Vivid Sydney was never a more appropriate name for a festival. A festival of light, music and ideas, Vivid Sydney sees the city’s already dazzling waterfront area spectacularly illuminated by lighting projections and installations while creative events around Sydney light up minds.
UPDATE May 2016. Vivid Sydney is on once again, from 27 May to 18 June 2016, and this year’s outdoor installations, projections and sculptures look even more spectacular than those we captured a few years ago, below.
Scroll to the end of this post for our update on Vivid 2016 and our handy guide.
Vivid Sydney, a Festival of Light, Music and Ideas
Held for a few weeks at the start of winter, Vivid Sydney was one of the reasons we returned to our home town a few years ago.
While we didn’t have time to get along to any of the inspiring events organised under the umbrella of the Vivid Ideas Exchange, which included public talks and discussions with leading thinkers, creatives and artists, we did make time to stroll the waterfront (several times) to take in the creative light installations.
What we loved most was that the installations were far more than light shows. They not only captivated with their vibrancy and vivid use of colour, but they captured the imagination in ways I couldn’t have envisaged.
The smaller installations on the ground were interactive and playfully engaging, involving their audience in creative ways, while the larger installations projected onto some of Sydney’s most iconic buildings, such as the Sydney Opera House, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), and Customs House were visual and aural feasts of light, sound and kaleidoscopic colour.
Each experience was entirely different to the next, ranging from the arty and avant garde (Sydney Opera House) to the dramatic and cinematic (the MCA), to the whimsical and futuristic (on Customs House). And each lighting installation not only offered an aesthetic and sensual experience but an intellectual one, provoking thought and pleasure at the same time.
Vivid was an absolute delight to experience and the experience of it became addictive, enticing us back for more light, colour and sound night after night.
Vivid Sydney 2016
Now in its eighth year, Vivid Sydney has turned into a massive event. It lured some 1.7 million visitors to Sydney last year. If you can’t make it this year, mark your calendar for 2017.
Of the 66 breathtakingly innovative projections of Vivid Light, some of which illuminate Sydney’s most iconic monuments, highlights include the Sydney Opera House’s Lighting The Sails, Cathedral Of Light in the Botanic Gardens, Sydney’s Hidden Stories on Custom House, and Taronga Zoo’s Be the Light for the Wild, featuring animal sculptures of critical species.
Two fun interactive installations at Circular Quay are I Love You, which invites lovers to light up the heart-shaped Love-O-Metre with a declaration of passion for their beloved, and In the Frame, which enables participates to insert themselves into infinity.
In addition to the breathtakingly innovative illuminations of Vivid Light, concerts and performances under the umbrella of Vivid Music, and inspiring talks and stimulating discussions as part of Vivid Ideas.
Also on is the 63rd Sydney Film Festival (8-19 June), a wonderful event which I used to get to annually when we lived in Sydney, with over 300 screenings of more than 150 films from some 50 or so countries.
Carriageworks, meanwhile, is hosting a Night Market (4-18 June), with over 50 stall-holders, along with Sydney’s finest chefs and producers offering an “immersive” nightly Cooking with Fire event to stimulate the appetite.
Our Vivid Sydney Guide
- Lights go on at 6pm daily and go off at 11pm, even when it rains.
- Illuminations and installations or ‘activations’ as Vivid Sydney likes to call them, take place at numerous spots around the city including Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera House, The Rocks, Martin Place, Darling Harbour, Walsh Bay, Central Park, Chatswood, Carriageworks, Sydney Harbour, Taronga Zoo, The Royal Botanic Gardens and The Galeries.
- Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights are super busy, so try to go early in the week or mid-week.
- If you’re not a fan of crowds, there are great views from Bradfield Park, beneath the Harbour Bridge at North Sydney, Luna Park, Lavender Bay, Pyrmont Park, and from the ferries that criss-cross the harbour.
- Vivid Ideas events are on at 40 venues with the Game-Changers Talks on at the Sydney Town Hall. There are 60 events alone at the Vivid Ideas Exchange on Level 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
- Most events are free, although tickets for the Vivid Sydney installations at Taronga Zoo (open nightly from 5.30pm–9.30pm) are: Adults $17.95, Children/Concession $11.95. There’s info on purchasing tickets for the Music and Ideas events on the Vivid Sydney website below.
- Download the free Vivid Sydney app from the App Store or Google Play Store for your smartphone, iPad or tablet.
- If you’re not staying within walking distance, use public transport. Extra buses and trains have been scheduled. Don’t even think about driving in. Many roads are closed, there’s little parking, and traffic will be insane. More about transport below.
Travelling to Sydney
- If you’re heading to Vivid Sydney, do browse our Sydney stories, which include local guides to Sydney architecture, inner-city suburbs to experience, the best beaches, the best harbour and ocean swimming pools, the Bondi to Bronte walk, best bars, and eating and drinking in Sydney. You’ll also find a guide to Sydney on a budget and a handy self-guided stroll around Sydney.
- If you’re looking for accommodation in Sydney, we strongly recommend you stay in the heart of the city, in the Sydney CBD, close to Circular Quay and The Rocks, or around Darling Harbour or Pyrmont. Otherwise, opt for inner-city suburbs within walking distance or a short bus ride away, such as Surry Hills, Darlinghurst or Potts Point. These are our picks, including apartment rentals and rooms with a view (the Four Seasons and Sydney Harbour YHA, both reviewed, offer some of the most impressive Vivid Sydney vistas).
- For transport info, call 131 500 to find out what your options are, plan your travel using the transportnsw.info trip planner, and download travel apps at www.transportnsw.info/apps for up-to-date service info.
- Buy an Opal card so you don’t have to queue for transport tickets. Go to www.opal.com.au or if you live in Australia or are staying a while call 13 67 25 (13 OPAL) to order a card. Allow five working days for delivery in Australia.
UPDATED May 2016.
We visited Vivid in 2012 as guests of Destination NSW.