Australia is a vast country, with a landmass roughly the same as that of Europe. However, the population definitely isn’t evenly distributed, with most people living in cities. The main cities of the country each have very different atmospheres, and it’s worth travelling around a bit to get to know them all.
To listen to our podcast on the best cities in Australia, click play or find episode 207 in iTunes:
In general, Australian people live in the suburbs, not in the city centre, so there are fewer people around at night. City centres are for working and shopping, then for partying, but not really for living in. This means that things close reasonably early, unless you’re in an area with lots of bars and restaurants.
The public transport is generally expensive and doesn’t run very frequently or very late; partly because of the low population density, and partly because most Australians have their own cars for getting around in. People will often use public transport to get to and from work, so buses and trains are busy during the commuter rush of the morning and afternoon, but they’ll use their cars in the evening.
Perth is the capital city of Western Australia and the only real city on the western seaboard. It can be expensive to get to, though not if you’re coming from Asia; flights from Singapore, KL and Hong Kong are cheap and short — it’s about a five-hour trip.
Perth is a relatively quiet town, but with a pleasant atmosphere. There’s also plenty to do nearby, such as visiting the Swan Valley for wine tasting or heading to Rottnest or Penguin Islands for some wildlife-spotting.
Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is another small city. It’s a planned city, set out in a grid and located several kilometres from the beach. The city centre itself can be a bit boring, but the beach suburbs of Henley Beach and Glenelg are both really pleasant — good places to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand. The public transport isn’t up to much but you can use the city bikes to get around on.
There’s plenty to do in and around the city, like visiting one of the three nearby wine regions (the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley and Maclaren Vale), or heading out mountain biking with Escapegoat tours. Bookabee run really good tours about the Aborigine culture of Australia, and you can kayak with dolphins with Adventure Kayaking SA.
Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, is one of our favourite cities in the world. It’s a haven for coffee drinkers, with genuinely good coffee served in quirky cafes throughout the city. The restaurants and bars are also excellent, and those along the Yarra River bank being particularly pleasant.
The architecture is interesting; a mix of modern and Victorian, and the public transport is extensive and generally trustworthy. The free city circle tram is a good way to orientate yourself in the central city, as well as being a pretty good way to get around!
There’s plenty to do in and around the city: Federation Square, in addition to being home to ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image), also has free wifi — something almost unheard-of in Australia. Plus you can visit St Kilda, the Old Melbourne Gaol, or do a day tour to the Great Ocean Road.
The name “Sydney” evokes an image for almost everyone: that of the city’s iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Of course, there’s more to Sydney than just its icons, though in fact the area around Circular Quay, where both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are located, is a good place to start to get to know the city. From here you can visit the Botanic Gardens or wander across the Bridge, or head towards the historic Rocks area. You can also hop on a ferry to Manly or take a bus to Bondi for a day at the beach.
Sydney is also home to Taronga Zoo, which can also be reached by ferry from Circular Quay — it’s a great place to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s unique animals.
We only spent three or four days in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, but were pleasantly surprised by it. It isn’t flashy like Sydney, nor does it have the coffee culture of Melbourne, but it’s a relaxed, pleasant place to spend a week or so. The river is omni-present, and the public commuter ferry is a great, cheap way to see the city from the water.
The city is currently recovering from massive floods that put the city underwater earlier this year.
We didn’t spend much time in Alice Springs (in the Northern Territory), but it didn’t seem like the kind of place where you’d like to be for more than a day or so. The city centre was very small and quite run-down, and the atmosphere wasn’t very welcoming. It’s a good place to start or end a tour to Uluru or the painted desert, or a stop on a trip from Adelaide to Darwin, but not a destination in itself.
We haven’t spent any time in Darwin, Cairns, Canberra, or Hobart, Australia’s other major cities, though of course we’d like to discover them! If you’ve been to these, or any of the other cities, let us know what you thought in the comments.