Australia is both the smallest of the seven continents and also one of the largest countries in the world. And though the interior is wild, minimally populated, and often foreboding, the gigantic coastal perimeter has led to the development of many inviting cities. Radiant beaches, fresh cityscapes, and an emerging blend of modern and indigenous cultural scenes are common throughout the most popular regions. The following ten cities/urban agglomerations account for the largest in the nation:
1. Melbourne - 4.968 million
Clean and crisp aesthetic, a buzzing coffee and culinary culture, hip markets, active and inviting parks, and a gateway to the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne has every reason to contend with Sydney as the ultimate hub of Australia. The capital of the state of Victoria is located on the South coast of the country's Eastern region, peering out into Port Phillip Bay and the Bass Strait (which leads to the island state of Tasmania). Melbourne is a little under 900 kilometers (560 miles) Southwest of Sydney and just over 700 kilometers (435 miles) Southeast of Adelaide. Interestingly, Melbourne is the Southernmost city in the world, with a population of over one million people.
2. Sydney - 4.926 million
Sydney is the second largest metropolis in Australia, home to the iconic Opera House, the site of numerous enviable beaches, and pulsing day and night with exuberant energy. This host of the 2000 Summer Olympics is the capital of New South Wales, situated on the Southeast coast. The eastern part of Sydney is encapsulated by the combination of the highly-recognizable Sydney Harbour (North), the pleasant waters of Botany Bay (South, into which the runways of the Sydney Airport extend), and the far reaches of the Tasman Sea (East). This strategic position helped cement Sydney as one of the most vital sea ports in the South Pacific.
3. Brisbane - 2.406 million
Situated nearly in the center of Australia's East coast, in the Southeast corner of the state of Queensland (of which it is the capital city), and just North of New South Wales' Northeastern tip, Brisbane takes the third spot on the population podium. Brisbane is a great place to enjoy sunny skies and green spaces and hop around hundreds of nearby islands while exploring Moreton Bay's shallow, turquoise waters. Two other upcoming entries on this list, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, are about an hour's drive to the North and South, respectively, making this moderate slice of geography one of the main focal points of the nation.
4. Perth - 2.042 million
Heading to the other side of Australia, Perth is the capital city of the state of Western Australia (by far the country's largest state). Perth is located on the Southwest coast, on either side of the Swan River, which flows into the Indian Ocean. This spot is a sort of metaphorical island - well-removed from any other major cities and containing about three-fourths of the entire population of Western Australia. Perth's backbone is heavy industry and a large spectrum of manufacturing, though tourism has also risen substantially over the last thirty years. Like many of the prominent cities on this list, Perth enjoys pristine beaches and the appeal of a modern metropolis but is also attractive for its nearby wineries and seemingly infinite wilderness, both inland and off-shore.
5. Adelaide - 1.336 million
The last of the cities down under to exceed one million people, Adelaide is well-deserving of the milestone. The capital of the state of South Australia (situated in its Southeast section, hugging the East side of Gulf St. Vincent) is the anchor point for this celebrated wine region, where many such selections can be enjoyed throughout the upscale restaurant and bar scene. The delicious fresh produce and hand-crafted goodies attract food lovers five days a week to the Central Market, which has been going strong since 1869. And then, seven days a week, shopping and entertainment thrive along Rundle Street. If you are looking for something a little more thrilling, catch a game at the electric Adelaide Oval, or climb atop its roof for some dazzling views.
6. Gold Coast - Tweed Heads - 0.699 million
The combination of the city of Gold Coast and its Southern suburb town of Tweed Heads forms the sixth biggest settlement in Australia. This segment of Queensland is sandwiched between the city of Brisbane, and the immediate Northeast border of New South Wales, with the Coral Sea looming large to the East. Gold Coast holds true to its name, with some of the best beaches for sunbathers and surfers alike. But the fun does not stop there. Theme parks, shopping, dining, and nearby rainforest tours solidify this spot as a vacation capital.
7. Canberra - 0.457 million
Canberra, which sits between Melbourne and Sydney within the Australian Capital Territory, is the federal capital of Australia and the only inland city to crack the top ten in terms of population. Canberra is also considered the education capital of the nation, enjoying excellent facilities and consistently ranking high as one of the world's best cities for students, as well as one of the most liveable cities overall. With that college-town reputation comes all of the museums, events, and popular hang-outs you would expect. Though Canberra may lack the stunning coastlines found universally across the other major cities, Lake Burley Griffin sits at its center, and far-reaching forests and national parks/nature reserves are all around.
8. Newcastle - Maitland - 0.450 million
About 161 kilometers (100 miles) up the coast from Sydney, and still within the state of New South Wales, is the captivating city of Newcastle. As Australia's second-oldest city (settled in 1801 and founded as a city in 1885), a stroll around Newcastle's core reveals an array of architectural approaches from the 19th and 20th centuries. And while walking about, the pull of the idyllic coastline will soon enough, and rightfully so, win the day. While this city kicked into high gear due to its steel, coal, and copper industries, modern Newcastle (and its Novocastrian residents) has developed its creative and athleisure sides.
9. Sunshine Coast - 0.347 million
The Sunshine Coast is a peri-urban region in Southeast Queensland, just up the road from Brisbane. It is another well-named spot, as it consists of a pleasant, year-round sub-tropical climate and 65 kilometers (40 miles) of beaches full of resorts, chill surf spots, and a steady supply of sun-seekers. The Sunshine Coast can be a place for relaxation, high-octane adventures on the water, or around the mountains and rainforests of Queensland's Scenic Rim, which includes a total of three UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.
10. Central Coast - 0.335 million
The Central Coast is another peri-urban area, this time back in New South Wales, roughly equidistant between Sydney and Newcastle. The Central Coast brings it all together with cool beach towns, great grub, outdoor adventures, a bit of laid-back luxury and all the other Australian splendor that comes from a place that is embraced by the South Pacific Ocean on one side, and equally huge, protected green spaces on the other. If Sydney is a bit too rambunctious for your liking, then pop up to the Central Coast, where you will still be in good company but with more room to breathe that salty shoreline air.
It is easy to see why Australian cities have been on the rise. Stunning natural surroundings, trendy urban planning, and quirky, friendly folks create a solid trifecta of appeal. Whether you are looking for a great vacation spot or a place to call home, the largest of Australia's cities will happily oblige.