How to Experience the Vivid Sydney Festival (with or without kids)

The Vivid Sydney festival has kicked off in Sydney, Australia. For the next three weeks, Vivid will dazzle and amaze over 1.7 million visitors flocking to one of the world’s most beautiful harbour cities.

We partnered with Destination NSW to spend the first three days of the Vivid festival in Sydney enjoying the lights from as many vantage points around the harbour as we could.

A few years ago we attended Vivid live, but I enjoyed it way more this time and feel it just keeps getting better and growing bigger. Vivid in 2016 goes for longer and has more precincts participating, more venues, and more creativity!

What is Vivid Sydney?

The Vivid Sydney festival is about lights, music and ideas. It’s one of the foremost creative festivals in the world and Australia’s largest event of its kind.

Over 80 light installations and projections form part of Vivid and alight the city in a rainbow of colours and spectacular displays.

Customs House during Vivid Sydney
Kalyra in front of Customs House

“We invite light artists from around the world — old and young, famous and unknown, students and professors, and crazy combinations of both — to submit their artwork to us through a global expression of interest,” said creative director Ignatius Jones.

“The result is that each year Vivid Sydney is new and current, representing what’s hot and happening in that wonderful place where art meets technology and changes our lives.”

It’s not just about the lights, though. Vivid Sydney also has a program of public talks and workshops with Vivid Ideas, and Vivid Music energises the city with collaborations dance parties and headline acts at more than 20 live music venues.

You can see the real Vivid Sydney by pressing play on the video below:

Vivid Light Walk – Sydney Harbourside

Lined up along Sydney harbour around Circular Quay including locations from Walsh Bay to the Botanical Gardens, the Light Walk has more than 60 light art installations, large scale illuminations and 3D-mapped building projections lighting up the waterfront. Give yourself to time enjoy the colourful and sometimes interactive displays.

Give yourself to time enjoy the colourful and sometimes interactive displays. Here are a few of our favourites along the walk.

Sydney’s Hidden Stories at Customs House

So pretty. Customs House in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival.

If your kids like animations, flying blue tongued lizards, the underwater reef world, grumpy gnomes, and dancing witches, they will love the Hidden Stories of Sydney show on the walls of Customs House.

The light show has incredible graphics, bright colours, and is immense fun. We loved it and I so wanted to be that dancing witch!

Customs House in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Customs House in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

The light show on the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) building starts off slow with paint dripping down the front of the building. The girls weren’t too sure at first if they liked it. But with the peaceful music accompanying it I found it quite Zen.

The Matter of Painting projection picks up speed after awhile and integrated many different artistic forms.

The walls start stripping like pieces of paper, it turns to marble painting and then it turned to multi-colours of plasticine. We loved that one as it seemed so real, you could almost feel the texture of the play doh yourself just by watching it.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

I Love You

The "I Love You" installation in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

In Fleet Park near the MCA, there is a huge 3D love heart which says I love you on one side, and then on the other, is the Love-O-Metre. Stand in front of the white heart and shout into the microphone

Stand in front of the white heart and shout into the microphone I love you. The louder you say it, the funkier things the heart will do, like change colours, turn into a collage of flowers and have bubbling love hearts within it.

The Opera House

The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.

Sydney Opera House is the star of the show. Grab a drink from the Opera Bar, hustle for some space, and sit back and watch the sails on the Opera House change from flowers to colourful birds, to moving snakes and fascinating Aboriginal artworks.

The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.
view from the Opera Bar

It’s the first time the sails have celebrated Indigenous Art with its Songlines projections. Six artists were selected from different clans and territories whose work illustrates the connections between indigenous astronomy and the natural world.

The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.
The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.
The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights. Click inside for more amazing photos of Sydney and how to experience this festival.
The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.

It truly is spectacular and the drawcard for the Vivid Festival. Other great viewing places for the Opera House are in front of Campbell’s Cove on the other side of Circular Quay.

The Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.

Light Rocket

We didn’t get a chance to do the Light Rocket unfortunately, but the girls were dying to d15-metre’s a 15 metre white rocket ship that becomes a kaleidoscopic world of light, mirrors and sound when you enter it.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Vivid Sydney Festival of lights.

Always worth looking at, the steel arches on the Eastern side of the Harbour Bridge are illuminated. It’s not the star of the show like during New Years Eve and not as spectacular as the other Vivid displays, but blends in beautifully with the rest of the city looking so sparkly.

Make sure you spend time watching Eora – The Land on the southern pylon of the bridge. It’s a dance performance by the Bangarra Dance Theatre.

The lithe ochre-covered bodies of the dancers illuminate the rich history of the Eora Nation who are the traditional owners of a territory that encompasses most of the city of Sydney.

Cadmans Cottage

Built in 1816, Cadmans Cottage is the oldest surviving residential building in Sydney and worth seeing at any time of the day. During Vivid, it lights up to tell the story of an imaginary vessel, the Impossible Voyage. Just behind it are the narrow cobblestoned laneways, heritage architecture and leafy streets of our favourite area in Sydney, The Rocks District!

Taronga Zoo

Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

For a cheap and fascinating experience visit Taronga Zoo from 5:30-9pm every evening for Be the Light for the Wild Vivid experience. An illuminated trail through the zoo lights up giant animal multimedia light sculptures.

Each sculpture features one of ten critical species Taronga is committed to protecting ranging from the Sumatran tiger, bilbies, and Asian elephant. We even saw one of the real elephants gently swaying in its enclosure in the dark.

Sumatran Tiger at Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Rhino at Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Elephant at Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Many parts of the trail have a canopy of turtle lanterns overhead guiding your way. The kids will be enchanted and in awe.

