Sydney or Melbourne? The Reveal

51 comments
Australia, Oceania

Diana at the Archibald Fountain, Sydney

Since I started the post series on Australia in this blog eight months ago, some of you have been wondering which city I like better: Sydney or Melbourne. For those who are puzzled about why one should even bother to pick a side, all I can tell you is that the rivalry between the two is real. It is so palpable that I was reminded of this amusing competition not only during my trip to both cities back in October 2017, but also after I watched the New Year’s celebration broadcast on YouTube live from both Sydney Harbour and Melbourne’s Yarra River involving minutes-long pyrotechnic shows.

“So, is it Sydney, or is it Melbourne?” the inquisitive Australian anchor at her studio in the country’s biggest city asked a reporter in the Victorian capital about which city put up a more impressive show that night.

This competition between the two is hardly new as it goes back to the time when the Federation of Australia was established in the early 20th century. Melbourne, the heart of the Australian federalist movement as well as the host of the inauguration of the country’s parliament, was naturally chosen as the capital of the new federation. However, economically powerful Sydney (capital of the state of New South Wales) demanded a new capital for the nation to be founded somewhere between the two. Canberra was eventually chosen, although its location is hardly right at the midway point as it is geographically closer to Sydney. Many decades later, Sydneysiders and Melburnians are happy to keep this bemusing rivalry alive.

Back to the question of which city I prefer. But first, let me remind you of some of the things I loved from both cities which I have mentioned in my previous posts, the very reasons why Sydney and Melbourne are constantly ranked high on any indexes measuring the livability of cities worldwide. However, no city is perfect, therefore I will also include a few things I enjoyed less during this trip.

SYDNEY

This city of five million undoubtedly boasts one of the most impressive skylines I’ve ever seen, not only because of the skyscrapers themselves, but also the scenic setting upon which they were built. Dividing the city in two, the natural inlet of Port Jackson was a major reason for the construction of the Harbour Bridge and subsequently the iconic Opera House several decades later. Had Sydney been located inland, there would probably have been little incentive for the state government to spend a great sum of money to construct the two impressive monuments that have now become among the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

Then the weather. It was mostly sunny with pleasant temperatures during my visit, helping me stay upbeat despite all those long walks. There were days which began with clouds obscuring the blue sky. But as the day progressed, and the wind blew, the dreary-looking buildings in the city center came to life again as the sun bathed them in a soft orange hue. Of course that is most likely not the case in wintertime, and Sydneysiders probably find the sun too strong in the summer. But people say first impressions last, and I was lucky to have mostly nice weather during my stay in the city last spring.

Multiculturalism is what Australia is often associated with today, thanks to the influx of immigrants coming from Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and beyond over generations. Nowhere was my experience witnessing multicultural Australia more vivid than at a peninsula on the northeastern corner of the Royal Botanic Gardens. A fashionable headscarf-donning Muslim woman was proposed to by her boyfriend, with their white Australian friends in their company, and the music of Clean Bandit’s Symphony playing in the background. After all the negative news we had been reading about interracial and interfaith relations the world over, it was truly a moving moment to watch.

So was there anything I didn’t like about Sydney?

Actually there were quite a few downsides. A guy shouting from a car at some people who were walking in front of us on the Harbour Bridge was a shocking thing to watch. Then another guy on a boat flaunting his bare chest and dancing seductively to a family with kids who were waiting for their boat to arrive at Darling Harbour came across as being a little disrespectful. But they seemed rather the exception than the norm for the rest of the Sydneysiders I met were overwhelmingly nice and friendly. As for the food, we ended up spending more money in Sydney than we did in Melbourne, although we only have ourselves to blame for we decided to dine at expensive restaurants. However, we never tasted anything that we didn’t like in the city, from the humble meat pie to braised wallaby tail and fancy kingfish sashimi.

