Sydney vs Melbourne: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose

Last Updated: April 12th, 2024

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Faced with the decision of Melbourne vs. Sydney? Both Australian cities have unique character and rich culture that makes them worth visiting. Our honest comparison below will help you decide which one better suits your travel style.

If your idea of the perfect Australian holiday involves scenic beaches and world-famous landmarks, Sydney may be the choice for you. The New South Wales capital is home to the most recognizable skyline in Australia, attracting millions of tourists.

Among them are the elite from all corners of the globe, who come to indulge in world-class restaurants with ridiculously good views.

On the other hand, Melbourne may be the better choice for those who are looking for a diverse food and nightlife scene that’s brimming with trendy hotspots, Instagram-worthy city streets, and Australia’s best shopping opportunities.

A Quick Overview & Comparison: Sydney vs Melbourne

Sydney

Sydney-Harbour-Skyline
The world-famous Sydney Harbour skyline.
  • Better beaches
  • More landmarks
  • More central location
  • Statistically safer

The coastal location of Sydney lends itself to beaches that need to be seen to be believed. Home to a wide variety of beaches that are good for swimming, surfing, relaxing, and simply soaking up the Aussie ambiance, Sydney would be the top choice if you’re in the mood for a beach holiday.

The city is also where you’ll find more famous landmarks, including the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is in a position on the eastern coast of Australia that makes it easier to drive to than Melbourne—though this of course depends on where you’re coming from.

Melbourne

Melbourne-City-Bridge
The Beautiful Melbourne Cityscape.
  • Better food
  • Better nightlife
  • Better shopping
  • More affordable

Comparatively, Melbourne doesn’t have many internationally recognizable landmarks. But what it lacks in famous sights, it makes up for with a food scene that is renowned around Australia for authenticity and creativity.

Coming hand in hand with the fantastic restaurants and brunch spots are the many bars and live music venues that make Melbourne one of the country’s top destinations for nightlife.

Both cities are among Australia’s safest, though Sydney is technically safer, and both are among the most expensive, though Melbourne is slightly more affordable. However, it’s admittedly difficult to stick to a budget in Melbourne when you’re tempted by Australia’s best shopping choices.

Sydney vs Melbourne: A Quick Guide to Choosing

Sydney-Harbor-And-Downtown-Skyline
An aerial view of Sydney Harbour and the city.

Sydney Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 12,368 square km
  • 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

Sydney is definitely Australia’s premiere location for sightseeing. Home to landmarks that are famous on a global scale, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House, this is a great destination for those who want to tick off the most iconic attractions on their Australian bucket list.

You could argue that Sydney also better caters to tourists in general as there are several family-friendly attractions that are centrally located, including Taronga Zoo, the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, Luna Park, the Australian National Maritime Museum, and Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park.

Sydney is larger than Melbourne, although this won’t make a huge difference to tourists who are just visiting for a few days and are staying in the city center. But the location is definitely better, as Sydney is closer to other major destinations, including Byron Bay, Brisbane, and Surfer’s Paradise.

Suggested Reading: Sydney vs Brisbane: An Honest Comparison

Flinders-Street-Station-Melbourne
The iconic Flinders Street Station in the Melbourne CBD.

Melbourne Mini Guide

  • Location Size – 9,992 square km
  • 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 tends to be less well-known among foreign tourists than Sydney, perhaps owing to the fact that it doesn’t have as many recognizable landmarks. However, the city is rich in culture and history, home to several aesthetic heritage buildings and museums that open the door to Australia’s past.

A diverse and multicultural city, Melbourne has one of the best food scenes in Australia. The competitive restaurant industry sees new eateries popping up every week, many of them going on to become social media famous.

Melbourne also has a strong coffee culture and exceptionally high standards when it comes to coffee quality, so you can expect to find a lot of wonderful cafes, coffee shops, and brunch spots.

When it comes to nightlife, Melbourne has endless live music venues and swanky wine and cocktail bars, though it has its share of raving nightclubs too. Entertainment precincts like the Crown Casino complex also mean that there are more nightlife options besides those in the CBD.

The streets of Melbourne can be grungy and clad in street art, giving the city a unique personality, but there are also several art galleries where you can observe more refined works.

The 8 Key Differences Between Sydney and Melbourne

How Does The Culture Compare?

Sydney: The Culture

Sydney-Australia
The stunning skyline of the Sydney CBD.

Sydney has the feel of a big and bustling city. It is arguably Australia’s largest tourist destination, so it can feel loud, fast-paced, and exciting when compared to Australia’s lesser-known cities.

