Last updated on November 15, 2023 by Wandering our World
Australia easily ranks as one of the world’s very best vacation destinations. Beautiful beaches, friendly people, tasty food – the Land Down Under’s got it all. But, if you’re planning an Aussie adventure, you might struggle when choosing between the country’s big cities, like Brisbane and Melbourne.
On the one hand, there’s Brisbane. It may be a little less well-known than the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, but this city is an up-and-coming destination with a surprising array of enjoyable activities and attractions to keep the whole family entertained. Museums, galleries, shops, great nightlife, and a fun dining scene are just some of the reasons to visit Brisbane.
Then, there’s Melbourne. Regarded as Australia’s artistic and cultural center, this city offers a fantastic array of museums, art galleries, live entertainment venues, and fun festivals. It’s also a super shopping destination and an incredible place to visit as a family, with multiple attractions to keep kids entertained.
Picking between these cities isn’t easy, but this guide is here to help. Below, we’ll take a deep dive into Brisbane vs Melbourne, assessing the best bits of both cities and seeing how they compare in key areas, like nightlife, dining, weather, and affordability. By the end, you should find it much easier to pick the perfect city for your next Aussie adventure.
- A Quick Overview Of Brisbane vs Melbourne
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Day Trips?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Brisbane vs Melbourne: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Brisbane vs Melbourne
Brisbane: A Quick Overview
Brisbane is Australia’s third-biggest city, boasting an estimated population of around 2.6 million people – that’s about half the size of Melbourne, so this city definitely feels quieter and less hectic compared to its southern sibling. The capital of Queensland, Brisbane is situated on Australia’s eastern coast, not far from the famous Gold Coast touristic region.
Like many other big cities across Australia, Brisbane was once home to Aboriginal Australians, who lived on the land thousands of years before the first European settlers came. Then, in the 19th century, a British Army officer called Thomas Brisbane set up a penal colony in the area, and it didn’t take long for the city to develop into a prosperous port and key immigration hub.
Brisbane has continued to develop and evolve in the years since it was founded, becoming one of the world’s most liveable cities. It’s well-known for its friendly, laid-back vibes and is gradually emerging as a prime touristic destination and events hub – it’s even set to host the Olympic Games in 2032 – but still has a quiet and off-the-beaten-path vibe.
Melbourne: A Quick Overview
Melbourne is the second-biggest city in Australia, with a population of more than 5 million people. It’s situated in the state of Victoria, down on Australia’s southern coast, looking out across the waters of Port Phillip Bay. Thanks to its larger population, Melbourne has a busier and more dynamic feel to it than Brisbane, and also attracts tourists in greater numbers.
Just like Brisbane, the land where Melbourne was constructed was originally home to Aboriginal Australians. In the 1800s, British settlers arrived and formed a penal colony. But it was the discovery of gold, around 1850, that really sparked this city to life – lots of people rushed to Melbourne to take advantage of the gold rush, triggering widespread growth and development.
And by the end of the century, Melbourne had become one of the wealthiest cities on the planet. It’s retained that status right up to the modern day, ranking as one of Australia’s best places to live, with a strong economy to go along with its rich cultural and artistic scenes – there are lots of museums, galleries, sporting venues, and festivals in this city.
Exciting and engaging in equal measure, Melbourne is a very fun city to explore. Indeed, lots of first-time visitors to this city end up coming back again and again, falling in love with Melbourne’s distinctive charm and character. Whether you want to shop, dine, or dive headfirst into Aussie culture and entertainment, this is the place to do it.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Australia is well-known for its warm and sunny weather, and you’re sure to enjoy pretty high temperatures if you visit either Melbourne or Brisbane during the warm summer months. Even in winter, it never gets too cold in either of these cities, but there are a couple of key differences in their local climate conditions.
The biggest difference is in temperature – Brisbane is significantly warmer than Melbourne, with much higher peaks all year long. The summer heat also lasts quite a lot longer in Brisbane than it does in Melbourne, and skies tend to be clearer too, though it can get quite muggy and humid at times.
Overall, Brisbane definitely has the better weather of the two cities, and if you’re looking to spend lots of time outside soaking up the Aussie sunshine, the Queensland capital is the place to be.
