We can learn about a country by exploring its attractions, studying its history, or reading its literature. But we can learn much more about a country when we dive deep into its culture. Cultures are reflections of nations. They comprise many aspects to show us how each nation used to be in the past as well as what their present day is like. Traditions are one vital part of any culture, shaping nations alongside languages, religions, art, and more.
Traditions, in particular, are best represented by festivals, the celebrations people of each country organise to honour an event or revive a memory. For the most part, festivals are known for celebrating religious events. Still, they can be related to art, music, literature, or even unique weather, such as India’s Holi, the Hindu festival of colour—a well-known festival that occurs annually in March to welcome a new beginning with the start of spring. Australia, too, has its very own colourful festival, Vivid Sydney. This is a festival of light and music where people celebrate the innovation, beauty, and originality of what is by far the most famous Australian city, Sydney.
In this article, we are taking you on a tour of Sydney’s Festival of Light and Music to show you how spectacular this city is and its potential to become one of the world’s most unique places. We would also like to give you another hallmark of the city besides the famous P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Street, Sydney address (Disney fans, you get us).
So grab yourself a cup of coffee and read on.
Held annually from 26 May to 17 June, Vivid Sydney is Australia’s unique festival of light that celebrates the city’s creativity, beauty, innovation, and development. It features beautiful lighting installations and projections displayed on Sydney’s most popular monuments and landmarks, like the famous Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
This festival is relatively recent. Yet, it has a spectacular impact on Sydney’s residents and visitors as the entire city transforms into a beautiful colourful dream with a never-ending stream of fun, leisure, and music. The festival in itself has become a reason to fly or drive thousands of kilometres to visit Sydney and explore and enjoy the city in one of its best seasons in terms of both culture and weather.
Over the years, Vivid Sydney has grown to become not only a celebration of the city’s beauty but a means of branding it as an open global city that is definitely worth visiting and even moving to.
So what exactly is the story of this Vivid Sydney festival? How did it come into existence?
So the story goes like this: Anthony Bastic, the famous Australian event designer, was inspired to light up Sydney, more precisely its iconic Opera House, the same way as the illuminated buildings that he saw in London in 2007. He believed in Sydney’s originality, creativity, and innovation and wanted to promote it this way.
Bastic himself is the founder of AGB Events, a corporation specialised in organising cultural events and remarkably eminent festivals and providing never-to-forget experiences. Back then, he was the CEO of Destination NSW. This is the leading governmental organisation in charge of tourism in New South Wales, which is one of Australia’s six states. It is located in the southeast part of the country, with Sydney being its capital.
So Bastic made up his mind to create a smart light festival for his beloved city, which was later named Vivid Sydney. In 2009, the festival’s first version came out. Bastic, along with a team from Destination NSW, including light designers, of course, created beautiful illuminations by projecting the light on the two sides of the Sydney Opera House.
Not only that, but the festival featured a music event led by the British musician Brian Eno. It was held in the Royal Botanic Garden, which is relatively close to the Opera House. There were also some workshops and talks about technology, which basically allowed the festival to happen.
That first event was a great success as it turned the city into a pearl dazzling in light.
The following years witnessed a series of expansions and add-ons thanks to the success of the first festival and the immensely positive feedback it received. For instance, more events were added. Consequently, more areas to host these events were included, such as the Pyrmont, a suburb in Sydney, and Carriageworks, Sydney’s artistic and cultural zone that happily opened its arms to host the festival’s creative events.
The Rocks, another unique suburb in the city, as well as some museums, galleries, and exhibitions, were also included to host the new workshops, presentations, concerts, and of course, the alluring light installations that gradually took over the entire city.
In the 2023 version, several food events are coming to the festival for the first time.
This festival is held annually from late May to mid-June. If you remember carefully, Australia is in the southern hemisphere, meaning its seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. In other words, the festival is held in late autumn and early winter.
Do you know what this also means? Yes, it can possibly rain! Given that the entire festival can be ridiculously boiled down to a bunch of cables—long, thick cables, things can get slightly serious if it rains.
That is absolutely true only if the festival’s organisers were a bunch of amateurs. Yet, we are happy to report that they are not. They, thank you very much, are professionals that do not tolerate any malfunction.
As Vivid Sydney is now, as it has always been, a big deal for the city, all the lighting equipment, including cables, is waterproof. They are covered with sturdy waterproof materials that are resistant to heavy rains. So if you are planning to attend the festival any time in the future, all you have to do is bring along an umbrella, maybe a raincoat too, but nothing more than that.
The festival and its accompanying events apparently appealed to Sydney’s residents, other Australians living elsewhere in the country, and tourists who came from every corner of the globe to attend it. With the continuous expansion of the festival and the novelty factor that is renewed every year, the number of visitors has seen remarkable growth during the past decade.
For instance, over 500,000 visitors attended the festival in 2012. This number grew to 800,000 visitors in 2013. Two years later, the festival attracted 1.7 million visitors. When the festival duration was extended to 23 nights in 2016, more than 2.3 million people attended. In 2017, the number grew to 2.33 million, making a profit of $143 million!
The year 2019 was a booming success for Vivid Sydney. Around 2.4 million visitors flocked to the city to attend the festival, providing an income of over $150 million. This made Vivid Sydney, that year, the biggest festival in the entire world. What also made this version so special is that many lighting installations were entirely green-powered. In other words, the electricity used for the lighting was produced from renewable energy sources.
As 2019 was exceptionally successful for Vivid Sydney, it seemed like the country, as well as the entire world actually, could not take in any more of that success. So destiny was probably like, “OK, Sydney. I guess you need a break.”
