1. Festival First Night - January
“Festival First Night” is the first night of the Sydney Festival. It showcases some of the best events of the Sydney Festival for free. For example, one First Night featured an electronic music / dance party was held in Martin Place and a rock and R’n’B concert was held in the nearby Domain (a large city park). Acts included Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, the Spanish Harlem group and DJ Ajax. Martin Place was a bit cramped but I imagine the Domain would have had more room.
2. Jazz In The Park - January
100,000 jazz fans converge on The Domain (a large park in downtown Sydney) each January to enjoy jazz, a picnic dinner and the carnival atmosphere.
Jazz In The Park starts at 8 pm although you will need to arrive before 4 pm if you want a good spot. If this sounds like an overly long time to be waiting for a concert, you've missed the point. It's the pre-show eating, drinking and merriment in a carnival-type atmosphere that makes Jazz so special. You are allowed to bring your own food and drinks, including alcohol.
3. Symphony In The Park - January
This is a free classical music concert that is held in January each year as part of the Sydney Festival. Held in the Domain, one of Sydney's most beautiful city parks, Symphony In The Park attracts in excess of 100,000 people each year. You are allowed to bring your own food and drink (including alcohol) and it's a good idea to bring your own picnic blanket as you will be sitting on grass.
The concert starts at 8 pm, although you'll need to arrive by 4 pm if you have a large group or want a good spot. Symphony In The Park is easily accessible by train from Martin Place Station (in downtown Sydney), by ferry (with a short walk) from Circular Quay, or by any of the buses that run to Circular Quay (get off at Martin Place).
Symphony In The Park has a wonderful carnival-type atmosphere and is the perfect way to spend a Sydney summer night. You can head to one of the many bars and pubs in the city afterwards (Symphony finishes at about 10:30 pm) or to the Beck's Festival Bar at the Hyde Park Barracks.
4. Australia Day - January
Australia's birthday is always fun! Here are some great things to do on Australia Day in Sydney:
Watch the Australia Day Ferry Race
You can watch the Sydney Harbour ferries race each other. Be at Circular Quay (downtown Sydney) at 11 am for the start. You'll be able to see the ferries race to Shark Island and then back to the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the finish at about 11:45 am.
Watch the Australia Day Air Force Show
See the Australian Air Force do the "Right Stuff" over the spectacular Sydney Harbour. There are two shows, one at 2 pm and one at 3:30 pm Anywhere with a view of Sydney Harbour (such as Circular Quay in downtown Sydney or Blues Point on the North Shore) is a good place to watch.
See the Australia Day Fireworks (9 pm)
The Australia Day Fireworks are at Darling Harbour. Get there before 9 for a good spot. If you don't like crowds I would stay away, but if you don't mind crowds, it's a great atmosphere.
5. Tropfest - February / March
Tropfest is a free short-film festival held in the Domain (a large downtown park). In a similar set-up to Jazz In The Park in January, Tropfest starts at 8 pm but you will need to arrive at about 6 pm in order to secure a patch of ground for your picnic blanket. You can bring your own food and drink (including alcohol) and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere before the event kicks off.
Each year, film-makers are set the task of creating a short film that includes a signature item. After watching the sixteen short films, celebrity judges then determine winners in the various categories. Past celebrity judges have included Russell Crowe, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Carrie-Anne Moss, John Woo, Salma Hayek and Keanu Reeves.
6. Sydney Mardi Gras - March
Ya gotta glam up for this one! The Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras is a parade that leaves Hyde Park in the city at 8 pm and takes about two hours to wind its way down Sydney's famous Oxford St and along Flinders St into the Showgrounds at Moore Park. The best way to see the Mardi Gras is to pick a spot along the route early (say 5pm) to get a good viewpoint.
7. Manly Food & Wine Festival - May / June
Manly Beach is a great place to be any day of the week, but when you add a food and wine festival to the mix, the place just can't be beat.
The Manly Food And Wine Festival will be held right next to the beach itself, so you can take in the sights of the Pacific Ocean while you sample the best of Australian and international cuisine and wine. You can get to the Manly Food And Wine Festival by catching a ferry to Manly and then taking a five-minute walk to the beach.
8. Darling Harbour Jazz & Blues Festival - June
The Darling Harbour Jazz & Blues Festival is a great place to catch some New Orleans-style jazz and blues for the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June. There are a number of stages so you can sample a range of bands and singers. Darling Harbour is a lovely place on its day, and a jazz festival always tips a place from good to great, in my opinion. Well worth a look if you love live music.
9. Aroma Coffee Festival - July
Coffee lovers, you've come to the right city in July! The Aroma Coffee Festival is held this month in the Rocks, Sydney's historic district. It's a great afternoon - $1 cups of coffee, harbour views, plus free samples of the world's best coffee.
10. City to Surf Fun Run - August
Here's a great way to see Sydney and keep fit at the same time. On an August Sunday, you can take part in a fun walk / fun run with more than 70,000 Sydneysiders. You simply follow a 14 km (8.7 mi) path from the city centre to Bondi Beach.
You don't have to be a runner. In fact, most who take part in the City To Surf are out to have a good time. Many like to dress up in costumes. There are free drink stations every few kilometres and you can have people spray you with a hose if you want. Numerous jazz bands line the route, adding to an already fantastic atmosphere. At the end of the run or walk, have a dip in Bondi Beach. It's the perfect way to end a great event. The City To Surf is free if you don't wish to register (which simply means you won't get a medallion at the end) or you can register for a nominal amount.
11. Darling Harbour Fiesta - October
Unbelievably in this day and age of rampant commercialism, this Latin music festival is free! Performers will cook up a storm along the Darling Harbour foreshore and at nearby Tumbalong Park. Acts include Chukale, an Afro-Cuban salsa band from Brisbane, Club Havana and South Americans Grupo Capoeira Brasil.
12. Manly International Jazz Festival - October
If you're planning a ferry trip across Sydney Harbour, or you're pining for a day at the beach, why not go to Manly for the Manly International Jazz Festival. Manly is a beautiful beachside suburb. When you add top international and Australian jazz artists playing free jazz, you can't do much better, anywhere in the world.
13. Sculpture By The Sea - October / November
The incomparable Bondi to Bronte coastal walk hits its high point each November when more than one hundred giant sculptures are placed along the walkway. In previous years, we've seen giant wooden birds and a "Hollywood"-like sign saying "Bondi Beach".
14. Sydney New Year's Eve Fireworks - December
Take the world's most beautiful harbour, add $5 million worth of fireworks, and you're guaranteed to have a good night!
Welcome to Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations. If you've seen Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks on TV, you know how spectacular they are.
Some great spots to see the fireworks:
- Military Park Reserve on Military Rd, Dover Heights
- Blues Point in North Sydney
- Circular Quay