Which Is Best For Activities?
No matter which big city you choose, you’re sure to find plenty of fun things to do in Brisbane and Melbourne. However, one city certainly has a larger range of activities than the other, and there are some key differences in terms of how the average traveler spends their time. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the best things to do in both locations.
Brisbane: The Activities
As the smaller and more relaxed of the two cities, Brisbane doesn’t have quite as much to do as Melbourne. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great attractions and activities here. Far from it. For starters, Brisbane has its very own man-made beach – Streets Beach – where families, couples, and groups of friends love to hang out.
Stretching out across approximately 2,000 square meters, Streets Beach offers an idyllic spot to relax, soak up the summer sun, enjoy a picnic with the family, or even dip your feet in the gentle lagoon-style waters. There’s also a kids’ play area here, perfect for those traveling with little ones, and lots of nearby restaurants for when you get hungry.
Streets Beach is part of Brisbane’s South Bank area, and that’s the main place for tourists to spend their time. Around South Bank, you’ll find multiple fun landmarks, like the 200-foot tall Wheel of Brisbane, which offers amazing views across the city, or the decorative Nepalese Peace Pagoda and the fantastic floral walkway known as the Grand Arbour.
Of course, there’s more to Brisbane than South Bank. The city has various other districts that are fun to explore, with great shops, diverse dining, and exciting live entertainment. There are also several intriguing museums here, like the Museum of Brisbane and Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. Or, for wildlife fans, check out the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where you can hold koalas and hand-feed kangaroos!
Melbourne: The Activities
Melbourne is much more of a typical touristic city, with its own list of must-see landmarks and key sightseeing destinations for visitors to check out. There’s the beautiful Flinders Street Railway Station, for example, the decorative Royal Exhibition Building, or the moving Shrine of Remembrance war memorial.
And, as the cultural center of the country, Melbourne has no shortage of museums for visitors to wander around. The National Sports Museum is always a big hit with travelers, showcasing some of the sports that Aussies love so much, like cricket and rugby, while the Melbourne Immigration Museum explores the diverse people that make up the city’s population.
Art and entertainment are also big parts of the Melbourne experience. You’ll find lots of galleries to admire various styles of art, as well as plenty of street art dotted across the cityscape. Concerts, improv comedy, theater, sport, and lots of festivals also fill out the city’s agenda, and it seems that there’s always something going on in Melbourne’s many venues.
If all that doesn’t quite seem like enough for you, Melbourne also has its own zoo, along with multiple parks, gardens, and green spaces for sunny days. Its “laneways” – narrow thoroughfares lined with cafes and bars – are super fun to explore as well, and there are some quirky attractions to enjoy here, like the Old Melbourne Gaol, a 19th century prison-turned-museum.
Overall, there are plenty of interesting activities to enjoy in both Brisbane and Melbourne, but Melbourne definitely has the wider range of options. It’s got many more museums, galleries, and cultural centers compared to Brisbane, making it better-suited for longer trips. Brisbane has more of a laid-back feel, ideal for relaxing city breaks, rather than extended stays.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Australia is well-known for its long coastline and beautiful beaches, and Melbourne has plenty of super sandy spots to offer. There’s the ever-popular St. Kilda Beach, for example, beloved by locals and travelers alike for its gentle waters, soft sands, and romantic waterfront promenade. There’s also a fun family theme park here – Luna Park – making it the ideal coastal hotspot.
Brighton Beach is another Melbourne gem, famed for its dozens of colorful, old-fashioned beach huts and safe swimming conditions. Then there’s Port Melbourne Beach, which feels quieter and calmer compared to the others and has decent conditions for water sports, or Altona Beach, with its 500 meter pier – great for fishing or watching the sunset.
Unfortunately for Brisbane, a lot of the coastal land in this part of Australia consists of mudflats and not soft sandy beaches. Therefore, it’s not the best destination for those who want to spend time by the sea. However, there is the man-made Streets Beach, which is a very clean, pleasant place to spend a lazy afternoon.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
As well as enjoying all that Melbourne and Brisbane have to offer, you might also like to plan a day trip or two from these cities. Both of them are well-placed for exploring their respective regions, with Melbourne being ideal for adventures across Victoria and Brisbane nicely-situated for tours of Queensland. But which is best?
