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Melbourne vs Adelaide: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose in 2023

Vanessa Elle
Last Updated: July 18th, 2023

Wondering about the Melbourne vs Adelaide debate? Both cities are worth visiting on an Australian trip, but if you have to pick just one, the below comparison should help you to choose!

Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital, home to a lively culinary scene, and packed with things to do. With all the energy of a bustling European city, it has the best shopping in Australia, the best coffee and baristas, and everything you need for an exciting getaway.

On the other hand, Adelaide is quiet, peaceful, and affordable. What it lacks in major attractions, it makes up for with supreme beaches, proximity to regional must-visit destinations, and status as one of the world’s top wine cities. It’s not as well-known as Melbourne, but that doesn’t mean you should write off the City of Churches.

A Quick Overview & Comparison: Melbourne vs Adelaide

Bridge-Over-River-In-Melbourne

Melbourne

  • Better restaurant and coffee scene
  • More attractions and things to do
  • Easier to reach from international destinations
  • Far better shopping opportunities

Adelaide

  • More affordable
  • Hosts iconic festivals throughout the year
  • Close to several regional attractions
  • A quiet, peaceful vibe without crowds and traffic

Melbourne vs Adelaide: A Quick Guide to Choosing

Iconic-Flinders-Street-Station-Melbourne
An iconic tram at the front of Flinders Street Station.

Melbourne Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 9,992 square kilometers
  • Population – 5.6 million
  • Rainiest Month – October
  • High Season – December – March
  • Top Sights – Melbourne Skydeck, Federation Square, National Gallery of Victoria
  • Major Airports – Melbourne Tullamarine, Avalon Airport

Melbourne is the fashion, culture, and foodie capital of Australia, with a skyline that blends modern skyscrapers and historic buildings.

In comparison to Adelaide, Melbourne city has more going on and gives a more lively energy. There are endless entertainment options in and around the CBD, including the Crown Casino entertainment complex at Southbank.

You’ll find a greater number of attractions in Melbourne, including museums and art galleries, along with endless opportunities for shopping, no matter what your budget is.

Adelaide-City-Skyline
View of Adelaide over the River Torrens.

Adelaide Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 3,257 square kilometers
  • Population – 1.3 million
  • Rainiest Month – June
  • High Season – December – March
  • Top Sights – Adelaide Botanic Garden, Adelaide Hills, Adelaide Zoo
  • Major Airports – Adelaide Airport

If Melbourne is ignored on the world stage, Adelaide really flies under the radar.

The South Australian capital is often described as a small town, which it can feel like in comparison to the bigger cities of Melbourne and Sydney. However, with a population of over 1 million people, Adelaide is far from a small town. It has the amenities of any other city, but with a more intimate vibe.

The Adelaide city center might not be brimming with must-see attractions, but the city is less than an hour from the wonders of the Adelaide Hills, which are full of cultural landmarks and points of interest.

The underrated Adelaide beaches are also less than an hour from the city center. Adelaide’s relatively small size and population means that you can explore these destinations and often feel like you have them all to yourself (without having to spend too long in traffic to get there).

And of course, they don’t call South Australia the Festival State for nothing. Adelaide is known for its many iconic festivals and celebrations that are held throughout the year.

The 8 Key Differences Between Melbourne and Adelaide

1. How Do The Beaches Compare?

Melbourne: The Beaches

Melbourne-Skyline-From-St-Kilda
The Melbourne city viewed from St Kilda.

Australia is blessed with some of the most beautiful and accessible beaches in the world, and while Melbourne isn’t exactly known for its beaches, there are some great ones there.

One of the best is Brighton, 15 kilometers from the CBD. This beach is famous for its vibrant bathing boxes, and is close to a number of popular cafes and restaurants. There’s also the touristy St Kilda, known for its pier, a number of eateries, and Luna Park.

You could also visit beaches that are between one to two hours outside of Melbourne, such as those on the Mornington Peninsula. There are particularly great surfing opportunities at Sorrento, Portsea, Gunnamatta and Point Leo!

Adelaide: The Beaches

Henley-Beach-Australia
Henley Beach at sunset.

Adelaide is also not known for its beaches the way that Sydney is, but there are some amazing options less than half an hour from the city center.

Directly west of the CBD, you have Henley Beach and West Beach, both of which are great for swimming and beach walks. Henley is a trendy suburb that also boasts plenty of cafes and restaurants, and is one of Adelaide’s busiest.

The beaches continue north along the gulf to the historic suburbs of Semaphore and Outer Harbor, and south to Adelaide’s most famous beach, Glenelg.

