The Vivid Sydney Festival | Advice for planning your visit

The Vivid Sydney Festival shows off Sydney at it’s finest.  The cities most iconic buildings and historic laneways are awash with light installations that turn the town into sometime from a fairytale.  After ten years of attending the show, I have put together my tips for surviving the crowds and getting the best views. 

Top tips for enjoying Sydney’s Vivid Festival

This year’s dates for Vivid Sydney are 25 May to 16 June 2018. The festival is a spectacle of light, music, and ideas that has quickly become the most popular event in the cities calendar after NYE.

Last year 7.1 million people attended with scores of international visitors arriving on Vivid packages, so even for locals, planning your visit before you arrive is a good idea if you want to see as much as you can. While the festival is best known for its spectacular light show, it is worth checking out some of the talks, films, and performances that are also on the program.

Vivid Sydney

Where are the best spots to see the Vivid Light show this year?

It’s hard to go past the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge with their breathtaking installations but take some time to explore the other areas.  Besides having smaller crowds, these areas have been just as outstanding in earlier years.  My favourite is usually Customs House; if the crowds are bad, you can get a great view from Circular Quay station platform.

The key installation areas are

  • The Opera House and Harbour Bridge
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens
  • Circular Quay
  • Luna Park
  • Customs House and Macquarie Place
  • The MCA and Cadman’s Cottage
  • The Rocks
  • Darling Harbour (The roof of the Maritime Museum)
  • Martin Place
  • Chatswood

My tips for enjoying Vivid Sydney 2018

EORA – Dark Emu is a large-scale projection which marries Aboriginal history, dance, art and architecture
  • Try to go on one of the first few days.  The last weekend is pure hell.
  • If you have to go on the weekend, go later in the night and choose Saturday or Sunday over Friday.
  • If you can eat dinner and hit the lights at about 9 pm when most of the families have headed home.  The lights stay on until 11 pm this year.
  • Don’t forget the areas outside the harbour – as the crowds grew so did the locations, and there are now several areas outside the Quay to explore.
  • Don’t try to see too much in one night  – you have three weeks, so a few visits are entirely feasible for locals.   If time is limited check the festival website for highlights and pick a few areas.
  • If you hate crowds consider a cruise – from a 75-minute jaunt around the harbour from Beyond the Wharf or Fantasea to 3hr dinner and dancing cruise with Captain Cook.
  • Do not bring your car to the harbour zone of Vivid. But if you do check out Gateway at Circular Quay who have some great prices for parking during the festival
2018 Vivid Festival Sydney
One of the highlights this year is the much loved Australian children’s characters Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Getting the best photos at Vivid Sydney?

  • Go on Sunday – Monday and be prepared to stay all night
  • Get up above the lights if you can – Cahill Walk, The Observation Deck at the Overseas Passenger’s terminal, are good choices.  I have heard they may close this area to the public for security concerns, but I see lots of photos taken from this spot, so perhaps ask when you arrive. The footpath on the Harbour Bridge offers excellent vantage points
  • If you are a keen photographer or someone who wants to learn more look out for some of the photos walks – they usually have the best locations sorted and will give you useful tips.  I did one with Canon a few years ago that was excellent.
  • Take a tripod and a manual camera
  • Share your photos using the official hashtag  #vividsydney
  • There are some great technical tips here

West side Sydney Harbour Bridge Vivid Festival Sydney

Vivid Harbour Cruises

There are so many Vivid cruise packages on offer it’s hard to know which one to choose.  I have tried a couple over the years, and I think the main difference is the quality of the food and the level of comfort on the boat.  Most boats cover the same route however one cruise I went on last year that departed from near the Star Casino did a pretty uninspiring run up and down the harbour under the bridge without getting near the lights at Circular Quay or the Botanic Gardens at all so choose your cruise carefully.

Captain Cook Vivid Cruise

Captain Cook is the best-known cruise operator in Sydney.  This cruise departs from Circular Quay which means you get up close to all the lights as many of the cheaper cruises do not come into the quay at all making it hard to get great photos of the Opera House and Museum of Contemporary Arts installations. This cruise does not offer food and comes with only 1 drink but on this 1-hour tour, you will get to see all the best lights nice and close without having to push your way through the crowds.  View the tour details and see what you think.

Vivid Tallship Cruise

These 1.5-hour tall ship cruises will be offered three times each night during Vivid and feature a casual dinner with beer, wine and soft drinks included.  The food is fairly basic but it is tasty, and I felt good value for the price of the cruise.  This is not a sit-down dinner with table service but a help yourself event where you find a seat on deck and nibble while you sail around the harbour being dazzled by the lights.  Check out the photos and pricing here 

Vagabond Cruises Vivid

This 1.5-hour finger food buffet cruise has the longest tour route of all the boats and includes the show in Darling Habour as well as the main Circular Quay area.  Again the food is not going to be anything to write home about but it is a buffet, and there will be something for everyone.  I have done several Vagabond Cruises and always been very happy with the experience. If your goal is to see as much of the light installations as you can from the deck of a boat, this is possibly your best choice. Check the full details of what’s on offer. 

Vivid Sydney Tours

Urban Adventures Walking Tour

If you would like a guide to show you around then consider the tour offered by Urban Adventures. Perfect for visitors to the city the tour combines exploring the various light installations with commentary on the buildings themselves and some of the history of this city. Over the two-hour tour, the guide will also get you around the installations in the most efficient manner and make sure you don’t miss any of the hidden spots. Read some reviews of the tour by last years guests.

Vivid Bridgeclimb

If you want a memorable way to see the lights, then check out the Vivid Bridgeclimb. Last year the climb included a flashing disco floor.  I can’t imagine a better way to see the harbour at night than during Vivid.  Take a look at the details here

Vivid Accommodation

If you are planning on visiting Sydney for the Vivid Festival and want to book accommodation, it’s good to get in early if you can.  A lot of the budget hotels are booked out by large tour groups.  Hotels with a view of the Harbour are a good option if you want to view the lights from above.

Have you been to Vivid Sydney?  What’s your best tip?

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If you get to the city early you might want to check out my self-guided tour of The Rocks  and explore this special part of Sydney while you wait for the lights to come on.

Vivid Sydney is Sydney as it’s finest. The cities most iconic buildings and historic laneways are awash with light installations that turn the town into sometime from a fairytale. After 10 years of attending the show, I have put together my tips for surviving the crowds and getting the best views. #Sydney #Australia #VividSydney

9 Comments

  1. Wow! What a wonderful way to make a fabulous place even more interesting! Would love to see this festival! Sydney is high on the bucket list.

  2. These cities always look amazing when they light up great building with their colorful lights. Sydney is no exception and looks fantastic with its iconic major sites looking all pretty

  3. I’ve never been to Vivid, but it looks like an amazing event! I attended NYE in Sydney a couple of years ago and really did not enjoy the crowds – so your tips for avoiding them would come in really handy at this festival. But most of all, I think the 75 minute cruise would be perfect for me – limited people and great views – what more could you want?!

  4. This looks like such a fun festival. I love that the zoo is getting involved. I’m not great with large crowds so would definitely consider the cruise 🙂

    • I think if you were trying to stay away from the crowds the Zoo would be a good option. Because it’s ticketed it will most definitely attract fewer people.

  5. This looks so nice. I have been to Sydney twice (though my last visit has been a while) but never heard of the festival before. Hope, to see it on my next trip (though I hope I visit OZ in summer)

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