Vivid sydney lights 2023 on the harbour bridge feature

Vivid Sydney Guide 2023: Best Things to Do During the Festival of Light

Vivid Sydney 2023 will run from Friday 26th May to Saturday 17th June, transforming the harbour city into a light exhibition that celebrates creativity, innovation and technology for an estimated 2.6 million attendees.

The FREE-to-attend light festival is more than a few RGB displays, it’s a chance to get out and about and connect through events and installations with innovators and leaders in technology, food, and arts. Last year saw 198 light artists and collaborators create 50 Vivid Light installations around Sydney Harbour, stretching 8 kilometres from Circular Quay to Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, and Central Station.

This year the organisers are expecting an even larger crowd, so we’ve created a handy guide to Vivid Sydney 2023 below to help you get the most out of the light show while navigating the crowds. Our Vivid Sydney walking guide below takes you from Circular Quay all the way to Central Station, explaining all the events along each leg of the walk. We’ve also included lists of all the places you’ll want to eat and drink at along the way.

RELATED: Here’s how we visited the Vivid Sydney light festival in style this year.

Vivid Sydney Guide

Our guide to the best things to do during Vivid goes like this.

Now we’ve rounded up our favourite things to do, let’s check out the complete guide.

Vivid sydney lights 2023 the hive 2

The Hive | Image: Destination NSW

Vivid Sydney Light Walk

The Vivid Sydney light walk stretches nearly 8km and runs from Sydney Opera House to Central Station. Our walking guide below will take you through all the light exhibitions along the way so you don’t miss any of the action. We highly recommend starting at the Opera House and tackling the light walk over two or three nights depending on fitness levels and crowds.

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Opera House to First Fleet Park

Must-see light installations and events along the way include;

What our experts say: Our walking map of Vivid Sydney starts from the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Sure to be a favoured installation for Instagrammers, the Lightscape event will be found up in The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to your right. This is a ticketed event and costs $40 for adults (family ticket $128). If you’re after free events, read on.

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Supernova | Image: Destination NSW

Make your way from the Sydney Opera House to Circular Quay Wharf 2 and you’ll come across Sondor, The Hive, and Inside Out (which is displayed across the front of Customs House). These three events are all free for the public and are some of the most popular at Vivid every year.

From there, walk along the tram line and you’ll find Losting and Supernova. The latter is expected to be one of the most Instagrammable installations at Vivid 2023. With giant stars illuminated in First Fleet Park, it’s great for taking photos. Not to be outshined, Losting on Alfred Street is a spectacular jungle contained in a cube of double mirrors. What appears to be a lightbox from the outside is actually a shifting world with oscillating mirrors changing between transparent and reflective, illuminated and dark.

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Biotechture | Image: Destination NSW

First Fleet Park to The Rocks

Must-see light installations and events along the way include;

What our experts say: Next up is First Fleet Park to Sydney’s historic The Rocks. Adorning the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, you will find Barerarerungar which features a mesmerising design of river reeds, a symbol representing safe travels and friendship. A little bit further up the road at ASN Clock Tower, immerse in a 20-metre Waterfall cascade against the backdrop of the Biotechture display which offers an otherworldly view into the arteries and bones behind the iconic Clock Tower building.

Vivid sydney lights 2023 on museum of contemporary art

Barerarerungar | Image: Destination NSW

Make your way across to Campbells Cove and watch First Light – look on as dance groups Muggera and Jannawi Dance Clan dance on the lands, singing up water and sky Country alongside a Haka and calling from the land from Māori performers Te Aranganui. Hear musicians share their stories, including Yothu Yindi and the Yolngu supergroup. Here you will also enter the world of the Superorganism and discover the illuminated tree canopy where the digital and natural meld.

Next, walk to Daws Point Park where you will find City Gazing Sydney which sees a map floating above your head that lights up to chart the city’s growth across the past century. Next is the Dandelion at Hickson road reserve, a 4,000kg steel recreation of the flower’s wispy calyx, also known as a ‘pappus’. Before moving on, look up towards the pylons of the infamous harbour bridge and you will glimpse striking illustrations and sculptures of native Australian birds in the Between You and Me and Future Natives installations.

