New Years Eve in Sydney for Beginners

Sydney Harbour fireworks Ferry view

If you are planning on being in Sydney for the first time and maybe only time this NYE  you are probably keen to get your plans sorted. Consider this a beginners guide to New Year’s Eve in Sydney’.

So first things first let’s figure the type of event you prefer.

Do you want to see the fireworks in the great outdoors?

If the answer is yes, you have two choices

A. Plan to visit one of the free areas and take your own picnic

If you are hoping for a cheap night under the stars, you will need to be organised and plan to get to your vantage spot early. There are both alcohol-free areas and limited areas where you can take your own drinks. There are also some catered areas where you can buy drinks. Drinks at the no BYO spots are pretty pricey, but it does mean the crowd is a little less rowdy than the BYO places.


B. Part with some $$$ for a ticket to one of the catered outdoor areas. This will get you a prime position and a little more standing room per person. Among the best of these are the Taronga Zoo NYE packages ($165-$500) or the Royal Botanic Gardens options or the budget-friendly Barangaroo.

Do you want to watch the fireworks from a harbour cruise?

Again there are a lot of choices, and this is one topic that gets a tonne of posts on Tripadvisor.  There are all sorts of options from private charters to Sydney Harbour ferries. My main advice is before you hand over your money make sure the company has some history.  There have sadly been stories in recent years of substandard boats and even one company that took bookings they never intended on honouring.

For a very detailed list with links and the latest information on prices and availability check my main NYE in Sydney page.

One year I watched the action from the deck of a Sydney Ferry. We had a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge, plenty of space and a friendly crowd.

Do you want to spend NYE at the Sydney Opera House?

There are several options for those of you who want to see in the New Year at the Sydney Opera House, and tickets are already on sale.  If you want to be inside the Opera House, you will need to book tickets the Opera Australia’s Gala event.  To these, you add extras like the dinner or the midnight party. Prices start at $279, and more details are available here
Alternatively, you can get tickets to one of the outdoor events.  There are three main areas, the front and western boardwalk, Opera Bar and Opera Kitchen.  With the new Bennelong Restaurant open this year that may add another option if not booked out for a private event.  At this stage, they are not accepting bookings for Dec 31.

Do you want a restaurant dinner with a view of Sydney Harbour?

If you like the idea of a slap-up meal with your fireworks, there is plenty on offer, but you will pay a pretty penny for it. Most of the waterfront restaurants around the city offer special menus for NYE and book out a few weeks in advance although not as early as many of the boats and the Gardens and ticketed park areas do.

I would suggest if you have your heart set on a particular place and you have a small party of 2 or 3 book early as smaller tables seem to go first. Many require a deposit or sometimes full payment at time of booking.   See the list of restaurants for NYE here

Would you prefer an event with music or a party atmosphere?

Concerts and dance parties in Sydney on New Year’s Eve are a popular choice. From a dance party at an amusement park to a concert at Taronga Zoo, there is plenty of choice for those who want some entertainment along with their fireworks.  Tickets for these events range from $70 and up and not all include views of the harbour so make sure you confirm this if it’s important to you.  I maintain a list of parties and concert events with prices on this page

Do you want to camp on the harbour for NYE?

Cockatoo Island NYE Camping Packages

If you plan early enough, you can camp on Cockatoo Island for New Year’s Eve and watch the action from the comfort of your tent right in the middle of Sydney Harbour. There is DIY camping, slightly more upmarket and comfortable campsites and also some heritage homes.

Choosing your Fireworks vantage points on Sydney Harbour

Postcard view Sydney from Mrs Macquarie's Point by Paula Morgan
The view from Mrs Macquaries Point

Sydney City Council hosts the Sydney fireworks on NYE, and they have a brilliant website and app that includes maps of the vantage points and rules for each place. There has been a significant increase in alcohol-free areas over recent years so make sure you check the maps on the city of Sydney website for the rules before you head to your favourite spot.

The main thing to know is that the city is very crowded on NYE and roads are closed, so everyone travels by public transport. The buses and trains will be full and moving around the city between 8 pm and 1 am is quite difficult. That said, it is still worth being there. You just need to plan in advance what you are going to do, where you will meet and what you will eat and drink.

I have a full list of all the vantage points and the capacity of each on my main New Years Eve page 

New Years Eve in the Royal Botanic Gardens

The View from The Botanic Gardens
The View from The Botanic Gardens Sydney

This is my dream spot to watch the fireworks when my budget allows. Tickets go on sale in early October and sell out pretty quickly.   There are several packages from picnic style to formal dining so whether you are looking for a family-friendly spot or want to dance the night away, you are covered by one of these.

