Melbourne vs Brisbane: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose in 2024

Vanessa Elle
Last Updated: January 22nd, 2024

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Melbourne vs Brisbane: what are the real differences? These two Australian cities are each great in their own right, but they offer completely different vacation experiences, so it’s important to know what you’re in for in each destination before you choose which one to visit.

The capital of Victoria, Melbourne is one of Australia’s busiest and most expensive cities. This is the place to come for top-quality shopping, dining, and entertainment, while also experiencing a diverse local culture unlike anything else in the country.

On the flip side, the Queensland capital of Brisbane is a laid-back and sunny destination, ideal for those who love to spend time outdoors and want to take day trips to the many tourist hotspots of the state.

A Quick Overview & Comparison: Melbourne vs Brisbane

Melbourne-Cityscape

Melbourne

  • More cultural
  • Better restaurants, cafes, and nightlife
  • Better shopping opportunities
  • Fast, exciting pace

Brisbane

  • Relaxed vibe and fewer crowds
  • More affordable
  • Closer to Queensland hotspots
  • Better weather

Melbourne vs Brisbane: A Quick Guide to Choosing

Melbourne-Beyond-The-Yarra-River
The city of Melbourne beyond the Yarra River.

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 a cultural landmark in itself. The Victorian capital is known for its thriving culture and arts scene, offering a seemingly endless array of museums, galleries, and attractions pertaining to music, art, and literature.

Going hand in hand with this, the city is also one of the best places for nightlife in Australia, particularly owing to its variety of live music venues. For those who love to party, there’s a huge selection of nightclubs, many of them in the CBD, while you can also find cocktail and wine bars scattered through the city’s famous laneways.

Not only is Melbourne one of Australia’s greatest assets when it comes to nightlife, but it’s regularly considered to be the best destination in the country for food. A mecca for foodies, the city has a huge selection of restaurants for every type of budget, many of them super trendy and chic.

It’s also a great city to visit if you’re a fan of coffee or brunching, as Melbourne has some of the best coffee in the world and has built a culture around its cafes.

Melbourne has an exciting, bustling vibe and offers something to see and do in neighborhoods well beyond the CBD, from the Crown Casino complex at Southbank to the shopping opportunities at Chadstone mall (and yes, the shopping in Melbourne is unbeatable).

Brisbane-City-Center
Boats sailing in the idyllic Brisbane city center.

Brisbane Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 15,826 square kilometers
  • Population – 2.5 million
  • Rainy Season – November – April
  • High Season – May – September
  • Top Sights – Story Bridge, the Wheel of Brisbane, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
  • Major Airports – Brisbane Airport

Sunny and relaxed, Brisbane is often the first destination that travelers visit as part of a Queensland trip.

This state has some of the best points of interest that Australia has to offer, from the Great Barrier Reef and the lavish Queensland islands to the theme parks of the Gold Coast and the stunning beaches of the Sunshine Coast. And we can’t forget the resorts of Far North Queensland!

One of the best things about Brisbane is that it’s only an hour away from some of these destinations, while those further away are still easy to get to.

Queensland (including Brisbane) is often credited with having the best weather in Australia, with many locals escaping to the north to escape the Australian winter. It’s always warm and often sunny, with increased humidity over the rainy season, which lasts for much of the Australian summer.

Aside from gorgeous weather, visitors might choose Brisbane over Melbourne because it is quieter and more laid-back, and with a smaller population and less of a reputation among tourists, there are also fewer crowds.

The 5 Key Differences Between Melbourne and Brisbane

1. Which Is Better For Activities?

Melbourne: Activities

Flinders-Street-Station-In-Melbourne
Iconic tram in front of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.

Melbourne is full of things to do, both within the city center and in the surrounding suburbs. You can also embark on various day trips from Melbourne to several fascinating nearby destinations in Victoria.

Starting in the CBD, you can take a city highlights river cruise along the Yarra and absorb the style and sophistication of Melbourne city (while also looking out for some street art). For an even better view, you can opt for a helicopter tour that takes in the city and bay area from above.

One of the best and most underrated things that I love about Melbourne are its gardens, and you can see the best of them on a garden bus tour. If you prefer to walk, there are several walking tours operating in the city, including a true crime walking tour which runs in the trendy suburb of Fitzroy.

The sporting culture in Melbourne can’t be topped by any other city, and to truly immerse yourself in it, you can take a sports lovers tour and discover sporting destinations like the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), which is home to the AFL Grand Final each year, the F1 Grand Prix circuit, and Flemington Racecourse.

If you’re visiting Melbourne with kids, one of the best attractions is the Legoland Discovery Centre. Otherwise, a trip to Grampians National Park from Melbourne is another great idea for a family-friendly activity.

Other activities that are definitely worth doing outside of Melbourne are trips to the Yarra Valley and Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula.

Brisbane: Activities

Skyline-Of-The-Brisbane-City
Skyline of the Brisbane city ahead of the river.

