Sydney or Melbourne? Deciding where to live in Australia

Category: Australia & News & United Kingdom

If you’re moving to Australia, the choice of where to live is one everyone has to face. It’s a particularly important decision if you’re planning to move there to retire, too.

Clearly, there may be circumstances where you don’t have a choice. Maybe your location is being dictated by work, or you already have family in a certain city and are looking to join them.

But if you do have the luxury of being able to choose, it’s likely that a key part of your decision-making process will involve a comparison of the two cities who, between them, account for over 40% of the population – Melbourne and Sydney.

So, read more about both, including how they compare and what they can offer. Also, read the views of some bdhSterling colleagues who live in one or the other.

The two cities have a long-standing rivalry

There is a healthy and friendly rivalry between the two cities. This started during the 1850s gold rush that brought many to Australia, through the official founding of the nation in 1901, and right up to the present day.

That history is one of the reasons why the nation’s founders compromised and sited the national capital, and home of the Australian parliament, midway between the two in Canberra.

It’s also a debate still going on today, and people from both cities are happy to enter it with gusto.

A quick Google search will find you several articles about why Sydney is better than Melbourne and an equal number explaining why Melbourne is better than Sydney without too much trouble.

The population levels are remarkably the same

Both Sydney and Melbourne are vast cities with diverse cultures, growing suburbs, and attractive landscapes.

Their respective populations – Sydney 5.12 million and Melbourne 5.23 million – are remarkably similar. Both have grown, and are continuing to grow, at similar rates.

The population comparison even garnered a headline on the BBC website recently when, following a boundary change, Melbourne overtook Sydney as Australia’s most populous city for the first time since the 19th century.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, The Sydney Morning Herald was dismissive of the announcement and described the redrawn boundary as “a technicality”.

Both enjoy excellent weather

Sydney and Melbourne do have slightly different climates, even though they’re not drastically far away from each other. They are separated by a nine-hour drive, which is a relatively short trip from an Australian perspective.

Melbourne’s geographic position further south means the weather is somewhat milder, although that’s not to say you won’t see high temperatures in the summer months.

You may often hear the suggestion that Melbourne has more of a British climate than other Australian cities, which is true to an extent, but without the very cold winter conditions.

Average temperatures in Sydney are more consistent across the weeks and months of the different seasons. Its geographic location means Melbourne is more susceptible to sudden changes in climate. Hence the saying – “if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour”.

Average property prices are higher in Sydney

Unsurprisingly, the two cities have the highest residential property prices in Australia, although they have fallen recently. However, a recent Financial Review article suggested that the fall in prices, driven by rising mortgage interest rates, could be bottoming out.

The table below provides the current median prices, as of May 2023.

Sources: Rate City (Sydney) Open Agent (Melbourne)

For comparison purposes, based on current exchange rates according to, $1 million equates to £533,394, as of 12 May 2023.

Clearly, those are average figures, and the further out you go from each city centre, the more space you’ll get for your money, both in terms of the size of the property itself, and surrounding land.

Both cities have thriving sports and cultural scenes

The leading sport in each city provides an interesting measure of differentiation.

Sydney is very much a Rugby League (NRL) city. The sport was first popularised in Australia there, and there are several sides spread among the Sydney suburbs.

The NRL only expanded to Melbourne relatively recently, although – much to the chagrin of Sydneysiders – the Melbourne Storm have enjoyed a lot of success since their formation.

Conversely, the other main winter sport – Australian Rules Football (AFL) – was devised, and is still centred, in Melbourne. Although, as with the NRL, it has spread to Sydney with two professional teams now based there.

When it comes to cricket, the rivalry is very much at state level in terms of New South Wales v Victoria. You will find disagreement around the merits of the two stadiums – Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

Beyond team sports, both cities have thriving cultural scenes in their respective city centres, and both enjoy a preponderance of theatres, art galleries, cinemas, and music venues.

Don’t forget there are other options

Of course, it doesn’t just come down to a binary choice between Melbourne and Sydney in terms of where you might want to live.

There are a variety of other options including bigger towns and cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth, as well as smaller towns and coastal resorts between the major cities.

If you will want to buy a home in Australia, it’s worth looking into other areas as the property there is significantly cheaper to buy than in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s an important decision to get right

When you’re deciding where to live, you’ll want to make the right decision. This is the case both in terms of the city you choose, and then the area within in.

To give yourself the best possible chance of making the correct choice, four key steps you’ll want to ensure you take are:

  1. Doing your own research, and visiting if possible
  2. Checking the job market and companies in the sector you work in
  3. Checking important criteria such as transport links, schools, and medical facilities
  4. Asking the opinion of people you trust.

One tip we’d always suggest is to look to rent your residential property in the first instance, rather than immediately deciding to buy a house or flat.

Both Sydney and Melbourne have a range of diverse suburbs, so renting will give you some breathing space and enable you to check out an area from the point of view of living there, rather than just visiting.

We have offices in both Melbourne and Sydney

As part of the research for this article, we asked some bdhSterling colleagues from our offices in Melbourne and Sydney for their reasons why they enjoy living where they do.

The replies included:

“I love living in Melbourne because of the diverse mix of people, the great range of restaurants and bars – and the trams!” Rachael Holder, Pension Transfer Specialist

“I love living in Sydney due to the access to nature and the beaches. Within 10 minutes, you can be at the beach and within an hour you can be in a national park.” Leo Milton, Financial Planner (General)

“The reason I love living in Sydney is the harbour. It’s unmatched.” Peter Higgins, Senior Financial Planner

Get in touch

At bdhSterling, we have a wealth of experience in helping clients transition from the UK to live in Australia.

Get in touch to find out how we can help you.

Please note

This article is for information only. Please do not solely rely on anything you have read in this article and ensure that you conduct your own research to ensure any actions you may take are suitable for your circumstances.