What to do on Australia Day in Sydney

Australia Day in Sydney Tall Ship race

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?

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.

Barangaroo Smoking Ceremony Australia Day
The smoking ceremony at Barangaroo is the perfect start for the day. Credit: Australia Day Council.

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 

Tall Ship Regatta Australia Day
Australia Day Regatta Credit: Australia Day Council.

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 

The Ferrython at 10:45 am is a lot of fun
The Ferrython at 10:45 am is a lot of fun. Credit: Australia Day Council

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

Australia Day wheelchair race
The Wheelchair action takes place on George St. Credit: Australia Day Council.

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

Australia Day in North Sydney

BBQ by the Bridge at Bradfield Park

Bradfield Park Australia Day
Bradfield Park Australia Day offers excellent views of the harbour action.

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

Australia Day Concert Sydney Opera House
Australia Day Concert. Credit: Australia Day Council.

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 centrepiece of the Australia Day celebrations for families with a large children’s festival.

THe Wiggles Darling Harbour Australia day
Credit: Australia Day Council

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.

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

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

Yabun Festival Australia Day
Dancers at Yabun. Credit: Australia Day Council

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. 


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; 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 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. 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

Need help planning your trip to Sydney? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions, stay up to date with what’s happening in Sydney and meet a bunch of friendly locals just waiting to share their advice!

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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.