Sydney has an unmistakable identity – and a busy roster of festivals and fairs taking place throughout the year to match.
From its scenic harbourside attractions centred around the iconic opera house, to its laidback neighbourhoods and broad architectural mix, Sydney is a captivating city. Then there’s the sun-baked coast, world class comedy, and top-notch foodie scene. Add to these a busy and diverse calendar of events and you really do have a city that offers everything. Here’s our pick of Sydney’s best festivals and fairs to look out for.
Most of us are in need of a pick-me-up at the start of the year and the Sydney Festival achieves exactly that, invigorating the senses with three full weeks of cutting-edge art, performance and big ideas. First held in 1977, the festival has gone from strength to strength and now hosts more than 100 events from local and international artists spanning contemporary and classical music, circus, drama, visual arts and artist talks. Shows include both large-scale free outdoor events and ticketed performances.
Venues across Sydney / January each year
Dedicated to providing a platform for some of the most innovative, provocative and entertaining short films that Australia and the wider world have to offer., this festival provides something for every taste. There are comedies, family films, an Academy Qualifying short film competition, a showcase of First Nations and LGB talent and much more. Highlights include nightly alfresco screenings under the stars in a palm-fringed courtyard. There’s also the chance to rub shoulders with filmmakers with a pre- or post-screening drink at the festival’s panoramic beachside bar.
Bondi Beach / January each year
Each January, Sydney’s Cahill Expressway is transformed into a festival playground with live music, entertainment and more. The jam-packed program features three daily sessions: a playful morning street party for kids, complete with pop-up acts, roving entertainers and hands-on activities; then in the afternoon, set against a backdrop of the sparkling harbour, revellers can relax with friends and enjoy cool tunes from Australia’s freshest electronic acts; and finally, there’s the chance to party the night away by the harbour as much-loved artists from all over Australia perform and a nightly drone show lights up the sky.
Cahill Expressway / January each year
Sydney Chilli Festival
Feeling hot, hot, hot? This festival will seriously test your mettle when it comes to quite how much heat you can take in the chilli department. And you know what they say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. The festival features chilli tastings, chilli preparation demos, a wide array of chilli sauces to peruse and purchase, and chilli experts on hand to answer all your burning chilli-related questions, all set against the backdrop of great live Latin jazz and funk music.
Moore Park / March each year
Celebrating Australian diversity, this Pride event has been staged across the country since 2000, with cities competing to host it each year. Sydney was selected to host the 2023 edition, a first for the Southern Hemisphere, and promises to include all your Mardi Gras favourites such as a colourful street parade, plus live music concerts, parties, arts, sports and First Nations programming. Also part of the festival is a Human Rights Conference designed to further the cause of historically disadvantaged groups across society.
Venues across Sydney / February-March each year
Great Southern Nights
In 2020, the inaugural Great Southern Nights saw more than a thousand gigs take place across 300 New South Wales venues. After a lockdown-induced hiatus, the festival is now back up and running, with a heap of live shows from both emerging and established artists Some of the beloved local acts, music legends and festival favourites heading up the lineup include Archie Rose, Ball Park Music, Violent Soho, Hoodoo Gurus, Courtney Barnett, The Whitlams, Confidence Man, Youngn Lipz, Mallrat and Sneaky Sound System.
Venues across Sydney and NSW / March-April each year
A national day of memorial in Australia commemorating those who lost their lives in the First World War, there are few better places to remember these brave soldiers than Sydney. Several Dawn Services are held across the city, followed by wreath-laying and a street parade featuring both retired and serving members of the armed forces. One of the most solemn moments of the day is the Dawn Service at The Cenotaph, which offers quiet contemplation, accompanied by the bugle call of the Last Post and The Ode of Remembrance, an excerpt from English poet Laurence Binyon’s moving poem, For the Fallen.
Venues across Sydney / April each year
One of the big gourmet events of the season, spanning 15 glorious days of wine, food and art, the Pyrmont Festival marries the urban delights of Sydney’s Pyrmont district with the rural influences of the Mudgee Region. In particular, you can look forward to the fruits of the region’s famous wineries, located a few hours’ drive from the city. There are wine and food tastings aplenty, representing both city and countryside. Meanwhile, professional and amateur artists submit canvasses to be considered for the Pyrmont Art Prize. And don’t miss the Beer Garden, where you can sample craft beers from independent local breweries.
Venues across Pyrmont / May each year
Autumn Harvest Festival
Meet some of Greater Sydney’s finest artisan producers and be inspired by the culinary history of Rouse Hill Estate as you taste, browse, and shop from a handpicked selection of products at this popular festival. Discover the story behind your food, listen to fascinating talks and watch live food demons. Explore the property, take a peek inside the historic house, meet farm animals, and hear the stories that reveal the life of the estate over 160 years. Or simply bring a picnic rug and enjoy the picturesque setting with a spread from the ready-to-eat food vendors. Kids’ activities include butter-making, craft activities, and the chance to help the on-site farmer feed the cows.
Rouse Hill House & Farm, Rouse Hill / May each year
Bringing together the world’s brightest light artists, music makers, thought leaders and food creatives, Australia’s biggest festival is known for its spectacular light projections and art installations which create a vibrant kaleidoscope of colour across the city. Highlights include the longest continuous light walk ever, running uninterrupted from Sydney Opera House to Central Station. Meanwhile, all of Sydney is a stage for the festival’s vibrant music program, which sees diverse artists performing live shows in unexpected spaces across the city.
