If you’re planning an Australian adventure or maybe a move abroad, the question of Perth or Melbourne could make all the difference. These cities are worlds apart, socially and geographically. With over 3,000 kilometers between them, the West Coast versus East Coast debate won’t be easy to resolve, but we’re here to help.
The epitome of laid-back Aussie living, Perth is Western Australia’s capital where pristine shores line its suburbs and natural scenery is everywhere to be found. On the other hand, Melbourne is Victoria’s sophisticated economic hub. Complete with a modern city center, fine dining at every turn, and a regarded art scene, Melbourne is a bustling metropolis with cosmopolitan appeal.
So which will it be? That’s where we come in. Exploring everything that makes Perth and Melbourne unique, this guide compares the two capitals to bridge their divides and find the city that’s right for you. From the location to the costs and everything in between, let’s get into it.
Perth or Melbourne: The General Vibe
The main difference between Perth and Melbourne is the general feel of slow pace, small city life versus busy urban living. Perth is quintessentially Western Australian, with a barefoot vibe that no one is going anywhere in a hurry. Melbourne is the more “grown-up” capital of the two. The arts, culture, and dining scenes are all well-developed in Victoria and young professionals enjoy the trendy vibe of the city.
Melbourne is often regarded as one of the most liveable cities in the world. The cultural and sporting capital of the country is well-connected with great job opportunities and is somewhat of a middle ground between energetic and touristy Sydney and chilled-out Perth. That said, Melbourne receives around three million international tourists a year, which isn’t far off the New South Wales capital, while Perth attracts a lowly 700,000 in comparison.
Still, this isn’t all bad. Perth’s uncrowded streets, beaches, and parks create a welcoming and relaxed environment that Aussie tourists love. The suburbs are populated with young families and the wonderful weather and scenery create a year-round outdoor lifestyle for all to enjoy.
Both Perth and Melbourne have compact, walkable centers but although much smaller, Perth is more dispersed and it’s easy to find a good balance between city and rural living. Yet, Melbourne perfects that balance and offers a bit of everything that visitors to Australia seek. For true Aussie vibes, it’s Perth all the way, but for unpretentious city life, Melbourne steals the win.
Perth or Melbourne: The Location
Perth is often referred to as one of the most isolated cities in the world, and this is where the location could hold you back. The nearest state capital of Adelaide is almost 2,000 kilometers away and Western Australia offers poor transport links to the rest of the country. Domestic flights aren’t so much the norm as they are on the east coast and while road trips are popular, you’re generally limited to what the state has to offer. Still, in Western Australia, that is a lot.
Rottnest Island is only a 40-minute ferry ride from Perth’s Fremantle Harbour, you’ve also got Busselton, the Margaret River, Albany, and Esperance within a few hours from the capital. Driving within Western Australia promises some breathtaking natural beauty, unlike anywhere in the world, a contrast to Victoria’s ubiquitous green pastures. But you can expect lots of unsealed road detours and red dust clouds if you’re taking a road trip from Perth.
Melbourne is much better connected to the rest of Australia than Perth, as is known about the east coast, and the city’s southeastern location means it is equidistant from Sydney and Adelaide but also strategically located just an hour’s plane ride across the Bass Strait from Tasmania. There are fast direct connections to all major cities in Australia and globally in the Asia-Pacific region. Still, if you care less about exploring Australia, Perth might come out on top.
The Western capital is located just three hours from Bali in Indonesia, that’s quicker than it takes to get to Sydney from Perth, and Malaysia and Singapore are just five hours from the international airport. You can even guarantee faster flights from Europe to Perth than to Melbourne, but this doesn’t mean the airfare will be less. However, Melbourne is much better connected internally, too, with great public transport whereas you’ll need a car to get around Perth and the surrounding regions. Perth is doing a good job to shake its reputation as a remote capital, but Melbourne’s location reigns supreme.
