Looking to start planning your next adventure? We have a new reason for you to travel to Sydney, Australia this month.
As the southern hemisphere’s days get shorter – and the nights longer – Australia’s Harbour City is set to once again light up for the 2023 Vivid Sydney Festival.
Now in its 13th year, the festival, a “celebration of creativity, innovation and technology,” will fill New South Wales’ capital with cultural events for 23 days and nights. Running from May 26 to June 17, this year’s festival has a theme of “Vivid Sydney, Naturally.”
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This year will kick off with a celebration of the cultures of Indigenous Australians and performances by international artists at First Light, which returns after its debut in 2022. Acclaimed Yolŋu artists Yothu Yindi will perform, as well as dance groups Muggera and Jannawi Dance Clan. Other artists include Tenzin Choegyal, Chantel Cofie, and the African drum-and-dance ensemble Wontanara.
The festival’s best-known element is the light shows, which transform the city’s most recognizable landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House. The 2023 projection, entitled Lighting of the Sails: Life Enlivened, pays homage to the late Australian artist John Olsen and his 60-year career. The work includes images of Olsen’s Salute to Five Bells (1971–73), which graces the walls of the Opera House’s Northern Foyer.
If you want to hit the pavement while you take in the lights, the annual Light Walk is coming back as an epic 5.25-mile (8.5km) path from the Opera House across the Harbour Bridge and back along the wharves of Walsh Bay. The route features 26 street installations created by over 100 light collaborators working with 26 artists from 13 countries.
Excitingly, the unused railway tunnels under Wynyard Station are being opened to the public for the first time to host Dark Spectrum. A collaboration between Vivid Sydney, Sony Music, Mandylights and Culture Creative, Dark Spectrum is an immersive audio-visual journey through eight unique installations, many responsive to movement or touch. The “Interaction” installation consists of an array of hundreds of suspended string lights interspersed with illuminated alien plants that respond to visitors’ movements.
Appealing to the mind as well as to the eyes, the Vivid Ideas program consists of over 20 engaging discussions and thought-provoking workshops challenging our ideas of the natural. Award-winning English author Jeanette Winterson headlines the program, speaking at the session “Life and Mars: The Future of Human.” The White Lotus creator Mike White and star Jennifer Coolidge will also join in a conversation on June 10.
Additionally, the Powerhouse Museum and Australian Museum will once again host the Up Late program, a series of free and interactive nighttime sessions running at the museums for the duration of the festival.
Where to eat in Sydney
For the first time, Vivid Sydney will cater to all five senses as it introduces the festival’s culinary pillar, Vivid Food.
The Vivid Sydney Dinner was a sold-out event last year, and this year looks just as promising. Expect a stunning menu from chefs Ben Greeno and Danielle Alvarez, with a focus on fresh, seasonal NSW produce.
If you miss out on tickets to the Vivid Dinner, there are still plenty of opportunities to find world-class food. For two weeks of the festival, Daniel Humm (of New York’s Michelin three-star Eleven Madison Park) will be the chef in residency at Matt Moran’s Aria.
The Vivid Chef series will transform the menus of celebrated Sydney restaurants such as Kiln, Fred’s and Yellow. Expect unique menus from culinary stars like award-winning LA chef Jeremy Fox, the Michelin-starred chef Rishi Naleendra from Singapore and Cape Town’s Mmabatho Molefe.
If fine dining isn’t your style, Vivid Fire Kitchen invites you to jump into the grill pit. The Cutaway Barangaroo will host grillmasters such as Firedoor’s Lennox Hastie, TV celebrity Jess Pryles, Byron Bay’s Pip Sumbak and Dave Pynt from Burnt Ends in Singapore. Entry to the Vivid Fire Kitchen is free, with food and drink available for purchase on site.
Where to drink in Sydney
Of course, the iconic Opera Bar is in the perfect spot to grab a pre-, post- or mid-Vivid drink. But if you want to expand your horizons, try award-winning cocktail lounge Maybe Sammy. The ’50s-inspired decor and innovative twists on cocktail classics make this bar a favorite for a reason.
For a momentary escape from Sydney, Barossa vineyard Château Tanunda has a cellar door in The Rocks, providing a range of luxurious tastings of their award-winning heritage wines.
The make the most of Vivid, you want a bar with views. You’ll be in luck in Barangaroo, with both Smoke and Untied offering stunning views. Smoke is swanky and glamorous, perfect for an intimate cocktail overlooking the night sky. For a sunnier occasion, Untied is a vibrant and modern restaurant bar with a convivial atmosphere.
If beer is more your style, Squire’s Landing in The Rocks is James Squire’s restaurant, bar and microbrewery. It serves James Squire favorites as well as limited-release brews and boasts expansive views of the harbor.
Where to stay in Sydney
You can’t get closer to the Light Walk than the Park Hyatt or Shangri-La hotels. Crown Towers also places you in the bustling Barangaroo dining and entertainment hub, where several Vivid events are taking place.
The striking Ace Hotel has recently been nominated for a number of design awards, making it a perfect accommodation complement for the Vivid Festival. You’ll also be close to Vivid Chef Series venue Kiln, located within the Ace.