A personal look at what it’s like to live in Melbourne compared to Sydney, now that I’ve spent more than a year as a resident in both.*
*3 years in Sydney and 1 year in Melbourne for those that lost count :p
Which city is better to live in – Sydney or Melbourne? My thoughts 1 year on.
The biggest bugbear I have about living in Melbourne is that there is no train from the airport, which is funny considering I rarely used the airport train in Sydney. As we lived 15 mins from the airport in Sydney an Uber was always the cheapest and easiest option and man do I miss that convenience. We still Uber from the airport in Melbourne but the journey averages $35 AUD to Brunswick as opposed to $16 in Alexandria, Sydney.
Melbourne does have the Sky Bus ($18 AUD one way to Southern Cross Station) but the fact that the traffic can be bad and Southern Cross is only part way home puts me off this option massively.
Airport trips aside, Melbourne is easier to get around because of the tram system which is 100% free within the CBD. Sydney is much prettier to commute across though, what with those harbour ferries and swish double decker trains that cross the Harbour Bridge.
I’d say that overall neither city has it nailed in terms of transport – Sydney needs trams and Melbourne an airport train – but thank goodness for Uber is all I say.
I was really surprised by how bitter a Melbourne winter can be. Although lows of 13 degrees would get called nothing by British and American friends, the winds in Melbourne can get so fierce it feels like you’re in a blast chiller.
At least in other countries houses are built to stay warm. In Melbourne we pump up the heater and the warm air gets blown straight out the drafty windows. My local cafes don’t have heating and often keep their doors open year-round – I am way too soft for that malarkey.
Aside from the Artic blast and occasional torrential downpour we do get many blue sky winter days in Melbourne, which makes it slightly less depressing. What is depressing is watching the national weather and seeing Sydney basking in 22 degree heat in August. That’s what us Brits move to Oz for, isn’t it?
We found renting in Melbourne marginally more affordable than Sydney. We had a 1 bed plus study apartment in Sydney for $680 a week and moved to a 2 bed plus study townhouse in Melbourne for $700 a week. We gained stairs but lost a swimming pool. Renting was massively competitive in both cities and in Melbourne we didn’t get our first choice.
I can’t speak for the buyers’ market in Sydney or Melbourne but I think it’s fairly similar to renting in terms of price and competition – at least in the inner city suburbs we would want to live.
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We really struggled to decide what area to live in Melbourne because I was looking for some idyllic village-feeling neighbourhood with easy access to the city. We plumped for Brunswick because we had mates there and the transport to the city is awesome but it’s never given me the homely vibe I was hoping for.
In Sydney, I had the opposite experience and felt spoilt for choice when it came to chic places to live. If you don’t mind commuting by bus and/or ferry, some of the harbour and beach front suburbs are what an expat in Oz dreams of. I’d happily call Balmain, Kirribilli, Balmoral, Manly, Rose Bay, Bondi or Bronte home if the right place came up. With further research the closest I could find to these vibes in Melbourne was Elwood, but let’s just say that the beach is no Bondi.
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Melbourne is oft considered the culinary capital of Australia and I’d have to agree that the range and quality of food is phenomenal. Sydney has its fair share of award-winning restaurants but they tend to be of the pricey variety. Melbourne, however, has got affordable Asian eats coming from its ears and there’s nothing we’ve enjoyed more than gathering all our mates for share plates at the likes of Hanoi Hannah.
On the slight downside is that all these trendy eateries in Melbourne often have me craving the simple things in life. (Can someone find this Brit a tuna sandwich!) This may just be a Brunswick specific gripe but we have so many vegan and Middle Eastern cafes on our doorstep and all I dream about is a schnitzel sandwich from the Italian deli that was across the road from our joint in Sydney.
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Our year in Melbourne has been filled with comedy. From Jimmy Carr at the Arts Centre to Tommy Little at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, we’ve enjoyed the big acts that have come through here. I also got a sneak peak of a few Melbourne Comedy Fest acts for free at Easey Street Concert Hall in Collingwood, which is something I’d never come across in Sydney.
On the other hand we did enjoy a few shows at the Sydney Opera House and could there be a more iconic venue for a musical or comedy performance?