Perth or Melbourne: The Beaches
Beach lovers will have little to complain about in both of these coastal gems, but there is quite a stark difference in the sandy shores that these cities have to offer. Melbourne’s unique location means it wraps around a vast protected lagoon called Port Phillip. From a map, Melbourne appears to sit on a lake, joined to the sea by a small gap.
As a result, the beaches in the main Melbourne area are sheltered and perfect for swimming, sailing, fishing, and snorkeling. One of the most iconic is Brighton Beach. Reminiscent of the English seaside town of the same name, you’ll find colorful Victorian bathing boxes lining the golden sands and plenty of trendy bars and seafront restaurants.
St Kilda is also not to be missed. Arguably Melbourne’s most popular stretch of sand, lofty palms fringes the clean shore with great views of the pier. St Kilda is just six kilometers south of the city center and stretches around 700 meters along Jacka Boulevard and St Kilda Esplanade. It is the perfect place for a stroll with the ocean breeze in your hair or to launch yourself into the sea on a hot day.
One area where Melbourne’s beaches fall short is the surf. Australia is one of the surf capitals of the world and extreme sport has been part of the social and cultural identity of the nation for decades. Millions of tourists and Aussies head to the coast all-year-round to ride the iconic point breaks at all corners of the country, which pose a challenge to even the most experienced riders. Victoria offers varied and consistent surf across the state, particularly in the treacherous waters of the Bass Strait. However, the large bay at Port Phillip can block surf and you’ll find minimal swell within easy reach of Melbourne.
In contrast, Western Australia is a global surf destination. The Margaret River region to the south of Perth is regarded as one of the best places to surf in the whole country and huge swells break on the reefs all along the coastline. Rottnest Island might block much of the swell to the busiest beaches in Perth, but beginner waves still break on the city shores and Rottnest itself is a surfer’s paradise. Also, check out Trigg Point and Scarborough for consistent waves in Perth.
What’s more, Perth’s beaches excel in more ways than the surf. Sun-soaked bays, pristine powdery sands, and crystal clear water that’s calm in the sheltered areas, these tropical shores are among the best in the world and the fantastic weather invites neverending beach days. Perth is also much quieter than Melbourne and you’ll always find tons of space to relax in peace on the near-deserted sands.
Perth or Melbourne: The Things to Do
It might be isolated on the western coast of Australia, but Perth, as the only major city in the state, has the whole region as its playground. With a compact city center, stunning natural landscapes, great beaches, and exciting road trips, the city offers a lot.
You can learn a lot about the state and its history all over Perth. The Perth Mint documents the rich mining heritage of the region, then there’s the State War Memorial in remembrance of those who gave their lives to the great war, as well as the Perth Cultural Center, which houses the Art Gallery of Western Australia, a theater, a library, and the state ballet and opera companies.
Kings Park and Botanical Gardens on Mount Eliza is also a highlight when it comes to nature in the city. Sat on the Swan River, visitors can observe sweeping views of Perth and incredible native wildlife. Aviation museums, historical buildings, cathedrals, and even a zoo, there is tons to keep you busy. Still, it can be hard to navigate the dispersed city without a car and the rainy winter months can limit outdoor activities.
Melbourne, on the other hand, benefits from a vibrant city atmosphere. From the markets to the food scene, the art exhibitions to the shopping, and even a renowned zoo and aquarium, anything you can do in Perth you can do in Melbourne, and then some. The city is known for its modern Federation Square development where plazas and bars line the Yarra River. The Southbank area is also home to the Melbourne Arts Precinct where a performing arts complex and the National Gallery of Victoria can be found.
Queen Victoria Market and South Melbourne Market have helped put the city on the map as a foody’s paradise. Both are hubs of activity all year round and are perfect places to sample exotic cuisine, shop for fresh produce, or grab brunch with friends. Melbourne is easy to get around on foot and by public transport. It will come as no surprise that the big city will always outshine the small suburban hub when it comes to shaking boredom.
