Vivid Sydney is back with an itinerary that’s bigger than ever in 2023.
Vivid Sydney has come a long way from the light show it once was. While light installations from renowned local and international artists still create the centrepiece, this is now an all-encompassing winter festival, offering talks, events, live music, special food offerings and more.
Narrow down the best of Vivid with this guide. (Image: DNSW)
To help you wade through the seemingly endless options, we’ve created the perfect three-day itinerary. While we’ve planned it for a weekend, a top tip to avoid the crowds is to take some time off during the week.
9am Begin your adventure at Cadman’s Cottage in The Rocks where you will meet Marget Campbell for a Dreamtime Southern X illi-Langi The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour. No matter how often you’ve visited Sydney, you haven’t experienced it like this before. Margaret, who will ask you to call her Aunty, shares a wealth of knowledge about the land you stand on and local Indigenous practices from long before colonisation.
Join Aunty Margaret on a tour around The Rocks. (Image: DNSW)
11.30am Enjoy an early lunch at The Grounds of the City, a smaller but just as picturesque George Street iteration of the famous Alexandria location. Their housemade sodas are refreshingly unique and the potato gnocchi with basil pesto, goats curd, tomato and herbs is a no-brainer.
1pm Before the buzz of Vivid begins, why not fill your afternoon with a matinee performance at the theatre? Right now in Sydney, you’ll find the Tina Turner musical at Theatre Royal Sydney and Disney’s Aladdin at Capitol Theatre.
Enjoy a drink in your room overlooking the Harbour Bridge, or pop into the hotel bar. (Image: DNSW)
4.30pm Check into your accommodation by Circular Quay to be near the action. Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour is the perfect option to catch a glimpse of either the Vivid lights of Sydney Botanical Gardens or over the water from your balcony.
6pm Catch a taxi over to Barangaroo House, which is transforming into the ‘House of Naturalia’ to match with Vivid’s 2023 ‘naturally’ theme.
Indulge in the special Vivid menu at Rekodo Restaurant & Vinyl Bar. (Image: Steven Woodburn)
Treat yourself to dinner at Japanese-inspired Rekodo Restaurant & Vinyl Bar where the special Omikaza Vivid dinner menu by Head Chef Tara Chua is centred on the natural world – a perfect theme for this restaurant that focuses on zero-waste, sustainable food. Make sure you save room for dessert, which is almost like an apple pie inside a pancake with a creamy cheese sauce. Delectable.
8pm Head upstairs to Smoke Rooftop Bar to enjoy a custom cocktail menu designed especially for Vivid.
8.30pm After dinner and drinks, wander around the waterside pathways to Darling Harbour where you can watch live music performances from the likes of Yothu Yindi, Ziggy Ramo, Cornelius, Sunshine, Disco Faith Choir and more at Tumbalong Nights. Check the line up here.
Sing along to Yothu Yindi and more at Tumbalong Nights. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
After the show, take a leisurely stroll through the Darling Harbour section of Vivid’s Light Walk. Be sure to stop at Spectrum of Happiness – a light-up swing set for all ages in Darling Square – as well as Elemental – a light show floating in the harbour that uses all four elements to create something quite mesmerizing to watch.
Stop to watch four elements come together in Elemental. (Image: DNSW)
11am After an indulgent sleep-in and leisurely breakfast, why not spend your day soaking up even more art that Sydney has to offer?
The Art Gallery of New South Wales in The Domain has recently opened its long-awaited North Building. While the architecture is an artwork in itself, don’t miss a trip into The Tank – an underground room turned into an art exhibition of light, dark and sculptures. Or discover The National 4 exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art nestled along the waterfront of The Rocks.
Explore the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ new building. (Image: Zan Wembley)
12.30pm Treat yourself to some food for thought with lunch at a’Mare inside The Crown. Designed by chef and restaurateur Alessandro Pavoniamous, this Italian restaurant is famous amongst Sydneysiders for the pesto pasta sauce that is made right before your eyes (it truly can’t get any fresher than this), you won’t be disappointed with the tasting menu and wine pairing – the place earned a prestigious Chef Hat from the Good Food Guide Awards for a reason.
Taste the freshest pesto pasta of your life at a’Mare. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
5.30pm Vivid’s standout experience this year is one that many may overlook – Nocturne. This 90-minute immersive, self-guided tour around The Rocks will leave you with a sense of place and knowledge you never had before, even if you’re a regular in the area. Wander at your own pace while provided headphones and app guide you, explaining the stories behind what you’re looking at, and how it comes alive after dark.
Follow your virtual guide to discover Sydney after dark at Nocturne. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
7.30pm You’ll need time to process what you just heard on the tour, so wander down to Ploós (meaning ‘a voyage’) for Mediterranean cuisine in a truly stunning sandstone building right next to the water.
9.10pm Head outside (if you weren’t at an outdoor table already) to watch the Vivid drone show, Written in the Stars. Taking on our solar system by creating planet Earth, the Milky Way and more, this is the largest drone show in the Southern Hemisphere.
Marvel at the Vivid drone show, Written in the Stars. (Image: DNSW)
9.20pm After the 10-minute show, walk around to Royal Botanic Garden Sydney for Lightscape. It’s unusual to have these gardens more or less to yourself, and it really helps facilitate the magic of the light installations. Originally created a decade ago by celebrated local and international artists, Lightscape has garnered international acclaim, and it’s not hard to see why. It feels like a Disney-esque world from start to finish, but the ticket price truly makes sense when you reach a whale swimming in a pool of ebbing light.
Walk around Royal Botanic Garden Sydney for Lightscape. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
11.50pm You’re visiting an iconic Sydney festival, so why not also visit one of the city’s permanent icons? The Sydney Opera House offers behind-the-scenes tours that include fascinating untold stories, anecdotes, and the history of the performers and staff who have worked here over the years (you might even get a ghost story or two if you’re lucky).
Go behind the scenes with a tour of the Sydney Opera House. (Image: DNSW)
1.20pm There’s no such thing as too much Italian, so head to Merivale’s Bar Totti’s on George Street for another fix. You would be mad not to take advantage of the ricotta ravioli with burnt sage special (it won’t be there forever, after all) and their famous wood-fired bread. Ask the waiters for matching wine suggestions for their decent wine list.
Head to Merivale’s Bar Totti’s on George Street for an Italian fix. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
3.30pm There have long been stories of abandoned railway tunnels below Wynyard Station, and for the first time, they’ll be open to the public thanks to Vivid’s multi-sensory experience, Dark Spectrum. Find the entrance at Wynyard Park before heading down into the darkness. There you’ll walk through eight rooms of curated light displays and playlists, each totally different from the next. With grand plans to take this show around the world, be among the first to see it.
Be transported to another world at Dark Spectrum. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
6.30pm After a nice rest at your hotel, make your way around the Circular Quay and Rocks section of the Light Walk. This might be a big call, but the best free light installation of the whole festival can be found near Pier 1 of the Sydney Wharves, called Monad. Stop to watch the light display projected through a watery mist, adapting Greek philosophy and nature to inspire awe in the watchers.
Refuel at the Vivid Fire Kitchen (yes, there’s real fire). (Image: DNSW)
7.30pm Refuel after a day of walking, and soak in the real atmosphere of Vivid, in the Fire Kitchen at The Cutaway. This is the first year food has officially been part of Vivid’s offerings, and this food truck haven offers some of Sydney’s best cuisine – from the vegan offerings of Alibi to tender meat offerings fresh from the barbecue. Speaking of barbecues, stop and watch live cooking demonstrations by some of the country’s best grillers.