12 insider hacks to get the most out of your night at Sydney’s epic Vivid festival

We've gleaned these tips through going to the festival and also picking the brains of those who run it

Alice Ellis
Alannah Le Cross
A door-like structure lit up in the foreground of a photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night.
Photograph: Supplied by Canon | Wil Calabio | Vivid Sydney 2024

Vivid Sydney is our favourite part of the cool season – there's hot stuff to do, whether you love light installations, sparkling night walks, firey food, gigs or immersive experiences. But it's also busy, there's a lot to choose from, some parts are exy, and it's located a while away from where most Sydneysiders live.

No probs, though – by going to the festival ourselves and speaking with the people who put it on, we've gathered tips to help you have your best Vivid yet.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: Here's our ultimate guide to Vivid and all the best stuff that's on now  

    1. Check for weekend track work. There will be some road closures for Vivid, and extra train, bus and ferry services, so obviously public transport is the way to go – unless you’re aiming to catch the train on a Saturday night when it’s not running. So although Transport for NSW is, in general, running more trains, still check ahead for weekend trackwork so your plans aren't stuffed around. 

    2. Go early on the ferry. You get a beaut view of Vivid from the ferry, but Transport for NSW has advised that ferry services are super popular – so you can end up waiting a while for enough room. Expect that you might have to wait, or perhaps park on the other side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (if you're coming from the north), and walk across it. 

    3. Dodge huge crowds. The less-busy nights at Vivid are Monday to Thursday.

    4. Set aside a few nights if you can. Even if you only want to cover the 8.5-kilometre Light Walk (it's hefty), that route tends to take three nights to cover.

    5. Eat at Vivid Fire Kitchen. Word to the wise, this part of Vivid is more about the feasting than the pretty lights, so save your "oohs" and "aahs" for the areas of the city where the illuminations are in the spotlight. The Fire Kitchen is set up along The Goods Line in Ultimo – the easiest way to get there is to get to Central Station. From there, follow the signs towards Railway Square, follow the long tunnel underneath the station and keep going through the the blue construction-site-feeling bit of the tunnel until you pop out on the street. (The path of food trucks is longer than you think too, keep walking. At the end, you'll find the intriguing A New Normal exhibition at the Powerhouse.). There’s lots of yum, diverse snacks to choose from (all cooked with a lick of fire.) Our picks: The cauliflower and prawn rolls from Eat Lebanese, the mac and cheese and also burnt ends from Smoky Sue’s, and the birria tacos by Maru’s Kitchen. Come with a few people so you can sample different things.

    6. Eat with kids at Gateway. We’d recommend families eat at Gateway, the upscale food court on Alfred Street back behind Circular Quay. It’s a relaxed vibe, and some of the restaurants in there offer various kids’ meal specials, which you can suss out over here.

    7. Hone in on the Drone Show. (That is, if you don't mind crowds.) The Drone Show is only on for three nights of Vivid 2024: Saturday 8th, Sunday 9th and Saturday 15th June (which is the final night of the festival). It's completely free – just be at Circular Quay and look up.

    8. If you don’t like crowds, buy a ticket. Ticketed events such as Lightscape, Dark Spectrum and Tekno Train get you away from the masses strolling the free Light Walk. Just book in ASAP to secure a date that works for you.

    9. Take this secret bar crawl. You can take a Vivid Lights Secret Bar Crawl with Local Sauce Tours to explore places that not a lot of people know about. The crawl between the venues has been curated to showcase some of the best light installations while avoiding the most crowded areas. Over three hours, you’ll visit three bars while your host shares insider knowledge about Sydney’s history and nightlife.

    10. Or just hit up the free stuff. Although there’s heaps of great paid stuff, you can also head along to Tumbalong Nights for free performances at the brand-new Darling Harbour stage (big-name acts including Budjerah and Mallrat). As part of Vivid Ideas, you can head to Rekodo at Barangaroo House at 6pm each night to hear a panel of thought leaders (people like Annabel Crabb and Charles Firth) doing a deep-dive on the news of the day. And much of the 8.5km Light Walk is free.

    11. The ultimate one-night itinerary: If you do have money to spend but not time, our suggested itinerary would be this: start with Dark Spectrum at Wynyard. It ends near The Rocks – so then you can walk along the Circular Quay waterfront to Lightscape at the Botanic Gardens. And eat dinner from one of the food trucks in the Gardens. If you don't want to fork out the cash for the ticketed experiences, Circular Quay is definitely still the place to head – it's where you'll find most of the best illuminations to see this year. Start at the Opera House and work your way around. We really like 'Connection', a pretty immersive installation over the other side of the Quay (with minimal lines).

    12. For the best pics, go in the rain. Yep, seriously. The water and puddles interact beautifully with the lights. Added bonus: there will be smaller crowds.

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Looking for a summary of everything you can do at Vivid, sorted by your interests? Check out our guide, here.

Here are all the best free things to do at Vivid.

And here's our round-up of where to eat at Vivid 2024.

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