Sydney or Melbourne as a "Walking City"?
November 27, 2011 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Sydney vs Melbourne as a pedestrian paradise: I am a sociologist doing a study which involves observing pedestrians/window shoppers/etc. I am based in New York City, which is fantastic for my field of work. In Feb/March, I plan to go to Australia for two months, to either Sydney or Melbourne. I have never been to Australia before. QUESTION: Which city has more of a "pedestrian culture"? That is, which is more of a "walking city?" (If you know New York City, my favorite place to observe is Union Square -- I am looking for a comparable location.) Would prefer a place filled with locals, not tourists. Thanks!
posted by laswingkid to Travel & Transportation around Australia (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am sure Sydneysiders will disagree (bloody northerners) but Melbourne definitely has the stronger pedestrian culture. It is flatter, there are many parks adjoining the city centre which allow pedestrian travel from one suburb to another avoiding roads, and the inner urban 'village' culture with many little 'high streets' encourage walking to the shops, to work, etc.
posted by Kerasia at 2:01 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think central Sydney has many more tourists than central Melbourne does. Both have a lot of pedestrians, but it would be harder in Sydney to distinguish locals from visitors.
posted by lollusc at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2011

Hell of a way to start on the favourite topic of Melburnians; the eternal inferiority of their city compared to Sydney. kidding

Compared to New York City both Melbourne and Sydney are very low-density, very sprawled and very car-dependent cities, with very few people living in the centre, commuting for work or shopping on centre-radiating public transport systems. We've also got relatively fewer open public spaces. The central business district in Sydney is a business park on steroids that empties of everyone but tourists, workaholics and heavy drinkers by about 8pm; the central business district in Melbourne at least has a nightlife, and as Kerasia says, is a bit friendlier for walking.

I live in Sydney. If I understand your project, I'd start with a these areas:

- the area between Town Hall Steps on George Street and the cinemas downhill to Goulburn St (which is where teenagers go to loiter)
- Sussex Street, Paddy's Markets and Dixon Street in Haymarket (Chinatown)
- Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross (being wary of staring at people lest you give the wrong impression)
- King Street, Newtown especially on a weekend
- the Parramatta Road end of Glebe Point Road, especially on a weekend
- Church Street, Parramatta (Sydney's "Second CBD" according to the planners)
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:16 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding pretty much everything FdG said. I am an ex-Sydneysider and the key for your purposes is to get out of the tourist-trap CBD and Circular Quay into the neighbourhoods. FdG's list is great and I would add the high streets of neigbourhoods like Surry Hills (Crown St) and Paddington (Oxford St).
posted by bright cold day at 2:55 PM on November 27, 2011

I have been living in Melbourne for three months and was just in Sydney last week. Downtown Melbourne seems much more pedestrian-friendly and has more small shops and cafés; downtown Sydney seems like a place where people come to work and then leave at 5. Sydney does have many more tourists, though.
posted by OLechat at 3:06 PM on November 27, 2011

Sydneysider here - Melbourne is definitely more pedestrian friendly. Melbourne has a planned CBD - it's laid out in a grid, and has wide footpaths, regular crossings, and is much easier to navigate. Melbourne's CBD also has multiple alleyways between streets to allow you to move through blocks, and not just around them.

In contrast, Sydney is unplanned sprawl.

For Sydney, Fiasco de Gama's list is great. bright cold day also has good recommendations.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:21 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an ex-Adelaidian I'd vote for Adelaide but as that's not a choice so I'd offer a vaguely impartial opinion of Melbourne as the more pedestrian of the two, in regards to locals out and about. Find any area with lots of coffee shops or the Central Business District and you can people watch until your hearts content, I know I did. Go in warmer months, if you plan on going in the Southern Hemispheres Winter people will tend to be indoors more or scurrying between places and Melbourne can get very wet. Sydney would have the better climate for winter people watching.
posted by wwax at 3:22 PM on November 27, 2011

