Sydney Vs Melbourne

With almost every country I have been to, there is often a sense of friendly rivalry between two of the larger cities. From Glasgow and Edinburgh, Barcelona Madrid, Paris Marseille, or anywhere else, there is always a sense of competition, and Australia is no stranger to this with it two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. Whether it’s the sporting prowess, culture, general atmosphere, best pubs, clubs, weather, or people, everything is compared. As someone who has lived in and loved both, I have never really understood why so many people seemed to love one and hate the other, so I wanted to compare both, and see which one my heart truly belonged too.

The history of this rivalry stems back as far as the early 19th Century following a dispute over which should be named capital city. In the end a compromise was reached: the new capital would be built in New South Wales, so long as it was no closer than 100 miles (160 km) to Sydney, with Melbourne to be the temporary capital while the new capital was built. Ever since then there has been a strong sense of competition between these two cities, but what fascinates me most about this is that it does not just stop at the locals. Every traveller I met while in Australia seemed to have an opinion on which was better. You were quite simply a “Sydney person” or a “Melbourne person”, and I wanted to know why.

When you think of Australia I’m sure one of the first pictures that come into your head is the Sydney Opera House or Harbour Bridge. If it were down to iconic architecture alone, Sydney would win hands down. Circular Quay is quite simply one of the most picturesque areas in the world, never mind Australia, and I must admit I’ve had many happy sunny afternoons spent down there having lunch, and feeling very in awe. It would be lying however to say that this outer exterior was not often used to cover up the darker side of the city. Sydney might be pretty on the outside, but when you delve deeper into places like Liverpool, Campbelltown, Fairfield, and Wentworthville, you see the shocking crime statistics. That being said though, is Sydney really any different to any other major city across the world? Places like London, New York, and Paris, all have an equally high crime rate, if not more. On top of that the weather is generally sunny most days, even in the winter when it’s a lot colder, you still normally have bright blue skies, which really helps when making a place look pretty. I know myself from living in the UK, as much as I love London, the almost constant grey sky’s can be a bit of a downer and can make what would have been a beautiful area look a bit dull.

I must admit, if you were to look at the exterior of Melbourne in a picture, it doesn’t have that same wow factor that Sydney has, although there are definitely areas of great structural beauty. What the city does have in abundance is great character.There are also just a lot of things to do in Melbourne. After spending some time in the city, I soon began to see it as the alternative, musical, artist, and cultural hub of Australia. The ever growing Melbourne Comedy Festival is probably the best selection of comedic acts around, with only the field of comic presence at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, or Montreal, really vying for contention. Areas such as Saint Kilda or Fitzroy are full of cool little independent shops, pubs, and café’s. (The only area I found like this in Sydney is the suburb of Newtown.) Everybody just dresses a bit more alternative, and for me personally, I just find this scene a little more my thing. I seemed to come across more musicians, actors, or artists while I was there, and it made me feel very much at home. I don’t know if that was just who I happened to bump into or not, but within Australia itself Melbourne is by and large seen as a place to come if you are following a more creative path. It’s just a shame this isn’t so well known outside of the country.

On the flip side, Melbourne has also not had a great reputation lately for crime. In recent news reports many Indian students have been the target of attacks in what most people are saying is racially motivated. The Australian government are still denying these attacks as having a racial motive but with more and more of these incidents happening, and reports from victims that they were subjected to racial comments before being attacked; it seems more and more likely that this is the cause, something which greatly disturbs and disappoints me.

Another slight downside to Melbourne is that, contrary to what you may see in advertising campaigns abroad, not all of Australia is warm all the time. Melbourne, being situated right in the South East of the country, often has cold winters. I spent just over a month there during winter and woke up mainly to light frost on the roads. Now don’t get me wrong, I can handle a bit of cold (I come from Scotland!) but for some reason I always thought before coming to Australia that the whole country was hot all year round. When I think about it now I feel a bit silly as the country itself is so big and stretches so far, that of course it would have parts which are much nearer the equator than others. There is one upside to this drop in temperatures however, and that is hostel prices fall during the winter months. Most backpackers head up north where the weather is still warm during winter so you often find you can find much cheaper accommodation during these months.

