Sydney or Melbourne: Which Destination To Visit In Australia?

View of sydney opera house from the air and cityscape
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements
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Are you planning on making a trip Down Under but have limited time? You’re going to have some tough decisions to make about where to visit and where to save for the next time you visit Australia. The main question that is on everyone’s lips is, Sydney or Melbourne.

These are two of Australia’s biggest and most popular cities. Both offer a unique experience with the same Aussie charm and character. They are worlds apart in what they offer and there is a strong divide among travelers in the Sydney vs Melbourne debate regarding which is the best city in Australia.

From the food and nightlife to the climate and things to do, we’ve set Australia’s biggest cities against each other for the greatest showdown. This guide outlines the differences and similarities with the goal to help you choose between the two cities. In the ultimate Aussie battle, which do you choose between Sydney or Melbourne?

Sydney vs Melbourne – Outdoor living and nature

View of Sydney CBD from Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Australia
Photo by MatthewWilliams-Ellis/Envato Elements

Australia prides itself on outdoor living and a diverse spectrum of wildlife to keep travelers on their toes (watch out for those drop bears!). Both Sydney and Melbourne are concrete jungles, though nature has its way of intertwining throughout the cities, particularly Sydney.

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Unlike other main city destinations around the world, like New York or London, Sydney CBD has an abundance of nature making it feel more urban jungle. The city itself is set right on the coast, has a natural harbor at the center, and has a range of natural green spaces distributed throughout. Places like Hyde Park and the Royal Botanical Gardens in the CBD are marvelous and then there is Centennial Park in the east. Not forgetting to mention Sydney’s beaches and coastline that are well connected – a huge asset in the debate of which city is better.

Melbourne on the other hand does lack the “wow” factor Sydney has. While it’s far from being an ugly city, Melbourne does need blue skies to make the outdoors inviting. On a sunny day, there is no denying that Melbourne is a gorgeous city! But while the Yarra River and St Kilda Beach are pleasant enough, they don’t quite meet the same league as Sydney’s outdoor spaces.

While Melbourne is lovely and still has its green spaces, it doesn’t come close to Sydney when it comes down to outdoor life and nature. However, both cities offer free use of public outdoor barbeques across the parks and some beaches which is splendid on those balmy Aussie afternoons in the sun!

Winner: Sydney

Sydney vs Melbourne – Day trips

The Great Ocean Road, 12 apostles in Australia
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements

Both Melbourne and Sydney are fantastic for day trip excursions. After all, this is one of the many reasons why these great cities are loved by backpackers and holidaymakers! So what are the day trip options available from each and which has it better?

Blue Mountains National Park – hiking and exploringPhillip Island – penguins and exploring
Hunter Valley – wine tastingYarra Valley – wine tasting
Manly Beach – shopping and beach daysGreat Ocean Road – iconic road trip
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park – Aboriginal Heritage walksBells Beach – world-class surf
Mermaid Pools – wild swimming and waterfallsGrampians National Park – hiking and beautiful scenery

As far as day trips go, we have to say Melbourne does it better – there is more variety within an hour or two drive of the city. Of course, Sydney has some fantastic day trips, but these excursions are further out and are better suited for weekend getaways.

Winner: Melbourne

Sydney vs Melbourne – Things to do

Entrance to Sydney's Luna Park with high rise buildings in the background
Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

So what about things to do within the CBD (central business district, aka – the city center)? It won’t come as a surprise that both Sydney and Melbourne have a whole ream of bucket list sites, attractions, and things to do.

Melbourne is often dubbed the cultural capital of Australia. It’s jam-packed with modern architecture, trendy gigs, and fashion statement locals. This is a city for art lovers and hipsters. However, Sydney has the most iconic places to see out of all of the major cities in Australia.

