Sydney vs Melbourne: Which Australian city to visit and why?

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Disclosure: I may earn a small commission from the companies or products mentioned in this post.

The first thing I’d like to say before starting this article properly is that if you have the time it is definitely worth visiting Sydney and Melbourne while in Australia.

Saying that, I do understand that not everyone will have time to fit in both cities during their trip due to time or money restraints.

So to help you decide whether you should visit Sydney or Melbourne on your next trip, I’ve broken both cities down into the following categories for comparison:

  • Beaches
  • Food
  • Markets
  • Iconic Landmarks
  • Street Art
  • Bars & Nightlife
  • Weather
  • Day Trips
  • Accommodation

Sydney vs Melbourne for Beaches:

WINNER – Sydney Beaches:

Sydney Bondi Beach

Despite being a bustling metropolis, Sydney is a city that is just as well known for its gorgeous beaches as its modern, built-up CBD.

Bondi is an eastern suburb of Sydney which is home to the famous Bondi Beach, one of the most well-known beaches in the world.

Located in a small bay, Bondi Beach is known for its white sand, laid-back atmosphere, iconic surf, whale watching, an abundance of cool ocean-front cafes and restaurants, and plenty more.

For a slightly less busy and touristy spot, you can head down the coast to another coastal suburb; Coogee Beach.

In fact, the walk between Coogee and Bondi is an attraction in its own right, with the popular 1.5hr coastal walk taking in numerous small bays and beautiful ocean views along the way.

Sydney Manley Beach with ocean and lifeguard surfboard

From Sydney Harbour, you can also jump on the ferry over to Manly Beach (taking 15-30 minutes), one of Australia’s most popular surfing beaches and a cool suburb in northern Sydney.

Melbourne Beaches:

Melbourne St Kilda Beach

Like most Australian cities, Melbourne is also located on the coast. However, the beaches are a little less impressive than those you’ll find in Sydney (but let’s be honest, still better than most British beaches!).

South of Melbourne CBD, you’ll find Melbourne’s two main beaches; St Kilda and Brighton.

St Kilda is a fairly young, hipster neighbourhood with a number of ocean-front bars and restaurants, and a breakwater where you can spot some of southern Australia’s little penguins of an evening.

Brighton is a wealthier area and is best known for the row of colourful beach boxes lining the beachfront. Both are particularly popular areas for the city’s international residents and tourists.

From Melbourne, it’s also possible to head a couple of hours south down to the Great Ocean Road which is home to a number of beautiful white sand beaches which are usually somewhat larger and more peaceful than those in the city itself.

Love Australian beaches? Check out this 4-week east coast Australia itinerary.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Food:

WINNER – Melbourne Food:

Melbourne Laneways Brunch Avo on Toast

This was a pretty easy one (sorry Sydney) but Melbourne didn’t get the title of foodie capital of Australia for nothing.

From delicious brunches piled high with smashed avo in the quirky CBD laneways, mouth-watering burgers in the suburb’s hip burger joints, the world’s best pizza in Little Italy, and delicious dumplings galore in Chinatown, Melbourne is an absolute foodie haven and you’re absolutely guaranteed to be able to find a great meal no matter what you’re craving.

For more of Melbourne’s best food, check out my Ultimate Melbourne Food Guide.

Sydney Food:

Sydney Pizza

If you’re looking for the best food in Sydney, head out of the more central touristy areas and to the inner suburb of Newtown just a 15-20 minute ride on the metro from Circular Quay.

Newtown is a cool hipster area of Sydney which is particularly popular with locals thanks to its abundance of good restaurants, quirky independent shops, and cool rooftop bars.

An absolute must for foodies in Newtown is Mary’s, a hidden dive bar that serves the best burger in Sydney, as well as tasty extras including chicken, fries, and mash with gravy.

Closer to the CBD you can also try Spice Alley, the Kensington Street laneway in Chippendale which is home to a number of affordable Asian eateries including Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and Malaysian.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Markets:

WINNER – Melbourne Markets:

Queen Vic Market Melbourne

Queen Victoria Market has been Melbourne’s most important and iconic market for over 140 years and is, in fact, the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. A visit to the market is one of the top things to do in Melbourne.