Sydney’s Skyscrapers Viewed from the Royal Botanic Gardens

A Statue of A Huntsman and Dogs Surrounded by Spring Blooms

The Calyx at the Royal Botanic Gardens

HMAS Canberra Docked at Potts Point, Sydney

A Sunny Afternoon at the Opera House

The Late 19th-Century Queen Victoria Building

The Lavish Interior of the Queen Victoria Building

MELBOURNE

I’ve written about my first impressions of Melbourne in an earlier post, a bewildering experience caused by the sensory overload I felt during my first few hours in the city. With a stubbornly overcast sky and colder temperatures, the weather in the Victorian capital was noticeably less favorable than in Sydney. Fortunately it didn’t dampen my spirit to explore some of the city’s best cultural and culinary offerings, exactly what Melbourne is known for.

First let’s talk about the museums, particularly the Melbourne Museum and the Immigration Museum. I found both more impressive and engaging than those in Sydney, although for sure Hyde Park Barracks Museum and the Museum of Sydney were very eye-opening in their own right. I had explained about how the Bunjilaka section of the Melbourne Museum had left a deep impression on me and made me question a lot of things about the issues regarding relations between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian government. The Immigration Museum, on the other hand, was a great source of information on how immigration has shaped Australia for generations and what the nation did wrong in dealing with those who fled from persecution and economic hardship at home. One thing I commend from the way Australians see the past is that they’re not afraid or ashamed to admit that there were things which shouldn’t have happened, so therefore they provide today’s generation with invaluable lessons on how to make Australia a better, more inclusive country in the future.

When it comes to food, my experience proves that Melbourne generally has better, more diverse and somewhat cheaper offerings compared to Sydney, although this is of course highly subjective. I was impressed by how succulent the fried calamari at Greek restaurant Tsindos was, even beating my mom’s, and the Ethiopian lunch I had at Saba’s is still among the most memorable meals I have ever had.

But when it comes to weather, Sydney was a lot more pleasant to explore as the breeze was fresh but not cold, and the sun was more generous with its light. Obviously Melbourne has sunny days too, and Sydney’s sky is not always clear and bright. But with the latter providing better connectivity between the city center and the international airport – double-decker trains ply the route regularly – getting into the heart of Sydney is easy regardless of the weather outside. Melbourne, on the other hand, is still dependent on buses to transport people to and from its main international gateway.

Reflections of Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building

Terraced Houses with Decorative Cast-Iron Balconies

Federation Square in Downtown Melbourne

The Path to the Shrine of Remembrance

Manchester Unity Building, Melbourne

Brunswick Street, Home to A Fascinating Array of Independent Shops and Unique Restaurants

So, which city do I like better? As you can see, both Sydney and Melbourne are very nice cities to live in for the reasons I have mentioned above, as well as others I have yet to figure out. However, if I really had to choose, it would have to be Sydney by a narrow margin. Yes, Melbourne is known for its cultural scene, which I find more intriguing to explore, and Sydney can feel a little bit more brash. But it’s Sydney’s scenic harbor that really stole my heart. I can imagine spending long hours, even the whole day, just sitting at that promontory overlooking the city’s CBD, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the northern part of the city, and every boat that sails into the inlet. It’s probably the fact that from this place I can observe the busyness before my eyes without having to be dragged into the hustle and bustle itself that is so alluring to me. Sydneysiders, I’m with you, at least for now.

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

51 thoughts on “Sydney or Melbourne? The Reveal”

  1. Yay! I have to admit my “vote” is completely ridiculous because I spent a good amount of time in Sydney with friends who had moved there, and I never even went to Melbourne. (I can hear other readers booing me right now!). But I loved everything about Sydney, and enjoying it with locals in the summertime during the holidays was an unbeatable combination. You gave both cities beautiful write-ups, and I’d love to go back and see Melbourne for myself one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really was hard to choose which city I like better. But that stunning harbor did steal my heart! I can imagine escaping to the Botanic Gardens on a rough day, enjoying the beautiful setting before my eyes, and knowing that all is well. I think I also have an affinity for cities that are hilly; one case is Singapore vs Hong Kong with me enjoying the latter much more partly thanks to its terrain. Hope you’ll make it to Melbourne one day, Lex!

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  2. Well, I have never been to Australia. So I go strictly by the photos you have posted for Sidney and Melbourne. On that basis alone and a little bit guided by your description, my vote goes to Sydney, Bama.

