A Guide To The Vivid Sydney Festival

It’s that time of year again, Vivid Sydney is back again!

This epic light festival is held for about three weeks each year, with unique light installations lighting up the city, as well as all kinds of entertainment, different shows, delicious food trucks and so much to explore all over Sydney.

We’ve been itching to go to Vivid for years, just never managed to be in Sydney at the right time. So this year when we were invited to visit by Sydney Harbour YHA we jumped on the opportunity. It was a super quick trip, just a 24 hour overnight stay, but that was all we needed to experience the best of what Vivid Sydney has to offer!

Here’s our complete guide with everything you need to know if you’re heading to Vivid this year.

vivid sydney

What is Vivid Sydney?

Vivid Sydney is an epic festival of creativity that spreads across the city with countless light displays, artwork, performances, parties and more. 2019 makes the 11th annual Vivid Festival, which has become one of Sydney’s most awarded festivals over the last few years.

This year Vivid Sydney is on from the 24th of May to the 15th of June, with the city coming to life each evening at 6pm. There are 9 main locations around Sydney where these light displays have been set up, with each location offering something different to explore.

The Vivid festival is broken into three different sections –

  • Vivid Light is the most famous part of the festival, with beautiful light displays bringing the city to life after the sun has gone down.
  • Vivid Music entertains visitors across the city with all kinds of shows, performances and music experiences happening each night.
  • Vivid Ideas is where you can head for the ultimate inspiration and learning opportunities, with future-facing talks, hands-on workshops and all kinds of forums to inspire you in every way.

view from yha sydney harbour

Vivid’s Lights On!

For the ultimate way to watch the city light up from Vivid Sydney, find yourself a rooftop with epic views over Sydney Harbour. Each night at 6pm is Lights On! where the city slowly glistens to life with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge coming to life, as well as many of the surrounding city buildings.

We had a great spot to watch Lights On! on the rooftop of Sydney Harbour YHA. Just a couple of blocks back from the waterfront, in the heart of The Rocks, we were in the perfect spot to see the city come to life and to explore some of the best installations from the festival.

We headed up to the rooftop a little early and were also treated to a beautiful sunset, with mother nature offering her own light show before the official festival show even began. It was stunning. We spent a little while watching the beginning of the festival from the rooftop, enjoying the delicious spread of drinks and nibbles that YHA had put on, before to set off on a walking tour around The Rocks.

READ MORE:
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vivid sydney - opera house

Highlights of Vivid Sydney

To really experience everything that Vivid Sydney has to offer, you definitely need more than one night to explore. Many of the installations are spread out across many different suburbs across the city and it would be impossible to see them all in one night!

If you only have one night to explore, the absolute can’t miss highlight of Vivid is definitely the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Head down to Sydney Harbour first to see some of the best installations and then you can probably fit in one more secondary location, depending on how long you spend in each place.

We’ve put together some of the highlights here, grouped together by their location to give you an easier a breakdown of what to see where.

sydney opera house - vivid sydney

Sydney Harbour & Circular Quay

Austral Flora Ballet || Sydney Harbour

In our opinion, the undisputed star of the whole Vivid festival is the Sydney Opera House. Seeing this iconic Australian landmark light up with dancing colours and images is just beautiful. We could have watched it for hours. This year the theme of the Opera House artwork showed all kinds of Australian native flora dancing across the sails of the Opera House.

READ MORE:
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Ballerina || Circular Quay 

We loved this ballerina display (image below), that stretches across the side of the harbour and dances into the night. Twenty dancing ballerinas light up and twirl around the harbour in sequence, all put to the perfect musical backdrop. It’s like the kind of Christmas light displays that perfectly co-ordinate lights and music, and gave a beautiful touch to the harbour.

vivid sydney ballerinas

Under The Harbour || Customs House, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay 

One of the favourite displays is the show on Customs House, which is right across the street from Circular Quay train station. This very bright and colourful display launches you under the sea and into an underwater fantasy world, with the giant octopus one of the clear highlights.

Harbour Lights & City Sparkle || Circular Quay 

Watch the entire city come to life, from the sky scrapers of the CBD, to the Harbour Bridge and even the boats coming in and out. The harbour is the best place to see the whole city come to life each night, with strobes stretching high into the air and buildings turning all different shades of pink, green, purple and yellow.

Check out the best places to stay in Sydney Harbour.

vivid sydney in the rocks

The Rocks

Pixar: 30 Years of Art & Animation || Argyle Street, The Rocks 

Projected onto the roof of the Argyle Cut tunnel in the Rocks is a special video celebrating 30 years of Pixar! The video is a compilation of all different stages of Pixar animations over the last 30 years, from stick figure drawings to snippets from the actual movies. Infamous soundtracks can be heard for streets around, that will have you flocking to watch your favourite cartoons in the dark tunnel.

There are even some behind the scenes sneak peek images from Toy Story 4 coming out next month!

Goo! || Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George Street, The Rocks

Head to Cadman’s Cottage where you can become a human shaped fluorescent pile of goo dancing on the side of a cottage. One of the interactive displays around the city, you can get right up in the action and watch a pile of goo imitating your dancing in super size and colour!

30 years of pixar vivid sydney

Samsung Electric Playground || First Fleet Park 

A crazy place to check out if you have a Samsung phone. Word on the street is that this display is uniquely changed for each and every person that enters the playground, with interactive experiences and a strong focus on up and coming technology. From the outside the electric playground also just looks like one of the prettiest displays, definitely worth a look anyway!