  • Midnight at the Oasis – This is an adult only event.
  • Lawn with a view – This is an all ages area located on the grass outside Government House and directly above the Sydney Opera House
  • The Point – Fleet Steps North, Mrs Macquaries Point. This is an over 18s only area. Includes food but drinks are from a cash bar. Tickets on sale now $355. The Point offers the very best view in my opinion.
  • Mare and Foal Lawn area – only Friends of the Botanic Gardens members can buy tickets for this spot. 
  • New Year’s Eve Under the Stars –  Dj entertainment, over 18s

More details here

How Do I Book a Sydney Harbour Cruise for NYE? – Join the Harbour of Light Parade

Waiting for darkness on Sydney Harbour
NYE 2010 waiting for darkness at Mrs Macquarie’s Point

If you want to be on the water under the fireworks, then be prepared to spend between $250 and A$500 per person. All the leading cruise companies have offers available for New Year’s Eve with most offering a 6-hour cruise with food and a drinks package. In my opinion, this is the best way to experience Sydney on NYE if you can afford it. There are cruises to suit most tastes so check out things like the entertainment on board lest you get stuck listening to hours of music you don’t enjoy.  On the whole, the food on the boats is usual wedding style or buffet fare with nothing outstanding on offer so don’t expect too much.

At about 9.20pm after the first round of fireworks are over many of the vessels on the harbour turn on their lights and parade up and down the harbour until the midnight fireworks.

You can view the official Harbour of Light boats for more details. A little later in the year, an official list of vessels in the harbour lights parade will be released.

Tickets are on sale now, and all but the most expensive cruises usually sell out pretty by late October so if you are considering one of budget tickets buy early.  I have a list of this year’s leading cruise options and prices on my main NYE page.

Check out Sydney Boat Hire Another option is to hire a water taxi for either the 9 pm show or the midnight show.

Sydney NYE 2006 by Rob Chandler via CC licence
Sydney NYE 2006 by Rob Chandler via CC licence

Have you booked your room?

NYE is the busiest time of year for booking accommodation in Sydney. You really do need to book months in advance if you want to stay in the inner city area and most hotels have a minimum stay requirement.  Do not take this warning lightly!

Sydney Harbour Bridge Effect NYE list

Eternity Sign Sydney Harbour Bridge NYE

Every year since 1998 the fireworks have culminated in the display of a symbol on the front of the Harbour Bridge (Opera House side). The Bridge display is often the most talked about aspect of the event. Can’t remember when you last watch the action live?  This list will help you pin it down.

Past NYE Themes and Symbols

1998-99 – Countdown to the new millennium and 2000 Olympic Games – Smiley Face with hair
1999-00 – “Sydney Millennium” Eternity in Copperplate writing, in honour of Arthur Stace; and a Smiley Face
2000-01 – “Centenary of Federation” Rainbow Serpent and Federation Star
2001-02 – “Year of the Outback” Uluru and a Dove of Peace
2002-03 – “Celebration in Unity” Dove of Peace and the word “PEACE.”
2003-04 – “City of Light” City of Light – Light Show
2004-05 – “Reflections on Australiana” Disco Ball
2005-06 – “Heart of the Harbour” Love Heart
2006-07 – “A Diamond Night in Emerald City” Coathanger and a Diamond
2007-08 – “The Time of Our Lives” A Sand Timer
2008-09 –“Creation” The Sun
2009-10 – “Awaken the Spirit” Taijitu Symbol, a Blue Moon and a Ring of Fire
2010-11 – “Make Your Mark” Red ‘X’ Mark and Smiley Face
2011-12 – “Time to Dream” Thought Bubble, Sun and Endless Rainbow
2012-13 – “Embrace” Butterfly, and Lip
2013-14 – “Shine” Eye (supporting effect: a UFO and a blue star)
2014-15 – “Inspire” Light bulb (with love heart inside it) (supporting effect: seahorses)
2015-16 – “City of Colour” Sydney Harbour Bridge itself (projections, lighting displays and more fireworks)
2016–17  “Welcome to SydNYE” Light show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever celebrated NYE in Sydney?  Share your advice for future visitors.


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  1. as ever, all for the rich. Nothing comfortable and safe for disabled non-walkers, every man for himself. fireworks up in smoke, people on the street with no homes. Lovely city to live in if you are rich and fit!!!!

    • It’s true Julie that more and more areas are changing over to paid entry which is really unfair. There are also nowhere near enough options for anyone with a disability when the city gets this crowded. I also wish it was different. I think Barangaroo with the $15 concession entry is probably the best option for someone with limited mobility.

  2. Paid the $1600 (family of 4) for the NYE Over the Harbor event. The view was amazing! I could not have asked for a better vantage point. The party however, was awful! Hours of waiting in line for food, bathrooms, drinks – we basically paid for the view because everything (and I mean everything else) was disorganized, understaffed, and dirty.

    • I am so sorry to hear that Marie – how disappointing. The hours of waiting and long queues are the reasons that people choose paid areas over the free ones so that really is something they are going to need to work on. I hope you share your feedback with the event organisers.

  3. Whatever you do never go to NYE over the Harbour. Such a disappointment. $400 tickets. Spent 2 1/2 hrs in a cue for food.. 1 hr in a cue for a drink and 45mins in a cue for the bathroom. Soooo badly organised. I was so embarrassed I bought tickets for family in from OS. Least we saw the fireworks. Supposedly food was meant to be 5 star, but it wasn’t worth cuing up for. What were they thinking. A nightmare!!!!!

    • I hope you intend writing to the organisers. I totally agree at that price you should not be queueing 2.5 hours for anything let alone bad food. Long toilet queues at NYE events are pretty standard but they really could have avoided the rest of the problems. Sounds like a lack of experience or overselling the event. I am really sorry you had such an awful experience.

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