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    • I was probably a bit biased when I wrote the posts on both cities, so maybe that’s the reason why your vote goes to Sydney. But for sure, both Sydney and Melbourne are great cities with great food, stunning views and a lot of cultural offerings.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Darwin is actually one of the Australian cities I most want to see, and its proximity to Indonesia only adds to the appeal. Hobart, and Tasmania in general, however is a place I often overlook. Thanks for bringing this up!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Every capital city in Australia has its appeal and its charms. But as a biased Melbourne girl I can’t go past my gorgeous vibrant city. 🙂

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    • I feel a bit bad for not choosing Melbourne as my favorite city instead for it certainly has an appeal not many other cities can match. I wonder if I would’ve had chosen the other way had I come in the summer.

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      • Quite likely. Melb in summer is gorgeous but don’t feel bad. The rivalry’s not that intense that I wouldn’t agree that Sydney is gorgeous too. 😏

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  4. I had no idea there was such intense rivalry between the two! I think I would choose Sydney. The beaches look much prettier than the ones in Melbourne, and I am above all else an island girl.

    Never been to either of them though. One day! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sydney does seem to have a more prominent beach culture than Melbourne. I didn’t go to any of the beaches in both cities though, but for sure a lot of people have heard of Bondi Beach.

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  5. I’m planning to visit Australia soon. I will read your posts once more before I embark on the journey. Those are exceptional shots paired with insightful commentary.

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    • Two of my coworkers are also going to visit Melbourne and Sydney in a few weeks’ time; it seems like Australian winter has its own appeal. I hope my posts on both cities will come handy for you, Umashankar, and certainly I wish you a great time in Australia!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sydney is astonishingly beautiful – there’s no doubt about that – and the combination of its harbor setting with landmarks like the Opera House makes it all the more photogenic. I was genuinely surprised by the number of historic stone buildings that remained in the CBD; and it was nice to see how they were reintroducing the tram system to the downtown area. On the flip side, Sydney struck me as the more hurried, more expensive, and brasher one of Australia’s two biggest cities. Guess no city is perfect after all!

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    • I was also surprised to see all those historic buildings in the CBD because prior to our trip all the photos of Sydney that I had stumbled upon always showed its modern face. We did meet some genuinely friendly people in Melbourne, but I guess as an introvert at heart I find Sydney’s harbor more calming. Brisbane, Perth and Darwin are high on my list of places to visit now for I believe they also have their own character and charm.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, I’ve heard good things about Brissie as well. And I have a feeling that being closer to the equator than Sydney and Melbourne, I might find the temperatures in Brisbane reminiscent of home here in Indonesia.

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  7. I think I agree that Sydney is the nicer city although I prefer Victoria to NSW as state to visit. Both places aren’t bad though are they? Think the flies put me off Melbourne a bit.

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    • It’s interesting that you prefer Victoria to NSW. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore other places beyond Sydney and Melbourne, so for now I can only attest to your view on the cities — the fact that they were very charming kept me and my friend busy wandering around both cities.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That was a fun post Bama and you had me wondering to the very end which city you would choose. We visited both a couple of years ago but to be fair we really only had about 36 hours in Melbourne so we felt we didn’t get as good a feel for it. Also it was very hot at 40C Melbourne on the day we were there so the Canadians melted their way along. The Sydney Harbour provides very stiff competition I would agree.

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    • Wow, even for me 40C is really hot as the temperatures in Jakarta usually hover around 28-32C, let alone for you who come from the far north. The harbor setting in Sydney really is one tough competition for any city to beat, isn’t it? Going to places like Melbourne and Sydney always makes me think of how much nicer and more beautiful Indonesian cities would have looked like had they been built on the waterfront. Sadly a lot of our rivers are polluted.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Kalau saya sih lebih suka dengan Melbourne sih mas, karena Melbourne serasa berada di Eropa dan saya suka sekali dengan suasana kotanya yang sepertinya tenang dan tidak riuh layaknya Sydney. Btw tulisan yang bagus mas bama perbandinganya sangat objektif sekali saya suka tulisan ini.

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    • Nah teman saya juga pendapatnya sama, Melbourne mengingatkannya akan Eropa, terutama karena tramnya. Mungkin juga karena saya suka kota yang bersih, tapi gak terlalu teratur-teratur amat makanya hati saya lebih kepincut sama Sydney. Tapi ya itu, kalau bisa gak milih sih saya mendingan gak milih, karena dua-duanya saya suka.

