Vivid with Kids: The Essential Guide

Vivid Sydney runs until 15th Jun 2019. It’s absolutely huge, the biggest festival in Australia, indeed. 

Vivid for kids… it’s not easy!

With more venues, and running over four weekends… there’s masses to see and do.
In fact – 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 Sydney for kids made easy:  – Do A Vivid Cruise With Kids

One of the ways that works best for families is to do a Vivid Harbour Cruise. There are dozens 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 all the options for a Vivid family cruise.

A Vivid Tall Ships 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 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


Top Tips For Planning Vivid Sydney 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

Top 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 Best Places


Nine Family-Friendly Vivid Precincts

Walk on the wild side
It’s not often you see tigers roaming free around Taronga Zoo, so don’t miss Lights for the Wild. Follow the illuminated trail which winds through the zoo’s stunning grounds and meet the giant multimedia light sculptures, from the magnificent Sumatran tiger and her new cubs to a swarm of tiny buzzing bees and the larger-than-life gorilla family. 


Take a step into a tech-filled wonderland 
Technology is a wonderful thing, opening up whole new worlds and endless possibilities. The Samsung Electric Playground at First Fleet Park is a giant illuminated wonderland inspired by the best features of the new Galaxy S10. With a spectrum of fun-packed activities guaranteed to keep the whole family entertained, kids – big and small – can choose their own adventure, from playing with light patterns to enjoying never-before-experienced views and other playground-like activities.


Reminisce on the past 30 years of Pixar art and animation 
The Argyle Cut in The Rocks is back in 2019 with an amazing new Pixar Animation Studios Installation that appeals to parents and children alike. The creative light projection is a visual retrospective of behind-the-scenes artwork and animation of the characters we all fell in love with. To infinity…and beyond! 


Discover a new kind of playground 
Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park has been transformed by Vivid Sydney’s Access and Inclusion Partner Cushman & Wakefield. Tumbalong Lights is an inclusive and interactive playSPACE with six space themed installations. By incorporating the principles of Universal Design, it allows people of all ages and abilities to enjoy a trip to outer space.


Get amongst the art 
‘Look but don’t touch’ doesn’t apply here, as kids are encouraged to participate. Let it Snow is an immersive installation in Circular Quay that creates the sensation of standing under snowflakes, walk through it and feel the snow flurry around you. Beetopia is a touch-sensitive, giant glowing bee hotel which emits the smell of honey.  KA3323, an interactive satellite dish overgrown with alien plant matter, reacts to the sounds of space. 


Set up camp 
Layers of light, sound and puppetry reflective of land and water will transform Exchange Place in Barangaroo into a Winter Camp. A magnificent, six-metre tall puppet Marri Dyin (Great Woman) is the embodiment of a contemporary spirit that recognises the influence of First Nations women, including Barangaroo, a Cammeraygal leader of the Eora Nation who lived in Sydney. You can find her every evening sitting and contemplating beside the fire at her campsite and on Thursday to Sunday evenings she hunts and gathers along Wulugul Walk. 


Learn to play the harp 
Children will be drawn to the Cascading Harp at the Chatswood precinct, it looks like a giant rope curtain adorned with clusters of traditional bells, LED lights and music that chime in time to the movement of the ropes. Watch them weave in and out of the ropes, running their fingers along the jangling bells to create a sound that extolls positivity and hope.


A place to call home 
Parents will have very different memories of dancing at Home nightclub back in the day, as did house DJ Kate Monroe before she had kids. She created Kiddo Disco so parents could boogie on down with their kids under the disco ball. The little ones can participate in disco dancing lessons and play games to positive, kid-focused tunes, while mum and dad relax in a safe, kid-friendly environment.
I believe I can fly 
Volaré, which means ‘to fly’ in Italian, is the newest ride at Luna Park and claims to be Australia’s largest and highest wave swinger. So strap in and enjoy the ride, because really, an amusement park is the perfect setting to enjoy a multi-coloured, fun-filled light festival. 
Discover what lies beneath 
We regularly take in the beauty of Sydney Harbour, but there’s so much more to it than what we see above the surface. This year, Customs House will be transformed into an underwater wonderland with Under the Harbour. It’s a deep-dive underwater encounter that draws you in to a watery wonderland of neon sea creatures. 


Vivid Sydney 2015_1

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 


There’s also Vivid Music… but I can’t go there… there’s already too much on!
Vivid Sydney 2015_4

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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Posted on: May 15, 2019


  • Reply May 25, 2016

    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.

    • Reply May 25, 2016

      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!

  • Reply May 25, 2016

    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.

    • Reply May 26, 2016

      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.

  • Wow what some great tips Seanna. So in depth and very useful even if you’re travelling without kids. Vivid looks so very exciting, worth a bit of hassle and feeling hemmed in by crowds.

    • Reply May 28, 2016

      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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