VIVID Sydney Lights Up The City

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It’s freezing cold as I stand on the deck of the ferry. We pull away from Luna Park heading to Circular Quay from Darling Harbour. As the ferry turns into the wind, I shudder and begin to shake. But not with the cold, just mere awe and excitement. ‘Oh, my Godfather’ I mutter under my breath. We pass under the laser-mounted Harbour Bridge. Beams of light flare high into the sky. I gasp as the Sydney Opera House, one of the most famous Australian landmarks comes into view. It is simply stunning. So this is Vivid Sydney – epic!

VIVID Sydney – The Light Show

If you haven’t visited Sydney during the VIVID Sydney Festival, then you simply HAVE to put it on your bucket list.

So what are the VIVID Sydney dates?

Well for three weeks in winter in May to June each year, Sydney lights up the sky with an amazing outdoor immersive light experience.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival
From top clockwise: Sydney City lights up at Darling Harbour and Circular Quay

Since it began in 2009, it has become ‘bigger than Ben Hur’.

Now it is the largest light festival in the world with over 2.3 million visitors entertained in 2017.

Sydney transforms into a nighttime winter wonderland, from the central business district (CBD) to surrounding suburbs.

All manner of small and large light art exhibits transform the world re-known landmarks and popular locations.

Vivid Sydney Venues

Each year Vivid Sydney is bigger and bigger.

In 2009 it actually began as a Smart Light Festival promoting energy-efficient light.

The illuminated sides of the Opera House were seen by 500,000 visitors in those early days.

The festival then earned the City of Sydney a profit of $10 million.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival - Harbour Bridge and Luna Park
Sydney Harbour Bridge with Bradfield’s Beacon and the famous Luna Park joins Vivid Sydney

However, 2018 aims to hit a record 2.5 million visitors, bringing in over $200,000 million to Sydney’s economy.

Vivid Sydney locations have expanded and include iconic spots such as the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, The Rocks, Royal Botanic Gardens, Circular Quay, Lunar Park, and Darling Harbour.

Even Kings Cross and Taronga Zoo get a look in.

These are in addition to numerous exhibits in the city such as Barangaroo.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Sydney to enjoy VIVID, I’d suggest The Rocks, CBD or Darling Harbour. 

Highlights of Vivid Sydney

1- The Sydney Opera House: ‘Metamathemagical’

Transforming the Sydney Opera House in 2018 is Jonathan Zawanda’s creation.

His 23 kinetic 3-D work of art designs are inspired by the Australian environment.

Between 6 to 11 pm these dynamic digital sculptures adorn the sails of the world-famous Opera House.

His colourful neon and geometric black and white images seamlessly mutate and transform into fantastical imaginings.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival-Opera House
The stunning colourful light work on the Sydney Opera House

If you see nothing else, you have to make your way down to the harbour or Circular Quay. View this free and totally mesmerizing artwork.

Don’t miss it!

2- Vivid Sydney Harbour, Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay – ‘Skylark’

Vivid Sydney Harbour comes alive as numerous Harbour City Ferries also join in the festivities.

A satellite grid in 2018 coordinated changing of colours on illuminated vessels.

As parts of the grid were crossed, their colours changed accordingly. All this is enhanced by reflections on the water.

This innovative synchronized display was designed by Iain Reed of 32 Hundred Lighting.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival - Sydney Harbour Bridge Circular Quay
Sydney Harbour Bridge looking back to Circular Quay

In addition, let’s not forget the iconic Harbour Bridge with Bradfield’s beacon.

This is the largest laser ever to grace the Harbour shining from its top.

Illuminating the sky and waterways, pointing out famous sites around Sydney Harbour, it’s an amazing effect.

‘Skylark’ also includes the lighting on the Harbour Bridge and the skyscrapers of Circular Quay.

Adding to that are 40 interactive light beams on top of the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

All of this in a two-minute light show, running every half an hour.

What a spectacular sky show connecting all these elements. Stunning!

