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If you’re wondering what living in Sydney vs Melbourne is like, this comparison from an expat will run through differences such as the weather in Melbourne compared to Sydney, nightlife, rental costs, house prices, culture and population.
I’ve lived in Sydney since 2016, but I’ve spent some time in Melbourne too, and there are some big differences between the two cities.
If you’re thinking of moving to Sydney from Melbourne or vice versa (or moving to Australia from another country!) read on to decide which city is better, Melbourne or Sydney? Alternatively, watch my YouTube video below.
1. Where are Sydney and Melbourne in Australia?
Both Sydney and Melbourne lie on the south-eastern corner of Australia’s coastline. Sydney sits on the southern end of the east coast of Australia, and Melbourne sits on the eastern end of the south coast of Australia.
It takes around 10 hours to drive from Sydney to Melbourne, or 12 hours if you drive along the coastline. In Australian terms, that’s actually quite close! They’re practically neighbours in terms of the big cities!
The east coast of Australia and the south-eastern corner of Australia are well developed and populated, so you’ve got decent roads and good transport links to other cities. You’re not isolated like you would be somewhere like Perth.
Sydney and Melbourne both have international airports too, so you can easily reach other destinations in Australia and overseas.
2. Melbourne vs Sydney Population
While Canberra is Australia’s capital city, Sydney and Melbourne are the two most-populated cities in Australia. Sydney has a population of 5.5 million inhabitants, while Melbourne has a slightly smaller population, with 5.2 million inhabitants.
According to this projection by the Australian government, Melbourne’s population is set to overtake Sydney’s by 2030! Numbers aside, both Sydney and Melbourne are vast, sprawling cities with skyscrapers and diverse cultures, suburbs and landscapes.
3. Melbourne vs Sydney Weather
Sydney and Melbourne do have different climates, even though they’re not drastically far away from each other.
Sydney is generally a little bit warmer than Melbourne. People tend to say that Melbourne has more of a British climate, but it definitely reaches some much hotter temperatures than the UK! It can hit above 40 degrees sometimes!
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, both Sydney and Melbourne reach their hottest average temperatures in January.
The average maximum temperature in January is 26.0 degrees in Sydney and 25.9 degrees in Melbourne. At night, the average minimum temperature in January is 18.8 degrees in Sydney and 14.3 degrees in Melbourne.
The coldest month for Sydney and Melbourne is July.
The average minimum temperature in July is 16.4 degrees in Sydney and 13.5 degrees in Melbourne. At night, the average minimum temperature in July is 8.1 degrees in Sydney and 6.0 degrees in Melbourne.
The amount of sunshine varies significantly between Melbourne and Sydney, which could be an important factor for those of you wanting the sunny, beach lifestyle!
Sydney has an average of 103.9 days of sunshine a year on average, whereas Melbourne only has an average of 48.6 days of sunshine a year.
For comparison, Perth is the sunniest state capital city in Australia, with an average of 138.7 days of sunshine per year. Hobart is the least sunny, with 44.8 sunny days per year.
Sydney and Melbourne both have an average of 100 days of rain per year, more than any other state capital in Australia!
However, the average rainfall in Sydney is 1,211.1 mm per year, and Melbourne’s is only 644.2 mm! I can verify after seven years of living in Sydney that the rain tends to be extremely heavy! Melbourne’s rainfall is often more like the British drizzle.
Erratic and Extreme Weather
Melbourne is well known for having very erratic weather, which can change dramatically in a day. The last time I was in Melbourne, it was 42 degrees and then suddenly dropped to 15 overnight!
There was also this huge sandstorm or something, with the strongest wind I’ve ever known! I genuinely thought we were having a tornado! Another day we were on the beach, and suddenly an enormous wind came out of nowhere, and everyone grabbed their stuff and ran!
While Melbourne has very unpredictable weather, Sydney has some extreme weather too. Thunderstorms are quite common in Sydney, as well as very large hailstones and sometimes flooding.
4. Melbourne Beaches vs Sydney Beaches
Both Sydney and Melbourne are coastal cities with a great choice of beaches to visit.
While everyone’s heard of Bondi Beach, people often don’t realise that Sydney is actually lined with over 100 beaches!
Sydney has over 20 beaches in the Eastern Suburbs, a huge run of beautiful beaches in the Northern Beaches region and even more along Sydney Harbour, Cronulla and Botany Bay!