As far as sporting competition goes, Melbourne and Sydney do not just have a competition as far as teams go, but also which should be the chosen sport. Contrary to popular belief, Australian Rules football is only really popular in Victoria (the state which Melbourne resides), everywhere else in the country the main sport that people follow is Rugby. You often find that if an Aussie Rules player goes to places like Sydney, not many people recognise him, and vice versa with Rugby and Melbourne. It’s something that fascinates me, coming from the UK where football (soccer) is the national sport of which nothing else really comes into contention. If I had to say which I found was more entertaining, I’d probably say Australian Rules football, but that’s probably because it was something I had never seen before in any other country, not because it was any better or worse than rugby. If it’s any consolation to rugby fans, neither have a patch on football as far as I’m concerned! 🙂

Aside from what I have mentioned above, things such as general atmosphere, or places to go out is really just down to personal tastes and opinions. I found when I was in Sydney most nightclubs played dance music, drum n base, or hip hop and r n b. Melbourne also had these clubs, but had more of a variety with quite a few alternative, indie, and reggae clubs too, with “The Espey” in the suburb of Saint Kilda being a personal favourite. Prices for food or drink where virtually the same, with Melbourne probably being slightly cheaper, but not much. Mostly though, I think as far as social life was concerned in the city, I think who you were with really played most part in which you thought was better.

On paper, I should really have liked Melbourne more than I like Sydney. It just seems so much more geared to my personal tastes. When I was in Sydney though (just over 3 and a half years ago now), it was the first place I had ever lived outside of Scotland. I wasn’t just experiencing Sydney for the first time, but I was experiencing life for the first time. On top of that I also met up with a friend from back home who was already over there, and quickly found a strong bond with someone who seemed to understand exactly why I had left, and where I was going. In reality, most of that was probably just a young girl caught up in her first summer romance, and experiencing the joys of travelling for the very first time. Nevertheless though, it still had a huge effect on my time in the city, and has left me with heartfelt memories of a city that I once called home for a little period of time.

14 Responses to “Sydney Vs Melbourne”

  1. I’ll always be a Melbourne boy although I am biased as I grew up in Victoria. To me Melbourne is just a more laid back way to live. Sydney is all hustle and bustle and the stories I have heard of driving there are less than impressive.

    • jane says:

      Yeah I really enjoyed my time in Melbourne and would love to go back someday. I think maybe what weighed it in Sydney’s favour for me was just the people I was with at the time. I used to stay on Spencer Street in Melbourne though, and had some great times there too.

  2. Aly says:

    Great insights into both cities! I’ve never been to Australia but it’s definitely on my to-go list! But having been in NZ I can tell you that the rivalry is HUGE between the two countries when it comes to Rugby. It felt like every match was the world cup! 🙂

    • jane says:

      Yeah, I definately came across the rivalry between Australia and NZ when I was there. Reminded me of home a bit with Scotland and England 🙂 Would really love to visit NZ sometime. I’ve heard it’s a really beautiful country.

  3. marta says:

    great post although i am more keen to sydney, it has a better weather and great beaches!

  4. Anj (@1writergrrl) says:

    What a(nother) great post, Jane! As an adopted Sydneysider, it’s obvious where my bias is, but I have to admit that I also like Melbourne. When I think of Sydney I think of sun & sand and that gorgeous harbour. Melbourne evokes a much more European feel, both with weather and the eclectic feel – culturally, I think it wins. I was lucky in that when I lived in Sydney I rented a flat in Manly, but when we bought, we landed in Newtown – so I got a fairly well-rounded experience. Now that we’re going back, we have our sights set on Brissie – we’ve decided that our priority is sun, baby! 😉

    • jane says:

      Thanks Anj! I’m also slightly biased with Sydney, mostly due to the better weather compared with Melbourne and also because of the people I stayed with while I was there. Melbourne is still really cool though, and I had some great nights out there. I got my camera stolen in Brissie and ended up only staying there a few weeks so my stay there wasn’t so great, but most people I know really love Brisbane and the weather is definitely better for sure! 🙂

  5. Roaming Ross says:

    I have lived in both cities for One year a piece and without question Melbourne wins by a mile, in my opinion 🙂

    Sydney has the beautiful harbour and dramatic sites but it is in fact a rather boring city when compared to Melbourne. I got to know Sydney and it’s surrounding areas very quickly where as in Melbourne there was constant surprises around each corner. After a year of living there i still felt like i was exploring where as with Sydney i felt like i had seen and done it all within a few months. Don’t get me wrong, i love Sydney but where Sydney has the instant wow factor, Melbourne has the substance that will keep your taste buds going for many a year to come.

