On the face of it, Vivid Sydney is hardly the most exciting idea ever conceived. It essentially involves setting up a load of coloured lights around the city, and projecting bright designs on to the side of various buildings. We’re not all three years old, so just how entertaining can a bunch of bright lights and giant multi-coloured pictures be?
Well, very entertaining as it happens. It certainly helps that the canvas for these fluorescent displays includes two of the most iconic man-made structures on earth. In the always-imposing Harbour Bridge and the quirky but beautiful Opera House, the artists behind the Vivid festival have some enviable materials to work with.
We were lucky enough to live in Sydney, Australia during the Vivid festival in 2015, so we had the benefit of visiting the attractions on multiple occasions. There are various options for how you experience the wide range of exhibits on display at Vivid, and I will take you through a few of these below. First though, if you want to enjoy the festival, you’ll have to get there.
How to get there
The main hub for the ever-expanding Vivid festival is Circular Quay. Luckily, this is also one of the easiest places to get to in Sydney. Trains, buses and ferries all stop at Circular Quay. There are various road closures during the festival, but a taxi should also be able to drop you relatively close to the action. There are extra public transport services throughout the festival, but despite this, they do get extremely busy.
As mentioned, the festival is ever expanding. Locations such as The Rocks, Darling Harbour, Martin Place and The Royal Botanic Gardens are all within easy walking distance of Circular Quay. Meanwhile, there is a kind of fringe festival which has started to grow in Chatswood, which is around a 20-minute train ride from the city.
When is it?
It generally runs for about three weeks, starting around the end of May. In 2016 it is from May 27 to June 18.
Where to stay
Sydney is a large and modern city, so it won’t be a problem to get to the festival from anywhere in the city area. The ideal option though is to stay near the CBD so that you are within walking distance of the main attractions. There is a vast range of accommodation on offer, from hostels to luxury hotels. Try to book well in advance, as demand is very high during the festival.
For budget travellers, the Sydney Harbour YHA has a sensational location right in The Rocks, and even has a rooftop terrace with views over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. For those who struggle to find room in their wallet for all the fifties, the Park Hyatt Sydney also has sensational views. You may even be able to see the Opera House from your room, but expect to pay upwards of a cool $1,000 per night for the privilege. Also consider checking out AirBnB – there are lots of fantastic apartments, often for very reasonable prices.
What to do
The easiest and most obvious way to take in the attractions is to put on some comfortable shoes and get walking. This year the Royal Botanic Gardens will be part of the festival for the first time. A great walk would be to start there, head through the crowds at Circular Quay towards The Rocks, then on to Darling Harbour. There is no shortage of light-based attractions along the way. Some of them even go one step further and bring in an element of sound. Don’t be afraid to push the kids out of the way and have a play with some of the interactive ones.
If walking sounds like too much work, then there are a few particular viewpoints that offer a great opportunity to soak up the luminous light-fest in front of you, just by standing still. I’m afraid you will still have to use leg power to transport yourself to and from these viewpoints, but once there you can spend a bit of time watching the ever-changing displays, without having to do anything more taxing than remain upright.
If your main aim is to see the Opera House being transformed from its usual demure white façade, there are several great viewpoints to choose from. The area in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the most popular spots, which means it gets incredibly busy there. Another option is the Cahill Expressway (the main road above Circular Quay train station), where you can get a slightly elevated viewpoint with a great view of both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Finally, for those who value their personal space, consider trying Bradfield Park, which is the area underneath the bridge on the north side of the harbour. Don’t expect the place to yourself, but it is usually a little quieter than the area around Circular Quay.
You could also consider taking one of the many cruises on offer around this time. They generally leave from Darling Harbour, and spend an hour or two cruising past the sights, before dropping you back at the starting point. There is a wide variety on offer, so do a bit of research before choosing one. We did ours on a small boat called the Sensational. I’m not sure I would go as far as to call it sensational, although it was sensationally cold, and some of our fellow passengers were sensationally drunk. We found it good fun, but it would have been hell on earth for some people. Like I said: research.
A cheaper alternative is to get one of the standard commuter ferries. The ferry from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay takes in most of the same views as the organised cruises, for a fraction of the cost. Again, expect standing room only on the outdoor areas, but you will get some real close up views of the star attractions.
Finally, don’t forget to check out Darling Harbour. There is a dancing fountain and laser show in the middle of the harbour, and we also took a ride on the temporary big wheel that decorates Darling Harbour during Vivid Sydney. It doesn’t quite compare to the huge ferris wheels that are so common in major cities these days, but it was nice all the same. There is also a wide variety of restaurants, many of which have a view of the laser show. We like the Hard Rock Café, but there are more sophisticated options for those with more refined tastes.
Any other considerations?
- As I mentioned before, be aware that the crowds can be large, particularly at the weekend.
- There are lots of shows and paid events in the area during the festival, so check out the official website to see if any take your interest.
- The lights generally start at 6pm, and finish at 11pm, but times can vary at some attractions – again, check the official website.
- Finally, it can get cold. If you come from a cold climate like us, then you probably picture Sydney as being gloriously warm all year round, but it can get very cold during Vivid, so come prepared with plenty of layers!