It’s incredibly multicultural, so each wave of immigration has contributed to the overall larger culture that exists in Sydney today. You’ll find Chinatown in the CBD, along with Italian, Portuguese, Lebanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Turkish communities located throughout the city.

Additionally, Sydney’s coastal location gives some parts of the city the ambiance of a stereotypical Australian surf destination.

Sydney has a rich history, having been founded in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet at Botany Bay, before establishing a convict settlement at Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) which went on to change the course of modern Australia.

Visitors can learn about the local history at the city museums, or by taking walking tours around the city. Despite its history, Sydney tends to feel like a very modern city, with skyscrapers dominating the skyline of the CBD.

Melbourne: The Culture

Street-Art-Melbourne
Street art in the suburb of Fitzroy.

As opposed to Sydney, which tends to be Australia’s golden child on the world stage, Melbourne is more of an underdog. While not exactly a hidden gem, the city is less well-known among international tourists and thus feels cooler and more trendy.

With plenty of skyscrapers of its own in the city center, Melbourne also has the feel of a modern city. But these are scattered between heritage buildings and laneways, the latter of which often feature street art, which gives the city a distinct character.

Like Sydney, Melbourne is culturally diverse, with many different international communities calling the city home. The Immigration Museum in the city tells the story of the mass migration from Chinese, Italian, and Greek people throughout the 20th century.

One area where Melbourne and Sydney are noticeably different is on the sports front. Melbourne has a strong Australian Rules Football (AFL) culture, with the game having originated from the Victorian Football League before spreading to the rest of the country.

People travel from all over Australia to watch football in Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or Marvel Stadium, and it’s also the home of the Grand Final every year, regardless of which national teams are playing.

There are nine AFL teams that call Melbourne home, while only two teams hail from Sydney. By comparison, Sydney tends to favor Rugby League.

How Does The Cuisine Compare?

Sydney: The Cuisine

Sydney-The-Cuisine
Fresh oysters at Watson Bay, a local specialty.

Both Sydney and Melbourne have culinary scenes that have been influenced by their history of mass immigration from international communities. Sydney also has several prestigious and world-class restaurants, many with premium views of the harbor.

In terms of local delicacies, Sydney has a variety of cult dishes that all visitors should sample, including authentic Portuguese tarts crafted by the local Portuguese community, and the one-meter pizza at Via Napoli.

Melbourne: The Cuisine

Melbourne-The-Cuisine
Eggs at Higher Ground, one of Melbourne’s best brunch spots.

You can get fantastic food in both Melbourne and Sydney, but while Sydney is home to the more internationally famous restaurants, Melbourne tends to have a better-quality food scene overall.

It’s made up of establishments that have been serving the community for years, like hole-in-the-wall espresso and pasta bar Pellegrini’s, to the new and tremendously popular, such as Chin Chin on Flinders Lane.

While Sydney might have Melbourne beat on the fine dining and seafood fronts, Melbourne tends to have a greater variety of more accessible places to eat, with authentic food from a diverse range of cultures.

How Do The Beaches Compare?

Sydney: The Beaches

Sydney-The-Beaches
The popular Bondi Beach on a summer’s day.

Hands down, Sydney offers better beaches than Melbourne. If you’re visiting during summer and want the quintessential Aussie experience complete with ripped lifeguards and ocean views, Sydney will likely leave you satisfied.

Sydney is where you’ll find Australia’s most famous beach, Bondi, but it also has many other less popular options. There’s also Bronte Beach, Manly, and the northern beaches of Dee Why, Newport, Mona Vale, and Avalon.

Melbourne: The Beaches

Melbourne-The-Beaches
The bathing boxes on the sand at Brighton, Melbourne.

Melbourne is not a typical summer destination, even though the high season is considered to be over the Australian summer, from December through March. There are some beautiful beaches, but they don’t hold a candle to the views that you’ll get at Sydney’s beaches, which are globally famous for a reason.

However, you can still enjoy the beach during your trip to Melbourne. St Kilda is considered to be one of the best beaches in the city. Another beach to add to your Melbourne bucket list is Brighton, which boasts historic and colorful Victorian bathing boxes.

Which Is Cheaper?

Sydney: Costs

Sydney-Costs

As the most expensive city in Australia, Sydney will likely cost you more to visit than Melbourne. You’ll need to spend around $100 more per day in Sydney to get the same quality of goods and services that you would in Melbourne.

