What to do on Australia Day in Sydney

Australia Day in Sydney Tall Ship race

Sydney city turns on a big show on January 26th each year to celebrate our national day.

What are we celebrating on Australia Day?

Officially Australia Day commemorates the founding of the colony of Sydney on the 26 January 1788 when the ships of the first fleet arrived. However, not everyone feels that this is the right choice for a national day as it also represents the day that the indigenous peoples of Sydney’s world changed in the worst way possible.  This post is not going to delve into this debate, but there is more about it here if you are interested.

What should you do on Australia Day in Sydney?

So where should you head to join in the celebrations? Well, there are plenty of choices, and it is possible to cover all if you are in the mood for a big day out.  Below is a brief rundown of the most popular city based options but along with these almost every local council runs their own celebrations.  You can find the full list here.

Where to go – Barangaroo

Barangaroo provides the perfect spot for an Australia Day picnic with a view.

Barangaroo Sydney

If you are looking for something uniquely Australian, then start the day at Barangaroo with a smoking ceremony at 7.45am and the WulgulOra Morning Ceremony at 8 am.  This celebration includes performances by the Kori Choir, and the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company celebrates Australia’s traditional landowners and ends with the raising of the Aboriginal and Australian flags on the harbour bridge.

Barangaroo also offers an excellent vantage point to watch the finish of the Sydney Harbour Ferrython.

Sydney Harbour

The harbour is home to some of the day’s most spectacular events.

Sydney Opera House on Australia Day

Next move on to the Harbour. At 10.45am the Sydney Harbour Ferrython First Fleet ferries, line up for a race down the harbour. Captain Cook cruises are selling tickets for spectator craft so you can be out in the thick of the race cheering the ferries on, alternatively, just line up along the foreshore between Bradleys Head and the Harbour Bridge for a good view.

From 11.45am near Circular Quay, there will be a naval salute on the HMAS Adelaide accompanied by choirs performing the national anthem at various locations around the harbour. A 21 gun salute and a flyover by the RAFF will follow.

From 12.30pm, it will be all eyes on the skies with displays by the Russian Roolettes, The Red Berets parachute display and a flyover by Qantas.

The Tall Ship Race will get underway straight after this at 1pm-1.30pm. Visually this is my favourite event – the ships in full sail are a majestic sight. The race starts at Bradley’s head and finishes under the Harbour Bridge.

The Rocks

The Rocks will see plenty of action throughout the day; this area draws the big crowds. 

The Rocks on a quieter day

The Streets of The Rocks will provide the track for the annual 10K Wheelchair Race from 9am-10.30am.  The best place to watch the action is George Street or from the Cahill Walk for a bird’s eye view.

The following events will run from 12.30pm6.30pm

  • Giant Games on George Street  – monster versions of  Jenga, Chess, Lego, Connect 4, Checkers, and Snakes and Ladders
  • Two stages showcasing Aussie musical talent
  • Kiss FM’s Giant Swing 

Hyde Park and the CBD

Take a vintage bus ride up Elizabeth Street for a gold coin donation (proceeds – Sydney Bus Museum) and visit Hyde Park.  Hyde Park will host the usual Festival Village.

Sydney Opera House

There will be plenty of crowds at the Opera House for the Australia Day concert featuring Guy Sebastian, Tina Area and Dami Im. Tickets are free and available from Jan 16th from this site.  If you don’t manage to get a ticket, it might be best to steer clear 🙂 

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour is the best place to end your Australia Day celebrations with a grand fireworks display.

By Nigel Howe from Sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s also ideal for families with small kids. From mid-morning, there will be music and dance performances at Harbourside, Darling Quarter and Cockle Bay.  At Tumbalong Park the Wiggles will entertain the kids from 11 am and a full kids program will run until 6.30pm

An official evening programme begins at 7.15pm with the Presentation of Australian of the year followed by a concert featuring Sneaky Sound System, who will perform at 8 pm.  You are advised to arrive early to ensure you will be allowed into the area as it will be close if it becomes too crowded. 

The fireworks show will run from 9-9.15pm

Victoria Park – Yabun Festival

If you are interested in the Indigenous celebrations, get along to Victoria Park for the Yabun Festival.  This festival will run from 11 am – 6 pm and is by far the biggest one-day celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia.  There is a great line-up of artists to entertain – it’s a great day out!

For more information check the official website 


Suburban Events

If you prefer to stay outside the city centre, I would recommend checking out one of these great local events.

Cronulla – The program kicks off at 1 pm with Aussie Music from 4 pm. Highlights include; Original Sin INXS Show and Aussie rock idols being showcased. At 7.15pm there will be a performance by the 10 Tenors followed by a fireworks how at 9 pm. More information

Enmore Park – Inner West Council are hosting a family picnic with lots of free activities from 2 pm and live entertainment from 4 pm.  Diesel will perform at 7.45pm and fireworks at 8.45pm.  Full program here 

Dee Why BeachAustralia Day Breakfast – The fun starts From 7 am with BBQ breakfast, Thong throwing competitions and more

Parramatta Park – This is an excellent choice for families with lots of fun stuff for the kids,  a vintage car show, a hottest 100 countdown and a fireworks show to wrap things up. More details here 

So either get out and enjoy the city or if crowds are not sure your thing find the nearest BBQ and have a few Australian beers with some friends.

If you join in the action in any way you can share your images online with using #AustraliaDay


Featured image Creative Commons By Travis Simon from Sydney, Australia (Australia Day 2010Uploaded by berichard) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Australia Day is always a spectacle to behold in Sydney. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when this day was celebrated! Seeing the flag flown through the skyline gave me goosebumps. The fireworks are just a joy to watch too. I missed the Yabun Festival though. I hope I get another chance to be in Sydney again!

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