The Definitive Ranking Of Australia’s Capital Cities In Winter
What's your favourite Australian city in winter?
We love a sunburnt country, but know what we also love? Mulled wine, hot springs and favourable skiing conditions. While winter in Australia is never as snow-dusted or cosy as those in say northern Europe or Canada, there’s still plenty to embrace about the shifting of the seasons.
Some pros of winter stretch the whole country: MasterChef is back on and no matter which type of football you follow, both leagues are in full swing. But in a country as large and varied as ours, the commonalities stop there. Each Australian capital does winter in its own way, but let’s be frank: some do it better than others.
Here’s AWOL’s definitive ranking of how well Australian capital cities do winter.
Sorry, Perth. While WA’s capital is a dream in summer, winter in the western outpost is a bit of a non-event. And fair enough, when a mild, sunny winter’s day in Perth could comfortably feel like a summer’s day in other parts of the continent. There’s barely any Splendour sideshows, it’s not quite warm enough to swim and it’s definitely not cold enough to rug up and sit beside a fire.
Margaret River is lovely during this time of year, Perth International Jazz Festival is brewing and there are some half-hearted ‘winter weekend’ pop-ups around the city – including a high-maintenance outdoor ice skating rink – but Perth in winter just seems to be waiting for the summer, when the city really comes alive. That said, if you hate the cold, Perth would probably be at the top of your list.
To be fair, Darwin doesn’t really have a winter; in Australia’s Top End, the year is split into two distinct seasons: wet and dry. What the rest of Australia calls ‘winter’ fits perfectly inside of Darwin’s dry season. This is the ideal time to visit the city as roads aren’t flooded, there’s fewer tropical storms and humidity is much lower than the wet season. Darwin Festival brings the city to life in August, the Mindil Beach Sunset Market runs every Thursday and Sunday night, Darwin’s Waterfront hosts free movies under the stars once a month and the nature is always good.
But while Darwin’s warm climate is the perfect escape from winter, it’s pretty much the furthest thing from a cosy, fireplace-studded getaway. Again, if you hate the cold, it’ll be at the top of your list.
Four words: Splendour In The Grass. While it’s not actually in Brisbane, it’s less than a two-hour drive down the coast (and yes, technically into another state) to attend Australia’s premier winter music event. It’s the capital closest to the action, and this alone gives Brisbane points. This year’s event will see The xx, Sigur Ros, Vance Joy, Dune Rats, Allday, Meg Mac, alongside a slew of other local and international acts, soundtrack the epic three-day party that is Splendour. The promise of this festival alone is the shining light for many battling the depths of winter.
On top of this, Brisbane has pretty decent draw-cards in the colder months. It’s State of Origin time, July’s Regional Flavours is Brisbane’s biggest food and wine festival and you can even spot whales off the coast. The city is also super close to nature, with choice walking tracks within a 30 kilometre radius of the CBD and excellent hiking further out, especially in the Glass House Mountains National Park. That said, it’s hard to get into the winter spirit when it’s not actually – y’know – cold.
Adelaide is quickly becoming Australia’s next foodie destination, and you could feasibly spend all of your time there indoors, eating your way through the city ’til it’s warm again. It gets points for its proximity to a number of wine regions (including Barossa and McLaren Vale) and the Adelaide Hills are bursting with quaint venues that have open fires, hot chocolate and mulled wine a’plenty.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival dominates the events calendar in June while the South Australian Living Artists Festival is Australia’s biggest free visual arts event, gathering the work of 5000 artists in over 500 exhibitions. In winter you can also see Morialta Falls and Waterfall Gully jetting at full steam or footy heads can catch the Crows or Port playing a match at the slick new Adelaide Oval. Plus, as the driest of all of Australia’s capitals, you probably won’t get caught in the rain.
All that said, the city is regularly skipped over for Splendour sideshows and Adelaide’s winter events calendar is reasonably sparse compared to its action-packed summer and “Mad March“, leaving it somewhere in the middle.
Sydney in winter has a lot going for it, and there’s never a shortage of things to do: the last lights of Vivid illuminate the city, there’s Splendour sideshows galore and sport lovers get their fix from the NRL, especially the blockbuster State of Origin events. The Blue Mountains are just a few hours away for that dose of highland hospitality or weekend warriors can head further afield to the Hunter Valley wine region.
That said, Sydney revolves around its waterfronts which, while incredible in summer, lose a little bit of their appeal in winter. Unless you’re one of those hardcore folk, it’s too cold to swim at the iconic Bondi and Coogee beaches, and with twice the amount of annual rainfall as Melbourne, Sydney’s ‘live outdoors’ mentality could see you ending up a little soggy. That said, Sydney is never really that awfully cold, which is both good and bad. You might bundle up in a coat and scarf in the morning, only to find yourself lugging it around all day when it turns out to be 24 degrees and sunny. Sydney in winter is great, but it’s hard to commit to it when the weather doesn’t.
Canberra actually embraces the cold and does winter with a charm all of its own. Yes, it gets cold – like, proper cold – but the inland capital receives little rain which means that the sunshine and endless blue skies can lift chilly spirits. Foodies and wine-lovers are looked after as tasty events take over the calendar, including a city-wide truffle festival and the Fireside Festival.
But the reason Canberra ranks so high on our list is that it’s the closest Australian capital to the ski fields – especially the NSW snow field resorts like Thredbo, Perisher Blue, Mount Selwyn and Charlotte Pass – making an impromptu weekend trip to the slopes perfectly achievable. Canberra residents can wait for a decent downfall and be on the powder just two-and-a-half hours later. That’s how you win winter.
Melbourne approaches winter how it does any other season: with a general indifference to the thermometer. The ‘four seasons in one day’ reputation of the city means people are adept at dressing appropriately and staying warm, so winter means it’s business as usual, just with an added scarf and beanie. The events don’t slow down: The Melbourne International Film Festival is Australia’s finest, giving people a good reason to get inside a cinema and escape the cold, while the Emerging Writers Festival fills 9 days with events for both young and established writers.
There’s wintry day trips galore, including the quaint towns of the Dandenong Ranges, the Yarra Valley wine region, the spa country of Daylesford and the hot springs and fine dining of the Mornington Peninsula. Melbourne is also just a four hour drive from the ski fields, making it achievable for a long weekend. Plus – footy fever is in full swing, plenty of places are selling primo pasta, menus change seasonally as a rule, and the weather tends to get cold and stay cold, meaning you can commit to wearing your coat every day. The city in winter doesn’t stop and Melburnians lean defiantly into the wind.
Our southernmost capital city tops the list, and perhaps against the odds. For starters, Hobart in winter is cold. Really cold. And pretty wet, too. But our smallest state has played this to its advantage, taking that darkness and turning it into lemonade, if you will – organic, hand-squeezed fresh lemonade that you can no doubt purchase at the Salamanca Market. Winter in Hobart means: spectacular mountains shrouded in mist; fire pits and cozy pubs; and produce harvested from the ground on which you tread, so fresh you can almost taste last night’s rain.
Most importantly, Australia’s most interesting and odd winter festival calls Hobart home. Dark Mofo, which is run by the controversial Museum of Old and New Art, is where you can expect the unexpected; a mysterious music and arts event spread over two weeks and various venues which brings a perverse delight to the city’s darkness. It’s fun, it’s weird and it makes winter seem absolutely beautiful.
Oh, and most places in Hobart actually have double glazed windows and adequate heating. Plus, there’s so much cheese and wine. So if it’s the real winter experience you want, trust us and head south.
(Lead image: Dark Mofo in Tasmania/Mona and Rémi Chauvin via Facebook)