Australia: Sydney vs Melbourne

Australia: Sydney vs Melbourne

Both the contenders are heavyweights, and the rivalry between them has been healthy to say the least. Melbourne and Sydney have passionate advocates but how do they square up as tourist destinations?

Comparisons are often simplified, with Sydney seen as the beauty and Melbourne the brains, the former a sunny, LA-like beach paradise with great natural beauty but little culture and the latter, a New York-esque hub of creativity with a brilliant artistic scene, great nightlife and exquisite food, but not much to look at.

Travel 2 Australia product manager Julian Lawman said: “Sydney is the iconic Australian destination thanks to the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and sparkling harbour – few cities can rival its spectacular setting. It boasts a thriving business district, yet just half an hour away by bus or ferry you can discover the laid-back surfing beaches of Manly and Bondi.

“Melbourne promotes itself as one of the world’s most liveable cities, and it certainly doesn’t take long for its charms to work their magic. Visitors enjoy discovering its cultural attractions, arts and music festivals, sporting venues and a restaurant scene as varied as its inhabitants”.

Tourists will find the stereotypes as true or as false as they choose – the more they explore the cities, the more they’ll see of both the factors that made each famous, and of the lesser-known delights that await in hidden corners.


The lowdown

Australia’s largest metropolis embodies the country’s sun, sea and surf culture. Sydney revolves round its gorgeous harbour, where visitors can see its two most famous sights – the Opera House and the bridge. Circular Quay, home to the Opera House, is the focal point of the city, with walkways, restaurants and the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens.

The harbour

There are many ways to see the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge including a green and gold ferry ride. They can also check out the glitzy oceanfront homes of Sydney’s richest residents, national parks and Shark, Clark, Rodd and Goat islands.

There are plenty of walking routes around the harbour, and for those with a head for heights, a bridge climb offers amazing views. Suggest they take in a performance at the Opera House, or eat in the restaurant in one of the ‘sails’ or enjoy a drink in the bar on its lower concourse.

The beaches

One of the most famous beaches in the world, Bondi is just five miles from the centre of the city and a surfer’s paradise. The average temperature of the water is a balmy 21C. Lesser-known beaches nearby include Tamarama, family-friendly Bronte, popular dive spots Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay, or Coogee, popular with backpackers. Manly beach is a local favourite and can be reached by a ferry ride from the central business district.


Sydney has many museums, galleries and theatres to enjoy from the Museum of Contemporary Art on Circular Quay to the Australian National Maritime Museum, to the cutting-edge Sydney Theatre in Walsh Bay. Clients can see Shakespeare by the Sea at the Balmoral rotunda, or enjoy an open-air cinema experience in the Botanic Gardens.

Discover the city’s convict heritage in the Rocks district on a ghost tour, or wander the weekend markets and get lost in the maze of streets where you’ll find workman’s cottages, elegant terraces and Sydney’s oldest pubs. Aborigines have lived in Sydney for 45,000 years and there are more than 2,000 rock engraving sites in the area.

Nightlife and eating out

Alcohol licences have always been pretty pricey in New South Wales, but a Small Bars Bill brought in last year has made it more affordable for smaller establishments and quirky bars have popped up all over.

Suggest they try the Sticky Bar or Moogbar in Surry Hills, or Icebergs bar on Bondi beach. There’s a thriving ‘bring your own’ bottle tradition in Sydney restaurants, making eating out affordable, but there are also enough top-notch eateries to keep fine-dining fans happy.


Sydney is renowned for its temperate climate, with around 340 sunny days a year. In winter (June-August) the average minimum temperature is 9C, the average max in summer (December-February) is 26C. Rainfall varies from three to five inches per month.


The lowdown

Victoria’s state capital is laid out on a tidy grid system – leafy streets are lined with Victorian architecture. It doesn’t have the renowned iconic sights of Sydney, but there’s a slow-burn charm which enchants many visitors.

If Sydney is Australia’s beach bum, Melbourne is a witty, slick and sophisticated creative type. Fashion, art, theatre, comedy – there’s something going on in each of the city’s characterful neighbourhoods.


Federation Square is the cultural hub, combining cutting-edge architecture with shops, cafes, events and galleries and museums such as the Ian Potter Centre (the home of Australian art) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Southbank is home to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the NGV International (a gallery of art from Europe, Asia, the US and beyond).

As well as the Melbourne Museum, Science Museum and a museum of sport, others reflect the many cultures who’ve settled here such as the Immigration Museum, the Chinese Museum and the Jewish Museum.

Theatre ranges from mainstream musicals to edgy modern works there’s ballet, opera and classical concerts as well as comedy and circus acts. There are Aboriginal Heritage walks through the Botanic Gardens, plus tours that illustrate the history of Melbourne’s gold-rush boom.

Sport and outdoors

Melbourne is home to the Australian Open, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the Melbourne Cup horse race. The Melbourne Cricket Ground hosts the Ashes and one-day internationals in winter Aussie Rules football.

Visitors don’t just have to watch they can play golf or tennis, or windsurf on the ocean, kayak on the Yarra River or cycle down its banks, or just hang out on St Kilda or Brighton beaches.


Visitors can lose themselves in the lanes and arcades dotted throughout Melbourne. There’s everything from small designers and eclectic boutiques to designer labels, selling fashion, homewares and food.

Nightlife and eating out

Melbourne’s multicultural nature means gourmets are spoilt for choice. Send clients to Carlton for Italian, Richmond for Vietnamese and Fitzroy for Spanish.

Your customers can also dine at the restaurants of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Nobu Matsuhisa. Nightlife options include a cocktail bar housed in a converted sea container in Chinatown, grungy pubs in St Kilda, 1950s decor and jazz at the Kitten Club and wicker furniture and a faux-lawn at Madame Brussels, a louche lounge bar with a difference.


Melbourne is famed for ricocheting between bright sunshine and rain showers in the blink of an eye but receives half the rainfall of Sydney. January and February are the hottest months, with highs in the mid 20s. It’s coldest in July and August, when it can drop to 5C.


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