Even though Brisbane offers a more relaxed vacation style than Melbourne, there’s still plenty to do there.

Kayaking on the Brisbane River is a fun way to enjoy the warm weather while also taking in the sights of the city, and you can also take a night kayaking tour to discover Brisbane city under the stars.

Though you wouldn’t think it from its laid-back demeanor, Brisbane is rich in history and also offers true crime tours. Otherwise, there’s a historical crime walking tour through the Fortitude Valley and regular city walking tours.

Thanks to the fantastic weather, Brisbane does tend to lend itself to outdoor activities like abseiling at Kangaroo Point Cliffs. In terms of indoor activities, there’s also axe throwing.

One of the best things about Brisbane is its proximity to several great Queensland destinations, including the Sunshine Coast, where you can visit Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. There are also day trips available to Moreton Island and Mount Tamborine.

2. How Does The Culture Compare?

Melbourne: Culture

Street-Art-Melbourne-Australia

Melbourne is Australia’s resident culture hotspot. Reminiscent of a European city with both heritage buildings and skyscrapers, Melbourne offers a more action-packed pace than Brisbane. There is always something new to discover.

Melbourne is also known for its thriving arts scene, home to several galleries and works of street art. The busy streets lend themselves to street performers and buskers, and for history buffs, there are multiple museums to explore.

Like many cities in Australia, Melbourne has received influxes of migrants from international communities, and this has led to a flourishing diverse culture.

Brisbane: Culture

People-On-The-Brisbane-Beach-Australia

Brisbane doesn’t have a reputation for being a cultural destination, the way Melbourne does, but there is still a decent arts scene. There are several live music venues, art galleries, museums, and opportunities to attend the theater.

Rather than relying on its arts scene to draw in visitors, Brisbane’s charm lies in its outdoor activities. It’s a paradise for those who love to surround themselves in natural landscapes and bask in the warm sun.

Visitors to Brisbane will find that the local atmosphere is much more reminiscent of the typical Australian attitude. People are generally easy-going and relaxed, and known for being friendly and welcoming to tourists.

3. Which Is Cheaper?

Melbourne: Cost

People-And-Tram-On-The-Street-In-Melbourne

As one of Australia’s most popular cities, Melbourne can be expensive. In general, it is up there with the most costly cities in Australia to visit, and will likely cost you more than Brisbane will.

For example,  the CBD-based Hotel Indigo Melbourne on Flinders, costs around $360 AUD per night. By comparison, Hotel Indigo Brisbane City Centre, , costs $349.

However, accommodation can also be more expensive in Brisbane, particularly as it rises in popularity. Stamford Plaza Brisbane costs $419 AUD for one night, while Stamford Plaza Melbourne costs $394 for the same night.

The good news is you can find extravagant and budget accommodation in both Melbourne and Brisbane.

Brisbane: Cost

Train-On The-Station-Brisbane-Queensland

You will need an average of $201 per day for a trip to Brisbane. This includes $124 for accommodation and $27 for transport.

By comparison, you will need an average of $274 per day in Melbourne. Accommodation in Melbourne is likely to set you back $185, while transport costs around $30 per day. Likewise, you can expect to set aside about $46 per day for food in Brisbane.

4. Which Is Better For Restaurants & Eating Out?

Melbourne: Eating Out

People-Eating-Food-In-Melbourne

Melbourne has earned its place as the number one foodie destination in Australia. The quality of restaurants in Melbourne gets better and better, with world-class eateries located all over the city.

Though most of Melbourne’s best restaurants are located in the CBD, there are several amazing establishments in the suburbs and inner-city areas, including in the Crown Complex at Southbank and the suburbs of Hawthorn, Brunswick, and Fitzroy, which are scattered with brunch spots.

To fully experience the wonders of the Melbourne food scene, you could join a foodie discovery tour, where a guide will take you to some of the best-hidden spots in the Melbourne CBD.

If you have a sweet tooth, a chocolate tour in Melbourne might be in order. This walking tour through the city visits the most highly-rated chocolate shops, many of them located in Melbourne’s iconic and romantic arcades and laneways. And if chocolate isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other desserts to sample, too!

Along with its restaurants and cafes, Melbourne is also known for its markets. The Queen Victoria Market is one of the city’s greatest attractions, and you can easily spend a day wandering through the various stalls, collecting fresh produce and also stopping for breakfast, lunch, coffee, and snacks!

Melbourne markets can be overwhelming because there are so many food options to choose from, so you could partake in a multicultural culinary markets tour. With a guide, you’ll be able to actually meet the vendors, learn the backstories behind the food they’re selling, and sample diverse dishes that you might not have known you were craving.

Brisbane: Eating Out

Food-And-Wine-On-The-Brisbane

Brisbane isn’t known for its food scene the way Melbourne is, but there are still so many great restaurants in the Queensland capital. Many are located in the city center overlooking the river, so you’ll get wonderful views in addition to great food.