Well, if you’re heading to Melbourne, there are some terrific natural areas and national parks to see, like the Yarra Ranges, a lush rainforest park, filled with hiking trails and wonderful walks through the wilderness. There are also some interesting towns nearby, like the spa haven of Daylesford or the old gold rush city of Bendigo, known for its Golden Dragon Museum.
Brisbane, meanwhile, is only a short drive away from the dreamy beach resort areas of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, perfect for people who want to see some of the prettiest sandy spots in all of Australia. Indeed, most of the best day trips from Brisbane take you along the coast – Moreton Island is another awesome place to go, with excellent snorkeling spots.
Overall, both cities have excellent day trip destinations to consider. Brisbane is best if you want fun in the sun and beautiful beaches, while Melbourne offers a little more diversity, with a good mixture of natural areas, charming small towns, and cities.
Which Is Best For Nightlife?
Nightlife-wise, Melbourne has one of the best scenes in all of Australia. There are simply so many great places to hang out in the evenings all across the city, from the myriad bars of the laneways to Melbourne’s secret underground clubs, exciting live entertainment venues, and dance spots. Even in the suburbs, the nightlife scene is rich and dynamic.
Similarly, Brisbane also has a solid nightlife scene, and it seems to be getting better year-on-year as the city grows and evolves. The Fortitude Valley area is particularly vibrant once the sun sets, with lots of live music and dance clubs to enjoy. There are lots of rooftop bars across Brisbane too, perfect for enjoying the city’s warm evenings.
Overall, Melbourne’s nightlife is still a bit better than Brisbane’s for now, but Brisbane is slowly catching up to its Victorian counterpart.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping is another super way to spend your time in Melbourne, and this city is famed as one of the best shopping spots in all of Australia. The laneways are a great place to begin your shopping journey, with all sorts of indie stores and secret boutiques to uncover. Melbourne also has vast malls and decorative arcades, filled with all sorts of stores from brand boutiques to expansive antique emporiums.
The shopping scene over in Brisbane isn’t quite as deep or developed as it is in Melbourne, but this city’s still a fine place to shop. You can find a great mixture of stores dotted across the Queensland capital, including big brand chains, luxury boutiques, and small, independent craft stores, too. The aforementioned Fortitude Valley is a top shopping spot, along with the Brisbane Arcade.
Overall, Melbourne just about edges this category once again, but Brisbane’s shopping scene is getting better all the time.
Which Is Best For Food?
There’s a lot to love about Australian cuisine. The Land Down Under offers some awesome comfort food classics, along with top-notch seafood, barbecue treats, and great tastes imported from nearby Asian nations, too. But which city has the better restaurants and culinary scene between Brisbane and Melbourne?
Well, once again, it’s Melbourne that takes the win here. In fact, Melbourne is famed for its awesome food, with an endless lineup of trendy taverns, innovative restaurants, family-friendly diners, and cool craft bars for visitors to enjoy. This city is also strongly associated with coffee culture, with dozens of quirky cafes around every corner.
Brisbane’s culinary scene has grown a great deal in recent years. For a long time, the city didn’t have much to offer for foodies, but nowadays, it’s got lots of exciting new eateries springing up all the time. The South Bank area and surrounding neighborhoods are great places to eat, and there’s a lot of diversity on Brisbane’s menus, from Aussie classics to delicious Asian fusion delights.
Overall, Melbourne’s scene is more established and diverse, and it’s easier to find fantastic food in the Victorian city, but Brisbane is slowly emerging as a foodie’s haven.
Which Is Best For Families?
Heading to a big Aussie city as a family? If so, you’re sure to adore Melbourne. It’s got lots of family attractions, from a Legoland Discovery Center to the Luna Park theme park and Sea Life aquarium. Gardens, parks, museums, and beaches give you even more ways to spend time, and older kids will surely appreciate Melbourne’s trendy streets and shops.
Then, there’s Brisbane. With its quieter vibes, it may appeal to families seeking a more relaxing break, and it’s also cheaper if you’re on a tight budget. However, aside from Streets Beach and a few other locations, like the Daisy Hill Conservation Park, there aren’t quite as many typical family attractions in this city.