Taronga Zoo in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Grab yourself a blue ticket so you can jump on the Sky Safari – the cable cars taking you over the light display and looking out over the harbour to the illuminated rainbow coloured buildings in the CBD and Circular Quay.

Our Tip – do the illuminated walk straight away at 5:30 (it’s dark enough to see everything) then jump on the Sky Safari. The lights in Sydney CBD will be on by then so you’ll get the full Vivid experience.

Luna Park

Luna Park in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Get your vintage Vivid on. I remember as a young child feeling so disappointed because I had not yet experienced Coney Island at Luna Park, yet everyone else at school had and I was forced to listen to just how cool it was.

I finally experienced it, and we’ll write more about Luna Park in our things to do in Sydney with kids post coming soon – but let’s say I had fun with the girls on most things in Coney Island. Lifelong dream – check! It’s amazing how much our world has evolved from thrilling activities back in the early 80’s!

Luna Park in Sydney during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Coney Island slide

Luna Park is in Milsons Point on the north side of the harbour and has a stunning view of Sydney Harbour and is not often featured in your classic shots.

It offers a different vantage point for Vivid lights on at 6pm.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Hot Tip – Jump on the Ferris Wheel at Luna Park after lights on so you can see more of it. You’ll get a great view of the colourful boats cruising up and down the harbour from here as well.

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Darling Harbour. Image credit: VividSydney.com

Darling Harbour is a great place to take your kids at any time, but at Vivid Darling Harbour a sleeping dragon is brought to life by the spectacular Laser dragon water theatre.

Darling Harbour during the Vivid Sydney Festival

Royal Botanic Gardens

Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens during the Vivid Sydney Festival
Cathedral of Light at Royal Botanic Gardens. Image credit: VividSydney.com

We did not get a chance to experience the Botanical Gardens displays but heard it’s spectacular with the sandstone walls lit up. There’s a cathedral of light you walk through and projections on trees and will-o’-the-wisps’ lighting the ground. It sounds incredibly beautiful and pixie-like.

Vivid with kids

There’s no doubt about it, Vivid Sydney will capture your children’s attention like it did with our kids and they will be talking about what they saw and experienced for years after.

Kids will love the Vivid Sydney Festival

The engaging light displays and animations will capture their curiosity and sense of wonder and will help spark their own imagination and creativity.

The engaging light displays and animations will capture their curiosity and sense of wonder and will help spark their own imagination and creativity.

Vivid is very child-friendly and most of the attractions are free. Here are some of the Vivid experiences we enjoyed together as a family.

Tips for experiencing Vivid Sydney with kids

  1. Come early. Some of the lights start at 5:30pm when the sun is down.
  2. Don’t just focus your time on Circular Quay. There are many more precincts with cool light displays happening over the city now. Check out all the precincts on the official website.
  3. Spend more than one day so you can experience the different areas slowly.
  4. Visit mid-week when crowds won’t be as intense!
  5. Don’t drive. Make use of all the public transport options, there will be extra trains and buses running during the Vivid festival.
  6. Walk – it’s the best way to experience all of what Vivid offers.
  7. Bring warm clothes and wear layers.
  8. If you come on the weekends, avoid bringing prams if you can as crowds will be hectic. Hold tight onto your children.
  9. Nearby restaurants will be busy or bring your own food. Hot Tip: we went to dinner at the Orient Hotel in the Rocks – we got a table almost straight away upstairs and the food was reasonably priced. It was nowhere near as hectic as elsewhere.
  10. Jump on a ferry to get you around Sydney so you can see it lit up from the water. You may even want to do a Vivid light cruise.
  11. Get an Opal Card and top it up with money to make public transport travel easy. Just tap on and off with your card.

Vivid Sydney dates & times

Vivid runs until June 18th and lights come on every evening at 6pm. Check out the schedule of events to plan your trip to vivid.

Accommodation in Sydney

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Darling Harbour which has easy access to Darling Harbour, is not too far from Circular Quay and is on the doorstep of Chinatown. It’s a 10-minute walk to Central train station or Town Hall train station.

For a unique and local experience check out Airbnb. Click here to view the properties available on Airbnb in Sydney during your stay! 

For a list of the best accommodation in Sydney including hotels, apartments and hostels from budget to luxury, click here.

We experienced Vivid Sydney in partnership with Destination NSW. To get all the details on how to experience Vivid check out the official website.

Have you been to Vivid Sydney yet?Share any of your own experiences or tips in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “How to Experience the Vivid Sydney Festival (with or without kids)”

  1. Tee Schintler

    I’m really glad to see a blog post from you about the Vivid Show. I’ve had my eye on this festival for a while but feel a little intimidated by how large the event is haha. Would you suggest doing 3 days, as you guys did, to get the most out of it or would longer be even better? And I have a question about your photos, are the light displays bright enough to take photos without a tripod?
    I was hoping my husband and I could go this year, but looks like we’ll have to wait until next year.

    1. Hi Tee. I guess at least a minimum of 2 nights would be enough so you can do the lights around circular quay, and one night at the Zoo. But if you can stay longer why not?! Sydney is amazing during Vivid. And as we said in the post, go mid-week if you can as the crowds should be thinner.

      If you have a tripod I would use it because it’s night time and low light so always best to use a tripod for those long exposures. You don’t want blurry images.

  2. Beautiful captured.
    We also got the chance to visit Vivid Sydney 2017 in Chatswood and loved the huge 3D effect projection on the Chatswood Concourse building wall.
    Captured the amazing show and some other attractions. You can check out the video on youtube that we have uploaded.
    https://youtu.be/Az_aLTxQvTk

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