During the morning, Queen Vic Market is home to hundreds of small traders selling fresh quality produce and specialty goods, while the venue also hosts regular Night Markets with artisan products, live music, street food, bars, and a number of special themed events.

Between its pure size, the historic 19th-century architecture, the great views across Melbourne CBD, and regular special events, Queen Vic has earnt its place as one of the best markets in the whole of Aus.

Sydney Markets:

The Rocks Market Sydney, white market stalls lining a sunny street

While Sydney doesn’t have one main market to compete with Queen Victoria in Melbourne, you will find a number of smaller markets throughout the city.

The Rocks, which is the cool historic district to the west of the Harbour, is the place to head if you’re looking for markets in Sydney. From Friday to Sunday each week, the Rocks hosts an open-air market spanning several of its quaint cobblestone streets, with stalls selling artisanal goods, street food, artwork, and more.

In Sydney’s Chinatown, head to Paddy’s Market, a large indoor market selling cheap souvenirs, novelty knick-knacks, outlet clothes, and street food.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Iconic Landmarks:

WINNER – Iconic Landmarks in Sydney:

Girl sat in front of Sydney Opera House

When you picture Australia in your head, what do you see first?

There’s a good chance that the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are images that come to mind pretty quickly.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

It’s fair to say that out of the two cities, Sydney is more stereotypically Australian, from a tourist’s point of view at least.

From the Harbour’s unique architectural wonders to picture-perfect Bondi Beach, Sydney is definitely the postcard image of an Australian city.

Check out these must-do things in Sydney as told by a local.

Iconic Landmarks in Melbourne:

Melbourne Skyline

Melbourne is still a city full of cool sights and a skyline consumed with modern architecture, albeit less well-known internationally than Sydney.

The unique buildings of Federation Square, historic Flinders Street Station and the Arts Centre Melbourne, which looks like a deformed version of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, are all defining architectural features of Melbourne CBD.

While the inside of Victoria State Library is also definitely worth noting, with its striking interior heritage architecture dating back to 1856 (yes that counts as old in Australia!).

Sydney vs Melbourne for Street Art:

WINNER – Melbourne:

Melbourne Street Art Mural, Man wearing sunglasses with purple background and city skyline

The huge street art scene is one of the defining features of Melbourne, with alleys and laneways dedicated to amazing artwork all across the CBD.

Hozier Lane is the most famous spot to admire Melbourne’s best street art and is almost always full of snap-happy tourists and photographers, while AC/DC Lane, Centre Place, Caledonian Lane, and Croft Alley are other colourfully painted laneways worth exploring.

Melbourne street art, girl standing in graffiti covered alleyway

But don’t just stick to the more well-known spots. While wandering around central Melbourne, be sure to keep an eye out for hidden alleys and smaller laneways where you might be lucky enough to stumble across some cool lesser-known artistic creations.

Sydney Street Art:

Sydney Street Art, Map of Australia in Newtown

Generally speaking, Sydney CBD is fairly clean and graffiti-free. However, just like if you’re looking for good cheap food and cool hipster bars, Newtown is the suburb to head to for Sydney’s best street art.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Bars and Nightlife:

WINNER – Melbourne Nightlife:

St Kilda Beach Bar Melbourne

Melbourne is certainly a city with a vibrant nightlife scene, with lenient lockout laws meaning that the city’s bars and clubs can stay open until the early hours.

In the CBD, rooftop bars are particularly popular, with multi-level drinking establishments cumulating with large open-roofed bars boasting great views across the city skyline.

To take in Melbourne’s more alternative drinking scene, head out to the suburbs of Fitzroy, Brunswick, and St Kilda, where you’ll find plenty of themed hipster bars and live music venues where you can drink craft beer and signature cocktails with the locals to your hearts desire.

For more information, check out the best things to do in Melbourne at night.

Sydney Nightlife:

For cool hipster pubs and rooftop bars, Sydney’s suburb of Newtown is once again the place to be. Try the likes of Corridor, Websters (above), and Young Henrys for a chilled night out with Sydney’s young local crowd.

One thing that Sydney CBD does do particularly well is hidden speakeasy-style bars, meaning that you’re more likely to have a good night out in Sydney if you know a local or if you do some research in advance and know where to go.

One of the city’s most popular speakeasies is Palmer & Co.

