The essential guide to see the Vivid Sydney Festival without getting caught in the crush

The Sydney Opera House sails light up as part of Vivid Sydney. Photo / Supplied
The Sydney Opera House sails light up as part of Vivid Sydney. Photo / Supplied

You never know who you're going to bump into among the crowd at Sydney's Vivid festival with Aussie cricket legend Glenn McGrath revealing he's a regular visitor.

But then with 1.7 million people expected to attend what is easily NSW's biggest festival, as well as the "world's largest festival of lights, music and ideas," there's bound to be some familiar faces in the crowd.

Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said the festival, which starts on Friday evening, was so popular, it was now "in a completely different stratosphere" from its first season in 2008 when a mere 220,000 people attended.

A video posted by Vivid Sydney (@vividsydney) on


He couldn't risk having a swipe at Melbourne's White Night festival, which has artistic similarities to Vivid, which runs for just one day rather than 23 as in Sydney.

"The two really aren't in the same ballpark but the Victorians are more than welcome to come up here, enjoy some of the fantastic food and have a look at one of the world's best light shows."

Festival organisers are so concerned about overcrowding at this year's Vivid they've laid on thousands of extra trains as well as giving news.com.au some tips on how to make the festival as hassle free as possible.

Mountain of Light by Angus Muir. Photo / Supplied
Mountain of Light by Angus Muir. Photo / Supplied

"We invite light artists from around the world - old and young, famous and unknown, students and professors, and crazy combinations of both - to submit their artwork to us through a global expression of interest," said creative director Ignatius Jones.

"The result is that each year Vivid Sydney is new and current, representing what's hot and happening in that wonderful place where art meets technology and changes our lives."

The big draws, as in all years, are the light projections on Sydney's landmarks. The Museum of Contemporary Art becomes a giant easel featuring splashes of acrylic and oil paints while Customs House tells 'Sydney's hidden story' through the journey of adventurous blue-tongued lizards.

The Opera House is always the centrepiece. This year, its sails will be lit with 'Songlines', an artwork inspired by the ancient Dreaming tracks that weave across the landscape and skies, featuring the work of six renowned indigenous artists.

A video posted by Vivid Sydney (@vividsydney) on


There's light installations, such as one at Cadman's Cottage, where you can manipulate the image by swinging your arms and even a love-o-meter that shines brighter and brighter depending on how much people extol their undying devotion to one another.

Vivid Sydney can be seen all over central Sydney and beyond. Photo / Supplied
Vivid Sydney can be seen all over central Sydney and beyond. Photo / Supplied

Alongside the lights there is also a program of debates, talks and musical events.

McGrath said he visits Vivid annually, but this year he has a special reason from coming as a picture of his late wife Jane, and other people who have battled cancer, will form one of the light shows.

Hundreds of images sent in by people who have been touched by cancer will be projected onto the side of the AMP Tower at Circular Quay, part of a special installation from the McGrath Foundation which aims to provide a message of support for people with breast cancer.

"We always come in every year - my daughter Holly loves it - so to see her mum up there is pretty special," McGrath told news.com.au.

"I'm really proud but it goes to show, they're probably aren't too many people cancer hasn't touched in some way."

A video posted by Vivid Sydney (@vividsydney) on


Vivid Sydney can be seen all over central Sydney and beyond. But how can you make the most of the spectacular show?

Sandra Chipchase, the CEO of Destination NSW, the government body that organises the festival, and Executive Director of Vivid Sydney, gave news.com.au her tips.

Don't just stick to Circular Quay

"We've got three new precincts," says Ms Chipchase. "The Galeries, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Taronga Zoo."

A photo posted by Vivid Sydney (@vividsydney) on


This is in addition to Martin Place, a new zone in recent years and even suburbs as far afield as Chatswood on the city's north shore.

"In the Botanical Gardens, we've lit the sandstone walls; we've got this beautiful cathedral of light you walk through and everyone can enjoy projections on trees and will-o'-the-wisps' lighting the ground," she said. "People will be astonished by what they see because it's just so incredibly beautiful."

Don't do Vivid in one hit

"There's an extra five nights this year so don't try and see it all at once. It's really two or three nights you need to come down and you've got 23 nights to do it all."

Arrive early

"I would suggest coming in earlier in the day as some of the lights start at 5.30pm. And come earlier in the week like Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday."

Leave the car at home

"Public transport is the best way. With 3500 extra buses and trains over the 23 days it's a lot easier to get in and out of the city."

• Vivid Sydney runs from 27 May to 18 June. For more information visit the Vivid Sydney website.

- news.com.au

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