Sydney and Melbourne are the capital cities of two neighboring states. Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and is Australia’s biggest city (with the largest population, too) while Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria and is the second biggest city in the country.
They’re both incredible places in their own right, yet they attract tourists for different reasons based on their distinct characteristics. The cities have been traditional rivals for centuries, particularly in the sporting and food scene.
Typically, Melbourne is preferred by international tourists, while locals prefer taking trips to Sydney. Sydney is Australia’s financial and media hub, famous for its incredible geography and beaches, while Melbourne is the center of arts, culture, fashion, and sports.
While visiting both cities is the ultimate goal for an Australian trip, there might come a time when you’ll have to choose to visit either Sydney or Melbourne if you’re strapped for time or budget. Let’s compare the two cities as best as we can:
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Sydney vs Melbourne
These Australian cities are relatively close and share similar climates, cultures, and traditions. In this post, we are going to focus on what sets one apart from the other in terms of popular questions you might ask as a tourist when visiting Australia.
- Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and extends 4775 square miles across the eastern coastline of Australia.
- Famous for its incredible beaches and surfing conditions, the iconic Sydney Opera House, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
- The main way to access the city is via air at the Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport, the busiest airport in Australia. If you are traveling from other parts of Australia, you could arrive by car, train, or bus.
- Sydney is well connected with public transport, including buses, trains, metro rail, light rail, and ferries.
- You’ll find just about every type of accommodation to suit all budgets here, including hotels, resorts, guest houses, Airbnbs, and hostels.
- Melbourne is the capital of Victoria and is spread over 3858 square miles along the southeastern Australian coastline.
- Known for being the center of Australian culture, its music and art scene, and its high standard of living.
- Most tourists fly directly into Melbourne Airport, which services international and domestic flights from across the globe.
- Although huge, the center of Melbourne is walkable. The city has modern public transport infrastructure, including trains, trams, and buses. Cycling is also popular.
- All accommodations can be found here, from historic properties to brand-name hotels to self-catering vacation rentals to guest houses and hostels.
Is Sydney or Melbourne Better
It’s hard to say whether one city is better than the other, as this entirely depends on your personal opinion and travel preferences. However, I’m going to give my best shot at comparing Sydney and Melbourne.
For Things to Do
As mentioned, Melbourne is known for being the better city for culture and art fanatics, with some of the country’s top art institutions, history museums, and art galleries located in the city. Some of the best museums include the Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria, Immigration Museum, and Scienceworks.
On the other hand, with its Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Sydney is known for its world-famous attractions and tourist sites. While these architectural feats aren’t exactly historical, they paint a perfect picture of modern Australia and the way forward for the country. Along with the contemporary inner city, this makes Sydney the ideal destination for architecture snobs.
Both cities have suitable aspects for kids if you’re traveling with young children. However, with its year-round moderate climate and abundance of beaches, families with children might prefer Sydney over Melbourne because of the outdoor activities on offer.
Some locals say that Melbourne has more of a European atmosphere, with better bars and restaurants, and this city is best known for its coffee culture and multicultural cuisine. That being said, Sydney has a vibrant food scene of its own, and both will satisfy on the food front.
It’s safe to say that Melbourne overshadows Sydney on the shopping front. The city boasts a wide variety of stores, shopping destinations, and streets selling quality items, while Sydney’s shops are typically found on high streets or in shopping malls. Melbourne locals are also known for having a more refined and elegant style, while Sydneysiders are typically more casual in appearance. So, if you’re interested in fashion, Melbourne will exceed your expectations.
When it comes to outdoor activities, both cities offer a fair share of things to do under the Australian sun. Melbourne is home to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, along with tons of other parks and gardens, running trails, and water activities. The city is popular for cycling, fishing, playing golf, and running.
On the other hand, when we compare Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney offers even more outdoor activities, mainly because of its sunny climate and extensive coastline of beaches. Most of the activities here are water or mountain-based, with lots of great surfing conditions, cycling routes, and running trails.
For Budget Travelers
The average daily cost to travel in Sydney (per person) is significantly higher than in Melbourne. In fact, Sydney is Australia’s most expensive city. Research shows that you could spend around $242 per day in Sydney and around $150 in Melbourne for the same quality of travel.
