I would have called this piece A Tale of Two Cities, but Charles Dickens beat me to it. So I’ll settle for Sydney versus Melbourne, because that’s what it’s all about – the traditional rivalry between Sydney, New South Wales, and Melbourne, Victoria, that some regard as fun but which others think is childish. In an effort to sum up the differences in a few words, some say that Sydney has more to see while Melbourne has more to do. Others, less kindly and clearly favouring the Victorian city, say that Melbourne is a city of markets and Sydney is a city of supermarkets.
Most travellers know something about Sydney, Australia’s largest city, even if they haven’t been there. They will have read about it or seen documentaries, all highlighting the attractiveness of the harbour, the bridge, the opera house and the beaches.
Some may even be familiar with Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city and the Victorian state capital, but its charms are a little more subtle. It has beautiful parks and gardens, a river (the Yarra) running through the city, trams, a truly cosmopolitan ambience and, perhaps best of all, an exquisite café culture found in the intimate laneways of the city, as well as an extraordinary choice of restaurants and cuisines.
The purpose of this blog is to compare the two cities. I lived in Sydney for 27 years and now I live in the beautiful Southern Highlands, 60 miles south of Sydney, but I’m not biased, truly I’m not. The Highlands remind me of my native England and if I were to continue that kind of comparison I would have to say that Melbourne is more like European cities than is Sydney.
I mentioned Melbourne’s café culture and, just recently, Sydney has also got into this laneway caper with the launch of YCK Laneways, a precinct containing Sydney’s best small bars clustered around York, Clarence and Kent streets, hence the “YCK”. The area pulses with life while its industrial heritage lives on, with many of the bars embracing restored original architecture in their lane and storehouse locations.
Adding fuel to the fire, Melbourne is now tipped to overtake Sydney as Australia’s biggest city within the next five years. And by 2030 its population is projected to be 6.2 million, compared with the 6 million estimated for the New South Wales capital. Shock, horror! Whatever next?
Meanwhile, new hotels are springing up in both cities at an astonishing rate that belies the still-present pandemic. Among these is one in Sydney that may interest seasoned travellers familiar with the neoclassical-style Fullerton Hotel in Singapore.
Fullerton’s Singaporean operator has taken over the handsome heritage building in Sydney’s central Martin Place that formerly housed The Westin Hotel and recently opened The Fullerton Hotel Sydney (above), which caters to both business and leisure travellers. Downstairs, The Bar has already become a recognised meeting spot.
And in Melbourne the Ritz-Carlton is destined to become an attraction in its own right as the tallest hotel in Australia when it opens early next year. Upon arrival guests will enter the hotel lobby via the porte-cochere and take an elevator directly to the hotel’s sky check-in on level 79, where they will enjoy panoramic views across Melbourne’s CBD and beyond.
Without banging on too much about hotels it’s worth mentioning fledgling Australian brand Little National, which has arrived in Sydney promising affordable luxury to savvy travellers. The key innovation, the operators say, is the Japanese-style accommodation – the rooms are modest in size (which I suspect is code for “small”), but the hotel’s high ceilings and great natural light ensure you won’t feel cramped, they promise. Instead of a restaurant and room service, the hotel encourages you to order food to the front desk using your preferred delivery app.
ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, reopened in Melbourne this year following a $34.8 million redevelopment. One of the country’s most progressive cultural icons, Australia’s museum of film, TV, video games, digital culture and video art is the most visited moving image museum in the world.
As part of the new design, ACMI’s Federation Square home has been stripped back to reveal a spacious, light-filled interior. The fresh new space will feature emerging technologies and eye-catching architecture, in what is described as a globally connected museum of the future.
Finally, Vivid Sydney is a (usually) annual creative festival bursting with innovation and technology, which has unfortunately been cancelled for the second year in a row because of you-know-what. But it will be back next year from 27 May to 18 June. The festival illuminates the city of Sydney with mesmerising art displays and 3D light projections, providing a great excuse for background celebrations, as if one were needed. The photos below were taken at the last event.
So which city is best, Sydney or Melbourne? When conditions permit, you’ll just have to come and judge for yourself. If Australia’s COVID vaccination rollout continues at the present rate, Qantas will resume regular flights to the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Singapore and Fiji in December this year.