What Exactly IS the Difference between SYDNEY and MELBOURNE?

As someone who has spent several years residing in both of these prominent cities, I am often asked, “What exactly is the difference between Sydney and Melbourne?”.

Well, my friends…they are very different cities.  Here are some of the significant factors:

1.  The Weather

Melbourne’s weather is as unpredictable as my mood at that time of the month.  Temperatures have been known to oscillate at up to differences of 20 degrees Celsius within the space of a few minutes.

“Four Seasons in One Day” is definitely true of Melbourne.

One must always carry a jumper (sweater), raincoat, sunnies (sunglasses) when outside.  It’s impossible to plan a day out with this kind of unpredictability!  Also, when your weather app says it will be a top of 21 degrees Celsius that day, be prepared for 16 degrees…the wind chill coming up from the Antarctic is a doozy!



Sydney, on the other hand, is a few degrees warmer…and far more stable.  Growing up in Sydney, I was spoiled for weather…one can still enjoy the beautiful beaches well into Autumn (fall).  Thanks to this glorious weather – I can’t be happy anywhere else!

It also feels like Winter lasts for most of the year in Melbourne, whereas there is sunshine most of the year in Sydney.

2.  The Sights

No contest here, Sydney has a beautiful harbour which floods into its CBD and surrounding areas.  Between the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and Sydney Darling Harbour…it’s a stunning city!



Melbourne does have a few older-style buildings, thanks to the gold rush in the 1800s, however the Yarra River simply does not hold a candle to Sydney’s bling.

The Beaches

I feel like this should almost be a sub-heading to the previous point.  Again, no contest.  Sydney beaches = gorgeous.  Melbourne beaches = bleurgh.  If you want nice beaches in Melbourne, you must travel south on the Mornington Peninsula…but then they are too cold for swimming for most of the year.

As some of my ESL students excitedly used to say:

“Teacher!  Sydney has good bitches!”

Yes, my darlings…yes, it does.


Melbourne’s “beaches” are located within the bay…so there aren’t really any waves and the water is less clear as a result.

Although…Brighton Beach’s “beach boxes” certainly are a cute feature…if you can afford the millions of Aussie bucks to own one of these status symbols!


4.  Food

Melbourne is an international food city.  The standards are so high, that as a business owner, you simply must be serving the best.  Otherwise, you’ll simply fail!


With a significant Mediterranean influence, thanks to Australia’s (very) past migration policies, it is known as Australia’s European city.  A strong cafe culture means that Melbournians are some of the fussiest coffee drinkers in the world.  Honey soy cap with single origin beans from Ethiopia?  Sure thing.

Sydney is fast catching up to Melbourne’s artisan, organic, ethical trade standards…however, one must search them out to find them.  Sydney does have a good amount of places where you can get a huge bowl or plate of something Asian for ten bucks.  Its China town is definitely bigger!

5.  Culture

If you’re looking for an arty scene, Melbourne is a hipster haven.  Everyone you know…is in a band.  No joke.  Bourke Street (the main shopping strip) has talented buskers every day at every time of the day and night…beautiful notes and melodies drift through the air and over the hustle and bustle of the shoppers, tourists and suits that frequent the CBD.

It boasts lane ways covered in top to toe of ever-changing street art, thanks to its artistic population, who update the walls on a constant basis.  Look at the street art one day, visit again in a few months and see something entirely different!


In contrast, Sydney’s focus is primarily on beach culture, being fit and healthy, and the greenback boogie.  I guess you have to have all these things, in order to live a happy life there.  Housing prices are absolutely nuts!  Also, Sydneysiders do not have the advantage of hiding their semi-permanent winter kilos with layers of warm clothing, like Melbournites do.

I have a theory about places and cultures:  Colder places are more likely to have a strong artistic influence…because they have a lot of time to spend indoors and need to find something to keep themselves busy.  In warmer places, like Sydney, you spend more time enjoying the beaches and weather outside.  Perhaps this is one of the causes of this contrast between the two cities?

6.  Infrastructure

This may sound like a topic that doesn’t matter, but when you take one wrong turn in the CBD and have to drive around for the following twenty or so minutes just to get back to where you were, it starts to add up.

Sydney is a hilly place, so the roads are chaos.  Its CBD is laden with no right turn signs, which can really screw you around if you don’t know the place.  If you want to use your GPS, just make sure you are still focusing on the traffic rules.  My mum accidentally ran a red in the CBD because she was so focused on where she was going…and copped a fine of over $400!


Melbourne on the other hand, is a very well-planned city.  So well-planned, in fact, that the streets are set out in a perfect grid shape – similar to that of Kyoto.  They have something Sydney doesn’t – hook turns.  This means you can take a wrong turn and simply go around the block…amazing!

I must say, though, having the grid shape can be a little confusing…all the streets look the same!  Without GPS at the beginning, it was sometimes impossible to tell which direction I was facing!  Still…nothing like a clear cut city plan.


7.  ‘Tude in the Public Space

Sydney has close to 4.5 million residents, while Melbourne has nearly 4.3…so why does Melbourne have more of a large town feel, whilst Sydney maintains that push and shove big city feel?  Maybe Sydney has been bigger for longer…maybe Melbourne has more lefties…it’s a mystery.

When I first moved to Melbourne, I could feel myself putting out Sydney energy…when it wasn’t necessary.  The waitresses and retail assistants asked me how I was, and they actually waited for a reply!  Interactions routinely went something like this:

“Hi, how are you doing today?  Did you get up to much?”
“I’ll take a soy cappuccino – thanks.”

It took me a few months to realise I could slow down and enjoy the more relaxed pace that Melbourne has to offer.

One of my friends, who also moved down to Melbourne from Sydney, stated that he found the slow pace of Melbourne and its inhabitants irritating…so I guess it’s whatever you prefer that makes the difference here.

Other Factors:

I was going to add “transportation” as a category, because I found it a lot easier to get around Melbourne – largely due to the presence of trams.  However, Sydney is currently uprooting it’s main street in the CBD, George Street, in favour of introducing its own tram system.  Hopefully it will make a turn-around!

In my time in both cities, I noticed a difference in political standing.  I didn’t add it as a significant category, because I can’t make generalisations like that (and I don’t want to piss too many people off).  However, it just seems that apart from Sydney’s Inner West, you have a significant amount of right-wingers, and in Melbourne you have the lefties.  Maybe it’s something like:  art goes hand in hand with being a leftie, while having the kind of money to live in Sydney is synonymous with right-wingery.  Like I said, I don’t want to go further with this!

Prices are something I left out, too…primarily because Melbourne’s housing prices etc are fast catching up to Sydney’s…so I’m sure they will be similar in no time.

Shopping is also a biggie in Melbourne…maybe it goes hand in hand with arty, hipster vibes?



If I didn’t have enough time to explain all these points to people, I used to sum it up in one sentence:

“Sydney is beautiful…but if you scratch beneath the surface, it’s just another big city.  The opposite is true for Melbourne:  Melbourne is ugly, but if you spend enough time immersing yourself in the culture, it really is a liveable city…if you don’t mind freezing!”

Those are my thoughts.  What are yours?

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