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  10. Uuuuh, controversial! I remember doing a conference call with SYD & MEL airport authorities, and the SYD guy advised us callers from London to speak loud and clear because “You know guys, we’ve got Melbourne on the line”. Howls of laughter from the Sydney side, mock derision from the Melbourne line and us wondering what on Earth had we gotten into!

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    • Yet another example of how the legendary rivalry seeps in many aspects of everyday life in both cities. In Melbourne I met with two of James’s friends. One of them said that there are a lot of Melburnians living in Sydney, but he can tell which of Sydney’s residents are from Melbourne. He didn’t elaborate the reason though. I guess I have to stay longer in both cities to truly grasp this bewildering affair.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting writeup – never knew there was such rivalry. I guess it’s something similar between NYC and LA – but the irony is that many LA natives move to NYC and vise versa. Most of the transplants I’ve met in LA thus far have been from NYC or NJ. Also, the part about Australians seeing their past and not being afraid or ashamed to admit that there were things which shouldn’t have happened, providing lessons & making Australia better… whew – the USA is soooooo far from this.

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    • I heard about the rivalry between NYC and LA too — I remember watching Jimmy Kimmel’s show when they ask New Yorkers and Angelenos about which city is better. However, I wasn’t aware of how some people from one city moved to the other. I guess they’re looking for different dynamics as well as better jobs that suit their passion. There are still problems in Australia regarding to immigrant communities and inter-racial relations, but to have the courage to admit what the nation did wrong and to present it today so we all can learn really is a bold, necessary gesture.

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      • I agree with you. Interracial and immigration issues have always excited in the USA but our current administration simply radicalized it. Hopefully, we make it through as a nation.

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  12. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts on the Australian scene. And even though I haven’t yet been to either.

    I know that I would have a thrilling time in Sydney, but somehow, I have a feeling that Melbourne would fit me to a tee!

    Well done Bama!

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    • Thanks Victoria. There’s only one way to find out which city you like better (although it’s completely fine if you end up loving both). Hope you’ll get there sooner than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed your comparison of the two cities. I have not been to either, but when I do get to Australia I’ll be visiting both. Wonderful photos!

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    • I definitely recommend visiting both cities for your first trip to Australia. But if you have a few more weeks, adding the Outback to your itinerary would certainly be great to better understand the country. Thanks for your kind words, Caroline!

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  14. I live in Brisbane and I love it. We are left out of the competition, which is just fine. I would choose Melbourne over Sydney, I find it far more elegant.

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    • I think Brisbane shouldn’t bother to play the same kind of rivalry Sydney and Melbourne do as from what I heard and saw on the internet the capital of Queensland certainly has its own appeal. Can’t wait to explore it one day!

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  15. Great writing! I love your detail and description…and of course being a Sydney-sider, I love the fact that Sydney was the winner. Keep it up! I’m just working on my brand new blog but I’d love for you to check it out when I post soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A very interesting write up and discussion between the rivalry that is Sydney and Melbourne. Thankfully Canberra comes in between and is the nation’s capital. I think you summed up how I feel about Sydney very well: a little bit more brash. A few years ago I lived in Sydney for a few months and that was the feeling I got about the city compared to Melbourne. While things are more expensive in Sydney, everything else seems to be a bit more bigger and in your face there – from the Harbour Bridge to the Opera house to the nightlife to the architecture to the fashion and to the people and personalities. Personally, I prefer Melbourne for being more quiet and a bit more subdued, even though I prefer Sydney’s weather by a long stretch 🙂 There have been times where I’ve thought about relocating to Sydney. Costs weren’t an issue, and it came down to the culture of Melbourne. Hope you get to visit again, Bama 🙂

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    • That’s exactly what I perceived from my trip to Australia. However, had I stayed longer in both cities, I wonder if I would have changed my mind because naturally I prefer a more quiet environment. I’ll make sure to revisit Sydney and Melbourne in the future, but before that happens I think I’ll give Brisbane, Perth and Darwin a try. Who knows I’ll end up falling in love with one of them.

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