Vivid brings out the moth in all of us. The winter festival of lights (plus music and design) attracted more than two million people in 2017, drawn to our city’s projections and installations like, well…moths to light.
Look, two mill is a lot of people. It’s a lot of heads to peer over, and a lot of elbows to avoid. If you’re not into navigating the crowds, we’ve scoped out some sheltered places where you can admire the lights from afar (and preferably in easy reach of a cocktail).
Here are the best restaurants, bars and rooftop bars in Sydney with the best views of Vivid. You can thank us later.
O Bar & Dining | CBD
Say what you want about revolving restaurants—if they’re going to pair decent food and wine with 360-degree views of Vivid, we’re in. O Bar sits on the 47th floor of the Australia Square Tower and promises “elevated good times”, as well as a menu that straddles fine dining and healthy eating. Plus, there’s a full vegan menu for the plant-lovers amongst us.
Opera Bar | Circular Quay
Beloved by Sydney locals, tourists and seagulls alike, Opera Bar is hands down one of the most accessible bars for stunning views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and harbour. There’s a generous amount of seating, whether you’re keen to get up close and personal with the harbour on the concrete waterfront benches, or prefer to admire from afar on the sheltered tables. Live music every evening provides the perfect chill-out atmosphere for premium sunset-watching-and lights-admiring too.
Hacienda | Circular Quay
Cuban plantation architecture with cool-retro Miami hotel vibes—that’s the look and feel they’re going for at Hacienda. The third-level cocktail bar at the Pullman Quay Grand hotel sits smack bang on the eastern shore of the harbour and it’s a little botanical oasis, slinging fruity rum cocktails and bar nibbles daily. Take your pick of the comfy sherbet lounges, and soak up the view of the amazing harbour lights. We also heard they’ve got some beautiful cocktail specials designed especially for Vivid.
Cruise Bar | Circular Quay
Love it or hate it, Cruise Bar really does have one of the best views of the Opera House. The outdoor deck is simply, how do we say it, mwah for kicking back with a cocktail and drinking in the changing colours of Jonathan Zawada’s work Metamathemagical, a kinetic digital sculpture projected right onto the sails of the Opera House.
Bar Patrón | Circular Quay
The newest outpost by hospitality juggernauts, Rockpool Dining Group (and Neil Perry), you’ll want to head to Bar Patrón during Vivid for all the Mexican eats, tequila and mezcal cocktails you want plus uninterrupted views of The Bridge.
Henry Deane, Hotel Palisade | Millers Point
The two-level cocktail lounge in Hotel Palisade offers million dollar views of Sydney Harbour. You don’t even have a choice. Wherever you look, there’s that harbour that we love so much, with the Harbour Bridge front and centre. The cocktails here are frigging masterpieces and if you’re feeling daring, order the Bartender’s Potion—it’s the barkeep’s surprise concoction, and changes weekly.
Blu Bar | The Rocks
Located on level 36 of the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, Blu Bar is (literally) top-level for all your Vivid-lights viewing. They offer thirteen cocktails, apparently formulated by talented mixologists, and a solid list of single malt whiskies. At this altitude, you definitely pay for your views. Drink prices are steeper than usual, but then again, Blu Bar is home to what is perhaps Australia’s most expensive cocktail: the Martini on the Rock, complete with a diamond ring, and it’s yours for a cool $10,000.
The Glenmore Hotel | The Rocks
Tourists and locals alike trek to the rooftop of the iconic Glenmore for some sweet-as views of our harbour (provided there’s no giant cruise-ship in the way), and you can bet it’s an A-plus location for all your Vivid lights watching. Plus, on Thursday 24 May (the night before the official Vivid festivities kick off), the Glenmore is holding its annual winter rooftop party, complete with glow-in-the-dark furniture and snow machine.
Barangaroo is where it’s at to spy the more unusual on-water displays during Vivid. There’ll be boats and cruises with synchronised light displays but we’re most stoked about seeing the gigantic, ghostly, luminescent puppet that will water-stalk the harbour, operated by a team of performers. Instead of jostling for a view with the pedestrian crowds, we highly recommend these venues where you can sit pretty, and wait for the boats and puppet to float by.
