Vivid takes over Sydney once again from Friday, 24 May – and with it come millions of visitors keen to see the city sparkle. The 2019 program features the lights (of course) as well as a fascinating line-up of panel discussions, live music and art in key locations including Circular Quay, the Opera House and Chatswood.
Though the displays are free and open to the public nightly, there are myriad restaurants, bars, hotels and more offering great views without the crowds. Here are some of the best ways to spend a night – or several – exploring the sights while skipping the crowds.
When: Friday, 24 May to Saturday 15 June; from 6pm to 11pm
Key precincts: Barangaroo, Chatswood, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Luna Park, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks
How to get there: Road closures make public transport the best option. To see the lights at Circular Quay, alight at Wynyard, Martin Place or St James and walk to avoid crowds; trains will not stop at Circular Quay between 6.30pm and 9.30pm over the long weekend. Extra bus services will run throughout the city, using alternate routes to avoid closures.
Get creative with planning
Staying flexible and spontaneous can reap multiple rewards when it comes to Vivid experiences. The busiest times are Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and over the long weekend between 7 and 10 June. Choosing to explore the sights on a weeknight will reward you with a clearer view.. The lights switch off at 11pm each night (check individual installations for different shut-down times) so if you go with a plan, venturing into the city after 10pm will also mean you have fewer crowds to contend with. If the sleeping schedules of smaller sightseers won’t allow for these time slots, the festival runs for a full 13 nights, until 15 June 2019 - postpone your peek until its tail end to skip the first-week crowds.
Secure a strategic table
You don’t have to be in the thick of things to get a great vantage point. Consider starting the evening at Bennelong, with a two-course booking at 5.30pm, to watch the Harbour Bridge light up at around 6pm. Q DIning, overlooking Circular Quay, has three-course Vivid menu for $89pp that comes with a glass of bubbles on arrival or, for a meal at a lower price point, grab a table on the rooftop of the recently refurbished Glenmore pub where you can see the colours projected onto the Opera House as well as marvel at the animations playing on the pub's own sails, a collaboration with UTS. For dessert, head to Darling Square, where pop-up sweet treats cube Blacklight, from Gelato Messina, is offering a series of glow-in-the-dark confections in collaboration with DOPA, Edition Coffee Roasters and Bubble Nini.
Grab a drink with a view
Take up temporary residence at Hacienda Bar, the glass-walled wonder atop Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour, to sip an elderflower-laced Fresa Spritz or a Vivid-themed Tropical Glow cocktail while you watch the Harbour Bridge and the Museum of Contemporary Art light up on the other side of the ferry terminal. After-work drinks stalwart Opera Bar remains the best place to see the the Opera House installation up close; or you could grab a drink at Bar Patron, which gives you an incredible view of the fluorescent lines of the Bridge, or try the bespoke cocktail at middle-eastern restaurant Tayim, in The Rocks, that changes from blue to pink as it's mixed.
Choose the right place to stay
Keen to make a night of it? Sydney has a healthy handful of hotels that lay the sights of Vivid out for guests as easily as a meal from room service. The InterContinental Hotel looms over the action (its doors open almost directly onto the light installations of Circular Quay) and the Park Hyatt, on a wharf in The Rocks, guarantees more than a glance of the incandescent city.
Opt for one-of-a-kind experiences
Had the BridgeClimb on your bucket list? Now’s the time to tick it off. For the duration of Vivid, climbers ascending the steel structure will themselves be part of the artwork as they don a vest adorned with flashing lights. Plus, you'll get to cut shapes on an illuminated dancefloor (yes, there’s music too) once you reach the top.. With climbing groups maxed at 14 people, you’ll practically have the glittering harbour views to yourself.
Take to the water
Swap bustling Bennelong Lawn for a ferry trip to Luna Park to see the sails of the Opera House illuminated. A regular ferry ride from Circular Quay past Milsons Point (the last ferry leaves just after 7pm on weekdays) will offer you prime views on the cheap or you can book onto a chartered dinner-and-drinks-ride around the harbour with Captain Cook cruises.
Dig into other Vivid highlights
While it’s the festival’s focal point, the light installations are but a portion of the city-wide celebration. Consider other ways to immerse yourself in the atmosphere without making the lights your only focus. Plant yourself at the a pop-up drinking den in the Royal Botanic Gardens for an H.M.A.S Archie – an Archie Rose concoction of gin, pineapple and macadamia; hunt for nocturnal animals at Taronga Zoo or take a turn at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which stays open late on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during Vivid season.