In particular, food and drinks tend to be costlier in Sydney than it is in Melbourne, while accommodation is actually slightly cheaper.

For example, a king room in the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, just 150 meters from the city center, costs $429 AUD for a Friday night, while the Sheraton Melbourne Hotel, .9 kilometers from the city center, is $445 for the same night.

Melbourne: Costs

Melbourne-Costs

Melbourne is generally the cheaper option of the two cities, though you could easily spend a lot of money in Melbourne by opting for fine-dining meals and top-of-the-range accommodation.

Additionally, Melbourne has a range of cheap eats available that are still amazing quality, including establishments such as Biang Biang Noodle House, Taita’s House, and Sal’s Authentic New York Pizza.

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Sydney: Getting There

Sydney-Getting-There

Both Sydney and Melbourne are easy to get to from other destinations when you’re flying. Sydney tends to be a little further away from destinations like Perth and Adelaide but is closer to the cities and towns of Queensland.

If you’re driving from another destination on the eastern coast of Australia, such as Brisbane, Surfer’s Paradise, Newcastle, or Byron Bay, then Sydney is quicker and easier to get to. Sydney is also closer to Canberra. Overall, it’s slightly easier to reach overall than Melbourne because of its location, but again, this depends on where you’re coming from.

Melbourne: Getting There

Melbourne-Getting-There

Sydney is generally quicker and easier to reach by road from most nearby destinations, however, it is quicker to drive to Melbourne from Adelaide than it is to drive to Sydney. Melbourne is also geographically closer to Geelong and Tasmania.

Despite Sydney being easier to reach when coming from the most popular Australian locations, Melbourne is still easy and convenient to reach.

Which Is Easier To Get Around?

Sydney: Getting Around

Sydney-Getting-Around
The Sydney CBD on a hot summer day.

Despite its sprawling city center, Sydney is an easy city to navigate. The main form of public transport for visitors is the bus, which allows you to access all parts of the city by following the main bus routes. Alternatively, Sydney is served by ferries and trains.

Central Station, which is close to Chinatown, is the main station that connects to various points of the city via rail. Meanwhile, ferries are the most convenient way to cross the harbor.

All forms of public transport in Sydney can be accessed with an Opal card, which allows you to travel as much as you like without paying more than the capped fee. Read the official Sydney website for more details!

Taxis and ride-share services are also available in Sydney but be warned that Sydney is notorious for its road traffic, ranking as the worst city in Australia for its congestion, which you can avoid by opting for train or ferry travel (via Drive.com).

Melbourne: Getting Around

Melbourne-Getting-Around
Overlooking the Yarra to the Melbourne CBD

Like Sydney, Melbourne has an easy-to-use public transport system. Tourists should take note of the City Circle Tram, a free tram service that circumvents the city center, taking riders to various major attractions in the city (which is also very walkable).

Additionally, trains and buses operate in Melbourne, which you can access with a myki smartcard. Melbourne also runs a Night Network, which provides 24-hour trains and trams on weekends, plus late-night buses and a coach service to regional destinations running until 2 a.m.

Taxis and rideshares are also popular in Melbourne, and while Melbourne also suffers from congested traffic, it has officially been ranked as less congested than Sydney. If you take a taxi here, there’s less risk that you’ll spend unprecedented time in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Which is Better for Shopping?

Sydney: Shopping

Sydney-Shopping

There are multiple shopping destinations across Sydney, ranging from traditional malls to high-end department stores. One of the most popular is Pitt Street Mall, the city’s premier shopping precinct that hosts retail stores like Sephora and H&M.

There’s also a Westfield in the CBD, along with more boutique-style shopping complexes, such as Queen Victoria Building and The Strand Arcade.

For higher-end shopping options, check out The Star in Pyrmont, a casino with its own luxury shopping and dining areas. Here, you’ll find designer stores like Chanel, Gucci, and Bottega Veneta.

Sydney also has its fair share of markets, including Paddy’s Markets, where vendors sell flowers, handmade crafts, jewelry, and fresh produce, among other goodies and treats.

In terms of outlet shopping, there’s the Birkenhead Point Outlet Centre in Drummoyne, where there are huge sales on brands like Bonds, Lorna Jane, Country Road, and The North Face.

Melbourne: Shopping

Melbourne-Shopping

Sydney shopping leaves nothing to be desired, but still, Melbourne is better. No matter what your shopping style is, Melbourne will have what you’re looking for in excess. Plus, it’s the unofficial fashion capital of the world, so the latest trending styles tend to hit Melbourne ground first.