Smoke, Barangaroo House | Barangaroo
For rooftop views to die for, head no further than Smoke on the top floor of the very beautiful Barangaroo House. There’s a schmick list of contemporary and classic cocktails (including a smoky martini), bar food and charcuterie, and if you’re feeling baller, high-end caviar for an easy $210. Scrub up good—there’s a dress code here.
Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro | Barangaroo
No, it’s not named after the mysterious graffiti artist, but after botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Husband and wife team Hamish Ingram and Rebecca Lines (formerly of Billy Kwong and Bar H) have opened a bistro and vermouth bar that keeps it light, fresh and floral. There’s a Mediterranean-influenced share food menu here, but we’re loving the drinks list that focuses on pure, unadulterated vermouth. Banksii is right on the Barangaroo foreshore for prime people-watching and Vivid-light-spotting.
Belles Hot Chicken | Barangaroo
Since opening the first Sydney outpost in 2016, it’s safe to say we’ve adopted Melbourne’s fine fried chicken eatery as one of our own. Only brave souls venture to the “really f**king hot” end of the chicken spectrum, though if you’re feeling the heat, you can always douse the flames with their fine selection of natural wines. We dig the outdoor, street-level dining that looks right onto the water.
Anason | Barangaroo
Fans of Balmain’s contemporary Turkish restaurant Efendy will find pure happiness here. Anason (Turkish for “aniseed”) was the first permanent restaurant to open on Barangaroo’s Wulugul Walk, offering chef Somer Sivrioglu’s delicious mod-Anatolian fare. Paired with waterside views, it’s not a bad place to find yourself during Vivid.
Aqua Dining | North Sydney
You can’t beat the views at Aqua Dining. It sits above the North Sydney swimming pool, is practically nose-to-nose with the Harbour Bridge, and offers sweeping views of our fine harbour. This is white tablecloth, mod-Italian fine dining from hospitality powerhouse Sydney Restaurant Group, so you’re in good hands on the food and service fronts.
Light Market | Chatswood
Light Market is quite a sight. It was built by a team of volunteers using hundreds of pieces of recycled materials to create a market-sized, interactive light and sound installation. Plus, the market will also feature a number of food stalls which we can totally get our mouths around. After all, eating is the best sort of interaction you can have with an art installation. Or is that just us?
The District | Chatswood
The District is an excellent roosting place during Vivid. We recommend an itinerary that looks something like this: 1) Score a hearty bowl of ramen from noodle stalwarts Ippudo, or a Michelin-starred dim sum from Tim Ho Wan, or any other food-stuff from The District’s eateries, then 2) Head over to the bridge, and check out the Magic Carpet installation. It’s an interactive projection that will transport you to a whole world of immersive, playful scenarios and we’re into it.
Champagne Bar, Sofitel Darling Harbour | Darling Harbour
The third floor of the Sofitel Darling Harbour is home to Sydney’s largest champagne bar, and they don’t do luxury by halves. There are epic harbour-perving and skyline views to be had, perfect for Vivid lights watching, and…did we mention the champagne? There are eight options by the glass, 25 by the bottle, and two large format bottles—we’re talking 4.5L of Cristal Jeroboam for an easy $22,000.
The Light Brigade | Woollahra
The rooftop bar is where it’s at. The top level of The Light Brigade Hotel looks north-west to the city’s skyline and outdoor views of the twinkling skyscraper lights. Get there early if you want to score a sweet spot right on the perimeter of the rooftop—you can wait out sunset while sharing a Pimm’s jug with your nearest and dearest.
Kings Cross Hotel | Potts Point
Aside from hosting Vivid’s DJ dance party 10 Years of Vivid, the Kings Cross Hotel is an ideal spot to check out the iconic Coca-Cola sign in all its glory. The rooftop and mid-levels of the hotel are your prime vantage points to gaze upon 13-metre high billboard which will light up in a rainbow of neon colours throughout Vivid. It’s also a great finishing point after you check out the other Vivid events and shows happening around The Cross.
Looking for the best dance parties to hit up at Vivid? Read this.
Image credit: Hacienda (Supplied)