While Melbourne does have beaches, the city better known for its fantastic culture and city attractions, which I’ll cover further down.
Much of Melbourne’s coastline runs around Port Phillip Bay. A few examples of Melbourne beaches are Brighton Beach, with the colourful painted huts, St. Kilda beach, probably the most well-known, and Black Rock. There’s also the Mornington Peninsula, if you travel a little bit further.
I personally think Sydney beats Melbourne in terms of how nice its beaches are, but that’s just my opinion!
5. Melbourne vs Sydney Cost of Living
Are living expenses cheaper in Melbourne or Sydney? Let’s break down some additional costs of living between these two major cities.
If you’re moving to Australia permanently and will want to buy a home, you’d better have a big budget if you’re hoping to live in Sydney or Melbourne!
Sydney is the most expensive city in Australia in terms of buying property, and one of the most expensive cities in the world. Melbourne is usually the second most expensive city for property, but Canberra has now overtaken it.
It’s worth noting that during the pandemic, property prices shot up across many areas of Australia in an unprecedented way. Regional areas in Australia became more popular to live in, and a lot of people chose to move north to Queensland.
In 2023, property prices began falling across much of Australia, taking some of the heat out of the market!
According to this monthly property report from Corelogic at the start of July 2023, the median house price in Sydney during June 2023 was $1,324,396, whereas the median house price in Melbourne was $918,971.
The median unit (flat) price in Sydney in June 2023 was $808,407, and the median unit price in Melbourne was $601,174.
Learn more in my blog post on Australian property prices and trends.
While Melbourne is still one of the most expensive cities in Australia to buy property in, it has become one of the cheapest cities to rent in due to the pandemic.
Melbourne had a very tough time with regards to lockdowns, and approximately 74k Victorians moved away to other states or abroad during the year to June 2021, lowering the demand for rentals. As a comparison, only 22k people moved away from New South Wales during that time period.
From this June 2023 report on rent.com.au, the median weekly rent in Sydney for a house was $800, compared to $520 in Melbourne. The median weekly rent for a unit (flat) was $650 in Sydney and $500 in Melbourne.
Read my blog post on rent in Australia to learn how rent compares across the Australian cities and how to find a rental property.
With both rent and property prices being significantly cheaper in Melbourne, your cost of living is likely to be higher in Sydney vs Melbourne overall.
Cost of Utilities
According to the Budget Direct website, the average cost of electricity, heating, water and garbage for an 85 metre-squared apartment in Melbourne is $212.18 per month, compared to $190.19 in Sydney.
Public Transport and Fuel
The same article on Budget Direct calculated the average cost of a monthly public transport pass in Sydney to be $217.39, compared toa significantly cheaper $156.00 in Melbourne.
The article also found that groceries are 1.59% more expensive in Sydney than in Melbourne, and restaurant prices are 2.59% more expensive in Melbourne.
6. Melbourne vs Sydney Nightlife, Culture and Lifestyle
As much as I love Sydney, I personally think that Melbourne has better nightlife, culture and entertainment than Sydney! I would say Melbourne is best known for its amazing city attractions, cool arts scene and hosting of sporting events.
Melbourne has lots of funky cafes, great street art, and it’s a very fashion-focused city. It’s definitely more fashion conscious than Sydney, I would say.
I remember arriving in Melbourne on my last visit, in my backpacker shorts and t-shirts, and feeling immediately boring and uncool in what I was wearing!
You can find out more in my blog post on the top things to do in Melbourne.
Sydney also has plenty of nightlife and theatres, but the city is better known for its scenery, beaches and beautiful Sydney Harbour.
If you move to Sydney, you’ll be able to enjoy miles of coastal hikes, such as the famous Bondi to Coogee walk, rugged national parks, bootcamps on the beach and fun day trips without even leaving the city.
Sydney isn’t all hiking and nature though! It also has plenty of hipster suburbs, such as Newtown, Glebe and Marrickville, that have great restaurants and bars! The Inner West region, particularly, has become popular with cool, arty types!
Learn more about Sydney’s inner-city suburbs in my rundown of the best areas to stay in Sydney.
Remember that both of these cities are huge and span inland for miles and miles. If you come to Australia as a visitor, or you’re young and want to spend a year or two living in the city enjoying the nightlife, then things like city-centre attractions might be important.
