Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
ABC News
ABC News

Vivid Sydney returns after two-year break due to COVID-19 pandemic

Sydney’s ultra-popular light festival returns for the first time since 2019. (AAP: Steven Saphore)

Vivid Sydney organisers are hoping one small change will put a stop to the problematic overcrowding seen in previous years as the popular lights festival returns for the first time since 2019.

Tonight the 23-day festival of light, music and ideas kicks off after its two-year COVID-19 hiatus and the NSW government is hoping it brings millions of people back into the still struggling CBD. 

In 2019, Vivid broke all records for attendance and international visitation, with 2.4 million guests enjoying the wide-ranging winter festival that injected around $170 million into the state's economy. 

However, its popularity has also been its downfall and overcrowding has become synonymous with Vivid. 

At their worst, crowd bottlenecks have led to concerns about public safety and, at their best, they have discouraged people from returning. 

Although attendance numbers are expected to be lower than pre-COVID years, Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres has urged people to try to come midweek to avoid the busy weekends. 

"The weekends are going to be huge, the long weekend will be massive," he said. 

"I think we still see very big numbers, so it's very important people plan their trip … come in on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday if you want slightly smaller crowds. 

"I'm quietly confident Sydneysiders and people right around the country really want to get out and about and see Vivid." 

In 2018, then-opposition tourism spokeswoman Penny Sharpe criticised the festival's management of crowds and said too many people felt unsafe around the harbour foreshore, particularly those with children. 

Crowds surged at the outdoor festival in 2018. (AAP: Anna Kucera)

"It's an incredible event for Sydney … but public safety issues are being raised more often," Ms Sharpe said. 

"If people are feeling unsafe, that's the last thing you want at such an important festival." 

Ms Sharpe said the solution could be to spread the event further up and down the harbour. 

And this year, that's exactly what Vivid has done. 

The renowned light walk, which is the festival's mainstay, will this year be the longest it has ever been, stretching 8 kilometres from the Sydney Opera House to Central Station. 

The re-design is intended to give visitors "more room than ever before" to explore the light installations and keep foot traffic flowing. 

"Vivid Sydney has localised crowd management teams, marshals, volunteers and security who all assist visitors keep the pedestrian flow moving and manage crowds along the light walk,"  a Destination NSW spokesperson told the ABC.

Festival organisers have also been emphasising that less is more and that attendees shouldn't try to see everything in one night. 

The festival is expecting fewer crowds this year after it was postponed due to COVID-19. (Supplied: Destination NSW)

"Choose two or three locations to explore, at a relaxed pace, and come back for the rest another night or nights." 

However, major strain is still expected on the Harbour City's public transport system, which during previous years has had to skip stops in the city due to crowding. 

Transport for NSW chief operations officer Howard Collins said this year he expected queues for public transport to be similar to the fare-free period over the recent Easter holiday. 

"We encourage everyone to plan their Vivid Sydney experience across several nights because there [is] a plethora of light installations and projections to see across the city, and you won't get to see it all in one night," Mr Collins said. 

Roads around The Rocks and Circular Quay will close each night from 5pm, with more extensive closures in the Sydney CBD and around Darling Harbour on Friday nights and weekends. 

Sydney to get lit as Vivid returns after two years of being postponed.

In addition to the light walk, the Vivid program includes a variety of concerts, speaking events and the largest drone display in the Southern Hemisphere. 

A NSW Police spokesperson urged visitors to plan ahead

"A lot of planning has taken place behind the scenes to make sure everyone stays safe — whether they're looking at the displays or simply visiting the Sydney CBD and surrounding event precincts," the spokesperson said.

"Due to large crowds expected in Sydney CBD, people should plan ahead and be mindful of their own safety and the safety of those around them. 

"Crowd barriers will be in place in areas where large crowds are expected, to provide safe viewing spaces and allow for pedestrian movement."

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.