The first month of the year is packed with summer music festivals, outdoor markets, blockbuster theatre shows and major art exhibitions. Make the most of January in Sydney with our guide to the coolest events for when it really heats up in the city.
Got rowdy little rugrats? Bookmark this guide to the summer school holidays – otherwise they’ll be running round the house all day until January 27.
If you're entertaining guests, why not show them the best walks in Sydney, marvel at the city skyline from these fab spots, or find a remedy for the summer heat with these 101 things to do indoors in Sydney.
RECOMMENDED: The best vegan restaurants in Sydney.
January's biggest adventures
This annual cultural celebration is the big one on Sydney’s summer must-do list, and the festival’s contemporary programming always manages to surprise. In 2020, Sydney Festival will run for 19 days in January with a program of experimental art and premiere performances.
After she wowed Sydney at Vivid Live 2018, we were aching for more of the powerful, funk-infused live music from this Grammy Award-winning artist. And we're ready to rejoice this summer, because Solange Knowles is coming back to sing under the big white sails at four more performances in January.
Kudjala and Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd is known for his signature style, which sits somewhere between traditional Aboriginal dot-painting and Impressionist pointilism. The dot motif has appeared in plenty of his work, from large-scale public art installations to smaller paintings. Now it will be exploded out into three immersive video installations at Carriageworks.
Inspired by African American writer, feminist and activist Audre Lorde's 1981 speech, in which she argued that anger was “an appropriate reaction” to racism, the gallery has curated a series of exhibitions and live events from women artists of colour responding to Lorde’s speech and examining the ways in which anger is used as a reductive, racist and gendered stereotype to devalue and dismiss them.
Fambo – a kid-friendly festival featuring live vogueing, drag performances, creative workshops and storytelling – had its first outing in 2018, and is returning to collaborate with the MCA during Sydney Festival. There’ll be impressive art installations and performances to marvel at during the school holidays event, but the drop-in workshops will undoubtedly be a highlight.
Sing along if you know this one: Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Six the Musical is set to have its Australian premiere. Much like Hamilton before it, the pop musical is making history buffs out of legions of musical theatre tragics, telling the story of the six wives of Henry VIII.
The Twilight at Taronga concert series has been sparkling on the harbour for 25 years. This time around, hear a synthy-pop session by New Zealand duo Broods, a proper rock'n'roll set with Wolfmother, a country cruise by the award-winning Kasey Chambers, pop bangers by Meg Mac and, of course, a little something from Paul Kelly.
In 1990, Jimmy Chi's musical about a runaway teenage Aboriginal boy on an eye-opening road trip became a surprise hit. It was Australia's first Aboriginal musical, and now it's returning for a 30th anniversary tour produced by a group of Australia's biggest opera companies (but the rock and pop-inspired score isn't going to get an operatic bent).
Badtjala artist Dr Fiona Foley is known for her photographic works dismantling historical stereotypes. As part of Sydney Festival, the National Art School hosts a new survey exhibition of her work. The starring new piece is a musical soundscape that tells the story of the first sighting of Captain Cook by the Badtjala people of K’gari (Fraser Island).
John Cassavetes’ 1977 movie about an ageing actress self-combusting in the out-of-town tryouts for a new Broadway show has developed a devoted cult following since its premiere. Now a new stage version, by auteur director Cyril Teste, is one of the headlining events at Sydney Festival.
Taking us back to Sydney’s colonial beginnings, The Visitors it follows the events of January 1788, when the inhabitants of Gadigal land are met with the strange sight of ships arriving in Sydney Harbour. Where are they from? Who do they belong to? Seven clan leaders must decide how their people will respond.
This summer festival celebrates local talent along with a broad range of Australian and international musicians and a multi-faceted program of live music, performance and art installations. Roadwerk’s live music lineup is shaped Sydney youth broadcasters FBi Radio and first nations leaders Koori Radio.
When you think of musicals, George Orwell’s dystopian tale of totalitarianism, thought police and state surveillance isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind. But writers Diana Reid and Tom Davidson McLeod swear adapting 1984 to a musical comedy felt “surprisingly natural”.
