More than 180 artists work to brighten the winter skies, writes Corazon Miller

It is quite possible to enjoy a view of Sydney's skyline hopping from roof to roof, and what better time to do it than during the annual Vivid Festival.

In May to June each year, the city buildings are transformed into canvases painted with an ever-moving array of lights.

Ocean life darts across the sails of the Sydney Opera House; the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) has music to accompany the rotating sequence of watercolour, oil, or marker paintings that encompass its facade; and the yellow glow of Sydney Harbour Bridge puts a spotlight on the dancers projected on its posts.


These were just some of the more than 90 large-scale light installations and projections at the festival in 2017.

More than 180 local and international artists worked to light up the winter skies in seven different precincts around Sydney.

During a week when temperatures were barely in the mid-teens, the glowing displays still managed to attract the masses.

Before hitting a local rooftop bar to see them from above, I decided to get up close with the lights.

I recommend doing this early in the evening - and in the week - before the crowds get too heavy.

I was able to walk, relatively unhindered, through the area, pausing to take pictures without having to worry too much about an unwanted head popping into shot.

Several thousand steps later, I traipsed back to the Intercontinental hotel and headed to its roof - the exclusive Supper Club.

There I sat in a cosy armchair and nursed a trio of specially-crafted Vivid cocktails while watching the lights dart around the harbour.


Centre stage was the Sydney waterfront, with a light walk designed to take in the displays around Circular Quay, The Rocks and the city's Harbour Bridge.

The Supper Club was by no means the only place to check out the lights.

To get a different view, there's the Palisade's rooftop bar, Henry Deane, which offers a picturesque view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Try the tender lamb cutlets with miso-infused sauce or the spiced cauliflower, tied off with a tasty cold sago pudding with pomegranate while you take in the sights.

For a view of Darling Harbour's water and lights, go to the Zephyr Bar on the roof of the Hyatt Regency and enjoy the show while sipping on one of the many cocktails on offer.

During the day, before the Vivid lights switched on, there were plenty of places to explore.

At the top of the MCA, there is a large cafe, with open and closed-roof options overlooking the harbour.

Before enjoying a vegetarian tagine atop the art gallery, I decided to take a tour of the art. The MCA is housing one part of The National: New Australian Art exhibition.

Curated across three of the city galleries, the MCA, Carriageworks and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, it offers work from emerging, mid-career and established Australian artists.

It is worth taking advantage of one of the regular free guided tours. Knowing the backstory gives an added dimension to each piece of art, that is not always visible by just looking at it.

In the foyer of the MCA, painted on the wall by the stairs, is a series of demon figures, framed by gold leaf foliage. For the artist, Khadim Ali, who is a Hazara man from Afghanistan, born in Pakistan, these figures tell the story of what it's like to be a new migrant, feeling part of a place but yet apart from it.

For those not so keen on a formal gallery setting, the inner-west Sydney suburb of Newtown is an option.

Arriving by train, it is easy to dismiss the area as just another run-down city suburb.

But take the time to explore and you may be surprised to find, hidden among its warren of side-street shops, narrow alleys and parks, a thriving artistic community.

You'll find everything from a clothing shop linking designers with aspiring designers from refugee backgrounds, to the performing arts high school and the local group of artists sharing a studio and shop space.

Melinda Vassallo, of Culture Scouts, introduced me to the beauty of Newtown.

This tour was more than just a show-and-tell; Vassallo, who is a local, knows the streets like the back of her hand.

She's written a book about the street art that dots many of the suburb's walls, fences and garages and knows many of the artists' stories. After spending two hours with Vassallo, I came away feeling like I had just spent the afternoon hanging out with a friend.

She told me that while street art remains illegal in many parts of Sydney, in Newtown the Inner West Council has discovered that, instead of fighting the graffiti crews, it's better to join them - or at least provide an outlet for street artists to develop their craft.

Called the Perfect Match programme, it connects artists with property owners who want an outdoor mural painted - thus eliminating the chance of unwanted tagging.

It's like a living art gallery, constantly evolving with a weird juxtaposition between grungy tags, more formal developing pieces of artwork and grander polished pieces.

Taking a closer look there were 3D sculptures: one "an abandoned shoe", which on closer inspection was a sculpture fixed to the floor.

One of the suburb's centrepieces was a portrait of Martin Luther King, to his left, the globe, below, his iconic words; "I have a dream"; all underlain by an image of the Aboriginal flag.

Painted by Andrew Aiken and Juilee Pryor it has, Vassallo said, in some ways become representative of the indigenous struggles for identity and a place in Australia today.

That seems to be the beauty of this suburb, all forms of art are welcome and fit right into Newtown's urban landscape.

Sydney Festival
January 6-28, 2018
In its 42nd year, this popular summer event turns the entire city into a cultural hub with hundreds of performances and events in theatre, dance, music, circus and art. Next year's festival includes an underwater concert, as well as the first Australian show by New York theatre company the Wooster Group. There is also a broad range of free events on offer around the city.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
March 3, 2018

Three weeks of celebrations lead up to the main event on the first Saturday in March - the famous Mardi Gras parade, which may not be held on the actual Mardi Gras day, but still parties like it is. With a history dating back to the gay rights parades of 1978, the march retains a political flavour along with plenty of the outlandish antics that draw the crowds.

Sydney Beer Week
October 20-29, 2017

Keep the Oktoberfest party going at this event, held over the last week of October. The festival features more than 100 events scattered across the city, this year's offering is shaping up to be the biggest yet - with local and international brewery showcases, scavenger hunts, walking tours, trivia nights and a 'beergustation' dinner.

City 2 Surf
Date TBA, 2018

This annual August fun run sees participants taking on a 14km course that starts in the CBD at Hyde Park and ends at the famous Bondi Beach. First run in 1971, with only 2000 entrants, the event now attracts more than 80,000 runners. Serious runners and first timers alike are invited to take it on, raising money for their chosen charity - it's considered a bucket list event for many.


At night, the Supper Club at the Intercontinental has views of the Sydney Opera House and the MCA, while the cool Zephyr Bar at the Hyatt Regency overlooks Darling Harbour.

During the day Henry Deane at the Palisade Hotel offers a great view of the city and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Getting there
Flight Centre has Qantas return airfares from $399, when you add on an accommodation deal.

Vivid 2018, May 25-June 16.