Back around the time Australia became a Federation a century or so ago, uniting the six independent colonies into a single country, there was a big internal debate about which burgeoning city should be its capital. It eventually came down to Sydney versus Melbourne, and since neither town would yield, the government finally just picked Canberra, a spot smack-bang in the middle of the two.
The point is, the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry is not a new one, and is not entirely unlike the tired battle between LA and New York. In both scenarios, one city has colder weather, which apparently makes people dress better — or just in black — and is known for having a better bar and coffee scene, which makes it, like, so much more cultured. The other city is filled with shallow, beautiful, fit people who spend all day at the beach thinking about their next plastic surgery. Melbourne is the moody New Yorker in this analogy, and Sydney is sun-bronzed LA.
As a native-born Sydney-sider now living in New York, I have plenty of thoughts on this cliched dichotomy. But I was always heartened that among the international set, my hometown was the obvious choice for an Australian adventure — the weather sunnier, the people friendlier, and hello Bondi Beach and Sydney Harbor.
Something strange has happened over the last few years, though. In the U.S., New York gave up its cool kid designation to LA, a shift that rightfully saw residents trading in gloomy winters and subway delays for sunny skies, wide beaches, and tacos. Apparently, now that everyone and their mother has moved to LA, they would prefer an Australian vacation away from the sun and water: Sydney, long the favorite among international media, has ceded its cool kid reputation to Melbourne. Melbourne. With its long, cold winters and its pretentious graffiti-filled laneways and its sad excuses for beaches. In the ultimate act of betrayal, my very own employer’s 14-story food and travel guide does the same. A homesick Sydney expat (living in New York, no less) can only handle so much.
Doing my duty as a loyal Sydney-sider, I am here to tell you that many of the wonderful things you read about Melbourne culture (or kul-cha, in Australian) can also be found in Sydney, but with better weather and — I cannot stress this enough — a stretch of coastline that is nothing less than iconic. There’s not a cool restaurant in the world that can compete with that. And now, a completely biased argument for Sydney’s overall superiority as a travel destination.
The food is absolutely incredible
Know where to go in Sydney’s Chinatown, and you’ll find some of the best Chinese food you’ve ever had — don’t sleep on the pippies in XO sauce at Golden Century. The Sydney Fish Market, the third-largest in the world, is a huge, unique seafood experience, where you can shop for fresh local fish in a sprawling collection of stalls right on Sydney harbor. The Indian, Lebanese, and Vietnamese restaurants that run alongside lively pubs on Cleveland Street make Surry Hills an essential dining neighborhood. Newtown’s King Street is home to one of the city’s liveliest restaurant scenes, pulling in the university crowd with eclectic bars, microbreweries, and the beloved Mary’s burger.
And then, of course, there’s morning food. New York boasts a serious brunch scene, but nothing I’ve had in NYC compares to the breakfasts and brunches I’ve had in Sydney. Whether it’s soft-scrambled eggs and avocado on toast while overlooking the stunning Bronte Beach or a stack of ricotta hotcakes at a cozy cafe in Surry Hills, prepare to be blown away by your first meal of the day in one of the light, airy spaces that inspired the rest of the world’s Australian cafe obsession.
The weather, and therefore the people, are warmer
Winter in Sydney is hilariously mild. A phone call with my parents in the middle of July might result in some light complaining whenever the temperature drops below 68 degrees, which means the beach is an option for most of the year. As a Sydney-sider, I never went more than a week without a jump in the ocean. Living in New York, I could go months without that, and let me tell you, I am a much grumpier person. This, I can only assume, is what Melbourne is also like. Strike two.
The nightlife is actually good
Despite what you may have heard about the infamous lockout laws, which have effectively destroyed a large portion of Sydney’s club scene by forcing patrons to be inside by 1:30 a.m. and guzzling last drinks by 3, nightlife is — brace yourselves — pretty great in Sydney. Some of those laws are expected to be gone by the end of 2019, and in the meantime, you’ll find a bunch of great, smaller wine bars, pubs, and welcoming beer gardens that, as a traveler, you’ll actually want to hang out in after a long day of exploring the city and recovering from jetlag. And if you’re really looking to club, don’t come to Australia. That’s what Ibiza is for.
It’s a road tripper’s dream
When people ask where they should go in Australia, the first thing I tell them is to go to Sydney, and then, if there’s time, drive south and hang out for a few days. Because if you’re heading to the other side of the world, why not try driving on the other side of the road? Just a couple of hours south are some of Australia’s most beautiful coastal country towns. The Grand Pacific Drive is a destination in itself, with roads that jut out from sea cliffs and skirt rolling green hills and dairy farms.
In Berry, a small country town on the New South Wales South Coast that’s about 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of Sydney, you’ll find piping-hot cinnamon doughnuts at the Famous Berry Donut Van and some of the country’s flakiest meat pies and sausage rolls at Milkwood Bakery. If you’re up for a slightly longer trip, head to Hyams Beach to see the (literal!) whitest sand in the world. And for a truly Australian experience, go to Pelican Rocks Cafe for fish and chips to bring down to nearby Culburra Beach (pro tip: don’t feed the seagulls). The proximity of this dramatic landscape on the South Coast is just one more reason why Sydney is the obvious choice for potential travelers.
It’s ever-so-slightly less far away
When you’re going to Australia, it’s no secret that you’re going to have to travel a really, really long way. But Sydney is much farther north than Melbourne, which means it’s just that little bit closer to America and most of the world. Plus, by the time you get there, feeling more exhausted and spacey than you’ve ever felt in your life, you’ll be greeted by a delightful railway link that actually connects to the airport. It’s a small difference, but after spending an entire day breathing in recycled air, you’ll appreciate the convenience.
Despite the fact I’ve spent the last several paragraphs earnestly defending Sydney’s greatness, one of the biggest differences between Australia’s two major cities is that Melbourne is obsessed with the comparison and Sydney doesn’t actually care. (I’ll blame my uncharacteristic need for validation on the fact I’m painfully homesick, thousands of miles away in a big, disgusting city.) Normally, when other Australians call us vapid and self-obsessed, we Sydney-siders simply smile, put on some sunscreen, and go grab a flat white at the beach before having a swim. Won’t you join us?
Amelia McGuinness is a Sydney native and the engagement editor at Eater.
Fact checked by Lisa Wong Macabasco
Copy edited by Rachel P. Kreiter