Australia’s top arts and cultural festivals to attend

Destination-NSW-Vivid-SydneyNot only does Australia boast incredible landscapes and lively cities to explore, but it plays host to an annual calendar of inspiring arts and cultural festivals. They highlight the artistic ingenuity, multiculturalism and diversity of the country while attracting globally renowned creatives to its shores. 

Whether you’re visiting Australia in the heart of summer or the depths of winter, you’ll find vibrant festivals to attend. In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the best taking place in all corners of the country, from the steamy Top End to chilly Tasmania. 

Remember to plan in advance all the details of your trip. Accommodation can book out well in advance during festival dates, so be sure to plan ahead. Check online platforms, for example, at Rentola, you’ll find apartments, villas and houses for rent in all of Australia’s capital cities so you can easily get to and from festival events. 

Vivid Sydney
Held over three weeks during May and June each year, Vivid Sydney is a festival of “light, music and ideas”. It’s most well-known for its large-scale outdoor light installations and projections that take place across the city, with the Sydney Opera House among the many landmarks used as a night-time canvas. What started out as a festival celebrating energy efficiency has grown to include public talks and discussions centered around the creative industries, as well as live music performances by big-name Australian artists. 

Dark Mofo
Hosted by the renowned Tasmanian art gallery, MONA, Dark Mofo celebrates the darkness that descends on Australia’s southernmost state during the winter months. It includes musical performances by legendary names in the alternative scene, as well as large-scale art and light installations. In addition to one-off ticketed shows, there are lots of free events taking place around Hobart and beyond, with one of the most popular being the annual Winter Feast. It’s an opportunity to socialise around open fires while listening to live music and discovering why Tasmania is a top foodie destination

Darwin Festival
While southern Australia experiences one of its coldest months, August, the Darwin Festival ignites the Top End. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the city’s balmy winter nights while attending outdoor concerts, theatrical and dance performances, as well as comedy and cabaret shows. It’s a celebration of the Top End’s multiculturalism and shines a light on its Indigenous cultures, with the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and the National Indigenous Music Awards held during the festival period. 

Perth Festival
Australia’s longest-running cultural festival takes place each year during February and March across the Western Australian capital. It features both contemporary and classical music performances, as well as dance and theatrical shows, plus visual arts exhibitions and installations. In addition to ticketed performances, you’ll also find plenty of free activities and events that bring the city to life. Also taking place during this period is the Perth Writers Festival, which includes interviews and readings by internationally renowned authors. 

Taking place over two weeks each July, Illuminate bills itself as a “celebration of innovation, art, light, music and technology. It invites you to rug out and head out in the depths of winter to be inspired by large-scale light installations and immersive virtual reality works scattered across Adelaide. Illuminate hosts more than 150 events throughout the City of Churches, many of which are free to attend. Previous years have also seen a giant block party in the West End, with live music and festivities at the Lions Arts Factory, Nexus Arts and the Jam Factory. 

Melt: Festival of Queer Arts and Culture
Taking place at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Melt is a celebration of queer arts and culture in Queensland’s riverside capital. It’s all about creating visibility for queer artists and inclusivity in the community, with both local and international performers taking to the stage. Over the course of two weeks, you can attend secret film screenings, live music concerts and energetic club nights, as well as landmark theatrical performances. 

Celebrating the rise of the new moon is Melbourne’s biggest arts festival, which takes place in the heart of the city during late May/early June. It includes impressive installations and illuminations, many of which are commissioned especially for the event and/or are world premieres. Rising takes place at venues across the city, accompanied by food parlours, warming drinks and energising live music performances. 

Design Canberra
The Australian capital is considered by many to be a “living design laboratory”, which is why it’s fitting that it hosts an internationally renowned design festival. Each year a theme is set, with the most recent being “transformation”. Over the course of the festival, you can attend exhibitions, talks and tours of open homes, as well as visit artist studios and learn about design collaborations. Most of the events are free in a bid to make the world of design accessible to everyone. 

Image: Vivid Sydney – courtesy of Destination NSW