Vivid with Kids: The Essential Guide

Vivid Sydney 2021has been postponed. Fingers crossed that it can happen in late September! If you are starting to plan a visit to Vivid with kids, this post is for you. It is long, so grab a cuppa and ask the kids to give you a bit of peace and quiet.

Vivid Sydney 2021 Dates: 17 September to 9 October 2021

Circular Quay seen from the Cahill Expressway Walkway – great views

The Opera House looking magnificent at Vivid 2019

Vivid with kids… it’s not easy!

With more venues, and running over four weekends… there are so many things to do, the light shows, the music and the festival of ideas too. In fact – there’s too much!  Where to start?  How to end? And how can we manage to when we make Vivid kid-friendly?

Vivid kids having a ball, keeping away from huge crowds!

Vivid With Kids Made Easy: Do A Vivid Cruise

A Vivid Harbour Cruise is the safest and easiest way to enjoy this festival of lights with kids. There are dozens of Vivid Cruises to choose from at many different price points. You can even go mad and charter a boat for your family.

Click here to check out the best Vivid cruise deals for families.

A Vivid Tall Ships Viviv Dinner Cruise would work especially well for kids, check them out here.


Vivid Sydney – What Can Go Wrong?

Now, I have to admit that I’ve had some not-so-great experiences of Vivid with my younger children. I was going to call this post ‘Surviving Vivid With Kids’ then told myself to get a grip and be positive.

Having lived and learned from my rooky mistakes, I’m hoping this post will help other parents avoid them.  I enlisted the support of my lovely Facebook page followers and have lots of advice from them too.

First of all… let’s look at the problems.

For me, it’s being stuck in crowds and feeling hemmed in and, at worst, in danger of being crushed. That’s just scary.

PaulaHonestly the area around Circular Quay is a nightmare every year but particularly in the last week.

Belinda: Don’t drive at all. A couple of years ago we stayed in the city overnight, but my sister’s family drove and they got stuck in traffic trying to leave. Took them 3 hours to get home

Emma: I went last year with a 6yr old and a 3yr old. The best advice I can give is – don’t go early in the early days and take food with you or eat before you go. It was like New Years Eve without the booze. It was totally CRAZY!!  We couldn’t get our stroller out of the train station.

Make sure you eat dinner before you go because the only cafes open are at Circular Quay and you won’t even get in the door. That or you pay premium at Martin Place at a five star restaurant in the Post Office building. The only budget options open at night time were Mc Donalds and Hungry Jacks and the lines were out the door.

There were people sitting in the gutters eating as there was no seating in the street. There was garbage everywhere and it was like we were having a food shortage and the only place open was Macca’s!!!!  It was quite distressing for the kids.

Vivid Sydney provided

Vivid With Kids 2021: Best Places To See The Lights

From 6pm – 11pm there are dozens of different light installations around central Sydney. (Sadly there are no shows out in the suburbs in 2021, I had found these really great, especially in Chatswood. Maybe they will come back next year. Here are some of the installations which look great for my family.

  • Sydney Opera House: The Lighting Of The Sails with the Indigenous artwork ‘Yarrkalpa (Hunting Ground).’
  • Darling Harbour: Ephemeral, huge illuminated spheres scattered across the water with a floating boardwalk. Through The Wormhole, a tunnel of light, space and sound. Twist It, spin a tall centerpiece to create a light tornado.
  • Barangaroo: Chronoharp, use your hand movements to create light and sound in this giant installation. Corpi Celesti, a walk through eight huge inflatable planets to celebrate the first landing on the moon, lights, video and paintings.
  • Circular Quay: New York Sunday, the Museum of Contemporary At becomes a canvas for artist Helen Eager.
  • The Rocks: Autumn Falls, floating flowers in purple, red and yellow,moving and changing.