I think you are looking for a paseo? You will not find Union Square in Australia, largely as Senhor de Gama says, because there is not the high density apartment living that drives people outdoors. Sydney is more a beach and park culture, and for me Melbourne is as Ava Gardner said, a place to make a movie about the end of the world. The area around Salamanca in Hobart, Tasmania is charming but small and only available on Saturdays I believe. Are you sure you're in the right continent? Madrid is much better at this and far more cosmopolitan.
posted by alonsoquijano at 3:24 PM on November 27, 2011

As a Sydneysider who's been to both Melbourne and New York, let me nth the suggestion that neither Australian city really has what you're after.

But if I had to choose, I'd say Melbourne.
posted by Georgina at 4:01 PM on November 27, 2011

As a Melbournian who's been to both Sydney and New York, I agree with Georgina.

Maybe Bourke St Mall or Federation Square or maybe Lygon Street would be kindasorta what you're after, but there really isn't an equivalent to Union Square here.
posted by Xany at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2011

If you're talking CBD's, Melbourne hands down. It's flat, the footpaths are wider, the cbd is in a grid, the social, retail, business, and cultural institutions are much closer together. Burke St Mall, Fed square when something is on (e.g tennis), tennis centre when the open is on, southgate/outside casino. There's some great spots.
posted by smoke at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2011

Something that really shocked my on my first foray into NSW as an insular Victorian was how the northener drivers didn't give way to pedestrians when turning into a side street. I don't know if there are different laws at play, but the accepted practice was/is definitely more pro walkers in Vic.

We have a fair bit of strip shopping still, at least in the inner city, it's not all mall or big box, so you'll see lots of people walking in Acland St St Kilda, Brunswick St Fitzroy, Chapel St South Yarra, a few other places like that. And some nice parks and gardens near the CBD, the botanical gardens, Fitzroy gardens.

Queen Vic market of course. On Saturday or Sunday (or Friday night) lots of people will walk from Flinders St Station to the game at the MCG.

I don't think you'll find yourself swamped by tourists anywhere. Well, tourists from the suburbs...
posted by wilful at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2011

Melbourne's CBD is definitely pedestrian. I people watch there all the time. Stand outside Flinders Street Station at just about any time of day, hang out at Fed Square on a sunny Friday afternoon, sit on Bourke Street Mall or wander up and down Swanston Street - these places are swamped with pedestrians, most of them not tourists. And they are all within a five minute walk of each other. It's a little three street radius of very pedestrian activity. And if you get bored at one of those places, all the little streets in between are also quite heavily trafficked.

I haven't spent as much time in Sydney, but I can't think of any places nearly as good. The area around the Opera House has plenty of people walking around, but I'd bet at least 70% are tourists.
posted by mosessis at 6:54 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sydneysider born and bred. Fiasco's list is perfect Sydney, but Melbourne is vastly superior....sadly, in almost every way. But, hey...meetup???
posted by taff at 8:25 PM on November 27, 2011

Melbourne. I can't stress enough. Melbourne. I was surprised when I moved here how cars give way to pedestrians at T-junctions (and sometimes, surprisingly, in the middle of the road when you're jaywalking)
Sydney is frenetic and tense and has lots of tourists; Melbourne: convivial, friendly, and a good city to walk around in.
posted by lazy robot at 9:15 PM on November 27, 2011

I remember walking almost everywhere in both places (and in Canberra) on my '04 trip.
posted by brujita at 9:57 PM on November 27, 2011


Outside of London the English display absolutely freakish pedestrian behaviour.

This needs study if only to validate me.
posted by srboisvert at 9:16 AM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: As the asker of this question, I just want to say: (1) thank you so much for everyone who's contributed; (2) please keep the answers coming; and (3) Metafilter is absolutely amazing!!! Invaluable info, everyone. :)
posted by laswingkid at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2011

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