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Let Me Down || Museum of Contemporary Art, 140 George Street, The Rocks

While impressive, this one is probably a little bit depressing and our least favourite of all the displays. On the side of the Museum of Contemporary Art is a bit of a sad dedication to a lost love. While the light display is impressive and even beautiful at times, the depressing quotes and sad fonts throughout felt more like a depressing tumblr image than a highlight of the festival.

light tree vivid sydney

The Royal Botanic Gardens

The Royal Botanic Gardens, right next to the Opera House is also home to more than 15 light installations and displays. There is a one way walking path that guides you around a circular track, taking you to all the installations before leaving you back at the Opera House.

There are all kinds of displays around the gardens, from a field of firefly inspired lights, to light up trees and all kinds of shapes and colours launching out of the ground, the trees and even hanging in the sky. It takes around an hour to walk around the whole path, depending on how long you stop to experience the installations.

For another epic view, walk around to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair to get both the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in view together. It’s one of the most postcard worthy shots you’ll get in Sydney.

firefly field vivid sydney

Taronga Zoo

Lights For The Wild || Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Road, Mosman 

One of the highlights of the Vivid festival this year is the light show put on at the Taronga Zoo. Overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour backdrop, this zoo is already one of the most picturesque and perfectly located in the world, but add Vivid Sydney into the mix and it’s a whole different story.

There are light installations and sculptures all throughout the zoo, with some of the highlights being features of the koalas, tigers, marine turtles, bees, and even a gorilla family! You will need to purchase tickets to the Zoo to check out these displays, but it’s absolutely worth it.

There are two sessions per night that go for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours and takes you on a walk through the Zoo and all the light displays. Tickets are $26.95 per adult, with discounts available.

light installation vivid sydney

Chatswood

It might be a little out of the way, but Chatswood is also jam packed full of all different light installations, and is another spot to check out if you’ve given yourself a few days to explore Vivid. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go out and explore the displays around Chatswood, but they look just as incredible!

Some of the highlights around the Chatswood area include –

  • The tall trumpet flowers on Victoria Avenue
  • Woodie the robot using Chatswood as a canvas for his unique chalk drawings
  • Discovering black holes into new worlds at the Sounds of Infinity display
  • The Concourse building also has a number of different displays and light shows project over the course of the festival
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sydney harbour bridge during vivid sydney

Darling Harbour

Head to Darling Harbour where you can find Tumbalong Lights, an interactive play space that offer all kinds of insane displays, installations and pieces that are sure to get the mind wandering.

This year Tumbalong Lights have focused on the whole universe, to bring us all kinds of amazing experiences with themes such as Alien Visitors, Under The Milky Way, Space Balls, To The Moon & Back, and more!

It seems that robots have also descended on Darling Harbour this year, with several robot focused installations, including Dream States and Robot Spaceland on Sussex Street.

Darling Harbour is about a 15 minute drive from Circular Quay and the main area of the festival, so make sure you give yourself enough time to get over there and explore.

cocktails on the roof of yha sydney harbour

Where to stay for Vivid Sydney

In all honesty, we have always been a little hesitant about staying in a hostel. We sometimes feel a little out of place with all the backpackers and the heavy party vibe. But Sydney Harbour YHA completely changed our view of hostels.

With one of the best locations in The Rocks, Sydney Harbour YHA didn’t feel like your typical hostel at all. There were people of all ages checking in and they have gone above and beyond to make sure you don’t miss out on any creature comforts.

We had a private room with our own bathroom, and it was not missing anything at all. In fact, it actually felt more like a hotel room than a typical basic hostel. Our room included everything from a hairdryer, towels, tea and coffee facilities, to beautiful views, a wardrobe and even a TV on the wall! It completely changed what we thought about hostels!

If you’re heading to Sydney to visit Vivid definitely check out Sydney Harbour YHA for your stay. Not only can you check our the Lights On! moment from their rooftop, but the location can’t be beaten, giving you a great base to explore from. There’s even a grocery store across the road and the closest train station is less than a 5 minute walk.

Sydney Harbour YHA are also offering a special if you’re visiting for the Vivid Festival, with discount rates plus a Vivid Cruise when you stay for 3 nights. Check out the Sydney Harbour YHA website for all the details and to book directly.

Sydney Harbour YHA || 110 Cumberland Street, The Rocks || Ph: (02) 8272 0900

samsung electric playground vivid sydney

After wanting to check out Vivid Sydney for many years it was awesome to finally get there and experience one of Sydney’s most famous festivals. If you have the time try and dedicate at least two to three nights if you really want to explore all the areas around the city. You definitely need more than one night to really get out and check out the sights away from Sydney Harbour.

If you want to really check out the best of Vivid Sydney, check out some of the local events and activities that are on offer. Head to the Vivid Sydney website for the times and locations of all the performances, shows, workshops and idea expos during the festival.

We visited Vivid Sydney as guests of Sydney Harbour YHA. All opinions are, as always, our own.

Explore more of our adventures around Sydney

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guide to vivid sydney   guide to vivid sydney

Happy travels,



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Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started Explore Shaw to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

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1 Comment

  • kimmconn May 28, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Great Guide! Really enjoyed reading about Vivid Sydney. Wonderful photos!

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    Just two twenty-something married Aussies, visiting as many places as we can in between normal life, and hoping to inspire and offer advice for your travel planning.

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