Take a picture in front of the Sydney Opera HouseHave a coffee on Hosier Lane outside Flinders Street Station
Do the Sydney Harbour Bridge walk for the best views across the cityExplore the vibrant street art throughout Melbourne CBD
Take a water taxi across the Darling Harbour for up-close views of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour BridgeVisit the galleries and museums in Federation Square
Surf and catch the sun at Bondi Beach and walk over to Coogee BeachShop in the hub of Australia’s fashion industry
Go to Luna Park for an afternoon of funWatch an Aussie Rules Football game, the F1 race, or the iconic Melbourne Cup horse race in the sporting capital of the country
Take in the countless art galleries and museums, including Australian National Maritime Museum and the National GalleryGo to an indie live music gig in a trendy bar
Spend the day exploring Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens or Hyde ParkEat out in hipster restaurants across Melbourne city center
Visit Sydney Aquarium or Taronga ZooHit the beach at St Kilda for gentle waves and summer swims

Choosing between the two is difficult and ultimately it does come down to what you want to experience the most. However, we have to put Sydney as our favorite here. After all, Sydney has the ultimate wow factor with the truly quintessential things to do and see!

Winner: Sydney

Sydney vs Melbourne – Nightlife

Espresso martini at a rooftop bar in Melbourne
Photo by Agathe Marty/Unsplash

Nightlife in Sydney used to be something special. However, over recent years of violence in the city after dark, local lockout laws have made it a bit of a party-pooper. Still, there are some cool places to check out and enjoy a drink or two with friends. King’s Cross is the place to be for a weekend bender. For something slightly more civilized, nothing beats a wine at the Opera Bar overlooking Darling Harbour and the Harbour Bridge.

It is Melbourne that steals the show when it comes down to nightlife. There are countless amount of bars throughout the city. From cocktail bars and nightclubs to rooftop terraces with an impressive view of the Melbourne skyline, there is something for everyone here.

Surrounding suburbs – like Fitzroy, Brunswick, and St Kilda – all offer fantastic Australian nights out. You will also find loads of open mic nights, indie gigs, and comedy shows in this hip city.

Winner: Melbourne

Sydney vs Melbourne – Weather

Couple enjoying good weather in Sydney on a pier
Photo by Christopher Burns/Unsplash

Melbourne can show you all four seasons in one day, meaning the weather is unpredictable most of the time! Never be fooled by a bright sunny start to the day. It often takes a turn for the worst and clouds bring rain in the afternoon. When visiting Melbourne, it is best to prepare for every eventuality and pack a sweater in case it chills off.

That being said, Melbourne does get some beautiful days over December and January. The summer months are pleasant without getting unbearably hot. If you plan to visit Melbourne in the winter, expect a similar climate to Northern Europe – cold, wet, windy, with a chance of snow.

On the other hand, we have the Sydney weather which is hard to beat! This city is known for its beautiful days, perfect for hitting the beach in the afternoon. There is plenty of vitamin D here! However, Sydney actually gets more annual rainfall than Melbourne and the summers can be stifling hot. Over recent years, the climate in Sydney has become extreme with cricket ball-sized hailstones and flash floods causing devastation.

Choosing which city to visit based on climate is a tricky one as both are pleasant in their individual ways. However, Melbourne’s unpredictable weather does let it down here. Sydney generally has good weather with beautifully mild winter months.

Winner: Sydney

Sydney vs Melbourne – Beaches

Front view of sea beach with tourist sunbathing, swimming, surfing and relaxing at Bondi beach in Sydney Australia, vacation in summer background
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements

The city beaches are what makes Sydney so unique. You can hop on a bus or catch a ferry to be on a top-class beach in a matter of minutes. Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Manly… The options are endless and we haven’t even mentioned the Northern Beaches! Sydney’s beaches are clean, well maintained, and have a dedicated lifeguard team keeping eyes on the ocean to keep you safe. From surfing and swimming to coast path walks, Sydney does ‘beaches’ the best.

Melbourne also has beaches, but there aren’t quite so many as easily accessed as Sydney. Everyone thinks of St Kilda as Melbourne’s main beach, however, Brighton Beach is the iconic picture postcard of the city. The beach huts add a huge splash of color that shines through those cloudy days. Bells Beach and Torquay are two world-class spots for surfing but are a bit of a drive out of Melbourne.