One of the best things about the Adelaide coastline is there are bustling beaches that are moments away from dining and entertainment, and there are also those that are quiet, where you can just about guarantee that you’ll have most of the beach to yourself.

Around an hour to the south of Adelaide, you’ll find the more regional beaches, known for their brilliant views, golden sand, and luminous blue shoreline. You could easily spend an entire day or more at beaches such as Aldinga, Moana, and Port Willunga.

2. Which Is Better For Activities?

Melbourne: Activities

Luna-Amusement-Park-Melbourne
Luna Park in Melbourne’s St Kilda.

As one of Australia’s busiest cities, Melbourne has no shortage of things to do, both in the city and in the regional destinations surrounding it. Within the city center, there are several museums and art galleries to explore, plus the Crown Casino complex.

One of the best things to do in Melbourne is a tour of the uber-cool Melbourne laneways, but you could also take a city sights discovery tour to learn more about the city’s top attractions. There are foodie tours available, cruises on the Yarra, and you can also tour the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and visit the Australian Sports Museum.

For kids in Melbourne, there’s the SEA LIFE aquarium across the river from the Crown complex, and of course, Melbourne Zoo. Those interested in admiring the street art in Melbourne can take a street art walking tour, or even just a general walking tour of the city.

If you want to explore the areas outside of Melbourne, you might like to take a guided tour of the famous Great Ocean Road, a coastal, heritage-listed stretch of road that travels between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford.

There are also tours available of the beautiful Yarra Valley, where you’ll be able to sample wine and gourmet delights, along with snow days at Mt Buller in the winter months.

If you consider shopping an activity, know that Melbourne has the best shopping opportunities in Australia, to which Adelaide sadly can’t hold a candle.

Adelaide: Activities

Down-The-Rabbit-Hole-Wines
Down the Rabbit Hole Wines in McLaren Vale.

Though around five times smaller than Melbourne, Adelaide still has plenty of things to do. There are city highlights walking tours available, which take visitors around the city center and showcase famous points of interest, from historic buildings to South Australian landmarks.

You can also participate in street art tours in Adelaide, along with cruises on the River Torrens and the Port River (the latter is a dolphin cruise!). Like the MCG, Adelaide Oval is open for tours, some of which operate during sports games and events.

One of the most thrilling places to visit in Adelaide is the Adelaide Gaol, and if you’re too afraid to visit on your own, you can take a guided tour.

The Adelaide Central Market is one of the best in the country and a must-see for foodies. You can traverse the rows of stalls and vendors by yourself, but a guided tour will ensure you don’t miss out on any of the best stops.

The real charm of Adelaide is that it’s so close to a number of nearby destinations that you could easily see on a day or half day trip. The Adelaide Hills is home to several attractions, like the Hahndorf German township and the romantic town of Stirling, where you’ll find the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens.

The wine regions (that have made Adelaide a global wine capital) of McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley are both around an hour away, and if you want to get up close and personal with some native Australian animals while in Adelaide, you can do so at Cleland Wildlife Park, less than an hour from the CBD.

If you’re staying in Adelaide for longer, you could incorporate a trip to Kangaroo Island, or the ancient rugged mountains of the Flinders Ranges, home to the Adnyamathanha people.

3. How Does The Culture Compare?

Melbourne: Culture

Block-Arcade-Melbourne
Block Arcade in the Melbourne CBD.

Melbourne doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle when you compare it to destinations like New York City, but by Australian standards, it’s definitely got a big city feel. It’s a lot bigger than Adelaide, there are more people, and there’s more going on.

It’s a great destination if you want an action-packed trip. There’s always something to see and do in every corner of the city (not just the CBD). While it does feel slightly slower-paced than Sydney, Melbourne is one of Australia’s busiest cities, which may or may not work for your travel style.

The multicultural nature of Melbourne means that many areas of the city have been influenced by international communities, which is evident in its food scene. There’s a strong coffee culture in Melbourne, a thriving street arts scene, and it’s definitely a city where football culture thrives. If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Aussie League Football (AFL), there’s no better place than the MCG on a Saturday night!

Adelaide: Culture

Triumphant-Elephant-Adelaide
Adelaide’s iconic pedestrian mall, Rundle Mall. Image by: Michael Coghlan / Flickr

Adelaide isn’t a small town, but it can certainly feel that way when compared to Melbourne. The size and smaller population mean that it’s a lot quieter and slower.

Despite this, Adelaide has one of the world’s best art scenes and is known for its cultural and arts festivals. The Adelaide Fringe is the second-largest annual arts festival in the world and is the biggest in Australia.