Vivid sydney lights 2023 monad

Monad | Image: Destination NSW

The Rocks to Barangaroo

Must-see light installations and events along the way include;

What our experts say: Now you’ve seen everything at The Rocks, head towards Barangaroo where you will find Monad, Bump and Sway Ghosts and Spirograph at Walsh Bay. While Monad floats as a 3D display in mid-air, Bump and Sway uses motion sensors attached to twelve of the floating poles to draw our attention to the subtle beauty of the ever-changing shapes and reflections of the water. Ghosts uses traditional paper folding techniques for lanterns that float between piers, while Spirograph offers a beautifully illuminated water fountain illusion.

Walk onwards until you arrive at Barangaroo Headland and immerse in the Light Forest, walk through sand dunes in Dune and step inside an oversized lightbulb full of Australia’s fluttering endangered Bogong Moths at Night Whisper. Continue on to Barangaroo Reserve where Night Walkers supersizes frogs to highlight not just their beauty but also their ecological importance.

Vivid sydney lights 2023 the tunnel

The Tunnel | Image Vivid

At Stargazer Lawn, see The Last Ocean, a massive tessellated ‘ice sheet’ made of reclaimed ocean plastic and become immersed in the Silent Observers, a projection mapping bringing trees to life as the lights dance around the rings to an atmospheric soundtrack. Continue towards Infinity, an immersive 360° experience across a hyper-real world inspired by Australia’s many natural wonders and What Lies Beneath, a 3D projection mapped onto the curved rocks of Nawi Cove that uses real data from ocean currents to show how our reefs are moving and changing.

Take the time to enter The Tunnel, where you will travel through an open hallway made of 16 otherworldly, space-age structures, controlled by ‘Pilots’ (who are actually people watching from a nearby console – should we be scared?) The last stop here is Watermans Cove, where you will find Lilies and Fish are Jumping, giant inflatable versions of the flower that float in the water, and streaks of light, or ‘fish’ jumping out of the water.

Dark spectrum vivid sydney 2023 blue graffiti bubbles

Dark Spectrum | Image: Supplied

Barangaroo to Darling Harbour

Must-see light installations and events along the way include;

What our experts say: From the buzzing streets of Barangaroo to the vibrant waters of Darling Harbour, witness Elemental at Cockle Bay, a breathtaking show that celebrates fire, air, water and earth by combining spectacular 80-metre water shooters, flames, projection and pyro technics – a must-see. Walk towards the Australian National Maritime Museum where you will find Harbour Life – an exploration into the history of Australia’s harbours with a stunning projection of the HMAS Vampire.

Before moving on, check out Dark Spectrum. Hidden within the abandoned tunnels beneath Wyanrd Station, this is an electronic labyrinth where you lose yourself across eight monochromatic rooms, in a transportive multi-sensory experience inspired by the euphoria found on underground dancefloors. This sounds like something out of a movie, and may very well be what we’re most looking forward to!

Dark spectrum vivid sydney 2023 red strobe lights

Dark Spectrum | Image: Supplied

At Tumbalong Boulevard bear witness to The Mechanics of Spring – a forest of large-scale  ‘wings’ and ‘leaves’ that twist and turn down a suspended wire, before pondering the elegant formations of floating, spiralled LED tubes at Swarm on the Darling Harbour Reflections Pools. Then, take it back to the days of the school playground with a swing on the Spectrum of Happiness swing set and watch on as your movement activates the LED tubes and balls attached to each swing to create a dazzling spectacle.

Stopping by Tumbalong Park is a must, as here you will find Aperture, an inflatable labyrinth inspired by NSW’s many natural wonders that have been sculpted and shaped by the eroding effects of wind, water and time, as well as Dance Together, where three giant suspended floating rings unites you in haloes of light and an ethereal soundscape, encouraging connection and maybe even a little boogie.

Head to the Chinese Garden of Friendship Forecourt where you will find River Mouth, an incredible artwork of hand-blown neon glass lines.

