Trip The Light Fantastic: The Family Survival Guide to Vivid

Barry DivolaBy Barry Divola.
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For the 11th year, Vivid will inject light, sound and ideas into Sydney in the middle of winter. And for the 11th year, parents with lingering memories of last year’s festival will wander into the city to see the incredible light installations and the illuminated sails of the Sydney Opera House, and ask themselves: “Can we do it better this time around?”

Over 2.3 million people will crowd into Sydney’s CBD from May 24 to June 15. If you’re with your kids, you need a strategy and you need options. As someone who has navigated Vivid with two small girls and lived to tell the tale, I’m here to offer help.


Get the right day

Don’t go on the weekend. Just don’t. Okay? It’s a fool’s errand. The first half of the week is best if you want to have a family experience that reduces the chances of tears/tantrums/divorce. And Divola’s top tip if you don’t mind missing a footy match – go on Wednesday June 5. It’s game one of State Of Origin, so half of Sydney will be sitting at home in front of big screens. It’s always the least crowded night at Vivid.

Timing is everything

Common sense would tell you to arrive early, as the lights come on around 6pm. Common sense would be wrong. Everyone else has exactly the same idea, so it’s peak hour – or peak couple of hours – around the harbour. If you can let your kids stay up a bit later – maybe even have an afternoon nap – it’s better to get there after 8pm if you can stretch it, when the bulk of the early birds have done their couple of hours and moved on.


Leave the wheels at home

Car? Forget it. Do you really need the added stress of traffic and parking? Get the train, the bus, the ferry, or a taxi or Uber. Likewise, leave the strollers and prams at home. I’ve done Vivid with a stroller once. I will not be doing it again. It’s like pushing a wheelbarrow through a gigantic lake of molasses. If your sprogs are small, use a Baby Bjorn or backpack baby carrier

Bring food

There are places to buy food around the harbour. And there are lines to get served at those places that will snake into the distance and never seem to move a centimetre, no matter how long you stand there. Bring your own snacks or go out and eat beforehand.


Rug up

Sure, it’s Sydney. But it’s winter, people. And it’s night-time. And you’re on the harbour. Wear coats, beanies and scarves. If you’re unsure what those words mean, ask someone from Melbourne.

Look beyond the harbour

Yes, the Sydney Opera House and the harbour are the central focus of Vivid Lights. And after you’ve taken all the above precautions, you can relax and marvel with your offspring at the spectacle. But did you know there are actually nine different precincts where you and the kids can see light installations and projections? Try Lights For The Wild at Taronga Zoo, featuring everything from illuminated swarms of bees to a glowing pride of Sumatran tigers. Or the Pixar Animation Studios Installation at the Argyle Cut in The Rocks, where the brains behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Inside Out and Monsters Inc. get their creations out in the open. Or venture to Chatswood to let the kids go crazy running through the Cascading Harp, a giant rope curtain hung with clusters of bells and LED lights that respond musically to movement. Or get down to Home in Darling Harbour, where you used to get your groove on before you reproduced and when you still had a full head of hair, and let the kids floss the night away while you do your most embarrassing dad-dancing under the flashing lights at Kiddo Disco.

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