Melbourne’s most popular retail strip is the pedestrian-friendly Bourke Street Mall in the CBD, where there are department stores, including Myer and David Jones, plus a range of chain and specialty stores.

Elsewhere in the CBD, there’s the Melbourne Emporium, which offers mid to high-range stores, and St Collins Lane, where you’ll find fashion stores like Kookai and Cue. There’s also Melbourne Central, The Strand, The Royal Arcade, The Block Arcade, and The Walk Arcade, each offering a distinct shopping experience.

Collins Street is known for its designer labels, its eastern end is often dubbed the Paris End of Melbourne, and here you’ll see keen shoppers lining up outside global brands like Louis Vuitton and Versace. For more high-end shopping, Chadstone—the largest shopping center in the southern hemisphere—has everything from Chanel and Dior to duty-free shops.

The Queen Victoria Markets and Prahran Market are also must-visits for anyone who loves the market shopping experience.

Though these shopping options all speak for themselves, what makes Melbourne a true superior destination to Sydney on the shopping front is the range of outlet shopping, where shoppers can score high-quality goods for a bargain. Among the most well-known are the DFO South Wharf and Spencer Street Outlet Center, both a short distance from the CBD.

Which Is Safer?

Sydney-Tourist-Circular-Quay

Sydney: Safety

Compared to other major cities in the world, both Sydney and Melbourne are considered relatively safe. However, Sydney has been named as being safer than Melbourne by The Economist Safe Cities Index, which was last updated in 2021.

On the index, Sydney received the impressive score of the fourth safest city in the world, after Copenhagen, Toronto, and Singapore.

Melbourne: Safety

According to The Economist Safe Cities Index, Melbourne ties with Hong Kong as the eighth safest city in the world, which is still pretty impressive, beating out cities like Osaka and Dallas.

Suggested Reading: The Pros And Cons Of Living In Australia

4 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Sydney or Melbourne

Are Aussie beaches on your bucket list?

If your idea of the perfect Australian vacation is spending time at the beach, and you’ll be visiting during summer, then it’s worth choosing Sydney over Melbourne. The Victorian capital still has beaches, but they’re no match for the shorelines of Sydney, which are famous around the world.

Are you traveling elsewhere in Australia?

Take into account any other destinations on your Australian bucket list, because one of the most common mistakes people make when they travel Down Under is failing to understand just how big this country is.

While it doesn’t matter too much if you’ll be flying, if you plan on driving from any of the popular destinations along the eastern coast of Australia, Sydney may be the best option for you. However, if you’ll be coming from Tasmania on the ferry, or driving from Adelaide, Melbourne makes more sense.

Are you a foodie?

Foodies can find happiness in both Sydney and Melbourne, but if the culinary scene will make or break your experience, then Melbourne is the safer choice. There’s a wider range of restaurants and cafes to suit all budgets, and the city will give you the chance to sample a more diverse selection of authentic cuisines.

Note that if you are particularly drawn to fine-dining experiences or fresh seafood, you may be happier in Sydney after all!

Will you be doing shopping or sightseeing?

What kind of vacation are you imagining for your Australian trip? If it’s one that’s filled with sightseeing and visiting iconic landmarks, Sydney is the superior choice (and you can probably tick off most of your bucket list items without leaving the harbor!

However, if you’re looking to engage in some serious retail therapy, Melbourne has more options to leave you satisfied.

Sydney vs Melbourne: Which Is The Better Choice?

Sydney and Melbourne are both worth visiting for different reasons. To summarize, Sydney is home to more legendary Australian landmarks and attractions, making it more tourist-friendly. The CBD has an action-packed, bustling feel, while certain areas are truly laid back. It’s also where you’ll find several up-market, renowned restaurants, and some of the best beaches in Australia.

Downtown-Sydney-Skyline
The bustling harbor on the edge of the city.

However, Melbourne has a cool vibe with a stellar culinary and nightlife scene, a rich culture and aesthetic streets that are brimming with artwork and hidden gems, and the best shopping options in Australia.

Either could make for a great trip, depending on what you want to get out of your visit, but if you can’t choose and none of the major pros and cons of each city have much of an impact on you, I’d say go with Melbourne.

Melbourne-City-Skyline
The Melbourne skyline at sunset.

With fewer tourists and congestion, but just as many museums, galleries, and public attractions as Sydney, Melbourne is one of the world’s most underrated destinations. The food choices are out of this world, the coffee is to die for, and each diverse pocket of the city tells a unique story.

About The Author

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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Picture of 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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