Vivid Sydney is an annual outdoor lighting festival featuring immersive installations and projections all around Sydney. The festival has grown over the years from humble beginnings to the largest light festival in the world. Each year Vivid grows a bit bigger: this year new additions include the Royal Botanic Gardens, who are celebrating 200 years in 2016, and Taronga Zoo, as part of their 100 year celebration this year.
Vivid installations can also be found in Darling Harbour and Chatswood – both smaller outposts of the festival that draw smaller crowds and hence are ideal for families wanting to experience a taste of Vivid without heading to the larger venues.
We hit up Vivid at Taronga Zoo as a family on the first night it opened. Taronga has emerged as the perfect Vivid experience for families due to its crowd control (it’s tickets so there are limited numbers), large, interactive and kid-friendly animals lanterns, stroller-accessibility and family facilities, and it’s size – long enough to make a night of it but not too long to exhaust parents and kids alike. Lights turn on at 5:30pm at both Taronga and Chatswood, making the time just that bit more family-friendly.
Circular Quay has long been home to the bulk of the Vivid installations and is still the best place to visit for the full festival experience. I like to catch a bus or train to Town Hall station and walk down through Pitt st Mall and Martin Place to experience the dispersed installations long the way. These areas have a few lights to see, but aren’t big enough to go out of your way to discover if you’re pressed for time, or with kids in tow.
Down in Circular Quay, the light show projected onto the Sydney Customs House is an entrancing highlight. This year’s theme is “Sydney’s Hidden Stories”, and it’s worth having a seat and enjoying the entire show.
A walk around the foreshore to the Sydney Opera House reveals the stunning “Songlines” display on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The light display showcases Australian indigenous art. I would recommend getting up close to a speaker so you can listen to the Indigenous music that is paired to the display.
Quite a few of the Vivid exhibits are interactive, making them super popular with kids. They’re dotted around the foreshore here and there, in a path that leads to the Sydney Opera House, and, this year, the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Royal Botanic Gardens has been a Instagram hit this year with its “Cathedral of Light” installation emerging as the most selfied exhibit of the festival. While the lights are indeed just gorgeous, I would suggest arriving before the lights turn on at 6pm and positioning oneself in the cathedral when the lights go on for an experience with minimal people (thanks Jayne at Girl Tweets World for the tip!). I arrived at about 7:30pm and it was the busiest exhibit we came across.
Other projected light displays in the Circular Quay area include the Museum of Contemporary Art and Cadman Cottage, both on the other side of Circular Quay.
A short stroll up this side of the harbour takes you to the perfect spot for watching the show on the Opera House sails, too, as well as past some other fun interactive exhibits, such as the heart that lights up when you scream “I love you” into the speaker.
If you’re taking the kids, my best suggestion for enjoying the main area of Vivid is to get there BEFORE the lights turn on, with the kids already well-fed. I also highly recommend going Mon-Thurs as the weekends get the most crowded. Parking and driving in the city can be difficult so take public transport if you can, or pre-book a parking spot at a larger car park if that’s not possible.
Vivid is completely accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, and if visiting on a week night you’ll have no trouble navigating through people either. If you’re tackling any of the Vivid spots on a weekend, consider a carrier (we use the Ergo performance carrier for Cheese – it has a weight limit of 20kg). A carrier is also a great way of keeping you – and the kid! warm during the frosty nights.
Looking to dine out during Vivid? Check out Little Munch’s suggestions of where to dine in the City during Vivid.
27 May – 18 June, 2016
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!