Ever seen those stunning images of Sydney’s icons lit up in an array of colours? Those were most likely taken during Vivid Sydney.
An annual festival held over three weeks across Sydney each May and June, there is so much more to Vivid Sydney than just the immersive light installations and projections on Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House that it is most famous for.
First held in 2009 as a simple lighting up of the sails of the Opera House, the festival has grown to become the largest festival of lights, music and ideas in the world. Officially celebrating creativity, innovation and technology with a number of events across Sydney.
Having visited Vivid Sydney several times since its inception, I’ve seen the event grow and expand and picked up some very handy tips along the way. Most of which I’ve put together in this handy blog post to help you plan your trip.
Where Is Vivid Sydney Held?
Vivid Sydney is held in a variety of locations spread across the city. While much of the focus is on the art installations and immersive light installations around the harbour, the festival actually spreads from Circular Quay all the way to Haymarket in the centre of the city.
You’ll find trail light and art installations linking the two through The Rocks, Barangaroo and Darling Harbour. As well as some special light installations (usually ticketed events) held at Taronga Zoo and The Royal Botanic Gardens if you want to get the full Vivid experience.
That said, given the broad scale of the event, you can get some stunning views all across the city, especially from the northern side of the harbour. Most notably Kiribilli and Blues Point.
In addition to the famous lights, there are also many other special events across the city as part of Vivid. Some are ticketed, but many are free. These include musical performances, dining and cultural experience, as well as talks and presentations.
For the full list of light installations and events, check out the official Vivid Sydney website.
Where To Stay For Vivid Sydney
As I’ve just mentioned, Vivid Sydney is actually spread across many installations all over the city.
However, to really make the most of your Vivid experience, you are going to want to stay in one of the hotels that offer uninterrupted views of the lights for something truly special.
For the best views of the whole of Sydney, all lit up; I’d actually recommend staying on the north side of the Harbour. Not only will you get some of the best views from the comfort of your room, but it’s also just a short train and/or ferry ride into the city to explore the rest of the experiences Vivid has to offer.
Just keep in mind the options with the best views are limited and tend to book up fast. Have a look at Milson Serviced Apartments in North Sydney for views of the Harbour Bridge. In comparison, the upper levels of the Meriton Suites North Sydney offer an even better vantage point.
If you have your heart set on staying in the city, Circular Quay and The Rocks obviously have some of the most iconic views. But also attracts the highest prices.
The Shangri-La Sydney and The Sebel Quay West Suites Sydney, also to a lesser extent, the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, offer the best views of both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. At the same time, the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour looks out over the bridge and The Rocks.
Otherwise, there is a tonne of other accommodation options all over the city. Just remember, given the popularity of Vivid Sydney, all of the hotels will have inflated prices, especially on the weekends.
Best Photo Locations Of Vivid Sydney
While seeing the lights is one thing, getting your own photos of Vivid Sydney is one of the key reasons people visit.
Trust me, it’s a photographer’s dream (aside from the crowds) and while I’m not going to give away all of my secret spots, here are a couple that you can take advantage of to capture your own stunning photos during Vivid Sydney.
While this one is often forgotten these days, in the early days of Vivid, only the western side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, so to get those amazing photos of both the bridge and the Sydney Opera House, you needed to take advantage of this viewpoint.
Now that both sides of the Harbour Bridge are lit up, it’s less common for hoards of people to visit Blue Point, so you can get some cool photos while avoiding the worst of the crowds. Just remember parking around this area is quite limited if you plan to drive, and it’s not really an easy walk to the train station.
Again on the northern side of the Harbour, the views from Luna Park are exceptional. Even if you don’t plan on going into the city, you can get some really stunning shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Circular Quay.
It’s also easily accessible from the train station, so you don’t need to worry about driving into the city if you do want to explore the rest of Vivid. Just make sure you bring a wide lens (16mm or wider) and a zoom lens (200mm or longer) so you can get a good mix of photos while you are at Luna Park, especially the bridge.
Mrs Macquarie’s Chair
This one is a tricky one, while Mrs Macquarie’s Chair offers some of the best views of both the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Especially at sunset! But the gates to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden, where you’ll find this location, are locked from 6pm during the winter. Right around sunset.
You can still get back to the city to explore the rest of the festival, but it is a really long walk around the outside of the Botanical Gardens to get back. As a result, you don’t tend to get large crowds in this location and you can get some stunning sunset photos as well, but you will reduce the amount of time you will have to explore the rest of Vivid, especially if you are trying to do as much as possible in one night.
