Melbourne vs. Sydney – A checklist

There is an old, old rivalry going on between the cities of Melbourne and Sydney – and their inhabitants, lovers and supporters. Which city is more worth in culture, sports, entertainment, business, which one attracts more tourist, which one is more important and the ultimate city promotion the Australian image? Both cities’ aspirations and claims to be the country’s capital resulted in the making of a new Australian capital from scratch: This is how Canberra was conceived.

The following is a somehow subjectively influenced checklist rating  Sydney and Melbourne in several categories, just based on my own experience.

(1) History
Both cities belong to the oldest settlements in Australia and try to preserve old building and sights.
In Sydney, the district „The Rocks“ right by the Sydney harbour is the oldest part of town which has been restored during the last decade. You find small museum as well as souvenir and other shops, nice old-fashioned cafés and restaurants as well as quite contemporary upscale shopping opportunities. You should take part in a guided walking tour through the Rocks to learn everything about the life of the early immigrants.

Nostalgia shop in The Rocks, Sydney

Nostalgia shop in The Rocks, Sydney

Melbourne’s history is connected to the figure of Ned Kelly, the famous bushranger. You can observe his self-made armour and more relicts in Melbourne museum and visit the museum of Old Melbourne gaol, where Ned Kelly was imprisoned before he was hung.

(2) Beach
As most Australian cities, both Melbourne and Sydney are situated near the coast.
Sydney has several beaches in suburbs, for example the famous Bondi beach, but no less beautiful (and crowded): Manly and Coogee beaches.
Melbourne has one beach located near the city center, in the district of St. Kilda.
While Bondi beach is famous for surfing, St. Kilda beach is blessed with big waves, because Melbourne city is located by a bay, Port Phillip Bay. Melbournians prefer to drive a little farther out of town, up the Great Ocean Road, to Torquay (Bell’s Beach), Lorne or Apollo Bay.

Melbourne - St. Kilda Beach

Melbourne – St. Kilda Beach

Sydney - Bondi Beach

Sydney – Bondi Beach

(3) Shopping
You should find everything you’re looking for in both cities. But: If you’re looking for shopping malls rather than prowling the city centre, you will probably like Sydney better. The Queen Victoria Building (QVB) looks old-fashioned but offers a great variety of modern shops and cafés, besides its impressive Victorian architecture. Another shopping centre has been opened in Darling Harbour, Sydney’s up-and-coming trendy district.
Melbourne’s Central station has a big shopping centre with dining and entertainment options – a cinema occupies the top floors -, but it lacks the atmosphere and architecture of the QVB.

(4) Lifestyle
Business vs. Culture/Leisure – this is how I would break down the atmosphere in these cities to easy terms. Sydney CBD is busy with the financial sector workers and dominated by the big office buildings, whereas the Melbourne area s filled with restaurants, cafés and  art. But this is just my personal impression. While both cities have their trendy spots, party miles and entertainment venues, Melbourne offers a wider variety of multicultural cafés and restaurants from different immigrant home countries: Greece, Italy, Ireland, France and various Asian countries for example.

View at Sydney CBD from Darling Harbour

View at Sydney CBD from Darling Harbour

View across Yarra river at Melbourne CBD

View across Yarra river at Melbourne CBD

(5) Culture
A big plus for both cities. You get to experience a lot of cultural events there all throughout the year, in addition to the cultural ‘classics’ you can always visit: In Sydney, you can of course have a look at the Opera house – if you’re not into opera performances, you can take a guided tour through the Opera house during daytime, and you’ll also learn a lot of interesting things about its remarkable architecture.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Melbourne has the amazingly central and amazingly concepted Fed(eration) Square – it’s THE public place to be. A lot of events happen here on a small stage or are transmitted on the big video screen, and on a normal day, there are street artists entertaining the crowd that always gathers there.

Melbourne - A public event at Federation Square

Melbourne – Short film festival at Federation Square

(6) Public transport
The best way to get through Sydney is actually by bus – there is a big network of bus lines, but for someone who’s new in town, in can be a little complicated. There are also a few CityRail train lines and regular ferry services departing from Circular Quay to a number of beach suburbs around the Sydney harbour.
In Melbourne, tram lines are still in use, which adds to the city’s nostalgic charme. Of course, city train and bus lines exist as well. The tram system works well, and there is an extra tourist tram – it runs on a circular route around Melbourne’s CBD and also plays a recording with information on the sights in passing. The so called City Circle Tram is free; the tourist tram line can be easily recognized and distinguished from the normal, chargeable tram lines because it uses old-fashioned, dark red tramcars.

(7) Entertainment
Both cities have a stadium for major events and concerts, a few musical and a few more acting theatres, cinemas, and a lot of live musicians bringing life into the pubs even on weeknights. Have a look at one of the free city magazines for a weekly overlook – there’ll surely be something you’ll like. During summertime, both cities usually have big open air events, either in the Botanical Gardens or in the harbour area (of either city).
Also, both cities have a fun park situated a little bit out of the city center: Called ‘Luna Park’, they belong to the oldest fun fairs you can find around the world.

Melbourne Luna Park

Melbourne Luna Park

(8) Sports
Although Sydney had the famous Olypic Games in 2000, Melbourne regularly hosts internationally renowned sporting events like the Australian Open or the Formula 1 Grand Prix, just to name a few.

Basically, it’s head-to-head. Both cities offer everything you might look for in a modern and diverse metropolis, but they are still different in the details and the atmosphere. Which city you like better in the end is based on personal preference.
What’s your favourite – Melbourne or Sydney? And why?

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2 responses to “Melbourne vs. Sydney – A checklist

  1. I’ve often visited both cities and it is indeed a contest. I think Sydney has more natural beauty and of course is big into it’s rugby league which is a big plus for me.

    Melbourne is much easier to move around, has a wealth of easy to access sporting events, a brilliant vibe and is definitely a better shopping experience, hey after all it is the fashion capital of Australia.

    They are two close things but Melbourne wins it for me.

    I even wrote a whole series of blog articles on Melbourne including the added bonus of seeing penguins at St Kilda http://flightsandfrustration.com/the-magic-of-melbourne-seeing-penguins-at-st-kilda/

  2. You have a great blog and we love it!
    We love Melbourne and Sydney after living in Australia for over 4 years! We are also like the above poster in that we love Melbourne more than Sydney! The cafe culture is much more endemic in Melbourne, and the many laneways and cafes in the CBD should definitely be a highlight! As should the Melbourne Cup — the highlight of the Spring, where everyone gets decked out in their best frocks and goes to the races! A highlight of October and November each year!!!

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