The Great Melbourne/Sydney Debate Part 1

Ever since moving to Australia, I’ve noticed a common theme when discussing the two largest cities.

“Sydney is the place to be, you just HAVE to go, there is way more going on there than in Melbourne.”

“What?! No! Honestly I wouldn’t bother with Sydney. Melbourne has a much nicer vibe and is full of culture.”

An age-old debate, you’re in the Sydney camp or you’re in the Melbourne camp and an opinion on the matter one must have.

Historically, the rivalry between the cities hasn’t played out too smoothly either. Canberra was selected to be the location of Australia’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between the two feuding cities.

So, with all this in mind, there was only one way to find out: a few days in Melbourne followed by a few days in Sydney to find out what all the fuss is about.


We started with Melbourne. The capital of Victoria and home to 4 million people, it was an important meeting place for the Kulin Indigenous people who occupied the land for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. Conflict between the two groups soon broke out and the Aboriginal people were forced to leave their land.

Royal Exhibition Building: the first building in Australia to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status

In 1837 the city was officially named after Lord Melbourne, the British Prime Minister at the time. In 1851 the surge of wealth following the discovery of gold nearby led to the development of housing, schools and churches, and a population explosion which turned Melbourne into a prosperous and successful city. The International Exhibition of 1880 cemented Melbourne’s position on the world map and earned it the title of “Marvellous Melbourne.” Last year Melbourne was named the world’s most liveable city for the fifth year running and it is fondly known as the European city of Australia and a cultural hub.

When you arrive in Melbourne today, you would be forgiven for wondering if you had actually left Brisbane at all (I suppose the flight was very early, it could have all been a dream). Met with a familiar view of a modern, futuristic CBD and a Southbank with token wheel, everything in these cities is just so… new. While I’m aware that spending the last 5 years at a university that recently celebrated its 600th anniversary and working in a cathedral that dated back to 1160 has rather spoiled me for history, I’m beginning to realise how much of the history back home I take for granted. The presence of the past surrounds you when travelling around Scotland, but a stroll through an Australian CBD today is like a glimpse into the future.

View from the Eureka skydeck (the highest public vantage point in a building in the Southern Hemisphere at 285 m). From left to right: the CBD, Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, the River Yarra then the start of the Botanic Gardens

Melbourne definitely has a great feel. Even in the business districts, the frantic rush and stress that so often characterises major cities is noticeably absent. People are just strolling along, coffee in hand, looking very trendy. (Side note: if I was a coffee drinker I would report on the coffee here, but alas you will just have to take everyone’s word that it is very good, even the walking tour guide made us swear we would not go to Starbucks during our stay.) The layout of the centre is great (apparently they learnt from Sydney on this one), with plenty of bustling lanes full of coffee shops and street art. The chilled vibe sets the scene for some great street performers too.

As for transport, Melbourne boasts the world’s largest urban tram network with 180 million trips taken per year on clean, efficient and user-friendly trams. Best of all, in the centre, all journeys are free! The main railway network stems from Flinders Street Station – Australia’s oldest train station, completed in 1909 and a cultural icon of Melbourne.

Flinders Street Station (the free tourist tram is in front and the Eureka skydeck is behind)

An interesting feature of the gardens is the metal sheeting hugging all the trees in a futile attempt to keep the possums at bay. Zoom in a little closer and you see a possum taking a nap above the metal, obstinately defiant in the face of authority.


The Fitzroy Gardens also contain a model tudor village which was “presented to Melbourne by the citizens of Lambeth, England in appreciation of gifts of food dispatched from Victoria to England during food shortages following WW2.” It’s very cute!

A bustling market and the extravagant Dome Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria are worth a visit too, as well as St Kilda beach and Luna Park.

State Library of Victoria

So there you have Melbourne in a nutshell. It’s not Europe but I can see where the tag comes from (ok I admit it, being from Europe makes me a culture snob!). However I am definitely a fan and can see how it would be a great place to live; Sydney has some stiff competition. Stay tuned to read the final verdict…


2 thoughts on “The Great Melbourne/Sydney Debate Part 1

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