Cahill Expressway Walk
Located above Circular Quay train station, this location gives you an elevated viewpoint out over the harbour with sweeping views from the Opera House to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
To access the Cahill Expressway Walk, there is an elevator. Just look for the Cahill Walk Lookout on Google Maps. The elevator is glass enclosed, so it’s pretty obvious once you are in the general area. Take it all the way to the top for some of the best views during Vivid. There is also a stairwell accessible from The Rocks if you know where to look.
A couple of things to keep in mind with this particular location, while it was relatively unknown in the early days of Vivid Sydney, it’s very well-known and popular these days. So it does draw quite the crowd, especially photographers.
Another thing to note is that if you are planning on using a tripod to get those cool long-exposure photos, the Expressway vibrates quite a lot when cars and trains (underneath) move along it. Just keep that in mind with your taking your shots.
While the other locations I’ve mentioned have been focused on getting photos of the most iconic structures of Sydney Harbour, Darling Harbour has also always been one of the key attractions of Vivid Sydney.
Most of the crowds tend to flock to the waterfront and explore the restaurants around this part of the harbour Pyrmont Bridge offers fantastic 360-degree views, especially for the water and pyrotechnics show that takes place each night during the festival.
Getting To And From Vivid Sydney
For those of you who live well outside of Sydney and interstate, it makes the most sense to stay in or near the city (ideally at some of the recommendations I made above to really make the most of your trip).
That said, if you live closer to the city, public transport is going to be your best bet. Parking in the city can be quite hit-and-miss, especially if you want to make the most of Vivid Sydney and explore the city until the lights turn off. Even driving through the city since the Light Rail was installed can prove to be complicated if you don’t do it often.
If you live or are staying on the northern side of the harbour, then a ferry ride into the city will give you a different perspective of the light installations as you make your way across the water.
To really mix up your experience, use the ferry one way and then the train over the Sydney Harbour Bridge (just make sure you sit upstairs next to the window), the other for really unique views.
Food Options During Vivid Sydney
Obviously, you’ve got a number of restaurants to choose from while in Sydney.
If you’d like to enjoy the lights while also enjoying some fine dining, then I would suggest making a reservation at any one of the restaurants in and around Circular Quay, The Rocks or Darling Harbour.
However, if like myself, you would prefer to see as much of Vivid in one night as possible. Then keep an eye out for the food vans that are set up near the lighting installations.
Given the popularity of the event, there is an abundance of options that show up each night, offering a wide variety of cuisine to choose from. While I’d like to offer some suggests, they change from year to year. But just give them a try; the food will be much better than grabbing something from the fast food restaurants in the city.
Spending Time In Sydney During The Day
I still need to put together my comprehensive guide of everything that Sydney has to offer, but there are plenty of ways to spend daylight hours during your time there.
Another good option is to explore the contrast between the historic and ultra-modern across The Rocks and Barangaroo. While you are in this part of the city, why not check out the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia or take on the Bridge Climb?
The Bridge Climb is going to much much cheaper and less likely to be booked out during the day rather than trying to do one of their night climbs during Vivid. Alternatively, you could just walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge along the pedestrian footpath for free.
General Vivid Sydney Tips
First things first, Sydney gets quite busy during Vivid. Quite literally, millions of people visit the city during Vivid Sydney over the course of the three weeks of the festival. As such, some of the main viewpoints, particularly around Circular Quay, do become crowded very quickly when the lights first turn on.
So I have two suggestions. If there is something you really want to see (or photograph) as soon as the lights turn on, then make sure you arrive at that viewpoint before the sunsets to ensure you have the best spot.
Alternatively, leave it to be the last thing you visit before the lights turn off for the night at 11pm. By this point, the crowds will have mostly dispersed.
If you really want to avoid crowds, wait for a rainy day. For obvious reasons, the crowds will be significantly reduced. If you are a super keen photographer, the rain also adds an extra element you can include in your photos. Just note that during more extreme weather, the lights won’t be turned on at all.
Also, remember June is winter in Sydney, and once the sun sets, it gets cold very quickly.
To make the most of your Vivid Sydney experience, look out for restaurants that offer views of the harbour and book a table as well in advance of your trip as possible.
That wraps up my picks for the best advice for attending the Vivid Sydney for the first time.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.
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