Find all the details about the light installations for the 2021 Sydney Vivid Festival here.

vivid when visit

Vivid For Kids: Best Times To Visit 

Go early in the week

Especially if you need to take a stroller or a wheelchair, Monday Tuesday and Wednesday are your best friends.  Avoid Friday and Saturday like the plague.

Go early in the day

The sun sets before 5pm in Sydney at the moment.  Most of the Vivid lights come on at 6pm however at Taronga Zoo and in Chatswood they start at 5.30pm.

So pack up the kids and get onto public transport in the afternoon and be there for the moment the lights pop on. Avoid the queues!

I’m thinking of going into the city on the bus one night after school pickup. Quick change in the car, in on the bus, something to eat and then a wander to see the shows.

Mind you, one reader says NOT to do this in the parents advice section below…

Grab an umbrella and go in the rain

The twins and I once hopped on a ferry and went to see the Vivid lights on an evening of pelting rain.

I was really worried that the umbrellas would be a liability but in fact we were fine as there were few brave souls out. But the lights looked amazing, reflected in the wet pavements, all glistening and glorious.

Go and go again

There are so many different installations and venues that it’s madness to try to pack too much in.  Better to go a couple of times. The transport costs might add up but the lights are free, after all.

Little and often is my motto… for Vivid… for chocolate and … for other things too.

Vivid Sydney 2015, Mirador, The University of Sydney. 25/5/2015. Photo Credit - James Horan/Destination NSW
Vivid Sydney 2015, Mirador, The University of Sydney. 25/5/2015.
Photo Credit – James Horan/Destination NSW

Planning Tips For Vivid With Kids 

Download the app

Download the Vivid smartphone app or do your research at, where you can download maps to print.

Plan where to eat and drink

There are some great food trucks around but you can’t always rely on being able to buy food.  We would have died of starvation waiting in the long queues last year.  As ever with kids, take snacks and drinks!

Take Public Transport

Always the best way to do it and there are lots of extra buses, trains and ferries on offer.  The Tripview app is your best friend.

Or Walk Over The Bridge To The City

Last year my wee girl and I joined some friends who were dropped off at Milsons Point. We walked over the Bridge which was just magical in itself. Then we walked down to the Rocks.

We came unstuck there as it was SO busy and crowded, we didn’t stay long really before walking back.

That was tiring for Ms9-at-the-time but the views from up there were fabulous.

Vivid Sydney provided_1

Tips From Other Families

Four Pairs of Itchy Feet: Concentrate on one area. VIVID is massive but is in pockets across the city. Check days that specific events are on. Darling Harbour Family light area is only operating Thursday to Sunday.

 If travelling in by car, book a car space early near the areas you want to see so the kids are not walking to much. Every night is busy. Family friendly times are early. I recommend either travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.  

We can’t wait to see the new exhibits like the Botanical Gardens, Darling Harbour and even the Zoo looks spectacular. Tickets to VIVID at the Zoo are now on sale.

Yes, we hate crowds. Its a massive night and the kids love it however, its usually a day off school to recoup.

Emma:  Go after 9pm after some of the crowds have dispersed. It is much more civilized then. We will make sure we arrive after 9pm this year. Its kind of the opposite thing to do when you have young kids but it will be better for our sanity this year!!

Belinda: If you can use a backpack or pouch for little ones it is much better. Strollers are a nightmare. Don’t leave it till the last weekend, as everyone rushes in that weekend (especially if a couple of weekends have been rainy).

Oh and we have booked a table at a Chinese restaurant for dinner the night we are going this year. There are plenty of places to eat up towards Town Hall/Chinatown. We just eat up there, then head to the light after.

Jane: Perhaps experience the suburbs like Chatswood with a toddler. Its a really late night otherwise and if you are like me, you will be worried the whole time in the city about whether your toddler is going to be trappled. If you have the funds, perhaps buy a ticket to the Zoo. I would imagine numbers will be limited (slightly)

Paula – Sydney Expert: I would suggest taking the glass elevator up to the Cahill expressway and viewing the MCA from there. Great view and usually almost no people. The road is fenced so that helps too.

