Sydney city turns on a big show each January 26th to celebrate our national day so if this is your first Australia Day in Sydney we have put together a list of the highlights to help you decide how to join in the celebrations. If you are a visitor to Sydney make sure you are down at the harbour for the Tall ships race. It’s most certainly a highlight.
Updated: 8 January 2019
- What are we celebrating on Australia Day?
- What should you do on Australia Day in Sydney?
- Australia Day at Barangaroo
- Australia Day on Sydney Harbour
- Australia Day Harbour Cruises
- The Rocks
- Australia Day in North Sydney
- Hyde Park and the CBD
- Australia Day Concert at the Sydney Opera House
- Darling Harbour
- Victoria Park – Yabun Festival
- Suburban Events
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.
The key events on the city schedule are:
- Vigil at Barangaroo – 25 January 2019 8:00 pm – reflect on the impact of colonisation
- WulgulOra Morning Ceremony at Barangaroo – 7:45 am
- GIO Oz Day 10K Wheelchair Race – 9 am
- Ferrython – 10:45 am
- Wiggles Australia Day Concert – 11 am
- Tallships Race – 1 pm
- Australia Day Regatta – 1:30 pm – 5 pm
- Australia Day live – 6:30pm – 9:30pm
- Circular Quay Fireworks 9:15 pm
Australia Day at Barangaroo
Barangaroo provides the perfect spot for an Australia Day picnic with a view.
If you are looking for something uniquely Australian, then start the day at Barangaroo with an indigenous smoking ceremony at 7.45am and the WulgulOra Morning Ceremony at 8 am.
This celebration includes performances by the Kori Choir, and the Koomurri Aboriginal Dance Troupe 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.
Australia Day on Sydney Harbour
The harbour is home to some of the day’s most spectacular events.
At 10.45am the Sydney Harbour Ferrython First Fleet ferries, line up for a race down the harbour, 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 1 pm. 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.
Australia Day Harbour Cruises
Being out on the harbour is THE best place to be on Australia Day. All the cruise operators sell spectator tickets that usually include a food and beverage package.
Tall Ships Regatta Cruise
This is my personal favourite. Imagine being part of the official Australia Day Regatta, racing up the harbour in full sail. This tall ship cruise includes unlimited drinks, live entertainment and a bbq style lunch.
If I were choosing a cruise for myself, this would be it. Every tall ship experience I have had has been memorable.
Check out the full details and prices of the cruise here
Australia Day Ferrython spectator cruise with seafood buffet lunch
This cruise will have you on the water in time for the Ferrython race which is quite a sight. Being out in the thick of the race cheering the ferries on is a whole lot of fun.
This buffet lunch cruise includes light refreshments and plenty of time out in action on the harbour.
Check out all the details and the schedule here
Australia Day Dinner Cruise with fireworks
If you like the idea of a seated lunch, then you might like this offering by Vagabond Cruises. With a 3-hour dinner cruise and view of the fireworks show from Darling Harbour, it’s perfect for anyone who missed NYE!
The cruise offers a buffet dinner and a three-hour cruise around the harbour.
Check out the photos and prices of the cruise here.
The Rocks will see plenty of action throughout the day with activities planned from 9 am
The Streets of The Rocks will provide the route 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 if it is open.
The following events will run from 10 am
- Giant Games on George Street
- The Tallawoladah Stage will feature Aboriginal stories, music, song and dance
- The Warrane DJ Stage for great Aussie musical talent
- A chill-out zone in the Overseas Passenger Terminal
Australia Day in North Sydney
BBQ by the Bridge at Bradfield Park
Celebrating Australia’s multiculturalism with bbq cuisine from across the globe. Taste specialities from America, Korea, Europe, India, The Philippines, Middle East, Brazil, Spain and South America. There will be live music from local bands and DJs, a jumping castle, face painting and circus activities to keep the kids amused, and a range of free entertainment between 10 am and 4 pm.
This event offers great harbour views for the Ferrython and Regatta and lots of family-friendly fun; you can even bring your dog!
Full event details here
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 that runs for most of January.
Australia Day Concert at the 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 is the centrepiece of the Australia Day celebrations for families with a large children’s festival.
The children’s entertainment kicks off at 11 am, with a free concert by the Wiggles. Music and dance performances will continue in Tumbalong Park until 6 pm.
From 12-3 pm you can join in the True Blue Festival and try your hand at throwing a thong or join in the watermelon eating competition.
From 3 pm it’s time for the grown-ups program with DJs and live performances. 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. The 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 an excellent line-up of artists to entertain – it’s a great day out!
It’s a great way to learn more about Aboriginal culture.
For more information check the official website.
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; Christine Anu, Rai Thistlethwayte (Thirsty Merc), and Mark Vincent. Firework show at 9 pm. More information
Enmore Park – Inner West Council are hosting a family picnic with lots of free activities from 3 pm and live entertainment from 4 pm. Mental as Anything will perform at 7.45pm and fireworks at 8:45 pm. Full program here
Dee Why Beach – Australia 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. The day begins with a hot air balloon display, a vintage car show, the Parravison talent quest, the Big BBQ featuring the big Lamb competition and fireworks show to wrap things up. Full program 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
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