Sydney vs Brisbane: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose

Vanessa Elle
Last Updated: January 22nd, 2024

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Sydney vs Brisbane: That is the question. While one is the most famous city in Australia, the other offers a much more relaxed experience Down Under. So how do you choose between them?

Located in New South Wales on Australia’s east coast, Sydney is Australia’s answer to London or New York. A big and busy city with throngs of tourists, Sydney is an exciting destination where you’ll never run out of things to see and do. More expensive than other Australian destinations, it typically attracts wealthy travelers with its array of posh dining and nightlife options, plus, it’s home to some of the best beaches on the planet.

Brisbane, the capital city of the state of Queensland, is much more aligned with the stereotypical idea of Australia. It’s warm and sunny (though it can be wet!), features lots of outdoor space, and offers a laid back vibe that will make any traveler feel welcome. It’s also within driving distance to some of the best tourist hotspots in Australia, including the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, without being overwhelmed by tourists itself.

A Quick Overview & Comparison: Sydney vs Brisbane

Brisbane-Bridge-Australia

Sydney

  • Better food and nightlife
  • More famous landmarks
  • More famous beaches
  • Faster pace

Brisbane

  • More affordable
  • Warmer weather and more sun
  • Gateway to Queensland
  • Laidback, easy-going Australian atmosphere

Sydney vs Brisbane: A Quick Guide to Choosing

Sydney-Harbour-Bridge
A close-up of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 12,368 square kilometers
  • Population – 6.3 million
  • Rainiest Month – June
  • High Season – December – February
  • Top Sights – Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Tower Eye, Queen Victoria Building
  • Major Airports – Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport

Easily the most famous and recognizable city in Australia, Sydney is often the top choice when international tourists come Down Under.

It’s brimming with landmarks that you’ll want to take photos of and explore, such as the Sydney Opera House, while also serving up a selection of premier eating and nightlife destinations.

With its location on the eastern coast of the country, Sydney boasts spectacular views that most people dream of when they think of Australia. It has several world-class beaches to choose from, and is also a great place to stay if you’d like to explore destinations such as the Blue Mountains or Byron Bay on day trips.

Sydney has a unique feel that juxtaposes a modern, bustling big city with certain areas that are slower-paced and more relaxed, although there’s something going on no matter where in Sydney you venture.

The New South Wales capital is a particularly good choice for families as it is home to several popular attractions for all ages, from Luna Park to Taronga Zoo to the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.

Park-In-Brisbane
A view of the Brisbane city over the river.

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

As the capital of Queensland, Brisbane is the gateway to several of the most alluring sights and attractions in the country. Though positioned in the south of the state, Brisbane is still the best port of call for visiting the many destinations around it, and to the north.

These include the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, and the towns and cities of Far North Queensland, such as Cairns and Port Douglas, as well as prestigious islands like Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. It’s also closer than Sydney to one of the country’s most famous natural sights: the Great Barrier Reef.

While some of these locations have their own airports, it still makes sense to base yourself in Brisbane, or to begin your trip in Brisbane, if you’d like to explore a few of them.

Though Brisbane gives you better access to the hotspots of Queensland, it’s also still reasonably close to destinations along the eastern coast of Australia to the south, such as Byron Bay and Port Macquarie.

The weather in Brisbane is one of its biggest selling points—it’s warm and sunny, and is particularly great to visit over the Australian winter, when it receives the least amount of rain.

Additionally, Brisbane is a scenic, green city with many parks and public outdoor spaces that will allow you to soak up the sunshine, without also having to deal with the throngs of tourists that you’ll likely encounter in Sydney.

Brisbane has a relaxed atmosphere where locals are renowned for their friendliness, and it’s also generally cheaper than visiting Sydney.

The 5 Key Differences Between Sydney and Brisbane

Which Is Better For Activities?

Sydney: Activities

Girraffes-In-Sydney-Australia
Giraffes at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.

Sydney has plenty of activities to keep travelers of all ages occupied. The city is rich in history and culture, so there’s no shortage of museums and art galleries, but several other establishments have popped up over the years to cater to the masses.

Taronga Zoo is one Sydney attraction that has a place on the world stage, and guests can visit the zoo on their own or as part of a tour. Additionally, Luna Park, which is an amusement park based off the original park in New York City on Coney Island, provides endless fun for the whole family.

