There has been a longtime friendly rivalry between the two major cities in Australia - Sydney, and Melbourne, be it in terms of livability, economic standing, tourist arrival figures and the list goes on. Based on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Ranking annually, Melbourne has been consistently ranked as the world’s most liveable city, in fact for 7 years in a row from 2011 to 2017.
However, staying at the most livable city may or may not mean that it is attractive enough for the curious traveler. How does Sydney compare to Melbourne on the tourist front then? To make it easier for you to decide which Australian City to visit for your next trip, read on for a breakdown of how each city fares in terms of what they have to offer, with an overall rating at the end of the article.
Which is the more expensive city in Australia? How much should I expect to spend when visiting these cities down south? You would most certainly have questions like these when you decide where to go.
Being the largest Australian city, the cost of living in Sydney is high, like most other highly urbanised cities in the world. Everyone is fighting for space in the rapidly expanding and densely populated city, so it is not easy finding cheap and good stays, especially in the CBD. Expect to pay minimum 150 AUD (111.40 USD) for a modest hotel room per night for 2. Hostels start from around 39 AUD (29 USD) per night. You do have the option of choosing an Airbnb apartment at varying rates. Public transport isn’t cheap either, with a high starting fare of 4 AUD (3 USD) for a single trip. Food wise, there are plenty of high-end restaurants in Sydney, with a limited range of budget to mid-range dining options. Therefore, be prepared with a bigger budget if you plan to visit the city.
Just like Sydney, Melbourne is also an urbanized city, although not as fast paced and expensive as yet. Traveling within the city central is free with the old tram line that the city is known for. Beyond the free tram zone, the suburbs are served by trains and buses which start from 4 AUD (3 USD) per trip. From around 90 AUD (66.90 USD) per night, you can get a decent hotel room in the CBD for 2. Eating out is also relatively cheaper with more economical options in Melbourne compared to Sydney. Overall, expect to spend about 10 to 15% less in Melbourne compared to Sydney.
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Before you fly to Australia, do remember that Australia’s seasons are at opposite times to those in the northern hemisphere. It varies greatly throughout the eight states and territories in the country. See which city fares better in terms of offering a more favorable weather condition for a great trip in this section.
Both cities down south enjoy the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. However, Sydney’s weather is typically more predictable, where you can expect warm summer days coupled with cool winter days. Although Sydney receives more rainfall on average per year than Melbourne, weather forecasts could usually predict them pretty accurately, unlike Melbourne’s erratic weather. Throughout the year, rain is spread fairly evenly as well, averaging around 14 days of rainfall per month.
Yearly minimum and maximum temperatures in the city are 13.8°C (56.8°F) and 21.7°C (71.1°F) respectively, a comfortable range for exploring the city. Furthermore, the transition of seasons in Sydney is not as harsh as in Melbourne. In this way, planning your itinerary in Sydney, be it to stay indoors or venture outdoors, would be much easier.
On the other hand, because of the unpredictable nature of the climate in Melbourne, it is common sight to see Melburnians wearing multiple layers of clothes, so that they can strip off or rug up according to sudden changes in temperature or rainfall within a day. This is mostly due to its geographic location of hot inland region combined with cold southern sea breezes. Yearly minimum and maximum temperatures in the city are 10.2°C (50.4°F) and 19.8°C (67.6°F) respectively, comparatively cooler than other major Australian cities.
Despite the annoying fact of ever-changing weather conditions, Melbourne’s erratic weather does have its virtues. The variations in seasons means you may be in for a vivid surprise with pretty autumn colors next to deciduous evergreen trees in the beautiful gardens Melbourne is known for. Nonetheless, travelers who want to be in better control of your activities would certainly prefer Sydney’s consistent weather conditions to Melbourne.
After determining your budget and knowing what kind of weather to expect, let’s get to the next fundamental - the infrastructure. No matter how attractive the city may be in terms of sights, food and shopping, the ease of getting around in the city can make or break a trip. So let’s see which city, Sydney or Melbourne, offers a traveller-friendly public transport system to help you get around the city easily.
Like most large modern cities, Sydney has an array of public transport options, from trains and buses, to ferries and light rails, to help you get around the city. However, the fare system is pretty complex to decipher for the foreign traveller who is going to be in the city for just a short period of time. Thankfully, the full implementation of the Opal Card from August 2016 has improved the situation, but it is still not flawless yet.
Getting the smart Opal Card is not as easy as you think in the first place. While they are available at many commercial locations and certain retail locations within the airport, they are not easily found at railway stations, ferry terminals or major bus stops. Topping up the value in your card is best done online. Furthermore, in a densely populated city like Sydney, the roads are often congested, which means you would likely get stuck in the traffic when exploring Sydney by bus.
