Sydney vs Melbourne: Which Australian city should you visit?

It's no secret these two Aussie cities have a bitter rivalry. We put Melbourne and Sydney head to head, comparing their culture, cuisine, outdoors and trips. Read on to see who comes out on top...

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Population: 5.1 million

Size: 12,368 sq km

Famous for: The iconic harbour bridge and Sydney Opera House

Expect: Beaches, bushwalks and a burgeoning foodie scene.


Population: 4.8 million

Size: 9,990 sq km 

Famous for: Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), and its great cafes

Expect: Highbrow culture, hipster chic and coffee to die for


Sydney Opera House during Vivid (Dreamstime)

Sydney Opera House during Vivid (Dreamstime)

Sydney offers a grandiose take on the arts. It has a famous Opera House, a Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sydney Theatre Company, run for a while by the actor Cate Blanchett.

Vivid Festival turns the city into one big lights show once a year, while Belvoir St Theatre in Surry Hills is among the most innovative in the land.

Australia’s cultural star has a cutting-edge arts scene. Head to Southbank for the Arts Centre and the National Gallery of Victoria, while the East End stages world-class shows and the inner suburbs has a busy music scene.

It’s embraced street art, too, with the laneways in the Central Business District (CBD) now an ever-changing canvas.


Melbourne's Botanic Gardens (Shutterstock)

Melbourne's Botanic Gardens (Shutterstock)

In Sydney it’s all about the sun. With more than 100 beaches, a harbour that stretches on forever and national parks in the north, south and west, it’s a city built for the great outdoors.

Learn to surf at Coogee, then follow its wild sandstone cliff walk to Bondi.

Finish with a kayak/SUP tour of the harbour at Balmoral, all within a taxi ride of the CBD.

With its neat parks and European-style cycle lanes, Melbourne offers a more restrained setting.

The Melbourne Bike Share program makes bike hire easy, and there are cycle trails around the bay, in the city and along the Yarra River.

Locals are sports-mad, too. Try to catch a game of Aussies Rules or cricket at the famous MCG.

Did you know? Such is the fierce rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne that Canberra was specifically built to be Australia’s capital as a compromise to stop the bickering.


Dining with a view of the Harbour Bridge, Sydney (Shutterstock)

Dining with a view of the Harbour Bridge, Sydney (Shutterstock)

Sydney’s dining scene is celebratory and brash, with many of its best, and priciest, restaurants (such as Quay) offering fine harbour views.

Suburbs like Cabramatta, Marrickville and Parramatta serve up more authentic food, reflecting the migrants who arrived there, while casual dining – where Sydney once lagged – is booming.

Melbourne isn’t ‘Australia’s culinary capital’ for nothing.

It has the country’s best eatery, Attica; a busy casual dining scene where good food at a decent price is a given; and a cafe culture that is the most intense in the world.

Head to the laneways in the CBD or suburbs like Prahran and Brunswick for your single-origin roast of choice.

Day trips 

The Great Ocean Road and its Twelve Apostles (Shutterstock)

The Great Ocean Road and its Twelve Apostles (Shutterstock)

Despite being Australia’s biggest city, the bush is never far away. Blue Mountains NP, to the west, is 2,690 sq km of UNESCO-listed wilderness.

Here you’ll find ancient eucalyptus forests, cinematic sandstone escarpments and thundering waterfalls, all 90 minutes away. The Royal NP, to the south, is just as dramatic and closer.

While Melbourne can’t match Sydney’s natural beauty, it does have one ace up its sleeve: the iconic Great Ocean Road and its Twelve Apostles.

Just a few hours to the south-west, it is regarded as one of the best drives in the world, as its stone stacks rise from the wild Southern Ocean, changing in colour as the sun moves across the sky.


Sydney at sunset (Shutterstock)

Sydney at sunset (Shutterstock)

At first glance, the old cliché holds true: Sydney has the beauty and Melbourne the brains. When it comes to sun, surf and jaw-dropping coast, Sydney just can’t be beat, while in Melbourne, good food, great coffee and extraordinary art isn’t ever far away.

But things are changing. The cities’ fierce rivalry and never-ending battle to outdo each other means that when it comes to experiences, food and culture, things keep getting better.

So, whichever you pick, you won’t miss out.

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