Vivid sydney lights 2023 aloft

Aloft | Image: Vivid

Darling Harbour to Central Station

Must-see light installations and events along the way include;

What our experts say: Before heading home, mosy along down to Central from Darling Harbour to make sure you catch all of the epic installations and events.

Taking inspiration from the Exchange Building’s timber wrapping around the circular building, check out Aloft, which brings giant birds in the form of 24 LED outlines to what locals lovingly refer to as ‘The Bird’s Nest’. Next up is the entrancing projection on the Powerhouse Museum, Common Ground, showcasing nature’s calm and chaos through the form of glitches, cutting geometric forms and a jolting soundscape.

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Voiture | Image: Vivid

Witness illusions of the 1960s with Kinetic Perspective and try not to spin out too much, before making your mark with Waterlight Graffiti, where you can paint your very own water calligraphies on the ground that evaporate and disappear thanks to a moisture-responsive LED board.

Central Station and The Goods Line is your next stop, where you can jump on board the Voiture 21 and pass by dreamlike landscapes projected on the walls of the abandoned tunnel at the end of The Goods Line. We think it might now be time to settle down and relax with fire, and the electronic bonfire Fluxit is just the thing, made from 400 silver bamboo sticks, LED tubes glow with orange embers at random as the fire runs through the bamboo. Finally, make sure to check out Eco, a surreal projection on Central Station that takes you back to the Dreaming.

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Bennelong | Image: Supplied

Best Places to Eat During Vivid Sydney

Best Restaurants in Circular Quay

If you’re hanging around Vivid, then you’ll want to check out our list of the best restaurants near Circular Quay. Any of these restaurants on our list offer you a seat at the most picturesque dining locations in Sydney. However, it’s not just the views that will grab your attention, this area is a melting pot for some of the best restaurants in Sydney. We’ve been lucky enough to sample food from all of the restaurants on this list, often thanks to our friends in the industry. And while our round-up includes some fine-dining options that’ll blow you away in both flavours and price-point, we’ve also done our best to include some value-for-money options for date night.

Our list of the Best Restaurants in Circular Quay

Best Restaurants in Barangaroo

Head around through The Rocks during Vivid and you’ll come across the new dining precinct in Barangaroo. It’s home to plenty of cuisine options, with everything from Korean BBQ to great steak and seafood. The Crown dominates the peninsula, however, it’s home to some great restaurants with Nobu, a’Mare, and Woodcut being the standouts for us. If you’re looking for a more relaxed fair, check out the list below which includes Ume Burger, Belles Chicken, for all you seafood lovers, and more.

Our list of the Best Restaurants in Barangaroo

Best Romantic Restaurants in Sydney

Vivid Sydney can be a great excuse for date night, so we’ve rounded up some of our favourite romantic restaurants in Sydney. Not every restaurant on this list is located smack bang in the middle of Circular Quay, however, if you’re already in the city, do some bar hopping and make your way into any of these restaurants as you explore the Sydney CBD. If you had to splurge on a very special occasion, get your bookings in now for Bennelong (inside the Sydney Opera House) before tables book out.

Our list of the Most Romantic Restaurants in Sydney

cruise bar

Cruise Bar | Image: Supplied

Best Places to Drink During Vivid Sydney

Best Bars in Circular Quay

Hustling and bustling Circular Quay is home to a great selection of bars, and we’ve sifted through the best to remove all the tourist traps. Being only a stone’s throw from the heart of Sydney’s best bar scene in The Rocks, there are plenty of spots to choose from over this end of the harbour. If you’re looking for a quick drink, we can’t recommend the cocktails at Double Deuce Lounge enough. However, if you’re looking to escape the crowds, head down to Apollonia

Our list of the Best Bars in Circular Quay

Best Bars in The Rocks

Stepping into The Rocks is like taking a step back in time, both figuratively and literally. There’s a bar or pub on every corner, but choosing a list of the best is something of a challenge. In doing so, we’ve left off the pubs, hotels, and clubs. Instead, we’ve nailed a list of bars and lounges that specialise in cocktails, drinks, and spirits like our favourite whisky. If you’re looking for a quiet place to hang out away from the crowds during Vivid, our list of the best Bars in The Rocks has you covered.

