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What to see at Vivid Sydney's festival of music, light and ideas

If you're in Sydney from now till Jun 15, take in the light shows and installations, talks, screenings and seminars taking place across the city.

What to see at Vivid Sydney's festival of music, light and ideas

The retro-futuristic KA3323 installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens with the Sydney Opera House in the background. (Photo: Destination NSW)

It’s that time of year again when Sydney dazzles in a new light. As part of its annual Vivid Sydney festival, the city has donned its own version of a technicolour dream coat, with historic buildings forming the backdrop for immersive light shows and light installations thrilling young and old on its most popular grounds.

Insta-worthy sights abound, even if they don’t convey the sheer number of visitors they draw each day. The event – touted as the world’s largest festival of music, light and ideas – opened this past weekend, drawing scores of camera-toting visitors across the likes of The Rocks, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Tumbalong Lights at Darling Harbour. (Photo: Destination NSW)

Running from now till June 15, Vivid encompasses three weeks of concerts, talks, screenings, seminars and light installations that drew 2.25 million people across its 23 days last year.

Among the highlights of this year’s event are four concerts at the Sydney Opera House by British alt-rock band The Cure; New York-based R&B artiste Teyana Taylor; and Berlin-based electronic music innovator Studio Party Moritz Von Oswald. 

On the Vivid Ideas front are the Sydney Film Festival and workshops like Creative Thinking and Inventing For Kids, as well as another on Junk Percussion. Throughout the city, talks and screenings explore global and local issues, spirituality, identity, relationships and mindfulness with the likes of American director Spike Lee and Australian radio and television presenter Meshel Laurie.

For the average visitor moseying across the Australian city, though, it is the nightly light and sound shows that will truly dazzle. If your time in the city is short, simply stroll around Sydney Harbour, Circular Quay and The Rocks, which offer plenty to take in. Here, our pick of the spots to hit if time is of the essence.


Created by Australian artists xyz dimensions and Peewee Ferris, these gigantic robots looming over the harbour depict a world ruled by sentient machines. They make for good fun, especially for children fascinated by the likes of the Transformers. Come on Fridays and Saturdays throughout Vivid’s duration and you’ll get to enjoy the true highlight of this show: fireworks shot from the heart of the harbour’s waters at 7.40pm and again at 9pm.

Under the Harbour at Circular Quay. (Photo: Destination NSW)


This sprawling outdoor playground set in the heart of Darling Harbour is home to installations and activitations produced using the principles of ‘universal design’. That means people of all ages and abilities can interact with the works designed to evoke a trip to outer space.

Create music beneath the Alien Visitor, a colourful 6m-tall object that responds to simple gestural commands with beautiful sound and light; take pictures Under The Milky Way – a surprisingly simple installation of lights hung on a netted frame; or send balls tumbling their way into ‘outer space’ in a game of SpaceBalls.

Multimedia light sculptures at the Taronga Zoo. (Photo: Destination NSW)


Getting to the Taronga Zoo is a highlight in itself. Hop on a ferry from Circular Quay at dusk, which is the perfect time to take in the Harbour Bridge and Opera House as you sail away from them in the twilight. You won’t get better views of these iconic sights.

At the zoo, the show begins as soon as you walk through its heritage-listed entrance, with a mesmerising moving animal projection on its façade. Within its grounds, multimedia light sculptures of animals such as the Sumatran tiger, marine turtle, koala, gorillas and crocodiles make for great photos while telling a story about wildlife conservation. Be sure to stop and take in the gorgeous views of the city, which the zoo overlooks.


Find yourself a spot by the Sydney Harbour at the back of the Park Hyatt Regency and gaze at the trippy light projection on the Opera House’s façade. Titled Austral Floral Ballet, it was created by Chinese-American visual artist Andrew Thomas Huang and animation design team Bemo, who meld dance and motion-capture technology to bring Australia’s botanic wonders to life. Then turn your gaze across the harbour to Circular Quay, where a light sequence of a ballerina dancing across the quay places her in a dreamlike context against the area’s stunning architecture.

The Dancing Grass installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens. (Photo: Destination NSW)


A leisurely stroll across the Gardens, especially delightful in the lovely autumn chill, will take you past numerous beautiful tableaus including River of Light, comprising two pools of ‘water’ made from clear Perspex and pulsing LED lights that flow in a wave of fluorescent colour. There’s also Torus, a playful wavy reflection of light and sound expressions that interact with the vibrations and emotions of its visitors. Meanwhile, Dancing Grass comprises 146 illuminated blades of grass that are so tall, visitors can wander through its tactile green forest. 

Vivid Sydney runs from now till June 15 2019.