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Which is better - Melbourne or Sydney (and why)

We all know how rivalries go.  Sibling rivalry, family rivalry, rivalry at school, in sport, in the workplace, in politics (just look at the state of the US).

But what about city rivalries?  And for an international student looking to set themselves up in Australia, where’s the best place to live?

Australia’s two biggest cities, Melbourne & Sydney, have been going head-to-head to secure the crown of Best Aussie City since..well, forever.  Or more to the point, the 1800s.

A bit of background

Despite New South Wales being the first State in Australia to be freshly colonised in 1788, it wasn’t long before Melbourne took the lead as the biggest, richest city in the country in 1858, largely thanks to the Victorian gold rush.  Sydney regained its title of largest city in 1901 - and Melbourne’s never quite forgiven them for it.  But Sydney won’t want to get too comfy - according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Melbourne is set to retake the lead by 2026 thanks to a booming international population.

During the past 200 years, both cities have been guilty of taking aim at one another, either bragging about their own prowess, dissing the other for their failings - or having someone else do it for them:

“Of the two cities I must confess a preference for Melbourne; it is cleaner, better planned, and takes life more comfortably" - UK Royal Navy Lieutenant, Charles Richard (1924)

“Melbourne is the anus of the world” - Jerry Seinfeld, US comedian (1998)

But first, let’s talk about the weather

Are you a sun worshipper?  Or more of a ski bunny?  When it comes to choosing where to live & study, this alone could be the deciding factor for you.  Sydney has far more sunny days than its southern counterpart, while Melbourne is famous for the tag “Four seasons in one day”.

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Say no more.

The plus side of all that cooler Melbourne weather is the ski season.  The State of Victoria boasts the largest number of ski resorts in Australia, with ski season running during the winter months from June to August.

Can’t get enough sun?  Then Sydney’s where it’s at.  With a comfortable average temperature of 17C degrees during winter, it beats Melbourne winters by 3 degrees.  Sydney also has less cloudy days and a milder climate overall. And then, of course, there’s Bondi beach in the summer...

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And the Most Liveable City Award goes to…

For more than 30 years now, Melbourne has been regularly listed in international liveability studies as being one of the most liveable cities in the world. Since the 1990s, Melbourne has ranked in the top ten for its education, safety, sport, transport & social scene, and from 2010 to 2017 it was ranked the number one most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  These days, it sits at a very respectable second place below Vienna. Take that, Sydney.

Rugby League vs AFL Football

Into your sports?  Then pick a side.

Sydneysiders love nothing more than their full-contact, full tackle rugby league, or NRL.  Founded in 1908, it’s now the most popular winter sport in New South Wales, with ten teams to its name.  Not sure what rugby league is?  Think American grid iron, but without all the protective padding.

Meanwhile, Melbournites are all about their AFL football, or footy. With nine Melbourne teams, footy originated way back in 1858, only going national to become the AFL in 1990.  Seeing the big men fly at the MCG, the heartland of Australian Rules Football, is an absolute must-do for sports fans.

Sydney & Melbourne - in a nutshell

Still can’t pick a favourite?  Then here’s a nifty breakdown for you:

If you’re into...

Then you’ll love...

Food & Wine




Arts (art galleries, museums)


Live music


Sunny weather


Cooler weather








Harbour views










School’s out

So while we’re here, let’s talk about schools.  Both Melbourne & Sydney have a terrific set of universities for both local & overseas students, with regional areas also holding their own in terms of education.

Marvellous Melbourne

Melbourne currently has seven universities teaching around 300,000 students per year. With more than a third of the students coming from overseas, it’s one of the largest international study destinations in the world.

Their top universities include: 

  • University of Melbourne
  • Monash University
  • RMIT University
  • Deakin University
  • LaTrobe University

Moving out to regional Victoria (which will make you eligible for permanent residency via the popular 491 visa), you also have:

  • LaTrobe University (Bendigo, Shepparton, Wodonga or Mildura campuses)
  • Deakin University (Geelong & Warrnambool campuses)
  • Monash University (Mildura campus)
  • Melbourne University (Shepparton campus)

Stunning Sydney

As one of Australia’s best-known, most vibrant destinations and surrounded by world-famous attractions (hello Opera House), Sydney has six universities under its belt and is one of the country’s biggest, most diverse student cities.

Their top universities include: 

  • The University of Sydney
  • Macquarie University
  • The University of New South Wales 
  • Western Sydney University

Regional New South Wales also has an awesome range of universities, including: 

  • Newcastle University
  • Wollongong University
  • Charles Sturt University (in Wagga Wagga)
  • Southern Cross University  (in Lismore)

Want to know more about how you can make a start studying or living in Australia?  Talk to your local IDP counsellor (add link) for assistance in Australian study or visa applications.

Did you find this article helpful?

You can explore more stories by international students in our blog.


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