Sydney or Perth: East Coast or West Coast Australia?

Perth center architecture
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Two vibrant Australian cities separated by 4,000 kilometers of coastline, when it comes to Sydney or Perth they couldn’t be more different. Both state capitals, Sydney is one of Australia’s largest and most iconic tourist destinations, while the latter is almost half the size and regarded as the country’s safest city. 

Sydney is well-known for its yacht-studded harbor, distinct Opera House, expansive beaches, and lively energy. The most populous city in Australia has a great quality of life and it is likely the first destination that comes to mind when conjuring images of Down Under. Perth, on the other hand, might be the largest metropolis in Western Australia, but it is best known for its sandy suburbs, charming bars, creative vibe, and raw natural beauty.

This guide looks at everything that makes Sydney and Perth unique from the atmospheres to the climates and costs. So which will reign supreme, East Coast or West Coast? Let’s find out. 

Sydney or Perth: General Vibe

Palm trees and Harbour Bridge
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As is to be expected from any major city, Sydney has a much faster pace of life than Perth. There’s a feeling in the air that there’s more going on and everyone is going somewhere. Walking around the two cities, you can feel that Sydney is much bigger and more populated, while Perth has a more compact center than the capital of New South Wales and is easy to navigate at a leisurely pace. 

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The laid-back atmosphere of Perth is somewhat more quintessentially Australian while Sydney is an international tourist hotspot. Over four million foreigners flock to Sydney’s shores every year on average, compared to just 700,000 to Perth. However, Perth receives around the same amount of domestic tourists as Sydney does international, with the slower pace and sunny climate being something sought by Australians from all over the country.  

Perth’s center might be small, but the city, on the whole, is very dispersed. With charming suburbs that appeal to young families, Perth’s affluent neighborhoods spread from the north of the river to the beaches in the west. You’ll need a car if you aren’t staying in the main metropolitan area of Perth but there is tons of wildlife to enjoy in the surrounding areas. On the other hand, you won’t need to drive in Sydney with its typical city layout and busy modern streets. Still, Perth’s wide empty roads can make it a joy to drive around. 

Frantic and stressful but with everything to do, versus riverside relaxation and less excitement. Which is better? It’s all a matter of preference. However, Perth is a picture of the chilled Aussie lifestyle that so many tourists and ex-pats are looking for, while Sydney’s energy can be found in megacities all over the world, making the Western Australian capital more unique. 

Winner: Perth 

Sydney or Perth: Beaches

Sandy Western Australia beach
Photo by twenty20photos on Envato Elements

These coastal metropolises are known for their exceptional beaches and sea-lovers will feel at home in both cities. The wider Sydney area boasts over 100 beaches from busy Bondi in the eastern suburbs to the private picturesque coves, only reachable by boat. The beaches in Sydney are usually characterized by golden, and sometimes dark orange sands that are framed by rugged and craggy sandstone headlands. 

Ocean pools are also characteristic of Sydney’s coast, where swimmers can do laps in the salty sea water without the rough waves or worry of sharks. Manly Beach is almost as famous as Bondi and equally great for surfing. Perth, too, has plenty of excellent surfing beaches, but New South Wales is widely regarded as the best region of the country for riding waves. Nevertheless, the Western capital gives Sydney a run for its money when it comes to sumptuous sands.

With far quieter beaches, whiter and more powdery sands, and a calmer, clear ocean, Perth is up there with Florida when boasting some of the best beaches in the world. Perth’s shores are tropical and pristine, compared to Sydney’s bustling, Mediterranean feel. What’s more, you’ll always find plenty of space around you on the deserted Perth sands. 

Sydney’s Bondi Beach and tidal lagoons might be more iconic than Perth’s Cottesloe Beach and Mettams Pool, but it feels like everyone in the world has the same idea as you when visiting the beach in Sydney and the rustic shores are always packed. Idyllic, soaked in sun, and straight out of a tropical paradise, Perth’s sands are a welcome surprise. 

Winner: Perth 

Sydney or Perth: Location

Australian road
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East Coast versus West Coast is an age-old debate in Australia, and the biggest difference between Sydney and Perth when it comes to location is how connected they are to the rest of the country. 

Sydney lies on Australia’s most popular and developed coastline. Brisbane and Cairns are situated to the north and Melbourne, Adelaide, and even Tasmania off Melbourne’s coast, are in reach of New South Wales to the south. You’ll also find plenty of small coastal towns dotted along the southeast coastline which are easy to reach. Driving distances can be long but Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia are all just short flights away from Sydney and you can bag return flights for less than $200 AUD, taking just two hours. 

In contrast, Perth is regarded as one of the most isolated cities in the world. Western Australia is far less developed than the East Coast, especially towards the north, and the nearest state capital of Adelaide is located a painful 30-hours drive from Perth. 

Road trips are favored over domestic flights from Perth and you’ll pass some amazing scenery driving around the state, but these trips will involve a lot of red dust and unsealed road detours. Still, if you don’t mind staying within Western Australia there is plenty to see. Rottnest Island is just 40 minutes by boat from Fremantle and this little remote paradise is an otherworldly surf location. There’s also Margaret River, Busselton, Albany, and even Esperance, located a few hours east across National Route 1. Kangaroos laze on the beach here and there’s also a magical pink lake. 

What’s more, Perth comes out on top if exploring Australia is not your priority. It’s quicker to reach Bali from the state capital than it is to fly to Sydney, and you can be on the Indonesian island in just three hours. Singapore and Malaysia are also just five hours from Perth by plane and it is even quicker to get to Europe than from Sydney, although airline prices are much the same. 