Accommodation in both cities is urban and semi-urban, depending on whether you choose to stay in Melbourne or Sydney’s city centers or the suburbs. The average price for single occupancy in Sydney at a hotel is around $85 or $170 for two guests. In Melbourne, a single occupancy hotel could cost around $100 or $190 for two guests – slightly higher than in Sydney. A bed in a hostel dorm could cost as little as $20 per night in both cities.
Sydney has a good transport system with trains, buses, and trams, as well as taxis and ride-share apps. Using transport for a day could cost around $13, and transportation in Melbourne is a bit more expensive, at approximately $17 per day.
You should expect to pay around $40 for food per day in Sydney or $15 for one restaurant meal. Your food cost per day in Melbourne will be significantly less, at around $26 for food for one day and $10 for a meal at a restaurant.
Beer is expensive in Australia in general. A pint of local beer at a restaurant costs around $8 in Sydney or $7 in Melbourne.
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Where to Stay in Melbourne: Space Hotel
If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in Melbourne, Space Hotel is a four-star property designed for young travelers on a budget. The accommodation is just outside the city center and features a rooftop terrace with a hot tub, a kitted-out fitness center, and a private cinema room. The hostel offers private rooms and dorm rooms for between four and six guests.
Whether you believe Sydney or Melbourne is better depends entirely on what you’re looking for from your vacation destination as a couple.
Typically, tourists traveling for a romantic getaway opt to travel to Sydney since this city is set along some of Australia’s most beautiful beach stretches with gorgeous scenery and views from just about every part of the city. Naturally, couples looking to lounge around on the beach and enjoy good (although expensive) food and drink will fare best in Sydney.
Sydney is also best for couples looking for classic tourist sites and photo opportunities, with incredible modern architecture set against a stunning ocean backdrop. Of course, the city has some exquisite luxury hotels well suited for couples looking for a pampering experience, as well as inner city spas.
On the other hand, visiting Melbourne is the better bet for culture and history fans, with tons of exciting museums and galleries to visit as a couple. This city also has a bunch of green spaces and manicured gardens, ideal for romantic walks and picnics.
Melbourne is also known for its multicultural food scene and wine produced in the nearby region. Many restaurants here are set along sidewalks or gorgeous outdoor spaces similar to European cities. So, foodies with a taste for good wine often prefer this city over Sydney’s busier and more metropolitan food scene.
Adventurous couples might prefer Sydney, with its water sports, national parks, surfing conditions, and year-round outdoor living atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Sydney: The Langham Sydney
The Langham Sydney is one of the city’s most luxurious and romantic hotels, with contemporary-style interiors and gorgeous views from every room. The hotel features an indoor pool with a manufactured starry night sky as well as terraces, balconies, and high-end restaurants near The Rocks historic district and Circular Quay.
For Getting Around
A major question to ask when looking at whether Sydney or Melbourne is better is how easy it is to get around the cities. Sydney is built around a myriad of waterways and inlets, which is a factor that makes this city so aesthetically attractive.
Unfortunately, the city’s layout and waterways between neighborhoods mean that Sydney is not the most accessible city to get around. That being said, Sydney has a reliable public transport network that is reasonably priced and much more convenient to use than driving.
Sydney’s public transport network includes buses, ferries, and trains. One of the best (and most exciting) ways to get around the city is using ferries or water taxis. Despite its unique landscape, the city is straightforward to navigate with well-signposted transport stops and labeled roads.
If you’re staying in the center of the city, you’ll also be able to use the extensive footpaths and cycling trails that connect the most popular tourist areas with one another.
Melbourne also has an efficient and affordable public transport network, connecting the inner city with the suburbs. The best way to get around Melbourne is by tram, which operates throughout the day and offers multiple routes across the city. There is even a free tram designed for tourists, connecting all the major tourist attractions.
The inner city is very walkable, with tons of well-labeled footpaths connecting the main attractions in Melbourne’s city center. Taxis and ride-share apps are also available. Although priced high, they can be very useful when traveling with luggage.