Being less of a tourist hotspot, Adelaide can be more difficult to navigate than Melbourne, and while the public transport system is great for getting around the CBD, driving is often the easiest way to get around Adelaide in general.

Like Melbourne, Adelaide is extremely multicultural, with large Italian and Greek communities that have influenced the local culture and food scene.

4. Which Is Cheaper?

Melbourne: Cost

Hotel-Indigo-Melbourne
Hotel Indigo Melbourne Image by: Booking.com

Melbourne is one of the most expensive cities in Australia. In general, you’ll spend more on a trip to Melbourne than you will on a trip to Adelaide, as everything from food to accommodation tends to be more expensive.

For example, staying at Hotel Indigo Melbourne on Flinders, an IHG Hotel, will cost you $360 AUD per night (around $247 USD at the time of writing). Meanwhile, staying at Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets, an IHG Hotel, costs $325.

Data collected on Finder shows that rent and certain products and services are significantly more expensive in Melbourne than they are in Adelaide, and this is passed on to the consumer. Overall, the cost of living is 9% more expensive in Melbourne than it is in Adelaide.

Adelaide: Cost

Hotel-Indigo-Adelaide-Markets
Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets Image by: Booking.com

Adelaide is one of the most affordable cities to visit in Australia. Keep in mind that Australia can be deemed on the expensive side by world travel standards, so visiting Adelaide may still be more expensive than visiting some destinations, but it’s definitely cheaper than visiting Melbourne or Sydney.

The average person will need $100 AUD per day for single accommodation, while travel will set you back around $28 per day, and food costs around $50 per day.

Comparatively, Melbourne accommodation for a single person costs around $185 per day. You should also plan to spend about $30 per day on travel and $46 on food (which is slightly less than Adelaide).

5. Which Is Safer?

Melbourne: Safety

Yarra-River-And-Melbourne-Cityscape

By world standards, both Melbourne and Adelaide are pretty safe. The Economist Safe Cities Index puts Melbourne at number eight on its list of safest cities in the world.

However, Melbourne attracts the same risks as any bigger city does. It’s important to be aware when walking alone at night or in isolated areas, and always watch your belongings. There are certain suburbs of Melbourne that the average tourist wouldn’t feel safe in, particularly after dark, but most travelers would have no need to venture to those anyway.

The suburbs in Melbourne’s west tend to have the worst reputation for crime, with places like St Alban’s, Sunshine West, and Keilor Downs deemed to be the most dangerous, by Soho Real Estate. Other suburbs to avoid walking through alone at night in Melbourne include Frankston and Frankston South.

Adelaide: Safety

Couple-Walking-On-Sidewalk-Adelaide

According to data collected on Numbeo, Adelaide is likely to be safer than Melbourne overall. Its current crime index score is 32.6, while Melbourne’s is 44.02. Naturally, with fewer people in Adelaide, there is less chance that you’ll become the victim of crime.

Adelaide does have a grisly reputation in Australia as the national “the murder capital”, but this is based on a stereotype formed thanks to a small number of crimes that occurred in Adelaide that happened to receive national (and even global) attention. But statistically, Adelaide does not have higher murder rates than Melbourne.

6. Which Is Better For Restaurants & Eating Out?

Melbourne: Eating Out

Queen-Victoria-Market-In-Melbourne-Australia
The eating area at the popular Queen Victoria Market.

Melbourne is bigger and busier than Adelaide, and with a larger population to cater to, there tends to be a greater selection of restaurants. The Victorian capital is arguably the best in Australia when it comes to its wide variety of eateries, which are located all across the city (not just in the CBD).

There are Melbourne restaurants and cafes for every budget, and many of them serve international cuisines that are authentically made by those in migrant communities. The best restaurants to check out in Melbourne at the time of writing include Clover in Richmond, Grill Americano in the CBD, and Maha North in Collingwood.

Melbourne also prides itself on having the best coffee in Australia. As the Sydney Morning Herald explains, Melbourne is one of the world’s coffee capitals (espresso coffee, in particular), because the local cafes tend to use 100% arabica beans. Several notable Melbourne baristas have also ranked as world champions of the art that is coffee-making.

Adelaide: Eating Out

The-Lane-Vineyard-In-The-Adelaide-Hills
Picnic spread at The Lane Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills.

There are fewer restaurants to choose from in Adelaide than there are in Melbourne, but that doesn’t mean that Adelaide doesn’t still have a great culinary scene. Considering Adelaide’s small size and population, there are amazing food choices available here.