This was something I never thought about until someone emailed me recently asking what the cockroach situation in Sydney is like as it was putting them off moving there. We did experience cockroaches in Sydney – I think at least 4 giant ones in our 3 years in Alexandria – but it was nothing a little bug spray couldn’t handle. Our building was regularly fumigated and we lived 3 floors up – not sure how those on lower levels get on in summer.
What did freak me out though was the bin chickens that roam Sydney. (I’d never seen a bird on the streets that looked like this before! ) In Melbourne our only issue has been ants, millions of them that have invaded every floor of our house every time we go away. Could just be bad luck though.
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It will be hard for me to ever choose between the two cities as they do offer quite a different lifestyle. In Sydney, we embraced the coastal walks, loved exploring all the golden beaches and scenic nooks of the harbour and even got into the whole smoothie and acai bowl healthy lifestyle – I think the weather encourages it.
Melbourne reminds me a lot more of home, which has good and bad consequences. Good because I can dress more like myself (think: dark layers) and enjoy the change of seasons and bad because it’s a long way to move to feel familiarity. I enjoyed finding a different side of myself in Sydney and experiencing a lifestyle that’s very different to home, whereas in Melbourne I’ve probably spent more time trying to recreate feelings of home and ending up disappointed when the results were different.
Of course, the major factor in all this, however, is the number of friends and family we have in Melbourne. We moved here to spend more time with them and that has been the best thing about this past year – celebrating our niece’s 1st birthday party in a national park, taking Justin’s gran for lunch in the Yarra Valley and hanging out with his Dad and pet roo (sorta) at his place in remote Gippsland.
I’ll never be able to objectively assess whether it’s better to live in Melbourne or Sydney because one of these places is my husband’s home and this past year it became mine too.
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18 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Live In Melbourne Compared To Sydney”
Hasn’t this question been argued about since Captain Cook landed? Maybe the aboriginal peoples argued it before then? And the one time Australia actually had to definitively make a decision… they chose to create Canberra instead. (“Hey, why isn’t Canberra on your comparison list?” said only people who haven’t been there).
As a visitor to Australia – and hence lacking your long term view – I feel that Sydney is the more eye-catching city. it is shiny and glamorous and Melbourne has nothing to rival the harbour. I can’t imagine ever tiring of That View. And yes, the climate is warmer, and beaches in town.
But… and to me, this is a deal-breaker… Melbourne feels more ‘genuine’. I think perhaps Melbourne has a more European vibe, whereas Sydney is perhaps more American. Maybe that’s behind the familiarity you wrote about? Melbourne feels like a living city, where Sydney can feel like a showpiece. Maybe the more variable climate feeds this too, because you have to adapt to the weather a bit more.
So, when I find a way to change my life and move to Australia, I will be going to Melbourne. And visiting Sydney.
I find it so interesting to see on what team people fall. I get asked the question a lot and while I agree with your assessment of Melbourne, I feel there is lots that is real about Sydney – especially in smaller neighbourhoods like Erskineville, Glebe, Balmain etc that each have their own vibe. Sydney is def more a showpiece but I think that’s one of the things I love about it.
I love both. And for different reasons. Sydney was home but it’s no longer the city I grew up in (albeit still beautiful) . That being said, I have to pinch myself everyday, I feel that lucky to be living in Melbourne. Can’t remember if we’ve discussed this but have you spent much time in Yarraville? I think it’s the closest thing to an English-village-within-a-city that I’ve experienced here.
YAS! We love Yarraville and spent some time sussing out houses there. I love the bookshops and little cafes and mainly that the layout wasn’t just a wide high street with trams and cars racing down the middle. I think the potential traffic to city/airport put us off in the end but in terms of vibes that is pretty much my dream area!
What is WITH the doors open in cafes/restaurants all through the winter?? It’s like everyone’s in collective denial that it gets cold in Australia at all.
I agree with what you said about Sydney feeling different enough that you can get into different things – I think I’m marginally more outdoorsy living here. I certainly enjoy the weather a lot more! I’ve struggled to find a ‘way in’ to Melbourne when I visited. For a casual visitor to Sydney, you start at the big shiny harbour and instantly recognisable sights and work your way out from there. In Melbourne there’s nothing to instantly grab you in quite the same way, so I didn’t quite get it the first few times I went. I’m getting there now… but I definitely prefer it in warmer weather vs colder! That wind is brutal!
The wind is mean isn’t it! And I just laughed as I’m in Sydney at the moment having breakfast in a cafe that has its doors wide open and outdoor heaters being used indoors. I’m so confused.