For those of you moving to Australia with a family, you’re more likely to live in an ordinary family suburb outside of the inner-city. In this case, there may not be that much difference between Sydney and Melbourne lifestyle for you.
Learn about the different regions of Sydney in my where to live in Sydney guide. I’ve house sat in around 100 Sydney suburbs all over the city and know the city pretty well!
If you will want to buy a home in Australia, it’s worth looking into Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide too, as the property there is significantly cheaper to buy than in Sydney and Melbourne.
Remember, all of this is just based on my personal observations and experiences, and somebody else might have a totally different opinion to me!
7. Travel Destinations Near Sydney and Melbourne
Both Sydney and Melbourne lie on beautiful parts of the Australian coastline and are surrounded with amazing places to visit, both inland and by the beach. Both cities also have international airports, so you can easily travel overseas or fly to other parts of Australia.
Being situated on the eastern, more populated, side of Australia, there are plenty of destinations you can drive to from Sydney and Melbourne.
Also, it’s only a short flight up to Queensland from NSW or Victoria, for a winter getaway in the sun. Here are some ideas of trips you can take from Sydney and Melbourne.
Mountain Ranges & Inland Destinations
From Sydney, it’s only a two-hour drive inland to the Blue Mountains, a beautiful region of NSW. I love visiting this area, as the quaint villages and mountain air makes such a change from Sydney!
A 90-minute drive southwest from Sydney takes you to the lovely Southern Highlands. This is another rural area with quaint little towns full of heritage buildings. Two hours north lies the Hunter Valley, with its popular wineries.
From Melbourne, you can drive to the Grampians mountains in three hours, where you’ll be able to get out and hike for miles!
Just an hour’s drive east of Melbourne is the pretty Dandenong Ranges, a lovely spot for a day trip.
If you’re into skiing, you can visit Kosciusko National Park, which lies Sydney and Melbourne and gets snow in the winter.
You can also enjoy a cultural weekend in Canberra, which lies between the two cities and has lots of museums and art galleries, as well as the main government buildings.
In terms of beach destinations just outside Sydney, it’s an easy 90-minute drive up to pretty Central Coast NSW. You’ll find lots of great beaches and national parks, as well as fun holiday spots like Terrigal.
Just south of Sydney is Wollongong, a small city lined with beautiful beaches and coastal hikes.
From Melbourne, an hour’s drive southwest from the city is the beachside city of Geelong. Further along lie Torquay or Lorne, pretty surf towns in Victoria.
Heading south from Melbourne takes you to the scenic Mornington Peninsula. A three-hour drive southeast is gorgeous Wilsons Promontory, home to mountains, rivers and beautiful beaches.
Melbourne is the gateway to the Great Ocean Road, which has to be the most famous scenic drive in Australia. It’s full of amazing rock formations, such as the 12 Apostles, as well as rainforest and fun holiday towns.
Sydney has the Grand Pacific Drive, a picturesque driving route that snakes down from the Royal National Park to Wollongong and crosses the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge.
You can also do a beautiful, long road trip between Sydney and Melbourne if you have the time. Check out my Sydney to Melbourne road trip itinerary for ideas.
So, which is better Melbourne or Sydney? Both cities offer a fantastic lifestyle, if you can afford to live in them. I personally prefer Sydney, because of the sunnier weather and beaches.
I can see how some people would think Melbourne is better than Sydney though, with its cafes, nightlife and arty vibe.
In summary, I would describe Melbourne as a cool, edgy, fashionable city with more city attractions, and Sydney as a pretty, glam, outdoorsy city with more natural attractions.
- To read more city comparisons and lifestyle overviews, have a look at my page, where to live in Australia.
- To find out how Sydney compares to other cities, check out my comparisons of Sydney vs Perth and Sydney vs Brisbane.
- Learn how Melbourne compares to Perth in my comparison of Perth vs Melbourne.
Best of luck with your move!
Lisa Bull, founder of Dreaming of Down Under, has been living in Australia as a British expat since 2015. After travelling to every state and territory in Australia and living in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, Lisa knows from first-hand experience the best destinations to visit in Australia and the best budget travel tips. Her guides on this blog have been read by over 700k readers and helped thousands of people achieve their dream of living in or travelling Australia.