Sydney: An Illuminating Experience

For 23 nights every winter, Vivid Sydney transforms Australia’s biggest city into a light-filled wonderland. 

It started as a nebulous tourism campaign to fill empty hotel rooms during Sydney’s sleepy winter months. But eight years on, Vivid Sydney has become an economic juggernaut that attracts more than two million visitors annually.

From its crude beginnings in 2009, Vivid Sydney – the world’s biggest light and music festival – now turns Australia’s biggest city into an outdoor canvas for 23 nights each winter.

This year, from 6pm – 11 pm each night between May 26 and June 17, more than 90 light and laser installations will turn iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Taronga Zoo into a kaleidoscope of colour.

While most of the action traditionally takes place around Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour, the festival continues to expand year after year.

Aside from the main attraction – the light show – there are more than 400 music events and 260 ‘ideas sessions’ spread across seven precincts, including Barangaroo and Carriageworks at Eveleigh.

More than 2.31 million people swarmed the light display in 2016 – with 80,300 travel packages sold locally and overseas, with 17,827 sold to Chinese tourists alone.

All up, the winter light show injected more than $110 million into the state economy in New South Wales. And that figure should be easily be broken this year with big crowds expected around the city foreshore, particularly during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

It’s really impossible to see everything in one night, so it’s worth planning your visit and focussing on different precincts on different nights. Taronga Zoo, for example, is best done as a standalone visit.

What to expect at the main sites around Sydney


Sydney Opera House 

The Sydney Opera House takes centre stage.

The sails of the Sydney Opera House really are the star attraction at Vivid Sydney.

This year the Opera House will be swamped with a mesmerising light display inspired by the wonder of animals, plant life and ocean underworld.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Harbour Bridge is the focus for “Dreamscape”.

“Dreamscape” turns the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Cahill Expressway into a 1km ‘line of light’.

Twenty five ‘fingers of light’ are beamed into the night sky from the roof of the Overseas Passenger Terminal.


Taronga Zoo 

Screenshot at Jun 05 09-24-04
Taronga Zoo main entrance.

Taronga Zoo’s “Lights for the Wild” showcases an array of multimedia sculptures including an impressive Sumatran Tiger and a giant Port Jackson Shark.

The experience starts when you step into the mouth of PJ, the Port Jackson Shark, one of the many illuminated sculptures of endangered animals.

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There’s also a new dining experience at The View Restaurant, where guests will feel as though they are dining underwater.

Underwater images are projected on the walls and ceiling accompanied by soothing marine tunes and aquatic-inspired lighting.

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Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) 

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Museum of Contemporary Art building at Circular Quay.

Abstract images drawn from the shapes and colours of the natural world light up the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art (above) as part of the “Organic Vibrations” installation.

The installation uses projection-mapping synthesised with music to creates a multi-sensory experience.



              ‘Trapdoor’                                 Image Credit: Destination NSW

Vivid Sydney shines a light on Barangaroo for the first time with a trail of installations, including an outdoor theatre of light and sound that lets you become part of the artwork.

The highlight though is “Trapdoor” – an optical illusion where a cavernous underworld opens beneath your feet to tell the story of Barangaroo’s not too distant past, when it was a shipyard and sawmill.


Darling Harbour 

     “Magicians of the Mist”           Image Credit: Destination NSW

Twenty-eight tonnes of water jetting into the air every minute, huge projections shining on walls of water 60m wide and 40m high combine with lasers, flames, music and fireworks at the “Magicians of the Mist” water theatre at Darling Harbour.


The Royal Botanic Gardens

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“Electric Forest” at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Enter a strange world of illuminated plants in the “Electric Forest”, a collaboration between Vivid and students at TAFE NSW. Keep your wits about you because there are strange illuminated shapes everywhere, including  eyeballs that follow you.

One of my favourites is the line of giant LED-lit sunflowers.

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