Also the viewing platform from the Overseas Passenger Terminal (there is a lift by Quay restaurant) is a good spot to watch the Opera House from. You can also go around to Walsh Bay – there were not many people around there and the western side of the bridge looked great reflected into the harbour.

Central Park also did not have the same crowds. Martin Place is busy early with office workers and the zoo might not be too bad due to the entry cost.

Consider taking a ferry around to Darling Harbour – you get to view the Opera House and a nice view back from Milson’s Point. Also it is on for 3 weeks so perhaps don’t try to do too much at once.

Shabnam:  I don’t recommend coming early,as 6pm lights turn on.  That is the time where all the big herd of crowds come in.  I recommend coming next week Mon-Wednesday, these usually are the quieter nights.

The time I recommend is around 8-10pm,because if your are in the city around 5-7pm,there will be far too many people.

Wear very warm clothing as it is extremely cold & windy in the city.  The Botanic Gardens, SOH & Circular Quay are good areas to see all the light displays..Martin Place & Darling Harbour should be done on another night, as too much walking might tire the kiddies.

Cristin: We really enjoyed Chatswood for families last year. Of course, nowhere near the amount of installations, but the crowds were so manageable down Victoria Avenue.

Then we grabbed some dinner from one of the street vendors and made a picnic of it on The Concourse lawn where they had a moving display on the big screen.

Vivid Sydney 2015

Vivid Ideas

As well as the lights, there’s music and action at Vivid.  The Vivid Ideas festival has plenty of events for children.   

Full program at 

Vivid Sydney 2015_4

There’s also Vivid Music… but I can’t go there… there’s already too much on!

Last word: write your phone number on your child’s hand or wrist… just in case.  You can actually get a Vivid ID armband at one of the Vivid Sydney Information Booths found at Darling Harbour, Circular Quay & West Circular Quay. Your details are linked to the armband, you can explain to your child that, if they get lost, they can talk to any of the Vivid volunteers, easily found as they wear bright pink shirts.

But here’s hoping you never lose your child – too scary.

Right, we’re all set.

What about you, will you take the kids to Vivid?

Might you treat yourself and do an adults-only trip too?

Happy planning – where’s that app?

Hope that you have found this Vivid for families guide helpful!

Image credits: Vivid Sydney kindly provided several images, others (the not-so-good-ones) were taken by me over the years.

The Vivid Sydney cruise boat sailing past the Sydney Opera House.
Crowds along East Circular Quay enjoying Vivid Sydney.
Vivid cruise boat sailing in Sydney Harbour.
Crowds enjoying the Vivid Sydney festival along the Sydney Harbour foreshore.

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  1. says: Rebecca (Little Munch)

    Oops – we are going in this Saturday night right at peak time! Oh well. Actually we are going on a Vivid Cruise on a tall ship (cheap tix via Cudo), which includes dinner, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. says: Seana Smith

      Actually that sounds like a good way to do it in fact. What a cool plan. So long as you can get to the ship OK. Do pop back and say how it went and link a post if you are writing one. I’d love to do a boat trip as long as it left from the North Shore – Manly ferry maybe?

      Good luck!

  2. says: B ford

    Chech trip planner. We had trouble getting in on the ferry as the northern train line had track work and the ferries home stopped about 9.30 from memory. The transport was a nightmare, so crowded. Getting home they even handed out passes to get on the ferry even if you already had a ticket. One family missed two ferries because it was so chaotic they kept changing the side the ferry left from and they couldn’t get on. Not going this year.

    1. says: Seana Smith

      It’s scary to be down at the ferries with huge crowds, bad enough when just with adults but terrible with kids. I use the Tripview app a lot and find it helpful… but must say we will only be going on weekdays to the city.

    1. says: Seana Smith

      It’s great to start seeing photos appearing on facebook and Instagram, looking forward to seeing the lights in real life too.

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