If you’re planning to take day trips and explore the surrounding areas of either Sydney or Melbourne, it is possible to rent a car at the airport or in the city centers. However, keep in mind that in both cities, traffic can be heavy at peak hours, and parking is expensive.
For a Weekend Trip
Don’t get me wrong; there is so much to do and see in Sydney that could keep you busy for weeks on end. However, if comparing the two cities, Sydney is the better option if you only have a short weekend to explore.
You simply can’t visit Australia’s east coast without stopping by the city, which is the country’s tourism capital. The best thing about Sydney is that even though there is so much to do, the city is also very easy to explore in just a few days. Within the city center, attractions are close to one another, and public transport makes it easy to get around.
Combining equal parts beach, iconic architecture, classy boutique shopping, and legendary cuisine, you’ll have to pack a lot into your Sydney itinerary if you’re just here for a week.
During a weekend in the city, make sure you hit the beach and try surfing at Freshwater Beach before snorkeling around incredible coral reefs at Shelly Beach.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House are obvious must-sees, and you’ll struggle to explore the city center without passing these incredible architectural feats anyways. I always recommend taking in the ocean views and laid-back vibes around Bondi, walking towards Coogee walk.
Although you could spend weeks getting to know the ins and outs of the city, two or three days is enough time to scratch the surface and get a feel for life in the city.
For a Week-Long Trip
With its incredible cultural and art scene, numerous museums, beaches, and restaurants, there is a lot to see and do in Melbourne. If you’re lucky enough to spend a week exploring either Sydney or Melbourne, this is plenty of time to see what Melbourne has to offer, cramming Victoria’s main highlights into a week of adventure!
There are two main reasons I advise spending longer exploring Melbourne. Firstly, part of the city’s appeal is the distinct and unique atmospheres of each neighborhood scattered throughout the greater city area. Each neighborhood deserves a day to see and explore the quirks, restaurants, and cultures.
Second, Melbourne is a great jumping-off point for some of the best day trips in Australia, and the state of Victoria is easy to explore by car. The most popular day trips include a drive up the Great Ocean Road, a trip to the iconic surfing mecca of Bells Beach, The Mornington Peninsula, the exquisite natural Dandenong Ranges, Yarra Valley, and Grampians National Park.
Visiting for a week’s vacation means you’ll get a chance to pack in all the main tourist attractions as well as get a taste of local life in Melbourne. For your week-long itinerary, take a few days to familiarize yourself with the CBD and explore The Grid, South Bank, and St Kilda and Brighton Beaches.
Visiting Sydney and Melbourne
The best-case scenario would be visiting both Sydney and Melbourne on your Australian adventure. The cities are relatively close to one another and well connected via train, plane, and national highways, making it easy and affordable to travel between them.
The most convenient and quickest way to get from Sydney to Melbourne and vice versa is to fly. Both airports service low-cost airlines like Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Rex, as well as the national airline Qantas. A one-way flight is just an hour and a half long.
The second option would be to take the train, which takes just under eleven hours, traveling inland through the two states.
Alternatively, driving a similar route as the railway inland (along the M31 National Highway) will take around nine hours with no stops. If you have the time, I recommend taking a couple of days to drive the coastal route, past the Royal National Park, Kiama, Ulladulla, Narooma, and Bermagui. Of course, this detour will take a lot longer than the most direct, inland option.
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FAQs About Sydney vs Melbourne
Although just a few hundred miles from one another along the same coastline, Sydney and Melbourne have entirely unique vibes and atmospheres when compared with each other. Sydney is known as Australia’s tourism capital, attracting visitors from across the globe to see its great architectural sites and experience the laid-back beach vibe.
On the other hand, Melbourne is better known for its culture and art scene, as well as its high-end multicultural cuisine and wine region. It’s also the hotspot for Australia’s best shopping, with tourists visiting from across the globe to check out the latest in fashion and interior style.
Both cities have moderate climates with hot summers and cool winters; however, Melbourne experiences more overcast and rainy days, while Sydney is typically sunny throughout the year.
If you absolutely have to pick just one city, it’s hard to choose between Sydney or Melbourne, although most first-time visitors opt for Sydney. If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, both cities will provide you with a great first impression of the country.
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