There’s been a long-standing rivalry between these two cities, that goes way back to when they were first founded. So much so that the government decided to make Canberra the country’s capital so not to fuel the feud between them. But which one is better? It seems to be the eternal question that everyone asks when they visit Australia. Both have a lot to offer – Melbourne with its culture, arts and music scene, and Sydney with its symbolic landmarks and plentiful beaches.
I guess it’s all down to personal preference and what you want to get out of the places you visit. But personally (and I may upset a few people by saying this) I thought Sydney was overrated. I can see why the lifestyle there might be appealing to some, but for a tourist like me, I felt like it lacked character.
Yes it may be a picturesque city, with plenty of nice beaches and green parks, plus a bustling harbour that makes its way into every tourist photo with the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge dominating the background. But once you get past its superficial attraction, it just felt to me like another expensive city with very little culture.
Melbourne on the other hand, has a certain charm to it. Even for a big city, it doesn’t feel overcrowded and has a much more relaxed vibe. Even though I was only there a week, I can completely see why it’s been crowned the “Most Liveable City in the World” for four years in a row.
“Melbourne lives and breathes culture and art”
One of the main reasons I loved Melbourne is because it lives and breathes culture and art. While Sydney has its fair share of good galleries, museums, theatres (and of course, the Opera House) it feels like Melbourne embraces music, art and food as part of everyday life. You only have to take a stroll around the city and you’ll come across dozens of street performers, vibrant street art, and your pick of trendy bars, hole-in-the-wall cafes and small restaurants playing live music to suit all matter of tastes.
The Fitzroy area in particular has a thriving band scene and almost every pub puts on events during the week. It soon became a favourite area for me to hang out in the evenings enjoying a cheeky glass of wine. And with picturesque views of Carlton Gardens and the grand Royal Exhibition Building located nearby, it makes for a very nice walk when stumbling home in the late hours of the night (with maybe a few run-ins with some inquisitive possums along the way).
Melbourne has mixed character and charm
Walking into the city along the Yarra River, Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District) presents a spectacular modern skyline. But up close the city has an eclectic mix of old and new architecture and a good example of this can be seen from Federation Square. This popular meeting point is surrounded by geometrical buildings – but look over the road and you can see the elegant Flinders Street Station and the gothic designs of St Paul’s Cathedral.
For the best views of the city you can head up to the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower. I got my ticket as a freebie from booking another tour, but what I didn’t realise was that this also included entry to The Edge – a glass cube which projects three metres out from the building for views of the city from all angles…including beneath you. As you can imagine this didn’t do wonders for my vertigo and was probably the longest three minutes of my life!
Melbourne’s comprehensive tram network also makes it incredibly easy to get around the city and surrounding suburbs. So when you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle of the CBD you can quickly escape to the beach at the quirky town of St Kilda.
The famous penguins of Phillip Island
Melbourne is also an hour or so away from Phillip Island where many tourists go to see the Penguin Parade. Thousands of visitors flock to the reserve at dusk to watch “the event” from concrete stadiums on the beach. While this may sound horribly commercial, actually the reserve is not-for-profit meaning all funds go back into the research and conservation of the Little Penguins who would otherwise be at risk from ferrel cats and other environmental factors.
The parade itself was probably one of my favourite highlights from Australia. From around 8pm we waited patiently for them to return to the beach from the sea after a full day of fishing…and just after 9pm the first group came ashore. After that more and more groups (anything between five to ten penguins) started to emerge from the water. What I found quite cute is how if they realised there was any missing from the group, one or two of them would jump back into the water to find them – no penguin would get left behind before waddling comically back to their sand dune burrows.
After they start arriving you can continue on to the extensive boardwalks to get an even closer look and watch their antics as they go about their usual business. I was lucky enough to also see some baby penguins coming out of their burrows for a feed, which was just adorable! The only thing that spoiled it a little bit was the amount of tourists who disregarded the no photography rule and some were even trying to touch them from the boardwalks. Clearly this is put in place so not to startle the penguins or potentially harm them, so it was quite infuriating to witness this.
All that said however, watching the behaviour of the world’s smallest penguin in their natural environment is such a magical experience and definitely a worthwhile trip. I’d recommend making a day of it by doing a tour which includes a visit to the Nobbies and Seal Rocks (although I wasn’t lucky enough to see any seals at this time of year) as well as the Grand Prix Circuit and a wildlife park where you can have close encounters with other Australian wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies. The fish’n’chips in the local town, Cowes, is also a must too – probably the best I’ve ever had! But watch out for those seagulls!
Melbourne is the gateway to one of the world’s most stunning coastal routes
Melbourne is also the gateway to the Great Ocean Road – one of Australia’s most spectacular coastal routes. I met up with some friends from Nottingham, who are currently living in Melbourne, and we decided to jump in their car and spend a two day road trip exploring a good chunk of the 250km coastline, with one night camping out by one its many beautiful beaches. Stocked up with more wine than food to keep us going through the night (got to get your priorities straight!) it was a great experience to camp outdoors, hearing the waves crash against the beach as you fall asleep and the happy singing of native birdlife as you wake up.
The GOR is an amazing drive through winding mountains, with roads lined by rugged beaches and the clear blue sea. We stopped at more lookouts than we could count to take in the breathtaking views, and even managed to spot a few wild koalas in a forest we passed through. It was great because we managed to find a place with no other tourists around…it was just us and the koalas. So for my first sighting, this made it a very special experience to see them in their natural environment, doing what they do best – sleeping or waking up very briefly to lazily chew on some eucalyptus leaves.
But the star of the show had to be the 12 Apostles, which is the main attraction on this route. While a couple of rocks sticking out of the sea might not seem like the most exciting of things to see, I’m glad to say they lived up to all the hype.
The 12 Apostles (of which only eight remain) were formed around 20 million years ago as the sea gradually eroded the cliffs. Now these huge limestone rocks tower magnificently above the ocean beneath them and we were very lucky to get extremely good weather that day, giving us a great view.
Although it’s a long two days to be driving in a car (thanks Jon and Michelle!!) all in all it’s such a worthwhile trip and you never get bored of the scenery. The only downside was having to constantly shoo away flies when you did have to get out of the car (now I understand the practicalness of those unfashionable cork hats!).
So which do you prefer? I realise most opinions of places are down to an individual’s experience of it, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. I always try to keep an open mind when visiting new places and while I was expecting a lot more from Sydney, I wouldn’t rule out visiting it again. I didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it either, whereas Melbourne felt right up my street from day one. Where it maybe lacks in pretty historic landmarks, it makes up for with its vibrant atmosphere and that makes it a winner in my books.