Winner: Sydney

Sydney vs Melbourne – Culture

White tram and horse carriage outside Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne, Australia
Photo by Weyne Yew/Unsplash

When it comes to culture, both Sydney and Melbourne have a lot to offer. From art galleries and museums to theatres and opera houses, you are spoilt for choice whichever destination you choose. However, being nicknamed the “cultural capital of Australia”, Melbourne really is top dog for all things cultural. When there is a new show coming to Australia, it will head to Melbourne first.

Art, fashion, and music are all within the day-to-day life in Melbourne. Whereas Sydney locals tend to focus on maintaining their beach bodies year-round.

Looking for some cultural inspiration in both cities? Here are some places you should check out:

Opera HouseNational Gallery of Victoria
Art Gallery of NSWLive music in CBD and surrounding suburbs
Australian National Maritime MuseumHosier Lane near Flinders Street Station urban art
Anzac MemorialAustralian Sports Museum

Winner: Melbourne

Sydney vs Melbourne – Food

Brunch with coffee
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements

Australians have high expectations when it comes to food and eating out. Sydney and Melbourne are constantly competing for the “best-grub” title.

Finding middle-tier and affordable dining options in Sydney can be challenging. There is a huge Asian cuisine scene in the CBD along with Michelin-star restaurants. To get a more diverse range of food, you need to head out to the Inner West part of the city. The International Food Festival hits up Hyde Park every October and is a great event for foodies!

Unlike Sydney, Melbourne doesn’t hide its cheaper eateries. You can find cheap and decent food tucked around every corner of the CBD perfect for a spot of brunch to see you through the day. Melbourne also boasts the best coffee in the world! While this may need more research, we can definitely confirm the coffee is fantastic in Melbourne. Queen Victoria Market in the north of the city hosts many food markets throughout the year including Christmas markets complete with mulled cider and wine.

While Sydney does have great spots to eat, it’s Melbourne that wins for the food simply due to the diversity and budget-friendly options.

Winner: Melbourne

Sydney vs Melbourne – Getting around

Sydney train. Passengers are leaving the station
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements

Melbourne was built under a grid system that often gets jammed up, Sydney has a spaghetti mess of roads. Getting lost, stuck, and having a meltdown while driving in either city is a common occurrence. Many tourists turn to the public transport systems which are improving. It’s important to not compare public transport in Australia to other nations, they don’t match the same standards as European countries or places like Singapore.

Sydney has a subway, trains, buses, and ferries that all run by tickets or the Opal card (similar to the Oyster card in London). This system is pretty easy to navigate but you can get caught up in commuters during the week. There is also a good and affordable train from Sydney airport directly into the city which beats Melbournes equivalent, the SkyBus.

While Melbourne has a tram service within the CBD (that is free), that is all it has going for it. The buses can be confusing on the “City Loop” schedule for first-time users and are frequently delayed. And once you are out of the city center you are destined for doom when it comes to trains.

Overall, Sydney wins for transport and getting around. But don’t head there expecting a fantastic service, this is Australian standards of public transport.

Winner: Sydney

Sydney vs Melbourne – The final verdict

Sunset in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge
Photo by twenty20photos/Envato Elements

While Melbourne is a vibrant and trendy city, it has to be Sydney that wins this argument. Darling Harbour and the Opera House just have a wow factor that cannot be rivaled!

That being said, it was a close call! If you are a foodie and into your arts, then Melbourne is the place to visit. You are guaranteed to fall in love with the urban art while ordering your flat white and dodging the rain showers passing through.

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Hi! I'm Abigail, a surfer, traveller, and nature lover. I'm from the UK but have been able to call Bali home for several years. I've backpacked across Australia on a shoestring budget, explored European coastlines, and taken in the sights across the pond and down into South America. My travel wishlist keeps growing the more I explore our perfect planet!