Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Sydney vs Melbourne. There can only be one clear winner… right? Read on to find out the pros and cons of each place and discover which of Australia’s two biggest cities comes out on top.

The darkened silhouette of Sydney Opera House, with a vibrant sunrise breaking out behind it.
Moments before the sun rises over Sydney Harbour.

Melbourne vs Sydney. It seems everyone has an opinion on which is the better city.

These two cities are so different, it can be difficult to know which one to prioritise when your time in Australia is limited.

Plus, which is the better city to live in?

Look, not to brag or anything, but I am in a good position to settle this debate. I grew up in Sydney, but I’ve lived in Melbourne for over five years.

Melbourne’s got plenty of fans, both across Australia and worldwide. On the other hand, everyone loves to dump on Sydney. Rude.

Is Sydney better than Melbourne?

Maybe it is.

Maybe it isn’t.

Read on to find out.

WHICH IS BETTER: SYDNEY OR MELBOURNE?

This is how this article will play out.

We’ll go through a few different topics and decide which is the winner: Melbourne or Sydney.

Sometimes, there may not be an obvious winner. This reasons why will be made clear.

Whether you’re travelling to either city, looking to relocate or simply curious, read on to find out the differences between Sydney and Melbourne.

An iconic Sydney ferry, with the city skyline in the background. In an argument where Sydney vs. Melbourne, Sydney wins for public transport.
Sydney’s ferries are rather iconic.

IS IT EASIER TO GET AROUND MELBOURNE OR SYDNEY?

There is a bit of a myth outside of Victoria that Melbourne has really great public transport.

Yeah, it’s okay… for Australia, which as a car-centric country, has a pretty low bar to begin with.

And look, I think the trams that run around Melbourne’s city centre are pretty fab.

They’re free, for one thing. Some of them are air conditioned now, which is great.

It’s really handy to just head to Collins or Bourke Street, jump on a tram and get to the other side of the city in around ten minutes.

Outside of the city, things kinda turn into a mess.

Melbourne’s trains are a nightmare. They’re expensive, they’re crowded (pre-pandemic) and they switch direction around Melbourne’s city loop at lunchtime, which is super confusing if you’re new to the city.

The transport links in the inner-neighbourhoods are also very silly.

Here’s an example. It takes 12 mins to travel from Flemington to Fitzroy by car. As there’s no direct train or tram between the two suburbs, it’s over an hour by public transport.

Underground in Sydney's subway, a map of the Airport Link. The fact that Sydney actually has a train to its airport makes it a better city than Melbourne.
So delightfully straight forward.

Plus, Sydney has a train line out to its airport. Melbourne doesn’t. HOW A MAJOR CITY HAS NO AIRPORT LINK TO ITS CENTRE is beyond me.

Sure, you can catch Melbourne’s Skybus, but if you’re running late and get stuck in bad traffic… uh oh.

Plus, you have to go into the city to jump on the bus. Great if you’re a traveller or live south of the city. Annoying for locals.

On the flip side, in Sydney you catch a train to Central Station and then another, which gets you to the airport in two stops.

People complain regularly about the price of the ticket, because you only go a short distance.

They are missing the point. You go two stops and you are at the airport.

Melbourne will one day have a train line out to its airport. Yet it’s 2022 at the time of writing and we are still waiting.

New to Sydney? Here are some tips for successfully navigating Sydney’s Airport line.

The winner is… Sydney

An expensive looking red car, squashed by a boulder in Sydney. It's art, don't worry.
Maybe not an image you want to use to describe a city’s roads system but anyway.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE’S ROADS?

I’ve heard people talk negatively about Sydney’s “spaghetti street mess”, but I find the city quite easy to get around.

Everything is clearly labelled and you don’t have to deal with trams, hook turns or anything else of the sort.

Melbourne’s grid is delightfully easy to navigate through, but once you get out into the ‘burbs, it’s a mess.

Trams intersect roundabouts, hook turns terrify anyone who’s never had to take one before and weirdly, lines on the road often don’t marry up when you go across intersections, causing everyone to drive into the wrong lanes.

Overall, Sydney is a city where everyone is resigned to driving around.

Melbourne has sort of half-heartedly tried to do the public transport thing and is now seemingly stuck between the two.

The winner is… Sydney

Boats drift lazily on Sydney Harbour on a beautiful sunny day.
Sydney’s weather is not terrible.

DOES MELBOURNE OR SYDNEY HAVE BETTER WEATHER?

Melbourne’s weather gets a bad rap… four seasons in one day and all that jazz.