Follow the old-fashioned ‘P&Co’ sign down a small alleyway, through a nondescript door, and down a flight of stairs to find this unique underground Prohibition-themed bar.

Inside, you’ll discover exposed brick walls, a vaulted ceiling, candle-lit tables, and live music, giving the bar a truly authentic 1920s feel.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Weather:

WINNER – Sydney Weather:

Despite their close proximity, Sydney’s location further up Australia’s East Coast compared to Melbourne means you’re far more likely to encounter sunny days and higher temperatures.

Melbourne Weather:

Melbourne Yarra River Bridge

I think it’s impossible to discuss Melbourne weather without hearing the phrase ‘you can have all 4 seasons in one day in Melbourne’. Something which I found to be entirely true.

Melbourne weather is much more temperamental than that of Sydney, with it being entirely possible to go from 30 degrees and sunny to 16 degrees and rain within a couple of hours.

Melbourne does have some extremely hot days during the summer months, however, the rest of the year can be a little chillier than the rest of the country due to its southern location.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Day Trips:

WINNER – Both:

Both New South Wales (Sydney) and Victoria (Melbourne) are full of beautiful natural phenomena and exciting places to visit, making comparing the two regions extremely difficult – hence my lack of decision-making here.

Day Trips from Melbourne:

Great Ocean Road Beach

To the south of Melbourne, you have day trips including the famous coastal drive known as the Great Ocean Road, the exotic wildlife of Phillip Island, and the relaxing natural hot springs on Mornington Peninsula.

While to the east of the city, you have the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley, one of the world’s best winegrowing regions, where you can visit numerous wineries and admire the valley’s beautiful natural landscape.

Don’t miss The best day trips from Melbourne Australia.

Day Trips from Sydney:

Sydney Blue Mountains

From Sydney, one of the most popular day trips is westwards to the Blue Mountains, a mountain range with a labyrinth of plateaus, gorges and forests which can be explored by foot. The mountains get their name from the natural blue haze created by oil droplets released from the vast eucalyptus forests in the area.

Sydney vs Melbourne for Accommodation:

Winner – Melbourne for Luxury, Sydney for Budget

This is a slight generalisation, and of course, you can also find amazing luxury hotels in Sydney and cool budget hostels in Melbourne, but just hear me out…

Luxury Accommodation in Melbourne:

Crown Hotel Melbourne
A city view room at the Crown Metropol

Melbourne has a number of amazing luxury hotels, many of which will cost you under £100 per night for two people, making the city a great option for an affordable luxury stay…

And for those looking for ultimate indulgence in Melbourne, look no further than the Crown Casino Complex on Southbank. The complex is home to a large 2 story casino, a number of high-end shops, countless restaurants, bars and nightclubs, a cinema, mini-golf and three luxury hotels.

Crown Towers – the most exclusive (and expensive) of the three, Crown Towers offers spacious luxury rooms with views of the city or Port Phillip Bay, plus plenty of amazing amenities including a huge indoor heated pool.

Crown Metropol – spacious and modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, an infinity pool looking out over the city (best pool out of the three), and an exclusive rooftop bar and lounge.

Crown Promenade – modern, luxury rooms with city views, plus a spa with an indoor pool, steam rooms, and more.

Budget Accommodation in Sydney:

Sydney Harbour YHA view over Sydney Opera House at Night
View over Sydney Harbour from Sydney Harbour YHA

Sydney is a particularly popular destination with backpackers, with many using the city as the starting point for making their way up the country’s beautiful East Coast. This also means that Sydney is home to some amazing hostels…

YHA Sydney Harbour – the location of a 5* hotel for the price of a hostel, YHA Sydney Harbour has one of the best views from anywhere in the city, directly out over Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House. Located in the historic Rocks district next to the Harbour, the large modern hostel has both shared dorms and private en-suite rooms, a huge rooftop terrace, a games and TV room, regularly organised activities, and an activities desk where you can book tours and attractions around the city.

Mad Monkey Coogee Beach – somewhat smaller than the YHA, Mad Monkey Coogee Beach has a relaxed and homely feel to it and is ideally located opposite the beautiful Coogee Beach.

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Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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1 Comment

  1. Simon
    June 12, 2020 / 12:23 am

    your discussion on markets failed to mention Sydney’s amazing fish market, which I think makes Sydney the winner in this category.