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The best things to see at Vivid Light

Take a moth's tour of Sydney and seek out these light artworks after dark

Vivid Light 2019 installations shinning by the harbour with walking crowds.
Photograph: Supplied

Prepare for the streets to be flooded with tourists, Instagrammers and loved-up winter couples, because Vivid Sydney is back from May 24 to June 15. As has been the trend for a decade now, there will be luminous installations shining every night from 6-11pm, alongside a healthy itinerary of talks and gigs for the big winter festival.

Glowing trails will stretch from the Botanic Gardens to Darling Harbour, once again take over Luna Park and Taronga Zoo, and pop-up again at Chatswood with all kinds of interactive displays. If you're keen to get amongst it, make sure you stop in at one of Sydney's award-wining bars for booze-fuel and bar snacks that'll prepare you for the Circular Quay crowds.

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This year's best Vivid Light installations

Vivid Light 2019 installation on Customs House.
Photograph: Supplied

Let Me Down

We always love to see one of Sydney’s most exciting artists get a chance to take over a major canvas at Vivid Sydney, and this year we’re most excited about Colombian-born, Sydney-based Claudia Nicholson’s projection on the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art. She’s best known for her contemporary takes on Colombian traditions; she makes floral arrangements and the colourful ‘alfombra de aserrín’ – a traditional carpet-like artwork created painstakingly over several days using sawdust, glitter and pigment. Four of these artworks will be adapted for a large-scale animation.

Kids looking at a Vivid Light installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Photograph: Supplied

Firefly Field

There are only a few bugs that inspire a sense of romanticism – butterflies maybe, or ladybugs for their duds – but there’s something dreamy about fireflies and their glowing gracefulness. That’s probably why Dutch artist collective Toer created this delicate light installation simulating a family of 500 fireflies. It will appear to hover above the ground and show the blinking, light-up ritual of fireflies looking for love during mating season. In reality, it’ll be built on a super fine steel structure with flexing rods that give a mesmerising movement to the installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Kids using wheelchairs at a Vivid Light installation.
Photograph: Supplied

Tumbalong Lights: Inclusive Playspace

This light-filled playground beside Darling Harbour is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, and celebrates inclusivity and the art of play. This year there’s a space theme across the installations and glowing games, so expect to meet aliens, venture to the moon and back, hear Indigenous dreaming stories that explore the Milky Way, and enjoy a stop-motion animation of the original moon landing. The collaborative creation at Tumbalong is one of our favourite recurring Vivid Light displays.

Children enjoying an interaction with the Gorilla light lanterns at Taronga Zoo, Vivid Sydney 2019.
Photograph: Destination NSW/Daniel Boud

Lights for the Wild

It’s a relatively simple concept, but always a crowd favourite: glowing, animated animals. Taronga Zoo has an obvious schtick but we’re glad they’re still rolling with it, because it means we can meet luminous Sumatran tigers and their cubs, majestic marine turtles, a family of gorillas and a friendly swarm of bees as we waltz along the trail of sculptures within the zoo’s grounds. It comes with a positive message of environmental conservation, and an interesting 270-degree cinema experience, but this is one you’ll have to pay for – $26.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids – since it’s inside Taronga Zoo. 

The Sydney Opera House sails with a light projection.
Photograph: Supplied
Things to do, Fairs and festivals

Austral Floral Ballet

For 2019, the honour of lighting the Opera House sails goes to Andrew Thomas Huang, a Los Angeles-based artist who directed several Björk videos. His work features native flora moving like a dancer across the sails. You’ll see kangaroo paws, red beard orchards, waratahs and other native species in a colour pallet of movement based on choreography by Toogie Barcelo, performed by dancer Genna Moroni. The fluid, arching movements are an ode to the architectural design of the Opera House.

Marri Dyin, "great woman", a six-metre tall puppet that lights up for Vivid Sydney
Photograph: Destination NSW

Winter Camp

We met the six-metre tall Marri Dyin (meaning ‘great woman’ in the Eora language) last year, and the luminescent puppet will be gracing the wharf at Barangaroo once again for Vivid. She is undoubtedly the star of the ‘Winter Camp’ installation, which incorporates layers of light and sound to give visitors an insight into how the Indigenous people of Australia work with the seasons as hunters and gathers. This year, Marri Dyin – who represents and honours strong contemporary Indigenous women – will be joined by a school of mesmerising fish puppets. We can’t wait to watch the mastery of this troupe of roaming pupperters over dinner.

Kids standing under a Vivid Light installation.
Photograph: Supplied

Let it Snow

If you’re in the market for an internet-breaking Instagram post or a new DP, seek out this cascading waterfall of light by artists Jing Li and Lawrence Liang. The Circular Quay installation allows light-seekers to walk through a cloud of LED bulbs which replicates that pumping snow machine at Thredbo. The tendrils of light will react to pedestrian movement and the weather, so you’ll really feel like you’re in the tundra once the crowds gather.

The Vivid Light installations at Chatswood showing huge glowing billboards.
Photograph: Dallas Kilponen


While much of the Vivid action is reflected off the harbour waters, Chatswood also plays host to some spectacular light installations each year. There’ll be interactive displays across the northern suburb that speaks to its diversity. See giant projection works by Indigenous artist Gambirra Illume, play on a harp installation based on Tibetan prayer flags, explore the light bazaar inspired by the peaceful messages of Islam, and see a six-metre, heart-shaped sculpture of the world.

Artist impression of a Vivid Light installation at the Rocks.
Photograph: Supplied

Watch Your Chips!

It’s a warning any harbourside diner knows well, and in Sydney we’ve even employed adorable dogs to guard our chippies. UK artist Simon Grimes has joined forces with Anton Grimes and Kaan Seven to light a monument honouring the pesky gulls. The canopy of glowing birds in the Rocks mimics their real-life counterparts, seemingly flapping independently as they stand vigil over a glowing bag of chips. Should a passer-by try to nab the taters, the LED flock will swoop in to retrieve their prize.

Artist impression of a Vivid Light installation.
Image: Supplied


This one’s going to be a beacon for kids and any hopscotch champs from back in the day. You’ll be leaping along 11 motion-sensor pads that resemble the chalk game, but instead of school concrete beneath your feet, you’ll find a hidden world that investigates recycling and sustainability. The installation expands its environmental message with an interactive mobile site that provides a digital interface along with the hands-on component.

People looking at the light display on the facade of Customs House during Vivid Sydney.
Photograph: Supplied

Under the Harbour

The façade of Customs House will be one of the central glowing attractions in Circular Quay. This marine projection by creative Darlinghurst collective Spinifex Group will bring the world beneath the harbour waters onto land for kids and families to meet neon sea creatures and be transported to luminescent deep sea environments. A giant octopus will lead the surreal procession which is the vision of Spinifex’s Los Angeles-based design director Ben Alpass.

Eat famous Sydney dishes while you play tourist

Food at A1 Canteen
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Sydney’s new wave of cult menu items

From Quay’s Snow Egg and Golden Century’s pipis in XO sauce, to Black Star’s strawberry and watermelon cake, Sydney loves to love a cult dish. But what will we be eating again and again in 2019?