While in Sydney, visitors can explore the Sydney Harbour Bridge on an organized tour, or they can join a hop-on hop-off tour that takes them past the bridge, plus numerous other Sydney attractions and points of interest.

There are lots of things to do around the harbor, in particular, including cruises on the water and the popular whale-watching cruise which glides over Sydney Harbor.

In addition to the many activities that you can enjoy in Sydney itself, the city serves as the perfect base for exploring nearby destinations. You could join a Hunter Valley helicopter tour and discover some of the regional specialties of the area, or head to the Blue Mountains and witness some outstanding natural beauty.

Brisbane: Activities

Queensland-Gold-Coast-At-Surfers-Paradise
Queensland’s popular Gold Coast, just an hour from Brisbane.

Brisbane happens to be home to fewer iconic landmarks than Sydney, but that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in activities. One of the most popular is a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where guests can have the chance to meet and learn about real koalas in their natural habitat.

One of the nicest ways to see the sights of the city center is with a Brisbane river cruise, which will give the chance to admire the skyline and get to know the most bustling parts of Brisbane. You could take a tour of Brisbane Story bridge, which is less famous than its Sydney counterpart but still an important city landmark.

By basing yourself in Brisbane, you’ll have ample opportunity to immerse yourself in the rainforests that Queensland is famous for. Tamborine Mountain is only around an hour out of the city, and there are several tours that will take you to the mountain and its surrounding tropical scenery from Sydney.

You could also take a day trip from Brisbane to popular destinations like Moreton Island, where you’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with marine life, and the Sunshine Coast. As the Sunshine Coast is only an hour away, you could also easily spend a day at its most famous establishment, Australia Zoo.

The other famous coast, the Gold Coast, is also only an hour away from Brisbane, so you’ll get the chance to explore the famous beaches, markets, and shopping strips, and of course, the theme parks that Queensland is famous for: Warner Bros. Movie World, Dreamworld, Sea World, and Wet’n’Wild Gold Coast.

How Does The Culture Compare?

Sydney: The Culture

Sydney-Hyde-Park
View of the Sydney CBD from Hyde Park.

Sydney has a reputation for being one of Australia’s busiest and liveliest cities. The skyline features some iconic structures that satisfy most people’s vision of what the country should look like, but overall, it tends to feel more like a big city than what many international travelers imagine when thinking of Australia.

Staying in Sydney, you’ll be far from wild kangaroos roaming the streets or red dirt and bushland scrub. Instead, you’ll be surrounded by a city that feels like other major cities around the world—staying in the CBD can feel more like basing yourself in London or Los Angeles than your stereotypical Australian holiday destination.

However, the one element of Sydney where you will experience the traditional Australian laidback culture is the beach, and the New South Wales capital has plenty of those. Sydney tops many other Australian cities when it comes to picturesque beaches, and staying here, you’ll have your pick of global favorites, like Bondi and Coogee.

Being the most expensive city in Australia, Sydney tends to attract elite travelers and relocators, so you’ll find that many of the central dining and entertainment establishments cater to that demographic (via Your Investment Property). Additionally, Sydney has a diverse local population, and international ethnic communities have greatly contributed to the local culture.

Brisbane: The Culture

Streets-Beach-In-Brisbane
The man-made inner-city Streets Beach in Brisbane.

The culture in Brisbane tends to reflect the overall culture in Queensland, which is quintessentially Australian. People are friendly, easy-going, and relaxed. Though Brisbane is the capital city of the state, and one of the busiest areas, there is still the sense of a laidback vibe.

You’ll notice this in people’s attitude towards travelers—locals are usually welcoming, patient, and more than happy to help. You’ll also see it in how locals dress, wearing casual clothes rather than getting overly dressed up.

The combination of green and outdoor spaces in the city plus the phenomenal weather also means that there are lots of opportunities to be outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Brisbane tends to feel less busy than Sydney, despite also having a CBD and one of the largest populations in Australia. There are fewer tourists, which also means fewer crowds, even though Brisbane is so close to major tourist destinations, such as the Gold Coast.

A multicultural city, Brisbane is also home to a diverse population made of international migrants, along with the Australian population. These influences contribute to Brisbane’s lively culture, particularly in its food scene.

Which Is Cheaper?