Just a few months after the 2019 Vivid Sydney and toward the end of the year, Australia was unfortunately hit by one of the worst bushfires in its entire history. Millions and millions of animals were either killed or harmed in this catastrophe.
At the same time, something unsettling was going on in the city of Wuhan in Central China. Soon, everyone would start hearing about the coronavirus for the first time. But almost no one would pay much attention since China was too far, too big, and too able to contain the virus. Little did anyone know that the entire world would suddenly shut down and fall into silent despair just a few months later.
However, the world at the time was still optimistic, thinking that the virus could be contained in just two weeks, and in just two weeks, everything would be back to normal. But as the following months proved otherwise, all events around the world, from the biggest international sports tournaments to the tiny local school activities, were cancelled. Vivid Sydney of 2020 was cancelled too.
The festival was then rescheduled to take off on 6 August 2021, but the entire state of New South Wales was locked down as more and more people tested positive for the nasty virus. As a result, Vivid Sydney 2021 was cancelled too.
Vivid Sydney came back after a two-year pause and was held for 23 days and nights from 27 May to 18 June 2022. As of 2023, the festival is taking off on 26 May and is expected to last until 17 June.
Ever since it was created, Destination NSW has been the owner and official manager of the festival. Every year, they work to showcase the city in the best way possible. Given that the 2023 Vivid Sydney is the festival’s 13th version, we can easily guess they have done a pretty good job.
Thanks to the development and expansion that happened over the past decade, the current version of the festival is pretty rich and diverse, full of different artistic events, workshops, talks, concerts, and presentations.
The preparation for the festival, in fact, starts one month after the previous one ends. This enables the managing agency to have a new, better, and revised plan for the next event and enough time to execute it.
That means the preparation for the 2023 Vivid Sydney must have started sometime in July or August of 2022. Besides those who already work on the project, many people volunteer to help Vivid Sydney come out in the best version possible.
In the few versions that preceded the lockdown, Vivid Sydney focused especially on programming, which is what made this festival possible in the first place and enabled the amazing lighting projections and installations. As we mentioned, more workshops and talks were added, and more venues were included. For Vivid Sydney 2023 especially, a new dimension, food, is introduced to the programme.
Speaking of that, the festival’s programme has three primary sections, each of which includes several other parts. So let’s explore those in more detail.
Vivid Light is the essential and most crucial part of the Vivid programme. It includes light installations and projections of the city’s significant landmarks, as we mentioned, primarily the Sydney Opera House as well as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Some other landmarks that were added during the past few years include the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Custom House Sydney, Cadmans Cottage, Taronga Zoo, and Sydney Tower Eye.
There are also different installations on the buildings of the famous suburbs in Sydney, including the Rocks, the Circular Quay, and the Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney. All these combined create what is known as the Vivid Light Walk.
The Vivid Light Walk is an 8.5-kilometre walk where visitors can enjoy some of the festival’s magical installations, featuring 60 light attractions. This long distance takes around two hours to complete and is totally free of charge. Interestingly, it is a self-guided walk which means visitors will know their way once they start at Circular Quay until they reach the very end at Central Station.
Since it is such a long walk, one must wear comfortable shoes and arrive there as early as possible, for the walk gets more crowded as time goes by. As we mentioned, the walk is free of charge; however, there is a light show called Lightscape held at the Royal Botanic Garden for which visitors must buy a ticket.
Another ticketed light event is the Wild Lights one. It is held at Taronga Zoo and features an illuminated night trail.
Vivid Music is another famous core dimension of Vivid Sydney. It includes a series of concerts featuring Australian and international singers and musicians. Most of these concerts take place in Sydney Central Business District. At Sydney Opera House, Vivid Live is hosted, featuring some of the most famous international singers whose number increases yearly.
Vivid Music also includes Tumbalong Nights. These are 12 consecutive nights of live music, basically outdoor concerts and live performances held at Tumbalong Park and are free of charge.
The Vivid Ideas part of the programme includes a lot of free talks and presentations about innovation, creativity, artificial intelligence, and the future of technology. Ideas Exchange is another part of this part of the programme, which features important and leading thinkers in the fields of business, technology and art, giving talks about the latest trends.
Vivid Ideas is a great opportunity for anyone to connect with top-ranking personalities in these fields. Networking with others interested in the same scope can very much open new horizons for young people passionate about technology and creativity.
Besides technology talks, there are also many discussions and workshops about various other topics, such as health, education, and the environment. Most of these talks and presentations are free, but some are ticketed, especially those given by high-profile hosts.
Freshly added to the 2023 version of the festival, the Destination NSW agency responsible for developing this festival included Vivid Food since food is as fundamental in every culture as music, traditions, and ideas are.
Vivid Food comprises a series of events related to culinary. It includes many parts featuring pop-up restaurants created by some of Australia’s most famous chefs. These restaurants provide unique dishes and irresistible food experiences that are never available elsewhere.
Additionally, there are food tours where visitors explore distinguished restaurants and markets selling local food products. This part of the programme is another more appealing window to explore the Sydney food culture, which the city is so proud of and famous for, by the way.
As you may have guessed, Vivid Food is ticketed. It is also recommended that visitors planning to experience it make restaurant and tour reservations.
Vivid Sydney is an excellent opportunity to dive into Sydney’s culture in particular and Australia’s in general. Through attending these beautiful light events, enjoying live music, exchanging ideas and trying new cuisine, one can live a vibrant, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you are thinking about travelling to Australia on your next vacation, make sure you plan your trip around the time of Vivid Sydney. This festival will not just make your trip extra fantastic; it will also double validate your long, long flight.