Vivid with Kids: The Essential Guide

Vivid Sydney provided

Vivid Sydney starts on Friday 25 May and runs to Saturday 16 June 2018. It’s absolutely huge, the biggest festival in Australia, indeed.

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 when we take kids with us?

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.

PS   One of the ways that works well for some families is to do a Vivid Harbour Cruise.  These can be pricy but check out the great deals current on Scoopon here.


Vivid Sydney 2015_2


Vivid Sydney – What Can Go Wrong

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 when visit

Best Times To Visit Vivid Lights


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 Your Visit

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


Best Family-Friendly Vivid Precincts

The Vivid organisers always make sure there are plenty of installations for kids to enjoy. Here’s the info they have sent me this year.

First Fleet Park

First Fleet Park provides the perfect, family-friendly setting to enjoy Vivid Sydney 2018, and is located right on Circular Quay, which offers views onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and Customs House, all of which will be lit up as part of the festival.

The area will feature family friendly and interactive installations suitable for kids to enjoy, including:

1. Fugu

Fugu is a kinetic lighting sculpture of a pufferfish, which captivates audiences by expanding and contracting its spiky rotating form. As visitors gather, Fugu comes to life, his swirling body expanding, glowing and pulsating in colours inspired by marine life.

2. Wobbelees

Wobbelees entices visitors into play with four oversized roly-poly toys that, when pushed or knocked or nudged off centre, return themselves to an upright position. When pushed, the Wobbelees wobble from side to side changing colour and making sounds each time it tilts.  The installation is designed to be engaged by and accessible to all participants, regardless of size, age and mobility. 

3. The Garden of Sweeties

The Garden of Sweeties invites families and children to learn more about how solar panels, luminescent powder and mechanical energy can be used as a source of renewable energy. The installation takes a playful approach to entice interaction by presenting its components in the form of sweets, lollipops and striped candy canes scattered across a green corner of First Fleet Park.

4. Harmony Valley – Rainbow of Peace & Trees of Friendship

Harmony Valley – Rainbow of Peace & Trees of Friendship is comprised of a set of large inflatable sculptures inspired by Japanese ‘kawaii’ culture. Visitors can interact with the sculpture by forming a human chain that connects with each end of the rainbow, which will prompt the sculpture to spring into life with new sounds, animations and brilliant pulsing light.

5. Peacock

Peacock is an abstract depiction of the bird, its feathers represented by a series of colour-changing light tubes. The tubes are held in one line by 11 huge metal rings, which allow the work to offer a variety of light and form perspectives. Visitors also can also pass through the rings, which form a tunnel of light where all the colours from the peacock feathers merge together.


Vivid Sydney for kids

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie come to life at Customs House

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie at Customs House

Installation at Customs House, 31 Alfred St, Sydney NSW 2000 from 6pm – 11pm. See May Gibbs beloved creations brought to life in this projection.

Read more here.

Taronga Zoo vivid

Port Jackson shark light sculpture at Taronga Zoo

Lights For The Wild at Taronga Zoo, Mosman

A terrific option for families, the light sculptures at Taronga Zoo focus on animals and conservation.  Lets the lights take you underwater and into the jungle, then enter Taronga Centenary Theatre to behold a multi award-winning animated film, presented here as a 270-degree cinematic experience

Session Times: 5.30pm, 6.30pm, 7.30pm (start times only, approx. 2-hour experience)

Ticket prices: Monday – Thursday (Ex Public Holiday) — Adults: $23.95, Children: $17.95, Concession: $21.56
Friday – Sunday & Public Holidays — Adults: $26.95, Children: $18.95, Concession: $24.26
Children under 4: Free

Taronga is a not-for-profit organisation and every ticket purchase will help support Taronga’s work in conservation and wildlife care.
Please note, last entry is at 8:30pm.


Tumbalong Lights at Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour

6pm – 11pm nightly

Tumbalong Lights is a collection of four interactive-play installations that form an inclusive and accessible Vivid Lights experience for both children and the young at heart.

The four under-the-sea-themed installations allow children and their families to interact with creative, awe-inspiring light experiences that help produce a sense of empowerment, a sense of control and a sense of community, while at the same time inspiring fun and playfulness.


Vivid Sydney 2015, Media Preview at Chatswood.

 Chatswood’s Victoria Street

There are 12 events and installations around Chatswood’s main drag.  I’ve found Chatswood a great place to take the children as it’s a relatively small and manageable space, easier to get there by car or public transport and there are heaps of great places to eat there too.

  • Skyportal at Chatswood Interchange transports children to an alternative reality through an interactive video experience. Swim in the Barrier Reef, wander among icebergs, walk along a dry river bed or negotiate a wetland.
  • Magic Carpet on the Level 3 footbridge at Chatswood Interchange is a space where kids can become part of an interactive image which they control just by moving. Bounce with bubbles, swim with fish, frolic with flowers and scatter stars in this highly responsive projection game, suitable for all ages and abilities.
  • Light Market in Chatswood Mall is a pop up international food market build form recycled materials and lit by lasers which is dotted with playful light installations.
  • I Have Feeling Too – children will be astonished when the park benches along Chatswood Mall come to life and start chatting when they sit on them.
  • Liquid Lies – children can test their skills of deception in this interactive lie detecting light installation on Chatswood Mall managed by a crazy professor.
  • Junkyard Beats also in Chatswood Mall allows children to make their own music in an interactive installation created entirely from just that – junk.
  • Octopoda at Westfield Chatswood invites families to play its eight tentacle drums. As each drum is played a unique display of colour and light explodes out of it animating the Octopoda’s musical mind.
  • Future Scape – families can take a journey through the stars and planets at The Concourse. Using NASA’s amazing imagery and 360 degree projection they are taken on a deep, immersive dive into the universe.
  • Crank Zappa Jellyfish is a hot tempered electric jellyfish who dazzles and ‘zaps’ children when they get close. Made completely from single use plastic items he teaches them about the harmful impact of plastic on the environment.

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.


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?

Please do add your comments and help other families plan trips to Vivid.



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


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Posted on: May 17, 2018


  • 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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