Our list of the Best Bars in The Rocks

Best Bars in Sydney

If you’re looking further afield, check out our list of the best bars in Sydney. With plenty of knowledge about all things whisky, beer, and cocktails our team has ventured into some of the coolest, fanciest, and hard-to-find joints in the harbour city. Of course, having a few friends in the industry means we’ve been able to explore most of these bars at our own pace, basking in the atmosphere, trying the food on offer, and most importantly, the high level of mixology shown at every bar listed below.

Our list of the Best Bars in Sydney

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Dark Spectrum | Image: Supplied

Best Events Happening During Vivid Sydney

Tumbalong Nights

If you fancy some free and eclectic contemporary music, Tumbalong Nights have got your back – providing the goods right in the heart of the Light Walk. Across twelve epic nights, catch live music with artists from all over the world as well as all your favourite local acts including the likes of Hatchie, Dan Sultan, Andrew Gurruwiwi Band and Yothu Yindi. It is free and DJs will take the stage from Sunday to Wednesday nights. There also also children’s acts kicking things off before the lights turn on, every Saturday from 5pm. Dancing encouraged.

Date: Saturday and Sunday from 11th June
Time: from 7:30pm, Friday 2 June starts at 6pm
Location: Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour

Check out Tumbalong Nights

Future Art is Vivid

Part of Vivid Ideas’ Immersive Events series, Future Art is Vivid is an exclusive party celebrating all things contemporary art including the world’s brightest digital and NFT crypto artists. Expect VR experiences, NFT displays and large-scale projections at an art party like no other, soundtracked by live music and DJs, of course. Works on show include leading NFT crypto artists, including Neurocolor from Mexico and Noorlander from Sweden. You will get a cultural injection so mighty you should be sorted for the rest of the year.

Date: June 16th, 2023
Time: 8pm – 3am
Location: Home The Venue, Darling Harbour

Buy tickets at Moshtix

Mary’s HERE NOW Festival for Vivid Sydney

This day-to-night festival will be taking over taking over Macquarie Place Park and is about all things food, wine, music and art. This inaugural party will bring together cult favourites and emerging artists from artisan winemakers, breweries and distillers and leading chefs. There will also be live performances from the likes of Danté Knows and Sudanese pop star Gordon Koang, as well as DJ sets from Eloise & Reenie. Get ready to eat, drink and dance, and if you don’t feel like going home, head to Mary’s Underground for the official afterparty from 9pm.

Date: June 11th, 2023
Time: 3pm- 9pm
Location: Macquarie Place Park, Sydney

Buy tickets at Moshtix

Dark Spectrum

As part of this year’s Vivid festivities is the first-ever activation in the Wynyard railway tunnels with the world premiere of Dark Spectrum. This long-awaited event sees the long-forgotten tunnels rejuvenated with an unforgettable fusion of a dynamic musical soundtrack with the latest in laser, robotics, lighting and visual technology for a truly one-of-a-kind experience, taking you to an entirely new dimension and back. You’ll be moving through secret passageways and eight different rooms, with each space representing a different human experience and associated colour and music. Dance, cry, rejoice – you’ll be doing it all. Make sure to book, tickets are going fast!

Date: 26 May until 16 July, 2023
Location: Wynyard railway tunnels.

Check out Dark Spectrum

NEON RAMEN by Butter x Archie Rose

With VIVID taking place during the cooler months, there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of ramen to complement all the lights and excitement. So, the iconic fried chicken joint in Surry Hills, BUTTER, is teaming up with award-winning distillery Archie Rose to give you just that with NEON RAMEN. Every Friday through to Sunday head to Sydney Opera House’s Yallamundi Rooms to indulge in ramen like no other – think fried chicken served on top of steaming hot ramen, with a special Archie Rose glazed glaze, shroom burgers, cinnamon doughnuts for dessert and of course, a cocktail or two curated by Archie Rose.

