Sydney or Melbourne?


It seems to be the age old question here in Australia: Sydney or Melbourne? Which is better? The people I’ve come across in the past two months have fairly strong opinions.
“We don’t like Melbourne very much. We’ll go to watch sport, but other than that, there’s nothing to see!”
Or “Sure, Sydney’s alright I guess, if you’re into that showy, over-the-top tourist stuff. But Melbourne’s real. Melbourne’s the place to be”
After having spent a week in both cities, I understand what everyone means. The two cities have a completely unique feel to them. They both have their ups and downs, and they are both easy to fall in love with. But I’m not so easily sold on one.
Despite the weather, my week in Sydney was incredible. Could have been the people I was with, could have been the hostel I stayed at, but most likely it was the vibrancy of the city.
Sure Sydney has loads of tourists. But they’re there for a reason. Standing in front of the Sydney Opera House, looking across the Harbour at the bridge is one of those “wow” traveling moments. It’s how I imagine people must feel when arriving by ship into the Harbour of New York City: the Statue of Liberty and cloud high sky rises waiting to greet you. The Sydney Harbour is so iconic and so recognizable that it feels almost surreal to be wandering around the thick of it all.
Sydney has an oversized sense of beauty to it: Hyde park with it’s towering monuments and impeccably kept rows of trees; the bustling Darling Harbour and The Royal Botanical gardens, so large you could be lost in there for days. The city is very put together. China town runs down two streets in organized chaos. Well kept shop fronts, modern looking patio seats and a gated off Chinese Garden that sits in the city center like an oasis. Areas like The Rocks have perfectly preserved buildings and cobble stone streets that overlook the main harbour. And the city’s suburbs have equally as much character: the more popular Manly and Kiribili were wonderful to stroll around, and even the more obscure Cronulla, which I was lucky enough to get to couch surf in, had a quiet charm to it.
Yep, Sydney is beautiful, and full of life, and bustling at all times of the day and night! Every corner is another photo opportunity: another monument, famous icon, or picturesque roadway.
Melbourne is the opposite. Melbourne is the less showy, more arts oriented of the two cities. There’s no “holy crap” moment, or photos at every turn, but Melbourne has one of the most unique city vibes I’ve ever experienced.
You are more likely to find a person dressed in combat boots and a burlap sack than a row of men in business suits. Melbourne is geared towards the young, edgy and overly hipster crowd. The city’s essence is found in its alleyways. Cafe’s, restaurants, busking musicians, craft markets, street grafitti: these are the heart of Melbourne. A place is almost not worth visiting if it’s on a main road. But turn the corner into the laneway and you’ll discover the newest, most hip place in town.
At first, I found a loss of WHAT to do in Melbourne. After the initial city tours and basic exploring, there were few places I felt the need to see. It was then that I realized you don’t sight-see in Melbourne, you just exist. You take in the culture, find a cafe, read a book. It’s a lifestyle, not a destination.
For a decision anxious person like myself, Melbourne is slightly overwhelming. Where should I eat? Which cafe should I sit at? The options are endless. So very, very endless…
Moments ago I saw a sign that read “The top 90 lunch spots in Melbourne!”
Lunch spots.
There are so many places to eat lunch, that someone narrowed them down to the top NINETY…
The most incredible thing is, they are all so unique. Take any one of the crazy restaurants or pubs in Melbourne, put it in Vancouver, and it will instantly be the new, cool, edgy hangout. In one night, Panos and I visited a funky bar floating on the river (Ponyfish), a mad scientist bar that served drinks in syringes (Croft Institute), an outside pub with stacked wooden palates as seats (Section 8) and a night club with retro songs by artists like James Brown and the most eclectic grouping of people on Earth (Cherry Bar). Rooftop oases like “the Rooftop Bar” or “Naked For Satan” sprawl across the city. Back alley cafe’s that I couldn’t even begin to name are found every couple meters! The city is crawling with hole-in-the-wall joints just waiting to be discovered.
And then the grafitti.
All over the city, the alleyway walls are covered from pavement to rooftop with elaborate artwork in all genres. From simple name tags, to intricate portraits of human faces, you’ll see it all on the streets of Melbourne. To be fair, it’s a unique way of dealing with street art. The mayor has given permission in areas for artists to display their artwork. Some areas are commissioned for specific artists, and other areas are open to the world. Every couple weeks an alley can have an entirely different look to it. An artist could spend weeks painting a portrait, just to have some kid scrawl his name across the top of it three days later.
But however you feel about Melbourne’s eclectic and somewhat messy street art, it seems as though it’s here to stay.
To me, choosing between Melbourne and Sydney is like comparing apples and oranges. The two cities are so different, it’s hard to say if one is really “better” than the other. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped the long rivalry between the two! When Sydney built the largest IMAX in the world, Melbourne built one larger. When Sydney found out, they renovated to make sure they were number one again!
But all that upmanship aside, I’m glad to have spent time in both, and I’m already looking forward to coming back!