For a diverse and inclusive Australian tour, Sydney is much better connected. But if you want to call Western Australia home and see more of the world at the same time, Perth wins. 

Winner: Draw

Sydney or Perth: Nightlife

Sydney on NYE
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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Perth is much quieter when it comes to the party scene. There’s a fair selection of bars across the city, but they don’t get especially busy and tend to close early by European and American standards. You’ll find a smattering of nightclubs playing chart hits, especially around the trendy inner suburb of Mount Lawley, but quaint beer gardens and gay bars dominate over raging parties. 

On the other hand, Sydney’s nightlife is exciting and diverse. There is late-night entertainment all over the city, and although the “lock-out laws” have put some limitations on partying, with clubs in CBD, Darlinghurst and the Surry Hills all closing before 2 am, you can still have a good time any night of the week. 

Kings Cross and Newtown are loved for their gay clubs and live music events. These bars even have special late-night licenses due to the performances and drag acts they host, meaning you can stay partying until four or five in the morning. Local and international DJs grace venues all over the city and there is also plenty to choose from in the way of classical music shows, concerts, live comedy, and street performances. 

Winner: Sydney  

Sydney or Perth: Things to Do

Sydney Opera House
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There’s a lot to do in and around Perth, but that’s if you have a car. Many of the top attractions revolve around the outstanding natural beauty of the area, too, which is great for outdoors-lovers, but not so much for city-slickers. 

The King’s Parks and Botanic Gardens is a true highlight, as is the Swan River, the Perth Mint, the historical Bell Tower, and the State War Memorial. You can learn a lot about the history of Western Australia in Perth while enjoying the scenery and nature. There’s also Mount Eliza, a great hike that offers sweeping views of the city, and the Perth Cultural Center which the state ballet and opera companies call home. A theatre, library, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia are all housed here. Still, it has nothing on Sydney’s Opera House. 

From the harbourfront cultural hub with its recognizable sail design to the Darling Harbour, Harbour Bridge, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney has a lot more going on. It reigns supreme in museums, art galleries, and concerts, but there’s something for every crowd with great shopping, gawkable high-rises, funky street art, zoos, and gardens. 

Don’t miss the Sydney Tower platform called the Skywalk, which offers 360-degrees views of the city. Sydney is undoubtedly the more exciting capital and you’re less likely to be bored. 

Winner: Sydney

Sydney or Perth: Climate

Perth sunset
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It’s easy to assume that it’s all sunshine and rainbows wherever you go in Australia, but it is a vast nation and the weather differs greatly by region. Sydney and Perch are just shy of 4,000 kilometers apart, with the former lying slightly further south than Perth. On opposite coastlines, their climates are more varied than you might think.

You can expect relatively cool winters in both regions compared to the tropical north. Temperatures hover in the early 60s during the day in Sydney and Perch and around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night from May to September. But Perth is much wetter during this time, averaging around 13 days of rain compared to Sydney’s seven. This can make a real difference, especially with the lack of variety in Perth. If you don’t have a car and it’s pouring down, there’s not much to keep you busy.

Winter is sunny but cool in Sydney. However, Perth is considerably hotter during summer if the sun is what you’re seeking. Perth’s average daily temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in January, compared to Sydney’s 78 degrees – practically freezing, we know. The overnight temperatures are the same too, in the late 60s, and Sydney gets more rain in Summer with around nine days per month compared to just two in Perth. 

You can expect temperatures over 90 degrees from as early as November in Western Australia, but don’t let the heat put you off. Sydney is actually much more humid despite the cooler summers. When it rains it really rains in New South Wales and December to April can be sticky and uncomfortable. 

Perth benefits from more days of sunshine than any Australian state, that’s around 30 percent more than Sydney and three times as much as Melbourne. It is actually believed to be the sunniest city in the world, and with its cool varied winters, we can’t compete with that. 

Winner: Perth

Sydney or Perth: Cost

Sydney houses
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The vast difference in price between Sydney and Perth could be the dealbreaker if you’re planning a permanent move to Australia. Property prices are around half of that in Perth as they are in Sydney. In fact, Perth is one of Australia’s cheapest capitals and the average cost of a three-bedroom is $529k AUD, compared to $1.1 million AUD in Sydney.

Rent and utilities are around 40 percent lower and even groceries and transportation cost around 5 percent less in Perth than in Sydney. The only thing that is cheaper in Sydney is eating out, which might come as a surprise but Sydney simply has much more variety with a diverse foody scene, tourist-orientated menus, and chain restaurants. A three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in Sydney will still cost around five percent more than in Perth.

All things considered, Perth is around 15 percent more affordable than Sydney and you would need around $6,700 AUD to maintain the same quality of life as you would with $8,300 AUD in Sydney, if you rented in both cities that is. Still, this might make Perth more appealing but Sydney’s higher prices are generally down to the city’s supreme desirability and the endless allure of the East Coast.  

Sydney or Perth: The Verdict 

Fast-paced city living versus true laid-back Australian style, choosing between Sydney or Perth will make all the difference for your next vacation or move Down Under. Perth comes out on top in a surprising amount of comparison categories, but it’s all about personal preference. Sydney may be touristy, but it is one of the most popular cities in the world for good reason. You can do anything on its sultry shores, the climate leaves nothing to complain about, and the rest of Australia is right on your doorstep. Perth might be cheaper, quieter, and breathtakingly beautiful, but we know which city get’s our vote, what about yours? 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.