Overall, Melbourne has greater appeal to the majority of families than Brisbane, with a wider range of ways to spend your time. But Brisbane isn’t bad if Melbourne seems a little too busy and hectic for your family’s tastes.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples can also have a wonderful time in Brisbane or Melbourne. Brisbane has the benefit of being quieter, which may also make it feel more romantic and less hectic than Melbourne. Couples can while away the days exploring the city’s charming districts and taking in the music, food, and beauty of South Bank.
In Melbourne, couples will find much more to keep them busy. Whether you and your partner are into art, culture, live entertainment, history, shopping, or dining, you can find it all here. There are also better beaches within easy reach of Melbourne’s city center, perfect for couples who like spending time by the sea together.
Overall, Melbourne is a little better for most couples, thanks to its more diverse attractions and activities, but Brisbane is still worth considering for its laid-back ambiance.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
For backpackers, Brisbane can be a fun city to visit for a few days. There’s not all that much to do here, but it’s got a great location, perfect for exploring other parts of Queensland, like the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Plus, the dynamic dining scene and fun nightlife of this city should appeal to young adventurers, in particular, and prices tend to be cheaper in Brisbane, too.
Melbourne is definitely a little pricier, but has more to offer. From its museums to its galleries and laneways, backpackers will find a wider range of ways to spend their time in this city. And it’s also got lots of day trip potential if you want to set off into a nearby national park or explore other Victoria towns and cities.
Overall, both cities can appeal to backpackers equally. If you’re on a tight budget, pick Brisbane. If you want more to do, head to Melbourne.
Which Is Cheaper?
Price-wise, there’s a distinct difference between Melbourne and Brisbane. Melbourne is notably more expensive, and that goes for accommodation, food, entertainment, and even public transport. In short, everything tends to cost a little more in Melbourne, so you have to be careful if you’re heading there on a budget.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: In the heart of Brisbane, Jephson Hotel & Apartments captivates with unrivaled elegance. A symphony of modern design and opulent comfort, its chic interiors are bathed in natural light. From the sweeping views of the city skyline to the sophisticated décor, every detail of this sanctuary exudes timeless beauty.
Luxury: Discover unparalleled luxury at The Westin Brisbane, where architectural brilliance meets serene sophistication. Graced with panoramic river views, the hotel’s sleek design seamlessly blends with nature. From the shimmering infinity pool to the modern, light-filled interiors, every aspect of The Westin Brisbane radiates with a captivating and timeless beauty.
Budget: Adina Apartment Hotel Melbourne, Pentridge, exudes timeless beauty with its blend of historic charm and contemporary elegance. The iconic Pentridge Prison backdrop adds character, while the lush courtyard and stylish interiors create a captivating urban retreat, making every moment at Adina a celebration of beauty and sophistication.
Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne, epitomizes luxury with its exquisite design and breathtaking views. Glistening under city lights, the modern architecture seamlessly complements the skyline. Inside, opulent interiors adorned with fine details create an atmosphere of timeless beauty, making every stay a symphony of elegance and captivating aesthetics.
Brisbane vs Melbourne: Which Is Better?
Overall, when it comes to Brisbane vs Melbourne, this is a story of two cities in very different stages of their development. Melbourne is by far the more established of the two – it’s the cultural and artistic heart of Australia, and understandably ranks as one of the country’s best places to visit. Brisbane, meanwhile, is just starting to emerge as a more exciting place to go, after years of being overlooked and somewhat underdeveloped.
For now, if you only have time to see one of these cities, Melbourne is the one to choose. Brisbane is an exciting up-and-comer, but Melbourne leads the way in all the key areas, from nightlife to shopping, dining, and activities. Whether you’re looking for a fun-filled family getaway or a deep dive into Aussie culture and art, you can find it all in sunny Melbourne.
With that said, while Brisbane may not currently be able to compete with Melbourne for attractions and landmarks, it’s still a super city to visit, and it’s improving each year, with more great places to eat, shop, and hang out. If you’re looking for something a little different, with a quieter and calmer vibe to Melbourne, this is a great place to go.