[Sponsored] This year's dog-friendly season of outdoor cinema includes festive new releases as well as blockbuster screenings we’ve been waiting for all year. Keep the post-Christmas cheer going with a night of holiday tunes and awkwardly adorable romance in Last Christmas. Other favorites include Jojo Rabbit, Bombshell, Joker and the next installment in the Star Wars series.
Like all great art, Hofesh Schechter's Grand Finale is a work up for interpretation. Certainly, it’s about youth and the power inherent in the young; they’re enraged, armed and almost preternaturally responsive to the pressures bearing in on them. It’s also a distinctly urban work, concerned with the constraints and the thrills of metropolitan confinement.
Vernon Ah Kee's work ranges from large-scale drawings to text-based works, installations and video. He offers searing critiques of Australian culture from an Indigenous perspective (as a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples) and is set to do so in this show at Campbelltown Arts Centre.
Explore Indigenous connection to cultural legacy and the physical, cultural and spiritual lines that link First Nations practices and narratives across Australia. Linear has been curated by the award-winning head of design at Bangarra Dance Theatre, Murri man Jacob Nash, and features ten Indigeous practitioners from across the country.
The greatest love story ever told gets a rethink this summer, putting teenagers where they should be – at the heart of the story. With an original a cappella score composed by Naomi and Drew Livingston, it features a cast of up and coming teenage stars to bring new life and energy to Shakespeare’s tragic tale.
We really got our hair crimpers in a knot with excitement when we heard that this Jamacian rapper and reggae pair would be visiting Sydney. You’re sure to have boogied to Shaggy's infectious beats on a Saturday eve, and if you partake in a bit of untz, untz, untz on the odd occasion, it’s likely that ‘Temperature’ is still popping your eardrums.
In 1868, a group of Aboriginal cricketers embarked upon a pioneering journey to England and became the first Australian sporting team to tour internationally. This funny and affecting play by Geoffrey Atherden gives their leader Johnny Mullagh his appropriate due and questions how history has treated this legend.
From the outside, the spectacular luminaria created by UK company Architects of Air look a little like retro spaceships landed from an alien planet. But if you venture inside the Dodecalis Luminarium, which is popping up in Darling Harbour, you’ll find a labyrinth of uniquely curved and beautiful tunnels lit in dazzling colours.
Since Cold Chisel disbanded in 1984 they've only completed four national tours together. But you can't keep a good thing down, which is why the band is reforming for a massive outdoor tour this summer. Dubbed the Blood Moon tour, the run of shows will be in stadiums, vineyards and out in the bush.
Belvoir is kicking off its 2020 with one of its biggest hits of this year: Duncan Macmillan’s bittersweet, uplifting monologue about a child who starts keeping a list of all the brilliant things in the world in an attempt to ward off their mother’s depression. It's now 20 years later and they're still keeping that list.
Fact: it is physically impossible to hear ‘Weapon of Choice’ without starting to dance like Christopher Walken. Sydneysiders will have the opportunity to do that (as well as enjoy other A-grade bangers) when Fatboy Slim comes to the city this summer.
Here's an ogre-sized announcement: Broadway's musical version of the much-loved 2001 Dreamworks movie Shrek is making its Australian professional debut in January 2020 at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. It's very much the ogre-meets-princess story you know and love from the original film.
Cornelia Parker is considered one of England's biggest and most influential art stars from the last few decades and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010. At the centre of the MCA's exhibition is her breakthrough work which features a garden shed she had the British Army blow up with explosives.
Jump on the ferry to Cockatoo Island for a night of chilled acoustic performances with a banging city backdrop. Sunset Sessions – previously known as Campfire Sessions – will share intimate songs and stories from up-and-coming artists on the island lawn on Saturday evenings until March.
On July 25, 2017, Australia lost one of the greatest musicians of our age: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. To celebrate his legacy and a remarkable musical gift that defied barriers and crossed cultures, this touching tribute, part ceremony, part concert, has been created on Country in North East Arnhem Land.
Chatswood is hosting a three-week festival to ring in the Year of the Rat and wave goodbye to 2019’s oinkers. The colourful celebrations will fan out across the suburb with dozens of markets, parades, dining events and art exhibitions.
This new musical from local writers and performers Ashleigh Taylor and Ben Bennett is getting its first major staging at the Hayes Theatre. It tells the story of Charlie and Ellie, a young couple trying to negotiate the demands of a long-distance relationship, both helped and hindered by technology.