I agree that there is something so attractive about Sydney Harbour that you can’t help but want to explore all the different corners where as in Melbourne once you’ve done the laneways in the CBD you don’t know where to head next. I’ve loved our road trips around Victoria but we def travelled further from Melbourne than we ever felt the need to wander from Sydney.
“…whereas in Melbourne I’ve probably spent more time trying to recreate feelings of home and ending up disappointed when the results were different.”
I think you just put into words what I felt when I was living in Melbourne for 3 years while undertaking my BA, though I don’t think I realised until now that that’s what I was feeling at the time. Melbourne reminds me of the European cities in some many ways while Sydney is much more laid-back. I absolutely loved Melbourne even though I was feeling a bit homesick now and then (I’m from Norway and moved to Oz when I was 20 years old). The food and culture is amazing and there’s always something that will keep you busy. But the insulation is the absolute worst thing! I escaped Melbourne winter every year.
Insulation? What insulation lol. I completely understand your feelings on Melbourne, I’ve felt more homesick in 1 year here than I have in 3 years in Sydney and I think it’s because life is so different in Sydney you don’t draw as many comparisons.
I love both destinations.
For different reasons, but they are both amazing.
Well summarised haha. I feel very lucky to have called both home.
this is such a great post love them both!
Both destinations are amazing, but I prefer Melbourne! Thanks for sharing!
About to move to Melbourne next month from Central Coast-1hr north of Sydney. I’m scared and excited and anxious at the same time. I hope I can find more welcoming and friendly people in Melbourne as I found NSW a bit cliquey. The weather is beautiful in Central Coast so I’m hoping the adjustment wouldn’t be too hard. Reading the comments and tips are so helpful and gives me some idea of what to expect.
Great post. I don’t want to be too political, but I have unexpectedly become an Australian suffering from the poor housing policies of federal and state governments, which (continue to) promote housing as a private investment and not a need (like healthcare). Coupled with record immigration levels in the past two decades, this has resulted in prices doubling the last decade, reaching 8-9 times the average annual income, instead of 3-4 times. While the world is suffering generally from overpopulation and urban growth and unregulated people movements seeking some of what they know to be outside the Global South, it doesn’t have to impact on quality of Australian life this way. The Victorian government has (at least) responded much better than NSW’s, and is really planning for the city becoming Australia’s largest in future, by 2030. It includes a train to the airport from central Melbourne, and will join a city-ring train. There is also the plan to have a second city in Geelong, which. I hope means they do better than scuzzy Parramatta, with its flat-roofed, glass-fenced balconies full of crap, 20 storey cheap apartments, and dirty restaurants lining on a dark, dead high street. Haven’t these people been to places like Oslo and Paris! More Australian citizens are therefore moving to Melbourne, while more new immigrant PRs move to Sydney. I think Sydney glitters, but honestly, if a person asked me what to see/do in Sydney, I struggle to give them interesting sites beyond seven days stay. In Melbourne, there is the comedy/arts scene, which beats Sydney’s for accessibility and vibrancy. These are reasons why, although I was raised in Sydney and my family lives here, I am moving to Melbourne. House prices are about $200K less for a similar home about the same distance from the city centre. If you work in public health or government, this is a big difference in the cost of mortgage repayments over 20-30 years. It is a difference that amounts to private school fees, or an overseas trip every few years (or not), depending on personal priorities. I will spend some of my saved income on getting proper Nordic or German inspired insulation! If the government wants to generate a jobs scheme, and save energy costs, promote cosy as a basic building standard. I so agree with the ridiculous state of insulation in ALL cold areas of Australia. It is just as bad in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands. I am not sure why this was overlooked with our 19thC – 20thC migration from the UK and Europe. It’s weird. We now have great legislation for bush-fire prone areas, but nothing that requires energy-saving insulation in any area regularly below 15 degrees.
I bet you’d still prefer to live in Paddo or Balmain than anywhere in Melbourne lol… That’s the true test of which city you think is better 🙂
Haha it is hard to compete with Paddo and Balmain. If I had the budget…
No need to be so rude about the Ibis bird. Shows a lack of understanding.
If you still want a schnitzel sandwich try Poached on Lygon st in East Brunswick. It’s a great cheap meal that is almost enough for two as well as a welcome refuge from inner northern trendiness.