In the ongoing debate about which Australian city is the nation’s ‘best’ we look at shopping in our latest Sydney vs Melbourne showdown.
Sydney’s picturesque weekend markets at The Rocks and Opera House offer high-end crafts, jewellery, quality Australian souvenirs and gourmet treats. (Try the sensational nougat at The Rocks.) Paddington Market is a Sydney institution – cool vintage and a springboard for many designers, including the trio behind Dinosaur Designs. Bondi, Balmain and Glebe markets all have that happening inner-city vibe. Paddy’s Market (all new stuff) is to Sydney what the Queen Victoria Market is to Melbourne. The Sunday Market at the Victorian Arts Centre, under the Brunswick-green umbrellas, is popular with souveniring city visitors. That’s if you can tear yourself away from the Federation Square Book Market (both new and second-hand) across Swanston St. Outside the CBD, the pick of Melbourne’s markets are Camberwell Market on Sundays – the spot for vintage finds, vinyl and books, bric-a-brac and more – and The Esplanade Sunday market in seaside St Kilda, which claims to be Melbourne’s oldest arts and craft market. Craft Markets of Victoria rotate among four locations (see www.craftmarket.com.au) including Flemington Racecourse, and specialise in everything home-cooked, hand-made and home-grown. Lots of great nosh to take home or eat as you go, like Dutch pancakes and Spanish doughnuts.
It used to be said that Melbourne dines while Sydney goes out to eat. How the dining table has turned. Melbourne’s foodie scene is aghast at the decline of innovative, five-star restaurants, while $80 main courses and Sunday surcharges are swallowed up without complaint in Sydney. Nothing separates them in terms of food quality – Sydney’s Fish Market is a tourist attraction; the deli section at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market is a gourmand’s wonderland. But eating remains the No.1 sport in Melbourne and the top attraction for visitors.
Melbourne’s four distinct seasons (often in one day) provide more excuse to max out the credit card. Sydney’s the town for starlets and glamazons but the Melbourne shopping experience is more enjoyable and atmospheric. No interstate rivalry among the air-kissing fashionistas: both like to raid each other’s wardrobes. With good reason.
Winner: too tough to call
Sydney’s more outdoor orientation means faster, more tropical trends; Melbourne is, again, more serious and durable. Antique shopping feels less intimidating and more accessible in Sydney, with stores dotted along Parramatta Rd in the inner west, the Sydney Antique Centre in Surry Hills as well as the leafy Queen St in exclusive Woollahra. Slight edge to Melbourne because Melburnites do love to spend time and money on their nests. Church St Richmond, just north of the Yarra, has transformed itself into homewares central, and nearby Burnley, Bridge and Swan Streets offer everything from antique auction rooms to minimalist cool to recycled wood one-off pieces.
Melbourne is a Bibliophile’s heaven. Thank the weather. City and suburbs are studded with independent booksellers for whom books are a passion. Beacons in the book landscape include Readings Books & Music, with stores in Carlton, Hawthorn, Malvern and Port Melbourne; the venerable Hill of Content at the top of Bourke St, popular with literati and heavy hitters from Parliament (Jeff Kennett among the regulars); and The Avenue Bookshop in leafy Albert Park, which has won the Bookseller of the Year award numerous times. Kill City, in new premises on Swanston St, across the road from the Town Hall, provides over 15,000 titles and gory details of crimes both real and imagined.
Books for Cooks in Gertrude St Fitzroy can easily consume a whole afternoon (and if you get hungry there’s groovy Ladro just across the road). Book Street in Hampton is Nene King’s favourite bookshop in the whole world: “The smell of it is wonderful.” If you have to pick one location for books, go for Carlton. Populated by students from the Uni of Melbourne (with its own great bookshop), it has the flagship Readings on Lygon St, with Andrew’s Bookshop across the road, as well as the book supermarket Borders. A block away, side-by-side on Elgin St are Book Affair and Academic & General for pre-loved books. If you have a lot of time to browse, head to the Carlton Second-hand Bookshop, a terrace on Swanston St positively groaning with stacked shelves.
Gifts & Souvenirs
Sydney gets the lion’s share of overseas visitors and so has more of everything – both tasteful and tacky – to cater to this market. Koala purses, stubbie holders, novelty aprons and rude T-shirts abound, but also distinctive Aboriginal handicrafts, antiquarian prints and beautiful opal and south-sea pearl jewellery.