The best transport option would probably be the Sydney Ferries, which serve many popular harbourside attractions including Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour and Luna Park. Not only is it a jam-free way of transport, taking the ferry across the scenic harbour is also a pleasant experience to add to your collection of awesome memories for your trip.
Compared to Sydney, the ticketing system on Melbourne’s public transport is easier to comprehend for passengers, especially first-time visitors to the city. Get the myki stored-value card for traveling on the city’s trains, trams and buses. Top up the smart card easily at premium train stations, or retail outlets such as 7-11 displaying the myki sign. The excellent tram network within the central area (the city circle tram) makes it very convenient and easy to get around the city, especially since it is free.
Travel out to the outer suburbs with the extensive network of buses and trains. There are only two transit zones - 1 and 2 outside the Free Tram Zone in the city’s central, so it is easy to travel around with just a single price deducted off your myki card. No wonder Melbourne’s public transport network was once the model system to look upon for many other cities and countries in the world. Because of the passenger-friendly structure and price-competitiveness of Melbourne’s public transport system, Sydney’s public transport system pales in comparison. The latter has a lot to improve on before it can come close to the high standard set by Melbourne.
Now that you have addressed your doubts on the basics, you would likely be asking: what’s there for me to see? Let’s take a look at how these two cities fare in terms of the number of sightseeing spots.
Sydney has numerous iconic landmarks that are frequently featured on Australian tourism-related advertisements, postcards, posters and so on. Symbolic sightseeing spots include Sydney Harbour, one of the most breathtaking waterways in the world, and Sydney Opera House, one of the world’s most distinctive arts venue. In fact, these are what people out of Australia would remember the country for. Take a picture-perfect shot along the Sydney Harbour, where the Opera House sits, with the impressive Harbour Bridge in the background.
Away from the magnificent harbourfront, Sydney has pristine natural beaches along the coast. Of course, there are the usual suspects like museums, botanic gardens and galleries that you can swing by. There are also several historical buildings in the city worth checking out, such as the Government House and Sydney Tower. The diverse number of worthy spots to check out far outnumbers that in Melbourne, which makes Sydney a wonderful starting point for your Aussie adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne has no lack of sightseeing spots worthy for the tourist eye. There are many fascinating architecture spots to visit in the city, such as the contemporary Federation Square, Australia’s first railway station - Flinders Street Railway Station and historic Queen Victoria Market.
Melbourne Cricket Ground, built in 1853, is the birthplace of the popular cricket sport for Australians. Affectionately known as “The G” to locals, many of the largest football and cricket matches have been held here, as well as top-notch entertainment performances of superstars including Madonna and Michael Jackson. Eureka Skydeck atop Eureka Tower offers panoramic views of the city skyline. Hence, Melbourne is certainly not a city to be overlooked in terms of what to see.
Because Sydney has such a myriad of offerings, particularly the iconic Sydney Harbour and its surroundings, Melbourne has no choice but to play second fiddle in this category.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “culture” means the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time. Needless to say, every place has a culture of its own, but the extent varies between different places. How does Sydney fare compared to Melbourne in this aspect then?
Sydney has no lack of museums, galleries, theatres and churches for a great cultural immersion in the city. However, when compared to Melburnians who live and breathe arts and music in their daily lives, Sydneysiders appear indifferent in this regard, which explains the slightly lower rating given here.
Nonetheless, the famous Sydney Opera House is not just an opera house in name, it is a reputable venue for all sorts of performing arts since it opened over 40 years ago in 1973. There is also the annual Sydney Festival, Australia’s major arts event that runs for 3 weeks every January. In short, Sydney certainly has its fair share of cultural attractions for arts lovers, despite it losing the coveted title of Australia’s cultural capital to Melbourne.
No surprise for Melbourne scoring full marks in this category, given its long-standing reputation of being Australia’s cultural capital. Almost every week, you will find one festival or another happening in the cultural city. The city is also home to some of the finest galleries and museums in the country. These include the National Gallery of Victoria, which is Australia’s oldest and most visited gallery housing over 73,000 exquisite exhibits; and the Royal Exhibition Building, listed as a World Heritage Site.
Formal galleries and museums aside, you will also find that art is everywhere in the city. Take a walk around the city and enjoy the creatively painted murals, hippy jazz bars and lively street performances. If you are into anything artistic, Melbourne is the place to visit for a quirky experience.
6. Food & drink
Everybody needs to eat, be it to survive or simply because of a love for food. Here’s what you can expect in terms of how varied and exciting the dining scene is in the two cities down south.
Sydney offers plenty of high-end dining options to satisfy the most discerning taste bud. You would be able to taste some of the best-rated restaurants in the country serving exquisite cuisine, as long as you are willing to pay. However, not all of us can afford to splurge and dine at fancy restaurants on a regular basis.