There are some really exciting sounds coming from bubbly queer punk-rockers, Cry Club. The Wollongong-bred, Melbourne-based duo have really taken 2019 by storm, pumping out a series of energetic singles. The pair’s next gig at Oxford Art Factory is part of a tour that’ll bring their newest single ‘Robert Smith’ to stages along the East Coast.
Crawl under the blankets with a glass of wine and settle in for another season of screenings in bed at the EQ. This fun date night series has been running since 2016, offering Sydney’s film buffs the chance to see new releases and classic cinematic moments on the big screen while laying in bed at pop-up outdoor locations.
Strut & Fret’s latest, ambitiously titled Life: The Show is slightly serious for a circus-comedy. It traces the trials of one man’s often mundane life, seeking to pose some existential questions. Expect a dazzling soundtrack, plenty of comedy, adults-only clowning, and even an aerial act in a giant, condom-like plastic tube.
The long and often fraught relationship between Australia and Indonesia is at the heart of this new exhibition by internationally acclaimed Javanese artist Jumaadi. Drawing inspiration from Cintaku Jauh di Pulau, an epic poem by Indonesian writer Chairil Anwar, Jumaadi juxtaposes it against the brutal treatment of Javanese political prisoners during the 20th century.
This Inner West music festival showcases the best of Australia’s underground music streams. It’s essentially the opposite of an arena spectacular; the festival takes over the Marrickville Bowling Club for two days of cheap schooners and the kind of lock-out defying bands who play live gigs every week in alternative venues.
There are few singers who are able to so accurately mimic the divas of years gone by like Bernadette Robinson. This show involves her channelling Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas, and telling the stories of five ordinary women who connected with them.
Calling all skater girls, backstreet boys and children of destiny: the massive nostalgic So Freshtival dance party is returning to Sydney. This edition, dubbed the That's So 2000s Festival, will combine all of your ’90s kids dreams into one mega blue light disco-style party.
The London-based Tenebrae was founded in 2001 by director and former King’s Singer Nigel Short. In a little under two decades, Short and co have established a commanding presence in the upper echelons of the world’s great vocal groups. They will deliver two programs as part of Sydney Festival.
David Williamson's new comedy takes place as a retired federal judge invites his children home to celebrate his birthday. Those children are: a born-again Christian, a Border Force officer and her seafaring girlfriend, and a left-wing activist who shows up with an asylum seeker on the run from Nauru.
Some love La bohème, some loathe it – but there's no doubt that there's plenty of those Puccini earworms, and plenty of romance, sex, tragedy and comedy. To that mix, Edwards and Thomson add the sizzle of Weimar Germany (cue topless club girls, red-curtained cabarets, bedazzling frocks, and the best kind of boho threads).
It is one thing to watch a magic show, with an illusionist able to deliver smooth patter and clever conjuring from the distance of a stage. But it's a very different matter to have dinner with a 'mentalist' and illusionist and experience the magic at close quarters and in an unpredictable setting.
While the Year of the Rat promises to bring motivation and stability, it’s going to start with a party. The folks at World Square will host a Lunar New Year celebration with traditional performances and augmented reality (AR) shows.
This British quartet will be bringing a setlist melding R’n’B and electro-pop to Sydney for their Doom Days Tour. They’ll be pumping recently released singles like the retro dance track ‘Quarter Past Midnight’, pop-happy ‘Joy’ and the darker ‘Those Nights’.
For two weeks every spring, hordes of Sydneysiders head to the beach for the annual Sculpture by the Sea. But for nine months, Casula Parklands is playing host to a new sculpture walk, featuring eight works from Sculpture by the Sea along the banks of the Georges River.
The Splash n Fun pop-up water park is an inflatable playground of slides, obstacles, runways and swings, offering a fun-filled way to cool off when the mercury soars outside. This year’s star attraction will be the Atomic Drop slide – a towering chute that's not for the faint-hearted.
Glide around the salty bay
There’s a good reason why Sydney is often called the Harbour City: this place is defined by its connection to the water and the sheltered bays hold some irresistible charms. Whether you’re in it, on it, or simply admiring it, here are our top recommendations for the best ways to experience Sydney Harbour.