Date: 27th May – 17th June

Location: Yallamundi Rooms, Sydney Opera House

Book NEON RAMEN by Butter x Archie Rose 

Mike White and Jennifer Coolidge in Conversation

On a more serious note, join long-time mates creator, writer and director of The White Lotus, Mike White, in conversation with the star of the series Jennifer Coolidge and moderated by Benjamin Law as part of Vivid Sydney’s Global Storytellers series. These guys will be chatting about things like the power of storytelling, satire, friendship, and stories from their time in Hollywood. They will also take the time to discuss their career highs and lows, and there will undoubtedly be plenty of laughs throughout.

Date: 10th June from 7.30pm to 8.45pm
Location: Aware Super Theatre, ICC Sydney, Darling Harbour

Book Mike White & Jennifer Coolidge in Conversation

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These are the places we’d recommend watching the Vivid Drone Show from, linked below | Image: Google Maps

Best Places to See the Vivid Sydney Drone Show

The Vivid Sydney Drone show is back this year and we’ve rounded up the best places to catch the action on our interactive Google map. If you want a glimpse of the action, your best bet is to head into the Circular Quay area from 9:10 pm on the following dates, pending weather conditions.

  • Sunday, 28th May 2023
  • Wednesday, 31st May 2023
  • Sunday, 4th June 2023
  • Wednesday, 7th June 2023
  • Monday, 12th June 2023
  • Wednesday, 14th June 2023

Of course, the best place to view the Vivid drone show is around Circular Quay, stretching from the grassy knoll near the Park Hyatt all the way to the Sydney Opera House. However, if you can’t make it into the heart of the action at Circular Quay (it’ll be pretty jam-packed), we recommend viewing the drone show on any of the Vivid Sydney cruises, or even the Ferry if you can time it right. Alternatively, the Cahill Walk Lookout vista point is another great option sitting above all the tourist mayhem down below.

Outside of the city, there are great vantage points to see the drone show from all the way across the harbour around Milsons Point at Copes Lookout, Stanton Lookout, the City Lookout from Milsons Point, and Broughton Street Lookout. The Pylon Lookout on the Sydney Harbour Bridge offers a spectacular close-up.

Vivid Sydney FAQs

What is Vivid?

Vivid Sydney is an annual festival that celebrates creativity, innovation and technology. Owned, managed and produced by Destination NSW, the three-week-long event runs primarily out of the Sydney Opera House, transforming Sydney into a spectacle of colour and light. Staged for its 13th year in 2023, Vivid Sydney sees activations and installations from the world’s brightest light artists, alongside live music performances, discussions with thought leaders, and innovative experiences from food creatives. Over the full 23-day event, more than 2 million visitors are expected to attend, significantly bolstering the domestic economy and swelling New South Wales' international image. In 2022, a record 2.58 million people attended the festival from NSW, interstate and around the world, injecting a whopping $119 million into the NSW economy.

When is Vivid in 2023?

Traditionally held during the cooler months, Vivid 2023 is no exception. This year the Sydney event will run from Friday 26 May – Saturday 17 June, 2023. Across this period, the Sydney Opera House will play host to a number of activations, installations and concerts, transforming the city into a proverbial playground of sight, sound and colour. Inspired by the master of all creators, Mother Nature, this year’s theme, “Vivid Sydney, Naturally,” is reflected across all the 300+ activations and events which make up the 23 day and night program this year

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Ben McKimm
Journalist - Automotive & Tech

Ben McKimm

Ben lives in Sydney, Australia. He has a Bachelor's Degree (Media, Technology and the Law) from Macquarie University (2020). Outside of his studies, he has spent the last decade heavily involved in the automotive, technology and fashion world. Turning his passion and expertise into a Journalist position at Man of Many where he continues to write about everything that interests the modern man. Conducting car reviews on both the road and track, hands-on reviews of cutting-edge technology and employing a vast knowledge in the space of fashion and sneakers to his work. One day he hopes to own his own brand.

Aimee O'Keefe

Aimee O'Keefe

Aimee O’Keefe is a Sydney-based freelance writer with a background in content marketing, lifestyle, architecture and travel coverage. She completed a Bachelor's degree in Media and Communications at the University of Sydney and has worked with Universal Magazines, various leading digital marketing agencies and The Local Project.