There’s also a handful of high-quality places to eat in Fortitude Valley, the trendy central area where you’ll find some of Brisbane’s best hotels.

Brisbane also offers foodie experiences and planned tours to help visitors really get to know the local culinary culture. For example, you can book an artisanal wine-tasting and two-course meal at a local winery for $75 per person.

If you’re a true foodie looking to indulge, you can take part in this guided food tour which includes coffee, seafood, and wine, plus the best cocktails and cheese platters.

5. Which Is Better For Nightlife?

Melbourne: Nightlife

Melbourne-Night-View-Of-Station

As one of Australia’s busiest and trendiest cities, Melbourne naturally has a thriving nightlife. There are endless establishments, both in the CBD and beyond, that will give you the chance to drink, dance, and party the night away.

There’s no shortage of nightclubs in Melbourne, but the city also caters to a more mature crowd looking for gin and wine bars or live music. You’ll also find a great selection of themed bars and clubs that you won’t find in smaller cities, including the Ice Bar, which is kept at -10 Celsius degrees all year round.

If you can’t decide which Melbourne nightlife hotspot to visit, you could let a local expert guide you on a hidden bar tour, and uncover some of the most underrated establishments on the scene.

For those who don’t drink or dance, there are lots of other nightlife destinations to explore in Melbourne, from after-dark dessert bars and night markets to shisha and karaoke bars to musical theater restaurants.

Brisbane: Nightlife

Night-View-Of-Bar-Brisbane

Like the rest of Queensland, Brisbane is considered a fun and relaxing vacation destination, and part of that is due to its varied nightlife scene. Ironically called Brisvegas, the city might not have shining lights and glamor like more famous cities, but it does have an array of nightclubs and bars to discover.

In Fortitude Valley, you’ll find a concentration of clubs that are usually super busy at night (and the area can get a little hectic). But there are also lots of rooftop and outdoor bars for a more mature crowd, along with several live music venues. You can find bars in the CBD, South Bank, West End, and South Brisbane.

An hour away in the Gold Coast, you’ll find a much rowdier (but arguably more exciting, depending on your nightlife preferences) scene filled with clubs that are packed with patrons every night of the week.

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

Melbourne’s-Bustling-Bourke-Street-Mall
Melbourne’s bustling Bourke Street Mall.

When is your trip?

One of the biggest differences between Melbourne and Brisbane is the weather, which is influenced by the time of year. In general, Brisbane has better weather in terms of warmer temperatures and more sunshine, and if you’re traveling during the Australian winter, Brisbane may definitely be more appealing. While Melbourne is one of the coldest major cities in the country, Brisbane is one of the warmest. However, Brisbane also has a subtropical climate, which means that it can reach points of 60 or 70% humidity during the Australian summer (while in winter, humidity levels sit at around 50%). If you’re traveling between November and April and want to avoid the humidity, Melbourne may be the city for you. Meanwhile, if you’re traveling during winter, you can often find relief from the cold in Brisbane.

How do you want to spend your time?

Ultimately, you should ask yourself what kind of vacation you’re looking for when choosing between Brisbane and Melbourne. If you’re interested in soaking up as much culture as possible, visiting galleries and museums, shopping up a storm, and eating at some of Australia’s best restaurants, Melbourne may be the destination for you.

On the other hand, if you’re getting away to relax, seeking sunshine, and looking to take things at a slower pace, you might be happier in Brisbane.

Do you plan on staying in the city?

One of Brisbane’s greatest assets is its location, which puts it just a short distance away from popular Queensland destinations, such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

While Melbourne is also close to regional destinations that you might want to visit in Victoria, Brisbane is the better option purely from a day trip point of view. If you plan on taking time out of the city to explore other points of interest in the area, you may want to go with Brisbane.

Melbourne vs Brisbane: Which Is The Better Choice?

Melbourne’s-Fitzroy-Gardens
Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens, near the CBD.

Both Melbourne and Brisbane are fantastic destinations, and if you have the time, you should visit them both! But for people who don’t have endless time or have other destinations that they’re prioritizing while in Australia, you should take into account the various ways that these cities are different to work out which one is better for you.

Go with Melbourne if you’re looking for an action-packed trip with infinite things to see and places to go. Despite the colder weather, larger crowds, and higher prices, Melbourne is Australia’s cultural gem, has the best shopping in the country, and also has some of the best food and nightlife amidst a unique setting of heritage buildings and modern city skyscrapers.

On the other hand, you should go with Brisbane if you want a vacation with a laid-back vibe that’s close to other destinations in Queensland. Brisbane has better weather and is cheaper and quieter, but it still has plenty to see and do. This is a particularly great destination if you want to spend a lot of time outdoors.

If none of those differences make much of a difference for you and you still can’t decide, I’d recommend going with Melbourne. It’s one of those Australian cities that you need to visit at least once if just to absorb the culture, immerse yourself in the bustling city center, and indulge in some truly amazing food.

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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Vanessa Elle

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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