For me, this is the thing I really like about Melbourne. That it has seasons, because it has a winter.

It does get a bit grey and blustery at times, but equally, you can be rewarded with some really lovely, blue-skied days.

Melbourne’s warmer months tend to not be as extreme as other parts of the country, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t get hot days.

The only difference is the heat can dissipate quite suddenly – I’ve experienced it dropping from 42 degrees Celsius, to 19 degrees in half an hour!

Being further north, Sydney has warmer temperatures that are more sustained. The winters are mild and rather lovely.

It does however rain a whole lot more in Sydney and is more humid than Melbourne, which has more of a dry heat.

Essentially, if you like sustained heat, but can roll with rainy days, you’ll like Sydney’s weather.

If you don’t mind the cold so much, Melbourne may be more your jam.

The winner is… tied (based on your personal preference)

Coogee Beach on a sunny day - people swim in the ocean or sit on the sand.
Coogee Beach in Sydney.

SYDNEY VS MELBOURNE: WHAT CITY HAS BETTER BEACHES?

Here’s a clear winner in the Melbourne vs Sydney debate – Sydney’s coastline trumps Melbourne’s, big time.

The city is home to some of the finest beaches in the world and there are stacks of places where you can have a little paddle or laze around in the sunshine. Over a 100 in fact.

Only a few are really popular with tourists as well (Bondi, Coogee and Manly notably), so you won’t necessarily find yourself battling the crowds.

There are also some fantastic coastal walks to be found in Sydney.

Melburnians aren’t quite so lucky. There are some nice enough beaches along the Mornington Peninsula and holy crud, is the Great Ocean Road’s coastline gorgeous, or what?

But if you’re coming from the city, you have to travel a whole lot further to get to a decent beach. Not to mention that the water is a heck ton colder down south.

I’m sorry but St Kilda Beach doesn’t quite cut it.

The winner is… Sydney

Melbourne's moody skyline as seen from the west, with shipping containers in the foreground.
Melbourne’s city skyline as seen from the west.

MELBOURNE VS SYDNEY: WHICH OF THE TWO CITIES HAS A BETTER VIBE?

When people make the argument of Melbourne just being “cooler” than Sydney, I will reply by yelling something along the lines of “SYDNEY IS COOL TOO, IT JUST DOESN’T FEEL THE NEED TO REMIND YOU OF THAT FACT EVERY FIVE SECONDS.”

What I’ve always liked about Sydney, is that it is a city for the locals.

You really do have to be in the know to in turn, know where to go.

When one neighbourhood starts to get super trendy among visitors, there’s always another waiting in line to slide into its spot.

However and this is an observation as someone who has essentially grown up in Sydney – development has changed the city irrevocably over the last few decades and I’m not sure it’s been entirely for the best.

Look to the city and see the loss of icons such as the IMAX theatre, the building of the Bennelong Apartments along on Sydney Harbour, which locals refer to as “the Toasters” with great derision and the somewhat barmy decision to allow Racing Australia to beam advertising on the Opera House, a space that belongs to the public.

It makes Sydney seem a little bit soulless at times.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s rampant development going on in Melbourne too.

However, from a somewhat outsider’s perspective, it does feel as though Melbourne has managed to maintain its vibe, its quirks and it sense of self.

Whether that continues to be the case, only time will tell.

The winner is… tied

Exterior of the Imperial Hotel in Erskineville Sydney, with the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and LGBTQI+ flag out the front.
The Imperial Hotel in Erskinville, Sydney’s inner-west.

WHAT ABOUT EACH CITY’S INNER NEIGHBOURHOODS?

Ooooh this one is tough.

Sydney definitely feels like a city divided. North, south, east, west, inner-city, far-west… everywhere has a different vibe to it for sure.

It can feel like a different world, travelling over the bridge from its leafy northern suburbs to the vibrant inner-west.

However, there is something about Melbourne’s neighbourhoods, where you move a postcode and there’s a whole different feel to a place.

And usually an array of interesting boutique shops, vibrant street art and the most delicious cafes and restaurants to explore.

The winner is… Melbourne

the sun shining through Sydney Harbour Bridge. On top of the structure, the Aboriginal flag is fanning out in the breeze.
Just some internationally famous bridge.

WHICH CITY HAS THE ICONS?

I’ve never, ever heard anyone say: “I’ve always wanted to travel to Australia to see Flinders Street Station, the St Kilda Pavilion or Federation Square!”

Nope. If it’s not Uluru, it’s Bondi Beach, the Harbour Bridge or the Sydney Opera House.