Perth or Melbourne: The Nightlife
There are things to do in Perth if you’re a night owl but with nowhere near as much variety as Melbourne. The great weather makes it easy to have a good time in Western Australia – think charming beer gardens overlooking the river, rooftop bars, and sunset backyard barbeques. There are a few nightclubs in the city, too, but they don’t have the best reputation, frequented more by local teenagers than international partygoers.
The gay bar scene is also decent, like much of Australia, and you can find live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Aussies often enjoy a quintessential “Sunday Session” in Perth, but venues tend to close early by European standards.
Melbourne’s nightlife mirrors its daytime allure and the food scene because no matter where you go in the city you’ll find bustling bars, live music, and late-night dance floors. International DJs grace the trendy nightclubs, and there are hidden bars and live music venues down every colorful mural-painted alleyway.
Melbourne is even considered to have better nightlife than Sydney with a more culturally diverse population and cooler establishments compared to the touristy New South Wales capital. Nightlife in Melbourne is effortless but exciting, and there is no real competition between the two cities when it comes to partying.
Perth or Melbourne: The Weather
Located on two opposite sides of the country, Perth and Melbourne see some discrepancies when it comes to climate. Melbourne’s weather can be described as nothing short of predictable. The winters are cool, ranging between the mid-40s and high 50s, while summer is pleasant, hovering between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is consistent year-round and Melbourne can be muggy with six to eight days of showers a month.
Perth is more extreme in contrast, with pretty distinct rainy and dry seasons. Winter temperatures vary between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping at night, and as much as 14 days of rain can be expected. However, Perth experiences scorching days with temperatures reaching the 90s from as early as November and summer averaging between 70 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can expect very little rainfall from December to April, around two days a month at most, and Perth experiences more days of sunshine than any Australian city and any global capital. With an average of eight hours of sunshine every day, all-year-round, Melbourne can’t compare. July rains could limit activity, but Perth is unbeatable when it comes to sunny coastal living.
Perth or Melbourne: The Cost of Living
There are some differences in the cost of living between Perth and Melbourne, but these aren’t as extreme as some other east coast locations like Sydney. Perth has a much smaller community feel, less access to employment and it is cheaper than Melbourne, so your money will go further as far as location and property size is concerned.
For a city center apartment in Perth, you should expect to spend around $650 AUD per square foot, compared to over $800 AUD in Melbourne. This is around $400 AUD outside of the center in Perth and $700 AUD in the well-connected Melbourne suburbs. Rent is also more expensive in Victoria, but only marginally. Expect to pay around $3,000 AUD a month for the same city center property that you could get for $2,600 AUD in Perth.
With more variety and cultural diversity, eating out could actually cost you a bit less in Melbourne. Melbourne is renowned for its abundant flavors that are on par with Sydney but more affordable. Hip coffee shops, quaint China Town eateries, and bustling chain restaurants are all well-priced compared to Perth’s basic food scene. Still, Melbourne has the highest cost of living in Australia next to Sydney, so “affordable” doesn’t necessarily mean cheap.
Consumer prices and groceries can also be slightly higher overall in Perth, but this is down to the longer distance for imported products to travel. The economy in Western Australia is also starting to boom on account of China’s demand for the state’s plentiful natural resources, this means jobs and salaries are on the rise. Paired with Perth’s cheap property prices, Western Australia is becoming more and more appealing.
Perth or Melbourne: The Verdict
Whichever Aussie city you choose, you’re in for a good time. Both Melbourne and Perth perfectly represent their states at large and the varied culture you can find across the nation. If you have the luxury of visiting both, Perth is perfect for a summertime beach break, while Melbourne would be a great city to live in during the winter. Nightlife, culture, energy, and travel puts Melbourne in the lead overall. But that doesn’t make the slow-paced, outdoor lifestyle of Perth any less appealing. So which city will get your vote?