    From speaking to many travellers it seems everybody who has visited Melbourne for a short time seems to prefer Sydney where as people who have spent a substantial amount of time in both cities prefer Melbourne.

    I do chuckle a little also when people mention the Melbourne weather 🙂 I use to go to work in 43c heat. For a month it didn’t drop below 25c even at night time and in winter it did not drop below 12c in the daytime. Whenever i meet a traveller who says the Melbourne weather is not great, it is often followed up with “i was only there for a few weeks”.

    Sydney V Melbourne. I love them both but Melbourne is truly a great city.

  6. Ahimsa says:

    Melbourne wins over Sydney, no doubt, but I still think, two-headed jokes aside, Hobart is the coolest city in Oz.

  7. Frank says:

    I came to Australia when I was 26, and I have lived in both Melbourne and Sydney for varying lengths of time, but in the end, I’ve spent roughly 11 years in each with my work. However, I have to say my heart lies with Sydney and it ‘wins’ in almost all aspects of competition in my opionion. Since the 2000 Olympics, it is clear that Sydney has experienced a sporting boom in both infrastructure and participation, and with the recent international sporting events and finals held in the city, it is difficult to contest that Melbourne is the sporting capital. I do like Melbourne, and I prefer it to many cities abroad, but from what I’ve heard and observed, it appears that the city suffers from a hangover from the ’80s, in regarding itself as the fashion and cultural capital of Australia, if that is anything at all to hold against the city; most recent trends suggest a superiority in Sydney in both these categories. People who speak of the busy and hustle and bustle nature of Sydney fail to see that it is the exact same in Melbourne. Again, I really hold nothing against either city and they are both fine cities on the international stage, but to me, it is obvious that Sydney is ‘superior’, if that is the correct term. As well, I remember hearing that Syndey has won the world’s best city eight years in a row, and consistently outplaces Melbourne in such competitions; how these things work I have little idea, and of what significance they are, probably none.

  8. Eben says:

    Personally, I think they are both beautiful and amazing cities, but for completely different reasons. I love them both equally, but I’m biased towards Sydney because I spent half my childhood there, and it holds great memories.

    One point, yes Campbelltown, Fairfield, and Wentworthville are horrible, but Blacktown and Mt. Druitt are by far the worst. All these suburbs however are located in the Far-West/South-West suburbs, where most Sydneysiders wouldn’t step foot in a million years. But the North/North-West, Southern, Eastern, and Inner suburbs are all great, particularly the North/North-West where you can’t walk anywhere without seeing a house worth several million dollars.

    By the way Jane, make sure to check out the other 3 major Australian cities: Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide. Adelaide is one place you must go: despite a population of 1.2 million, it has a complete village feeling (except in the CBD), and has the friendliest people I know. But it’s boring to live in.

  9. Hi Jane,

    I’m current living in Melbourne, I love this city and the whole cultural atmosphere down here. And I’m totally agree with you about the weather in Sydney, It’s a way more better than Melbourne, which make our days more happy. Awesome point of view of both cities. 😀

  10. Colin says:

    I know this post is several years old, but I couldn’t go past your comment that Australian Rules football is only popular in Victoria. Wrong. It is the main game in South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Norhtern Territory as well. Rugby holds sway only in NSW & Queensland. And it is notable that when the Sydney Swans Aussie Rules team plays in Sydney they often draw a crowd larger than all the rugby games combined for that weekend. I have spent my whole life in NSW, by the way, and only moved to Melbourne a few months ago. Sydney might have the harbour, but Melbourne has the character.


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