular saying four seasons in one day ringing true here.
Sydney has more sunshine hours per year than Melbourne, with an average of 7 hours per day compared to Melbourne’s 5 hours per day. However, this may well be why Melbourne has a reputation for having a more vibrant arts and culture scene, which can be enjoyed indoors during cooler weather.
The best time to visit Sydney is during the shoulder seasons of spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May). The weather is mild, and there are fewer crowds than during the peak summer season.
The best time to visit Melbourne is in autumn March to May and late spring/summer in November and December.
Summer in either city is peak season, with Sydney’s NYE Fireworks and Melbourne hosting the Australian Open and the English vs Australia Test Cricket.
Melbourne is also expensive in the first week of November when the world famous Melbourne Cup horse race is run and during the Australian Rules Football finals in September.
Sydney’s prices go sky high during Mardi Gras at the end of February and the beginning of April and again during Vivid Sydney in June each year.
Transport and Logistics: Getting Around Sydney and Melbourne
Sydney and Melbourne both have efficient public transportation systems that make it easy to get around the two cities.
Travelling around Sydney
Sydney has an extensive transportation system that includes trains, trams that run along George Street and into the southern and southwestern suburbs, buses, and ferries.
The ticketing of these is integrated using the Opal System, a convenient way to pay for transportation that can be used on all modes of public transport. Opal offers daily and weekly caps and big discounts on weekends. Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber, Didi and Ola are also available.
Getting around Melbourne
In Melbourne, the tram is the most iconic mode of transportation. The tram network covers most of the city centre and inner suburbs, making it easy to get around. There are also trains and buses available, although they are not as useful for visitors as the tram network. Trams within the inner section of the city are free.
For those who prefer to explore the cities on foot or by bike, both Sydney and Melbourne have plenty of options. Sydney has a number of walking and cycling trails, including the popular Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.
Melbourne has several bike share schemes, including the popular Melbourne Bike Share, which allows visitors to rent bikes from various locations.
Sydney also has a number of bike share schemes, but they can be a little confusing and the hilly inner city streets can make it a little more work to master.
Overall, both Sydney and Melbourne have a range of transportation options available, however Melbourne has the edge with the free trams in the city centre that can really save tired feet! They make it easy for visitors to get around and explore.
Exploring beyond the city: Does Melbourne or Sydney offer better day trips?
You can take day trips from both cities by train or you can choose to take a guided tour. Sydney’s CountryLink train network makes visiting some of these places easy by train. Melbourne also offers the possibility of seeing towns further from the capital by train. But overall Melbourne has a larger variety of guided day tours offered.
Sydney’s Best Day Trips
You can also take a train trip to the stunning south coast to Wollongong, or a little further south to Kiama. Heading the east coast further north brings you to the beautiful beachside areas of Central Coast or Newcastle.
Melbourne’s Day Trip Wonders
Melbourne has a lot more guided tours to locations 1-3 hours from its centre than Sydney does. You can visit the Yarra Valley, Phillip Island, The Great Ocean Road and the Mornington Peninsula. It’s also possible to do a one-day visit to the snow in the winter.
History lovers can jump on a train to Ballarat or Bendigo and explore the goldfields in a couple of hours.
The Ultimate Sydney vs. Melbourne Showdown: the Pros and Cons
These answers are my opinion through my lens as a Sydneysider who loves Melbourne.
Melbourne or Sydney, which is best for foodies? it’s tough but I think Melbourne takes this out. There are more great options hidden down laneways in the city centre of Melbourne compared to Sydney. I also find dining in Melbourne less expensive.
What are the best beaches in Sydney and Melbourne? While there are beautiful beaches in both places, Sydney wins this one with more of its world class beaches close to the city centre. There is also a good mix of ocean and harbour beaches.
While there are some great beaches in Victoria, there are no ocean beaches in Melbourne centre, only those on Port Phillip Bay. I mean, comparing Bondi Beach or Coogee Beach with Brighton Beach or St Kilda Beach in Melbourne, there is no competition.
Is Melbourne or Sydney is more expensive to visit? Depending on the time of year, both cities can be incredibly expensive. Hotels are usually a little more expensive in Sydney, but the real beauty of Sydney is wandering the harbour foreshore and old quarter which doesn’t cost a cent.
If you are travelling on a budget, you will get the best value if you check the events calendars of each and steer clear of the big festivals.
Is Melbourne or Sydney better for families with children? I don’t really feel totally qualified to answer this one as someone who has never spent any time in Melbourne with children. Sydney has some lovely parks and playgrounds and plenty of museums and wildlife experiences
Which city has better public transportation? Again, this is close. Sydney has a better bus and train service and, of course, the ferries, but perhaps Melbourne’s free trams in the city centre and lower transport costs give it the edge.
Either way, both big cities offer visitors great public transport options and both can be accessed via your smartphone, wallet or credit card. It’s a tie.
Which city is better for outdoor activities? Melbourne offers boating opportunities on the Yarra River and sailing on Port Phillip Bay. There are plenty of hiking opportunities, but its cooler weather does not inspire outdoor fun across the cooler months.
With its harbour and foreshore and large green spaces like Barangaroo and Sydney Harbour National Park right in the city centre and the Royal National Park to the south or Kur-ring-gai to the north, Sydney is a clear winner for me.
Which city is more walkable and bike-friendly? Melbourne is much friendlier for pedestrians, with the city being laid out on a flat grid. Sydney streets, on the other hand, evolved from the paths worn down by the First Nations people of Australia and the colonialists, often the quickest route rather than one that made any sense so hills and windy, narrow streets going this way and that. The win has to go to Melbourne.
Is Melbourne or Sydney better for sports fans? Melbourne has more big-ticket sporting events. One of the Grand Slam tennis events, home of the Australian Open, is held here every summer.
It’s also the home of horse racing in Australia. For motoring enthusiasts, you have the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix in March/April and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in October.
Sydney has the Sydney to Hobart Sailing Race every boxing day and the NRL Grand Final in October. Melbourne is the winner here.
Why Choose Between Sydney and Melbourne When You Can Have Both?
When it comes to Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne are the two powerhouses. Both are international cities, each with unique strengths and attractions, making them irresistible to both first-time visitors and seasoned travellers. Instead of choosing one over the other, why not include both major cities on your itinerary? After all, variety is the spice of life.
If your itinerary allows, try to squeeze in both. Not only will you get to experience the unique charm of each, but you’ll also be able to compare and contrast the two, giving you a richer and more nuanced understanding of the Australian culture. If there is only time for one, choose the place that best fits your interests. You really can’t go wrong!
Have questions about exploring Australia?
Head over and join our Facebook Group and we will be happy to help