Exploring Vivid Sydney via Harbour Cruise


Sydney’s social calendar is full all year of amazing events, festivals, and gatherings, but there’s nothing quite like the annual Vivid Sydney, Festival of Light, Music & Ideas. I say there’s nothing quite like it as, to my knowledge, nothing similar exists in any other city in world, making it a truly special thing to see. If you find yourself in Sydney while it’s happening, consider yourself lucky, seriously.

As part of Vivid, which first began in 2009, major areas of the city are set up with interactive light, water, and sound displays, including projections onto iconic Sydney landmarks such as the Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Harbour Bridge. An evening spent walking around the city is really something special, but as the festival continues to grow over the years, unfortunately, so do the crowds.

Our ride for the evening – Harbour Spirit. 

Vivid Cruise

A popular option during Vivid is to explore the lights via a harbour cruise, and when Harbourside Cruises offered me the opportunity to experience one of their cruises, I jumped at the chance- catamarans, lights, Sydney, maybe even a glass of bubbly…what’s not to like? Plus, if nothing else, this would be a great way to bypass the seemingly never ending hoards of strollers, lost children, and confused tourists ambling though Circular Quay.

The cruise is via a large catamaran, which departs from Casino Wharf, directly behind the Star Casino. (Off topic, but if you find yourself arriving early, definitely pop into the Star to Zumbo Patisserie for one of their heavenly macarons…or three.)

Buffet time.

Once on board, the cruise last about 2 hours, and slowly cruises around Pyrmont, Barangaroo, under the Harbour Bridge, towards the Botanic Gardens, then heads into Circular Quay for a closer look at the lights in the area, before arriving back in Pyrmont, where the cruise ends. A buffet dinner is also provided, including a drink, and there’s a bar on board.

After boarding, my friend and I, determined to get the best views, made our way to the top deck and set up shop outside. Although a cold evening, sitting outside is the best way to see everything, especially if your aim is photography. While the catamaran was definitely full, it still felt like there was enough room to move around, and this was with us being some of the last to board. The vibe on board was very energetic, with a lot of international and local visitors, all eager to see the lights, and we had some great chats with some fellow Americans. The staff were quite friendly and welcoming also.

Harbourside has a unique advantage in that they are able to enter Circular Quay and moor at the docks for about ten minutes, something that not all ships are able to do. This definitely allowed for a much closer look at the installations in the area, and allowed for some close-up shots of the Opera House in particular.

Circular Quay by night.

I would definitely recommend a Vivid cruise to those who want a different perspective on the event, as well as those who might have young children or have mobility problems, and would rather not trek through the city in the crowds at night.

This would be especially amazing if you were visiting Sydney from out of town, or if it was your first time, as it is such a memorable way to get a feel for the city. As someone who has lived here for a few years now, I still found myself excited at every new vista, so I can only imagine how cool it would be for someone who had never experienced Sydney.

Top Tips

  • Bring along gloves, a scarf, and wear layers, especially if you plan on spending most of your time on the outdoor decks- Vivid is always held in late May into June, a cold time in Sydney. (Yes, unfortunately it does actually get pretty chilly here.
  • The cruise goes out and back the same way, so no matter what side of the boat you are on, you should get good views.

    It’s cold out there!
  • That being said, if you’re really eager to get a certain spot, arrive earlier so you can be one of the first to board.
  • If you’re anything like me, your night photographs probably come out more as disappoint blurs and less as stunning masterpieces. For some tips on photographing Vivid from a pro, have a look here.
  • There is so much to see, hear, and experience throughout the city as part of Vivid. To plan the rest of your time, check out all of their events online. I would definitely recommend checking out Taronga Zoo, the Royal Botanic Garden, and Chatswood.
  • Harbourside Cruises offer Vivid Cruises nightly throughout the duration of Vivid, (26 May- 17 June), departing at either 5:15 pm or 7:45 pm.
  • The cruise moves at a pretty slow pace, since the aim is sightseeing, as well as staying in the sheltered harbour, so I don’t think seasickness would be much of a problem.
  • Keep an eye out for Sydney ferries- each ferry is lit up with a different animal, making them fun to spot on the water.

(As mentioned, my night photography game is not very strong, so many thanks to my friend Merran D. for accompanying me on the cruise and sharing her lovely photos!)


  1. Wow! This looks incredible! I’ve been itching to do a family trip to Australia and I think this harbour cruise would definitely be on our itinerary! Nice post!

    1. Thanks! Yes, if you find yourself here in May/June, the Vivid Festival is an amazing thing to see! It is the winter season here though, so not beach/summer weather this time of year.

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