In terms of more economical or mid-range dining options, there is restricted variety in Sydney, and often, these are limited to Asian cuisine rather than authentic Australian dining. Having said that, for a meal or two to indulge in, you would be spoilt for choice with the variety of great restaurants with a cool view by the iconic waterfront around Sydney Harbour. Surely, such beautiful sights would make your food look even better for a complete dining experience to indulge in at least once during your travels.
With more than 45 restaurants making it to the top 100 list of 2017 Australia’s Top Restaurants Awards, as well as the multi-award winning Attica restaurant being named the best Australasia restaurant, there is plenty to look forward to when eating out in Melbourne. The cultural city is home to people from diverse nationalities and cultures, a melting pot where you can find international influence not just in arts, but also in the range of cuisines it offers. Jump on a tour and explore all that Melbourne has to offer.
Visit the area around Melbourne’s Chinatown and you would be overwhelmed with options ranging from Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Greek to local cuisines. There are also streets specialising in foods from certain cultures, such as Italian fare at Lygon Street, Bohemian fare at Brunswick Street and Southbank and Yarra for modern Aussie cuisine. Of course, the prevalent coffee culture in Melbourne is not to be dismissed. The sheer number of cafes popping out all around the city is certainly great news for the coffee addict and cafe hopper. Even better news to all foodies exploring Melbourne is the fact that eating out is more economical here than in Sydney, thus making Melbourne a clear winner in this category.
Australia is such a culturally diverse country that you could be hearing some extreme opinions about things you can do after dark. Some may lament about the rustic outback where you just nuzzle up in bed after your dinner once it turns dark, as shops close around evening. On the other hand, major cities like Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne hypes up the game with cool swanky bars and pubs where you can have fun and party the night away.
After dark, whether you just want to chill over a glass of wine in an atmospheric bar overlooking the picturesque waterfront, or dance your night away in a flashy club, you can find the place that suits you best in Sydney. The CBD is packed with lots of popular night spots, particularly along George Street, at The Rocks and Woolloomooloo. Some may claim that Sydney gets seedy at night, but as long you avoid the dodgy suburbs and stick to reputable establishments, you should be fine. If you are feeling adventurous, head to Sydney’s famous red light district, the Kings Cross area, to soak in the atmosphere.
Melbourne’s reputation as a cultural capital does not just apply to daytime activities. After dark, you can look forward to live music performances at the numerous bars in the city. For the coolest bars to visit, make your way to the Yarra River where plenty of rooftop bars can be found, offering superb views of the city alongside pleasant live music entertainment. Unlike Sydney, night spots in Melbourne evoke a more intimate feel instead of big city vibes where many dress to kill. Relax as you hang out at the bar, meet new friends over a drink with lovely music, in casual wear.
It is hard to say who really wins in this category, for both cities essentially cater to different crowds. In short, Sydney is for those who enjoy clubbing and high life, while Melbourne is for those who prefer to head to intimate bars for live music.
Shopping is retail therapy. It is natural to want to bring something unique back home when you are traveling. Find out if you would be able to shop till you drop in these two major cities Down Under.
As the largest city in Australia, Sydney certainly has a lot to offer for the shopaholic in you. Explore Surry Hills, the most happening suburb in the city, for cool vintage finds. In the CBD, the famous Queen Victoria Building does a wonderful job combining high fashion with historical architecture. Needless to say, many renowned international brands have also set foot in the CBD on Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets. Head to Paddington and Bondi for Saturday markets to lay your hands on a wide range of unique local designs. The amazing range of products you can shop for will certainly put a smile on your face.
Just like Sydney, Melbourne is a shopping haven with a diverse range of products for everyone. Find almost any popular brand you can think of in the CBD as well as the huge Melbourne General Post Office. Browse upmarket designer brands and high-end fashion in Chapel Street and QV laneways. Explore quirky finds on Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street or the nearby Rose Street Artists Market. If you love markets, you cannot miss the historical Queen Victoria Markets for daily fresh produce, clothes and gifts. There is also the Arts Centre Sunday Market where you can browse over 80 stalls peddling creative works of Victoria’s finest artisans.
Both Sydney and Melbourne are superb shopping venues with something for everyone regardless of budget and taste. So take your pick from these two equally attractive cities in terms of shopping.
So, which city has the highest overall score?
As you can read from above, it is a tough fight between these two Australian cities, with Melbourne scoring a little better in terms of budget, transport, culture, and food and drink. Deciding on which city to visit eventually boils down to your personal preference. If you are a foodie or cultural buff looking for a laid-back trip, Melbourne is likely your preferred choice. Only you can be your own judge for which is the better city down south.
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