Sydney: Costs

Circular-Quay-Sydney

Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia, both for travelers and locals. Australia in general isn’t the ideal destination for a budget holiday (although it can be done with the right planning). But Sydney in particular isn’t usually the right choice for those looking for the most affordable trip.

Accommodation tends to be the biggest area where Sydney becomes expensive for tourists to visit. For example, the InterContinental Sydney, an IHG Hotel, will set you back $446 AUD (around $296 USD) for a single weeknight. A similar hotel in Brisbane, voco Brisbane City Centre, an IHG Hotel, costs $319 ($211 USD) for the same night.

While there are also budget options in Sydney, accommodation tends to be more expensive than Brisbane overall. Another area where you’ll likely end up paying more is for food and drinks, as Sydney is home to an abundance of exclusive restaurants and bars.

Brisbane: Costs

Public-Transport-Buses-On-Brisbane-City-Road

Brisbane is more affordable than Sydney on several fronts. According to Finder, transport is cheaper in Brisbane, as is the cost of housing (by a significant margin), along with accommodation.

That said, you can definitely still splurge in Brisbane if you want a luxury trip. The Instagram-famous Calile Hotel, a five-star property in the prestigious Fortitude Valley, is around $958 AUD ($636 USD) for one night.

Still, five-star hotels in Sydney can be even more expensive, like Capella Sydney in the CBD, which is $1,020  ($677 USD) per night.

Which Is Safer?

Sydney: Safety

Sydney-Harbour-Night-View
Sydney Harbor by night.

Sydney is often ranked as one of the world’s safest cities. Like any big city, you can encounter crime there, however you’re much less likely to get in trouble in Sydney than you are in other global destinations.

According to the 2021 Economist Safe Cities Index, Sydney was listed as the fourth safest city in the world.

On the other hand, Soho Real Estate revealed in 2023 that Sydney (along with Melbourne) tends to have higher crime rates than less busy cities in Australia. While no comparison was made to Brisbane, some visitors may feel safer in Brisbane than in Sydney because being around fewer people simply means there’s less chance of being faced with crime.

There are some notorious areas to steer clear of after dark, including King’s Cross, Redfern, Blacktown, Parramatta, and Liverpool (via Safer Travel). In touristy areas, though, such as Circular Quay, there will likely be lots of people around most nights, even after dark, and you may feel safer walking.

Brisbane: Safety

Brisbane-Cbd-Night-Time
Brisbane illuminated at night.

By many accounts, Brisbane is considered to be a safe city to visit. There is low risk of becoming the victim of petty crime, such as through pickpocketing or mugging, and it is generally considered to be safe for solo travelers.

According to Travel Safe – Abroad, there is a medium risk of natural disaster in Brisbane, including flooding, severe rainfall, and storms with strong winds, particularly in the wet season.

Most of the “dangerous” suburbs in Brisbane are beyond where you’d visit as a tourist, such as Dunwich, Eight Mile Plains, and Sunnyland, but higher crime rates have been reported in the popular tourist areas of the CBD and Fortitude Valley (via Discover Hervey Bay).

No matter where you decide to travel, it’s imperative to stay alert and take responsibility for your safety.

Which Is Better For Restaurants & Eating Out?

Sydney: Eating Out

Crowd-Of-People-In-Sydney-Restaurant

Sydney has a culinary scene that caters to travelers from all walks of life, but there is an especially abundant selection of high-end restaurants. Those around the touristy areas, which also happen to boast mesmerizing views of the beaches and harbor, can set you back a lot.

However, you can still find budget eats in Sydney if you know what you’re looking for—but this often means looking for hidden gems that aren’t the first establishments you come across in bustling areas. Along with fine dining options, you still have plenty of brunch spots and beachside cafes, pubs, and coffee shops to choose from.

The large migrant communities in Sydney also mean that the city has great authentic eats, whether you’re looking for Portuguese chicken, Neapolitan pizza, or Turkish kebabs.

On the whole, there’s something for every foodie in Sydney, but you’ll find a greater amount of swanky, fine dining establishments than you will elsewhere in Australia. If you are looking to splurge, Sydney is particularly well-known for its world-class seafood.

Brisbane: Eating Out

Woman-Sitting-In-Cafe-Brisbane

You can certainly enjoy fine dining experiences in Brisbane, too, but the food scene in general tends to feel less up-market than it does in Sydney. Keeping in line with the relaxed atmosphere, eateries tend to be a little more casual.

