One of the greatest things about living in Sydney is the proliferation of festivals all year round, many that are fully or partially free. Not that Sydney locals should have these festivals all to themselves! If you’re visiting Sydney, it’s worthwhile timing your visit with one of these fabulous free festivals in Sydney.
1. January: Sydney Festival
An arts festival held throughout most of January, Sydney Festival always includes some free concerts and events. Each year it takes over the Domain parklands for consecutive Saturday nights, generally including a free outdoor concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
There’s usually also some free parties in Parramatta. In Hyde Park, just near the centre of Sydney, there’s often a free installation and free kids activities – although the programme and locations can change from year to year! For more information, see the website.
2. January: Australia Day
Every year on the 26th January there are celebrations to make the European settlement of Sydney, or alternatively to commiserate on the invasion for the local Aboriginal tribes. Whatever your stance, some of the highlights include free concerts in the Rocks and around Sydney, the Ferrython ferry race on Sydney Harbour, displays of vintage cars around Hyde Park and other events all over Australia, not just Sydney. For a full listing, see the website.
3. February-March: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was firstly established as a protest parade in 1979, to commemorate the Stonewall riots and demand an end to discrimination against homosexuals. In the 40 years since then, the event has grown immensely. It’s now a three-week long festival that takes place every year, including a Fair Day and film festival.
Each year, though, it still culminates in a Parade, on the first Saturday in March. The parade starts in Hyde Park, before heading down Oxford Street. A fabulous spectacular, arrive early to get a good free view. Alternatively, taking something to stand on helps. For a full listing of events, click here.
4. May: Head-On Photo Festival
Established around 10 years ago, the Head-On Festival has grown into one of the largest photography festivals in the world. Running for the month of May, there are countless exhibits at different galleries affiliated with the festival, plus multiple prizes including a Portrait Prize. Many events are free. Check out the listings of events closer to the next festival at the website.
5. May: Sydney Writers Festival
Every May the Sydney Writers Festival is held, culminating in a long weekend of talks at the Walsh Bay precinct. The talks feature a mixture of Australian and international writers and journalists, even some comedians. Whilst many of the most popular talks are ticketed, with ticket prices starting around $15, there is always a selection of free talks to attend. Check out the list of talks from about April at the website.
6. May-June: Vivid Sydney
After starting in only 2009, Vivid has grown into one of the most well loved festivals in Sydney. Taking place over three weeks during the start of Winter, the centrepeice is the lit up buildings and light installations around Circular Quay and other precincts in Sydney. The animations on the Opera House, MCA and Customs House are usually the stand-outs.
Expect crowds on the weekends, as families flock to the usually sparsely populated streets of the city in these cold months of the year. The festival also includes a music and ideas components, with many ticketed and some free events. For more details, check out the official site.
7. October: Good Food Month
Sydney is a food loving city that has embraced cuisines from all over the world. So it’s no surprise there is a whole month devoted to celebrating food. There are special menus and offers on at many restaurants, scattered throughout the city’s centre, suburbs and surrounds.
One of the highlights is the Night Noodle Markets that takes over Hyde Park. Whilst none of the food is free, and prices are more expensive than hawker stalls in South East Asian cities, you can wander around and take in the ambience for free. There are also multiple free markets, such as the Growers Market at Pyrmont, that are listed in the program. For full details, return to the website closer to October.
8. October-November: Sculpture by the Sea
From the last week in October, it gets far busier than usual along the cliffs south of the world famous Bondi Beach, due to the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. Taking over the headland south of Bondi and Tamarama Beach, there are usually at least 100 stunning sculptures competing with the equally impressive coastline views.
Entry is completely free, although programs and calendars are always on sale. It’s best to take a bus from the City or Bondi Junction Train Station down to Bondi Beach, parking spaces always scarce. If you have the option, it’s also better to visit mid-week, as it’s one of the favourite free festivals in Sydney. Find out the dates at the website.
9. Every 2nd year: Biennale of Sydney
Every second year between March and June, the major arts exhibit the Biennale of Sydney takes over the city. The next is due to take place in 2020. Art works have usually been on display at multiple venues including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Carriageworks and Artspace.
The centrepiece, though, in recent years has been Cockatoo Island, a disused shipyard, industrial site and previously a penal settlement, located in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Art works are spread out in its mix of cavernous and claustraphobic buildings. Check out the website for further details.
Want more ideas of free things to do in Sydney (and affordable places to stay)? Check out my list of free things to do in Sydney
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