Venues across Sydney / May-June each year
Sydney Indie Film Festival
Here’s your chance to see some of the best recent independent films from around the globe. On the programme, you’ll find films that have already been recognised with awards, plus fresh cinema from emerging filmmakers about to make their mark on the industry. The festival honours all genres, including action, comedy, Sci-Fi, family-friendly, animation and documentary. You can even participate in red carpet events and get your questions answered by the filmmakers themselves at Q&A sessions.
Event Cinemas, George Street / June each year
Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular
Described by influential US magazine ‘The Beer Connoisseur’ as “one of the best beer festivals in the world”, GABS (Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular) is a celebration of the finest craft breweries across Australia and NZ. Showcasing 120 unique ‘Festival Beers’ made exclusively for the event each year, GABS attracts over 40,000 beverage loving attendees. It’s much more than just beer, for some it’s an introduction, for others a journey, and for all, it’s an incredibly fun festival experience.
Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour / June each year
Sydney Film Festival
The world’s best, most imaginative new films come to Sydney each year for a week-and-a-half of premieres, talks and parties. Taking place at venues across the city, including Sydney’s heritage-listed State Theatre, over 50 countries are typically represented at the festival through full-length feature films, documentaries, short films and retrospectives. There are also several awards presented, including one celebrating “courageous, audacious and cutting-edge” cinema which comes with a substantial cash prize.
Venues across Sydney / June each year
Australian International Music Festival
This music extravaganza attracts a global cast of groups and performers, with over 1,000 participants appearing at such distinguished venues as the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Recital Hall and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. At recent editions, acts have hailed from such diverse locations as China, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and the USA, while a healthy dose of home-grown talent is invariably on display too. There are no restrictions on the type of music that can be performed at the festival, although Wind Bands, Orchestra, Choirs and Jazz Bands tend to make up the majority of acts. As well as live music, there are also talks, workshops and cultural exchanges.
Sydney Opera House / June-July each year
National Indigenous Art Fair
Taking place at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks, the National Indigenous Art Fair showcases creations from a renowned assortment of First Nations artists and makers from around Australia. The event provides both Sydneysiders and visitors alike with the opportunity to buy ethical, authentic art directly from the artists, and it includes a two-day festival of Indigenous Australian art, song, dance, communal weaving, smoking ceremonies, bushfood and culture. For more info go to www.niaf.com.au.
Sydney Harbour foreshore / July each year
Sydney Fringe Festival
The Sydney Fringe is the largest independent arts festival in NSW. A festival that explores hidden pockets of Sydney, supports emerging artists, strives to revitalise the arts sector, and ensures that entertainment is inclusive, diverse, and collaborative. Hosting vibrant, eclectic, and never-seen-before events throughout the city, showcasing cabaret, theatre, comedy, circus, dance, and art, it truly is Sydney’s festival. Fringe brings together over 2,400 local and international artists and provides audiences with the cultural hit it craves year-round. Outside of festival time, Fringes advocates for the arts, activates unused space and create lasting cultural infrastructure.
Venues across Sydney / September each year
Norton Street Festa
One of Australia’s largest – if not the largest – street festival, Norton Street Festa takes place in the heart of Sydney’s ‘Little Italy’ district and is packed full of entertainment, all imbued with a distinctly Italian flavour. There are carnival rides, jumping castles, animal farms, face painting and puppet shows for the kids, along with concerts, dancing and cooking demonstrations by renowned local Italian chefs. All of this is augmented by stall holders showcasing a huge range of authentic Italian products, including food, coffee and gelato. Entry to the Festa is free for all-comers.
Norton Street, Leichhardt / October each year
Sydney Gin Festival
Ever tried a shiraz gin? Then why not get your experimental pallet moving by diving into a juniper party to remember. Taking place in several cities across Australia, Sydney’s instalment of this renowned gin festival sees over 55 Aussie distillers from across New South Wales showcasing 200 gins for the drinking pleasure of the hordes of guests who descend on the Royal Randwick Racecourse each year. Gin lovers can expect plenty of creations infused with native botanicals, and locally-sourced fruits and berries, with everything from the classics and contemporary to the mature aged and flavoured available on tap.
Royal Randwick, Randwick / October each year
Sculpture by the Sea
It’s not as if the iconic Bondi Beach needs any embellishment, but some years ago the idea was pitched to use the popular coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama Beach for an intriguing arts project. The result is Sculpture by the Sea, which once a year sees the two-kilometre walking trail transformed into a temporary sculpture park. Featuring over 100 sculptures by local, national and international artists, the park has grown to become one of Sydney’s most cherished events, proving as well that artwork can be enjoyed outside the confines of a stuffy museum.
Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach / October-November each year
Cities across Australia have sizeable Polish communities and each year many of them celebrate this Eastern European cultural infusion with PolArt festivals. One of the biggest takes place in Sydney, home to more than 10,000 Poles, with a 10-day event that showcases thousands of artists through dance, theatre, music, film, literature, and visual arts. Performances span the ages from early classical music concerts and folk dance shows, to visual media and theatrical workshops that serve to weave in the hopes and joys of the present.
Venues across Sydney / December each year