Brisbane has never really had a reputation in Australia for its number of fantastic restaurants, but Delicious reveals that this is starting to change. Several iconic restaurants that have their primary locations in Sydney and Melbourne have since opened doors in Brisbane, which has inspired other local entrepreneurs to add their own flavor to the foodie scene.

In particular, there are infinite cafes and breakfast joints to choose from, plus bakeries selling snacks and treats to keep you going as you explore the Queensland capital.

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

What else would you like to see in Australia?

To decide whether Sydney or Brisbane is a better choice for you, it can help to work out what else is on your Australian bucket list.

As a country that’s nearly the size of the United States, you’re not going to see everything there is to see in Australia in a single trip. However, it’s also a long way to come for most international travelers, so you want to minimize domestic travel time and plan ahead to see as much as you can.

If you’d like to see destinations and attractions that are located to the south of Sydney, then as a rule of thumb, Sydney will be more convenient for you to visit than Brisbane. It’s geographically closer to Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart, and Adelaide, plus several regional New South Wales destinations, including Wollongong and the Blue Mountains National Park.

However, if the majority of the points on your Aussie bucket list are in Queensland or the Northern Territory, then Brisbane is likely to be the better option. This goes for destinations such as Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, and Darwin and Alice Springs.

To be clear, both Brisbane and Sydney have international airports, so flying to either one should be easy. But when you’re incorporating driving into your trip, and visiting regional locations that don’t have their own airport, taking in the geography of each city is important.

Do you want a relaxing vacation or an action-packed trip?

Both Sydney and Brisbane capture the typical laidback Australian culture to an extent, but Brisbane tends to embody this atmosphere to a greater extent. On average, Brisbane feels more casual and relaxed than Sydney, which feels more like a big, bustling city.

In addition to the vibe of each place, the activities that you’ll be doing in each lend themselves to a different kind of vacation. Sydney is packed with sights and attractions, so you’re likely to experience a trip that is full of action.

Meanwhile, Brisbane, with its poolside resorts and warm sunny weather, is often a better option for those who don’t mind lounging by the water or taking a scenic river cruise. Of course, there are still exciting things to do in and around Brisbane, but it’s also the kind of place where you won’t mind just chilling.

In my mind, Sydney isn’t the best place to relax because there’s so much going on around you—including museums to visit, restaurants to sample, and sights to see—that FOMO will stop you from truly relaxing.

When are you traveling?

The time of year that you’ll be traveling can make a difference to which location will be better for you, as the high seasons are different.

If you’ll be traveling in summer (Australian winter), then Brisbane is likely to be the better choice. April through October is the dry season in Brisbane, so you’ll get less rain but can still get some sunny, mild weather. These are the perfect, comfortable conditions for exploring a new city, hiking in the rainforest, or visiting a wildlife park.

However, if you’ll be traveling in winter (Australian summer) near the Christmas period, Sydney could be for you. You won’t get the rain that tends to fall in Brisbane at this time (although take that with a grain of salt—Sydney weather can be unpredictable). And you’ll likely get a chance to enjoy the several famous beaches that Sydney is known for.

There will also probably be less happening in the Sydney CBD in January and February as many Australians are still on their summer holidays.

Sydney vs Brisbane: Which Is The Better Choice?

Sydney-Harbour-And-Bridge-Sunset-View
Sunset view of Sydney Harbor Bridge.

You could have an amazing vacation in both Sydney and Brisbane. For those interested in absorbing some of Australia’s most iconic landmarks, enjoying a world-class culinary scene, and losing themselves in the rush of a big city with stunning views, Sydney is a great choice.

And if you’re looking for more of a relaxed city with fewer tourists, balmy weather, cheaper prices, and still plenty of things to see and do, go for Brisbane. Brisbane would also be better for those traveling in the Australian winter, and for those who want to experience more of Queensland.

Even though I have so much time for Brisbane, I’d recommend Sydney if you’re completely unsure. Home to the world-famous Sydney Harbor and the iconic Bondi Beach, Sydney is the quintessential Australian experience that everyone should have at least once, even if it can get a little chaotic.

Just make sure that you know what to expect before arriving in Sydney—these famous Australian staples are actually set against the background of a big and lively city that can take many tourists by surprise.

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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