The local restaurant industry is extremely competitive, so it feels like new establishments are opening every week. However, there are still those long-standing, trusted restaurants, too, which have earned their place among Adelaide’s best.

Restaurant Botanic, overlooking the Adelaide Botanic Garden, is an unbeatable food experience (though the menu doesn’t come cheap!).

Though there are some fantastic fine dining options in Adelaide, the majority of the most note-worthy restaurants are either casual and homestyle or chic and cutting-edge, but not overly expensive. One of the best examples is Parwana Afghan Kitchen at Torrensville, serving authentic Afghan dumplings and rice dishes.

Most of the best restaurants are in the CBD, though you can also find hidden gems throughout suburban areas, and in popular hubs like Henley, Norwood, Hyde Park, and North Adelaide.

Interestingly, Chief Travel Writer for “The Times” Chris Haslam ranked Adelaide as a superior food destination to Melbourne, owing to the better quality food he had in the City of Churches. Adelaide definitely has a smaller selection of eateries than Melbourne, but when it does fine dining, it does it well.

7. Which Is Easier To Get To?

Melbourne: Getting There

Melbourne-Tullamarine-Airport

The flight between Melbourne and Adelaide takes about an hour, so when arriving by plane, the location makes no difference. Melbourne Tullamarine is a bigger and busier airport than Adelaide Airport, so you may find that you can’t get a direct flight to Adelaide, depending on where you’re coming from.

Melbourne is located closer to other popular destinations in Australia, including Sydney, Canberra, Ballarat, and Tasmania, so it may work better for you as part of a day trip, depending on your itinerary.

Adelaide: Getting There

Jetstar-Airplane

Most travelers will arrive in Adelaide via the airport, which is relatively small by most standards.

Of the 12 airlines that service the airport, the international carriers are Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Alliance Air, Malindo Airways, and Singapore Airlines. The Australian airlines of Virgin, Qantas, and Jetstar also offer select international flights.

In general, if you are traveling to Adelaide from destinations in Europe or the United States, you may not be able to fly directly to Adelaide and may need to stop over in Melbourne or Sydney.

3 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Melbourne or Adelaide

Melbourne-Victoria-Australia
The Yarra River winding through the Melbourne CBD.

Do you want excitement or tranquility?

Melbourne is the better choice for a traveler seeking excitement at every turn. There is always something to do in Melbourne, which has a lively atmosphere. The city is much more fast-paced than Adelaide and has a greater selection of choices to keep you busy when it comes to dining and entertainment.

By contrast, Adelaide is a better option if you want a peaceful, quiet vacation. Even in Adelaide’s busiest periods, it doesn’t get as chaotic as Melbourne or Sydney. The benefits of this are everywhere from traffic on the roads to lines at bars and shops.

How do you feel about crowds?

More on the above point, Melbourne is a tourist hotspot while Adelaide is one of Australia’s hidden gems. Though you will encounter other tourists in Adelaide, there are never the masses that you’ll find in Melbourne. If you don’t like contending with crowds, Adelaide may be the better destination for you.

When will you be traveling?

If you will be traveling from November through March, there are a few good reasons to choose Adelaide over Melbourne. Primarily, this is the prime festival season in Adelaide, so you’ll be in town for the Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Writers’ Week, the Christmas Pageant, and the Adelaide Italian Festival.

The beaches in Adelaide are among its best features, so if you’re thinking about a holiday by the shore, you won’t be disappointed in the South Australian capital.

Melbourne vs Adelaide: Which Is The Better Choice?

People-Walking-Along-The-Rundle-Mall
The famous Malls Balls in Rundle Mall, Adelaide.

As an Adelaidean, I am biased, but I have to recommend our beautiful city over Melbourne (depending on your travel style!). I still love Melbourne and try to get there a few times a year, but there are a few reasons why you should opt for Adelaide if you really can’t choose.

The small-town feeling in a bigger city creates a charming atmosphere that everybody should experience. Though Adelaide doesn’t have as many major attractions or things to do, its position nestled between the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula, and the coastline of the Gulf St Vincent makes it well worth the visit.

In Adelaide, you’re also likely to pay less for the same quality, and be able to enjoy food and services without having to deal with huge crowds. The beaches can’t be beat, and though Melbourne does have a more impressive restaurant and coffee scene, Adelaide can still hold its own with the few establishments we do have.

If you do want an action-packed trip that is easier to get to and is full of attractions and fantastic restaurants, then Melbourne may be for you. But for a distinctive destination on the doorstep of endless regional wonders, home to great food, scenic views, and a wine culture that competes with the world’s best, book a ticket to Adelaide.

About The Author

Vanessa Elle

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists. When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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