Vivid Sydney Darling Harbour
Cockle Bay Darling Harbour, Vivid Sydney

3- Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour’s Cockle Bay is fantastic to visit at any time but it really comes to play during Vivid Sydney.

The backdrop includes the huge glass fronted International Convention Centre (ICC), Harbourside and the newly refurbished Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour.

Awe-inspiring water features and laser beams cast into the sky are wonderful for all the family.

The water of Cockle Bay reflects the illuminations.

In addition, watch the colorful projections on the roof of the Maritime Museum.

These featured James Cameron, BBC’s Earth and Blue Planet II in 2018.

It’s an underwater world with a difference!

Vivid Sydney Light Festival - Circular Quay
Join in the nightlife at Circular Quay

All of this and more, yes more. With nightly fireworks at 8 pm, this is definitely a venue for an awesome evening of light.

Don’t forget a good feed as there are many waterside restaurants and cafes to choose from.

4- The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

This is a definite highlight NOT to be missed. Make your way past the steps to the Sydney Opera House.

Follow the path through the QEII gates to the Macquarie Street exit.

A world of fantasy and imagination opens up.

The numerous light art exhibits extend along a 2km path around the shore.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival -Royal Botanic Garden
Stunning illuminations in the tour of the Royal Botanic Garden

There are ‘party’ areas to enjoy some live music and imbibe a little refreshment along the way. Indeed hot mulled wine goes down spectacularly well on a cold night!

Light, color, and movement are yours to explore.

This stunning free party of light ends with an amazing projection onto the Government House Sydney.

Crafted by the TAFE NSW students, this is one NOT to miss.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival -Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden lights in Vivid Sydney


The three-week VIVID Sydney Festival is actually a Light, Music and Ideas Festival.  Technology, commerce and art blends into one.  

Vivid Music is a cutting-edge program of contemporary Australian and International music. Performances are held at major venues around town.

Head to Carriageworks, City Recital Hall, X/Celerate or Vivid LIVE.


X/Celerate is a union between Vivid Sydney and the City of Sydney, showcasing emerging musical talent.

Experience grassroots bands and artists of all genres include soul, jazz, and funky stuff. 

The small local venues are around the city and include the popular Oxford Art Factory. Prices range from free to $150.

Vivid LIVE

Vivid LIVE is an annual music festival held at the Opera House as part of Vivid Sydney.

Many performances in 2018 include artists Ice Cube, Neil Finn, Mazzy Star and Joep Beving.

The Opera House venue is extremely popular, so book early to guarantee a seat.

Vivid Sydney Light Festival 3-geomatrics
Geometricity in digital light artworks at Vivid Sydney


Great minds, innovators and creative come together for public talks, industry seminars, conferences, workshops, and debates.

Bringing headline speakers to Vivid Ideas, Sydney is becoming an industry hub in Asia Pacific.

Thus the innovative ideas program explores creativity in professional development and tech design.

There are also personal success stories with leading industry practitioners.

Part of the program is held at The Art Gallery of NSW where there are free evenings from 5.30 to 9.30pm and guided art tours are on hand too.

How to get to Vivid Sydney

Note there are road closures every evening between 5 to 6 pm so don’t even think of driving your car into the CBD.

  • The public transport around Sydney is very well organized.
  • Get an Opal card, top up or pay as you go.
  • There are trains, buses, light rail, ferries or water taxis.

In addition, use one of the city’s fabulous bike share systems.

Load up an app and get on your bike or check-in for a Vivid Sydney cruise. Starting from only $20, you could find a great bargain.

Last but not least, be prepared for crowds, especially on the weekends, although they do thin out quite a bit after 9 pm.

So where are you going in Vivid Sydney tonight? Looking for somewhere to stay? Check out the ParkRoyal Darling Harbour or perhaps the 1888 Sydney Hotel. 

Compare prices of hotels in Sydney here

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VIVID Sydney Lights Up The City

VIVID Sydney Lights Up The City