That is the eternal question. It feels like these two cities have been locked in a game of one-upmanship since the beginning of time, each countering the other’s strengths with a distinct drawcard of their own. The fact is both Melbourne and Sydney are wonderful, world-class destinations and the best one to go to depends entirely on what you’re after. Here we take a look at five criteria to help you compare and contrast the cities, hopefully allowing you to lock down your next holiday with confidence.
Melbourne’s weather is famous… for all the wrong reasons. While it’s only a few degrees cooler on average than the NSW capital, it’s highly unpredictable and you’re likely to experience a range of conditions in the same day. It’s not a deal breaker but it does mean you have to be prepared, packing an umbrella and an extra layer everywhere you go.
Sydney, on the other hand, is much more reliable on the weather front and average temperatures sit very firmly within the comfortable range year-round. There are usually a few days in January where the mercury rises into the 40s but it never really feels like a problem, thanks to the city’s beautiful beaches and cool salt water. The real question here is what time of year you’ll be visiting and whether you’d like to spend the bulk of your time in or outdoors.
If you’re looking for an outdoor summer vacation, Sydney wins hands down, but if you’re chasing a cosy winter break indulging in fine food and excellent coffee out of the weather, Melbourne’s where it’s at.
As mentioned, Sydney’s beaches truly are a thing of beauty and you’ll be hard pressed to find a capital city anywhere else in the world with so many excellent ocean fronts to choose from. There’s the famous collection in the city’s east, including beautiful Bondi, the iconic northern beaches from Manly to Palm Beach and a whole bunch of harbour beaches, perfect for family days out thanks to their waveless waters. Sydney also has ample natural land-based beauty you can explore, from hiking trails through the Royal National Park to breathtaking vantage points in the Blue Mountains.
Melbourne, on the other hand, doesn’t have a whole lot of natural beauty that sets it apart as a destination. There’s nothing wrong with the greenery in Melbourne – it’s just not breathtaking. A stroll or bike ride along the Yarra is pleasant, a sticky beak at the penguin colony on St Kilda beach is cute and interesting but beyond that, there isn’t much to write home about.
If food is the number one priority for your next getaway, there’s no better place to go than Melbourne. Beautiful Italian options fill bustling laneways, Greek restaurants also abound, fine dining can be found in every suburb and even the coffee is wonderful almost everywhere you go. There are more options here than in Sydney and the bill at the end of the meal is often a little friendlier for the hip pocket.
This isn’t to say that Sydney doesn’t have some truly excellent dining – because it does – it just has a lower hit rate of great venues and will often charge you more per plate. You can do a food-focused holiday in both cities but, if you want to increase your chances of eating only excellent meals, go to Melbourne.
Sydney’s nightlife has had a tumultuous time over recent years. While there’s been a welcome shift in focus towards small, intimate venues with distinct character, the licencing laws have changed, meaning there’s often not much going on after midnight, particularly in the inner city. Nevertheless, there are some truly excellent venues to discover, from small underground bars in the city and Surry Hills to big rowdy pubs in Paddington and beautiful rooftop spaces anywhere there’s a good view. Just make sure you plan your night a little in advance so you’re not locked out of the fun once the clock moves into the wee hours.
Melbourne, on the other hand, has been moving on a distinctly upwards trajectory over recent years and continues to offer a plethora of smaller, edgy venues which are able to keep their doors open later. The live music scene in the city is very much alive and well and if that’s your thing the only problem you’ll face is choosing which venue to check out first.
Things to do
This is a tough one to pass judgement on because each city has its own strengths in this arena. If you’re after iconic sights, big attractions and brag-worthy selfies, Sydney is your go-to. On the other hand, if you’re chasing art exhibitions, theatre and gloat-worthy meals, Melbourne is your best bet.
We really can’t pick a winner here – both cities are wonderful destinations: your choice just depends on what sort of holiday you’re after. If they sound equally appealing, you’ll be pleased to know flights between the two are regular and reasonably priced.