It seems that every part of Sydney is Instagrammable. It’s a photographer’s dream.

Melbourne’s cityscape is lovely in its own right and it has done a better job of preserving some of its nicest architecture.

Plus people do travel to Melbourne just to see colourful beach boxes on the Mornington Peninsula or fairy penguins waddle in for the night on Phillip Island.

Yet, Sydney has the internationally recognisable attractions. No argument there.

The winner is… Sydney

A person in a red beret stands in front of a photograph.
There’s a lot of art in Melbourne.

SYDNEY VS MELBOURNE: WHICH CITY HAS A BETTER CULTURE?

Traditionally, Melbourne is the culture capital of Australia and if we’re going to get a world-class exhibition, theatre show or musical of some description, Melbourne is where you’d have to travel to to see it.

The tide does seem to be turning a little bit, with the occasional cool thing coming to Sydney (although sometimes, it’ll be years after Melbourne has hosted it!).

However, if you’re a culture vulture, Melbourne is the place to be.

The winner is… Melbourne

Street art in Melbourne of Aussie Rules star Max Gawn, raising his hands in celebration.
AFL sports star Max Gawn, who plays for the Melbourne Demons.

WHICH CITY IS BEST FOR SPORTS FANS?

Oof this is a tough one, as Australians love their sport.

Even as an art and nature loving musical theatre book nerd, I enjoy going to see a game of the sports, especially if I get a hot dog or pie as part of the deal.

Sydney plays host to many sporting events – who can forget the 2000 Olympics?

There’s rugby union, soccer and rugby league fans across the state of NSW, who are more than passionate about their chosen code of sport and teams.

That being said, NSW and Queensland are largely rugby league territory.

The rest of the country is absolutely mad for a homegrown sport called ‘Australian Rules football’, a type of footy that is played on a modified cricket ground.

Also known as Aussie Rules, the headquarters for the code (the AFL) is located in Melbourne. The AFL Grand Final has traditionally taken place here, with only the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting this long-held tradition and giving Perth and Brisbane reasons to gloat.

Plus Melbourne hosts the F1 Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Open, the Melbourne Cup (horse racing, yuck) and cricket’s Boxing Day Test Match.

So, is Melbourne better than Sydney for the sports?

I’d say Melbourne is a clear winner, although sport is pretty much worshiped Australia-wide.

The winner is… Melbourne

Twi langoustine presented on light grey plates at renowned restaurant Attica in Melbourne.
Langoustine presented as part of Melbourne restaurant Attica’s 17 courses.

WHICH CITY IS BEST FOR FOODIES?

Honestly, both Melbourne and Sydney have exemplary food scenes, within and outside their city centres.

I will say, having spent time living in both cities, I have probably had more bad meals in Sydney than I have Melbourne.

Melbourne takes its food scene seriously. You can have some damn good (and damn expensive) meals within the CBD, but also eat well at the city’s surrounding neighbourhoods.

Yet, you can easily feast on a budget, for around $15, if you know where to go.

Although there’s nothing like having brunch by the beach. Please see my aforementioned point about Sydney’s beach scene and you’ll understand.

The winner is… Melbourne

A red neon sign against a brick walls, reads: Lucy Liu.
Outside Lucy Liu bar in Melbourne.

WHICH CITY HAS THE BEST NIGHTLIFE?

Years ago, you could actually have a good night out in Sydney. Ah. Them were the days.

However, the NSW government in a knee-jerk reaction to two sad deaths resulting from “king hits” (punches to the head) in the popular nightlife suburb of Kings Cross, simply shut the area down.

Much easier than looking to solutions for the root cause of the violence, I guess!

This forced many small businesses in the area to close and had a ripple effect across the city, with patrons of Kings Cross choosing to take their nights out elsewhere, such as the suburbs of Newtown and Coogee.

Sydney’s CBD consequently feels sad and empty in the hours after dark.

Not Melbourne however, which is known for its pulsating nightlife, hip, trendy and secret bars and general frivolity. If you like to party, Melbourne is the place to be.

These laws have now been lifted, but shutting down an international city was a weird move to begin with.

Melbourne is far better known for its 24 hour revelry.

That being said, you want to party on New Years Eve?

Sydney is a top place in the world to see in the New Year.

The winner is… Melbourne

Brightly coloured beach boxes in Mornington Peninsula, in Melbourne's south east. The one in the foreground is painted with the Australian flag.
Melbourne’s beach boxes do draw crowds.

