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Melbourne vs. Sydney: Which Australian city is right for you?

May 16, 2023 by Thea Engst

Australia is a big country, which makes it impossible to wander through every city, witness every natural wonder, and surf every wave. When I traveled to Australia, I had to decide which places I’d have time to visit. Lucky for me—and you—I was able to fit the country’s two biggest cities into my itinerary, so I’m using what I learned on my trip to help you plan yours. Here’s how Melbourne vs. Sydney compare to each other and what you need to know if you're looking to book one of our Australia tours.

Where is Melbourne?

Tucked on the southern tip of Australia, Melbourne is the capital of the Victoria state and recently named the largest city in the country. I was fortunate enough to visit Melbourne in April, soaking up the moderate temperatures, art, and coffee.

Fun fact: Melbourne is also referred to as Naarm—its Aboriginal name given by the Kulin Nation. 

Where is Sydney?

Sydney is northeast of Melbourne and the capital of the New South Wales state. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the capital of Australia—Canberra is. It is, however, the second-largest city on the continent.

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Visit Melbourne if you love sports

If you’re a cheerleader of any sport, Melbourne is the place for you. This is a city that loves its athletics—it even has several holidays devoted to Australian football (a mashup of soccer and rugby) and horse racing. So, if you love watching sports, I recommend that you visit Melbourne vs. Sydney. 

Visit Sydney if you love to watch surfing

Sydney is known for some of the best surfing on the planet. Manly and Bondi Beach are two of the biggest attractions for avid surfers, so if you enjoy surf culture and want to watch some wave riders in action, there isn’t a question of Melbourne or Sydney—it’s Sydney for you—especially between the months of March and September when the sport is at its peak.

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If you love coffee, you’ll love Melbourne

One of the many things that Melbourne is known for is its coffee culture. From flat whites (think: lattes but stronger) to the elusive “magic” coffee (think: a flat white but even stronger)—Melbourne has pioneered the way in well-crafted (and yes, strong) coffee. In fact, if you order “a magic” north of Victoria, most baristas won’t know what you’re asking for. I recommend using your free time on one of our Australia tours to visit a local coffee shop, sit outdoors, and soak up the stylish fashion of this artistic city. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you—the coffee packs a punch!

If you love fine dining, visit Sydney

Do you enjoy indulging when on vacation? If so, then travel to Sydney vs. Melbourne. Sydney is considered more of a leisure city than Melbourne. While it may not have the coffee culture that Melbourne has, it is home to some of the country’s best restaurants. It even has a cosmopolitan cocktail scene with famous bars like Maybe Sammy and Old Mate’s Place. I really loved the diversity of a day in Sydney—start with a beach day and end with a chic cocktail on a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Who could ask for anything more?

Thirsty for more? Check out classic cocktails from around the world and where you can sip them on tour

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Visit Melbourne for the street art

When I remember Melbourne, one word comes to mind: colors. Bright, beautiful, vibrant colors. I still think about the alleys where the sides of buildings serve as canvases for graffiti. Everything from the roads to the roofs showcase locals’ creations—and its all free to see. Walking through these dynamic streets makes you feel like you’re strolling through a painting. If you’re lucky, you can stop and admire some of the artists working on their city-sanctioned projects in real time. I highly recommend using your free time on one of our Australia tours to wander through the alleys and take-in these kaleidoscopic streets.

Pro tip: A bonus of being in Melbourne vs. Sydney is that it’s a short flight away from the island of Tasmania—the only place in the world with wild Tasmanian Devils. Plan a Customized Tour to Tasmania with us and explore the island alongside friends and family.

Visit Sydney for the Royal Botanic Garden

This urban park is an oasis of Australian flora and fauna in the city’s business district. The Royal Botanic Garden is more than a showcase for plants, it educates visitors on environmental preservation. What I love most about this park is its efforts to spread knowledge about Aboriginal traditions in harvesting and preparing bush foods—plus, how those foods are integrated into modern cuisine. Visit the Royal Botanic Garden on our Australia & New Zealand tours.

Pro tip: On our Highlights of Australia: The Great Barrier Reef to Sydney tour, don’t miss out on adding the Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruise excursion. Watching the changing colors of the sunset over the opera house is a postcard-worthy moment if I ever saw one. This is a sight that even locals are wowed by, and you can spot them on the bridge taking in the views of their gorgeous city.

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Visit Melbourne for moderate temperatures

I was in Melbourne in April, when temperatures ranged between 50- and 60-degrees Fahrenheit. When weighing Sydney vs. Melbourne in terms of weather, Melbourne’s climate is drier and its daytime temperature fluctuates more dramatically than Sydney, so bring layers… no matter the season.

Overall, this modern metropolis typically doesn’t get cooler than the mid-40s. So, save some money and go in the off-season or enjoy the buzzing energy of peak-season—no matter what, you’ll still get to relish the warmth of Australia’s climate and hospitality.

Visit Sydney for warmer weather

When comparing the weather of Sydney vs. Melbourne, Sydney might be more humid, but the temperature is more consistent. The coldest it gets is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in July (their winter) and it gets as warm as the upper 80s in December and January. The rest of the year, temperatures range between the mid-60s and 70s—not too shabby if you ask me. When debating between visiting Sydney or Melbourne, our Sydney Travel Guide includes some helpful weather tips. One is that what you wear in the morning in Sydney will likely keep you comfortable all day long. On the other hand, temperatures in Melbourne are more apt to change.

When it comes to Melbourne vs. Sydney, it’s not about which city is better, it’s about which city is better for you. Of course, if all of these aspects, activities, and Australian goodies sound too tempting for you to choose from, you can opt for one of our tours that visit both cities, like the Australia & New Zealand or Highlights of Australia & New Zealand tours. 

So which of the biggest cities Australia has to offer will you choose?

About the author | Thea Engst
Thea fell in love with travel as soon as she arrived in Venice, Italy on a family trip as a child. Since then, she has made having adventures around the world a priority, with trips like retracing her grandfather’s steps through WWII, climbing glaciers in Alaska, and horseback riding in Iceland. Thea is a nomad at heart, always planning the next trip. In her off-time she is working on a novel inspired by the woman she was named after, mixing cocktails, and watching any procedural crime show she can find.

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