Australia is a big country. With an extremely diverse landscape and culture, the “Down Under” offers something for every kind of traveler. But deciding where to vacation when visiting for a limited amount of time can be difficult. Even the two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne – are two very different sides of the same coin.
Both offer gorgeous architecture and a boatload of culture, but where one gets top marks for an eco-friendly attitude and a hipster vibe, the other is renowned for its beaches and bold attitude.
The rivalry between the cities is legendary, dating back as far as their foundings. Sydney was originally built with little urban planning as a massive jail for English convicts. Melbourne was a settler’s destination, constructed as a European metropolis with a grid of streets. Both experienced population booms in the late 1800s, establishing themselves as bitter rivals.
But which is superior?
The decision isn’t an easy one: Canberra was even made the country’s capital back in the day so as not to fuel the fires between the two cities. Today, visitors have to make that choice for themselves. Get the lowdown on our favorite aspects of these cities and then decide.
Sydney: The Harbor City
Modern aesthetics: This former British colony for exiled convicts has transformed itself from its gritty upbringing and has long been considered one of the world’s best cities to visit. Now a cultural hub, Sydney boasts attractions such as the architecturally beautiful Sydney Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Sydney has a decidedly modern feel, with stunning architectural wonders like the Harbor Bridge and Opera House.
Bondi beach bums: But possibly the main draw in Sydney is its beautiful beaches, offering amazing opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive and surf. Bondi Beach is one of the city’s most popular, and Sydney has more than 60 stretches of sand to explore.
Dine on Asian Fusion: While Melbourne has the distinction of being the food capital of Australia (as well as the sport and cultural center), there are more award-winning restaurants in Sydney. Asian fusion cuisine reigns. Prices are slightly cheaper in the Harbor City than in its Victoria counterpart.
Still roughhousing: Sydney is a bold metropolis, spilling over with surfer dudes and rugby fans. Trips to the stadiums will redefine what really counts as “rowdy” behavior for American football fans. The rugby fans may even give the European soccer league’s supporters a run for their money. But getting around town is a nightmare, with traffic jams and pollution levels likely to give visitors and locals alike more than a little headache.
Melbourne: World’s Most Livable City
Let me entertain you: Known as Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne has a lot to offer first-time visitors looking for some artsy excursions. Live music can be heard at many of the inner-city clubs such as Richmond and Epsy, and festivals take place throughout the year. Museums, galleries, expansive parks and gardens all pack the streets. Melbourne is also home to some excellent bars – two of which (Der Raum and 1806) were ranked among the top 10 in the world – as well as a bevy of award-winning restaurants.
Hipsters welcome: While Sydneysiders take the great outdoors seriously, Melbournians tend to stay indoors. A fascination with the arts, coffee bars and biking is well-cultivated, as is an eco-friendly attitude and vintage style. The city’s many green spaces, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, and efficient public transport make the city popular with tree-huggers around the globe.
Victorian traditions: Melbourne’s Victorian roots are alive and well, with gorgeous period buildings dotting tree-lined streets. The city has an excellent reputation for transportation: The burgundy-colored (and free) City Circle trams zig-zag across the metropolis. It’s easy for visitors to explore at a relaxed pace within a few days.
Sporty spice: Melbourne is also the sports capital of Australia. It lays claim to the largest arenas for cricket and the Australian Football League in the country. Games against Sydney are always rowdy affairs.
Our call: Hipsterslooking to throw back a Fosters with the locals and take in some local tunes, all while respecting the environment, should head to Melbourne.