MELBOURNE VS SYDNEY: WHICH IS BETTER FOR DAY TRIPS?

In Sydney, you can hop on a train north for day trips to the Central Coast, Lake Macquarie and Maitland and Newcastle.

Head out west and you’re in the phenomenally pretty Blue Mountains.

South will take you to places like Royal National Park and Wollongong. These are all very nice options.

Melbourne however, is train or driving distance from a lot of different experiences.

You can go to the Yarra Valley for wine.

The Dandenong Ranges for mountain fun.

Phillip Island for wildlife and nature.

The Mornington or Bellarine Peninsula for beaches and food.

The cities of Geelong, Bendigo or Ballarat for a day trip to a really nice coastal city. And there’s plenty of other great weekend getaways from Melbourne to explore.

You can even do a manageable day trip to the snow, in the cooler seasons.

The winner is… Melbourne

Streetscape of the neighbourhood of Balmain, with the Harbour Bridge in the distance. Sydney vs Melbourne: which is more expensive?
You pay out the nose for harbour views in Sydney.

WHICH CITY IS MORE EXPENSIVE TO LIVE IN?

Pre-COVID, I would have said without hesitation, that living in Sydney is more painful for your hip pocket.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Despite being locked down for almost a year, housing prices in Melbourne shot up, making Australia’s second largest city almost as pricey to live in.

If I were forced to pick, I’d still say Sydney is more expensive, particularly looking at my own personal circumstances in Melbourne.

Yet, I don’t think it will take that long for Melbs to catch up.

Honestly, Australia in general is just a ridiculous place to travel and live in, as far as expenses go.

The winner is… tied. They are both rudely the worst for your wallet.

The view of Sydney's skyline from Cockatoo Island, looking over the water.
Terrible views, amirite?

WHICH IS THE MORE ATTRACTIVE CITY?

Whenever I was in a stink with the city or life in general, I would simply have to train it to Circular Quay and take one look at Sydney Harbour.

Then I’d realise Oh yeah, I live here. This is my home, and all my worries would fade away.

I consider myself sort of well-travelled and I’m yet to step foot in a city as beautiful as Sydney.

Melbourne is not ugly by any means. There’s some lovely buildings and its street art scene gives it a really funky, grungy sort of vibe.

But building a city around one of the loveliest natural harbours in the world? That’s a hard one to beat.

The winner is… Sydney

DO AUSTRALIANS TEND TO PREFER SYDNEY OR MELBOURNE?

I find it interesting to hear other Australians talk about the country’s two big cities.

Sydneysiders tend to really like Melbourne. I know when I lived there, I loved taking trips down south to visit the city and many of my friends felt the same way.

Yet this doesn’t seem to be reciprocated. Many Melburnians seem to really hate on Sydney.

I don’t know whether Melbourne has just developed a complex while Sydney got a lot of international attention, but sometimes I get the vibe it has something to prove, perhaps as a younger city.

Sydney doesn’t seem to feel that need.

Outside of Victoria and NSW?

Well, people in other big cities seem to have a preference, but it runs both ways.

For example, I have a lot of friends in Perth and I’d say sentiment is divided.

Regionally, people seem to hate both cities so… that’s that, I guess!

IS SYDNEY BETTER THAN MELBOURNE?

Sydney wins for its transport, roads, beaches, icons and overall attractiveness.

Personally, I think you can have a very good lifestyle in Sydney. The beaches are great, there’s loads of fantastic nature close by and it’s very easy to be fit and healthy in this city.

However, in tallying up the results here, it seems Melbourne just has the edge over Sydney.

SO… IS MELBOURNE BETTER THAN SYDNEY?

Melbourne is good for culture, sport, food, nightlife and day trips.

Yet, Sydney’s weather is more consistent, the beaches are nowhere near as good (thankfully there’s plenty of other ways to spend a summer weekend in Melbourne) and the transport links to the airport kinda suck.

SYDNEY VS MELBOURNE: WHO WINS?
So, which is better? Melbourne or Sydney?

All in all, I really think it comes down to personal preference.

They’re both fantastic cities in their own right. And there are aspects to them that make them really difficult to visit or live in.

Having spent years living in both, I prefer life in Melbourne, but I can’t deny I had some good times in Sydney as well.

So, it’s up to you. Hopefully this article has helped you decide which city you’d prefer visiting – or even living in.

If you’re planning a trip to Melbourne soon, check out my week long itinerary, which can be adapted to suit any amount of time you spend in the city.

Melbourne vs Sydney – which side are you on? Do you have a favourite between Australia’s two biggest cities?