Over the last few years I’ve learnt that making the most of VIVID Sydney needs just a bit of planning, that is, if you want to be able to get around and see as much as possible without being overwhelmed by staggeringly big crowds.
The impact over the three weekends of VIVD on 200 micro businesses earning their living from The Rocks Markets each week is much more about exhaustion than profits – we work basically twice as many hours and take home about 70-80% less income. It does hurt but over the years we’ve learnt (after a few nasty surprises) to budget for this loss in the lead in to our most quite sales period over winter.
Over the three VIVID weekends market days start at 7.30am and finish at about 11.30pm after packup followed by another long day at market. As the majority of the market stalls are run by artisan ladies making their living from their own hands the long days are done by just one person within the micro business. This is the time of year you tell yourself that every job has it’s sucky aspects and you grin and bear it.
The upside of VIVID is of course the people, it is an amazing festival for bringing 100,000’s of local Sydney-siders of every walk of life in the evening to wonder past your stall looking for food outlets, with even more down people by the water.
There is of course a lull before the storm, around 2-3pm and I’ve noticed over the last couple of years more families are coming in earlier for VIVID, they have a relaxed potter about market and The Rocks, avoiding the congestion getting into town and having enough time to eat early and be in the prime spot for the switching on of the lights at 6pm.
Real Life 10 Tips for Enjoying VIVID Sydney and the Crowds
Us market girls have come up with our ideas on how best to enjoy VIVID when you come into the city to be a tourist with the light festival. Our 10 top tips for VIVID Sydney are:
- Use public transport for getting into the city, whether that’s parking at a convenient train station, ferry or bus spot as the authorities lock down The Rocks because of previous nightmares with traffic. And now with the closure of George Street with Light Rail it is even worse. So be smart and use a train, bus or ferry – which ever works best for you. If you are coming by ferry, keep in mind they are usually packed and there are big queues for them.
- Don’t drive into town thinking you’ll be able to find parking, the parking stations jack up the parking fees and fill up early and are a nightmare to get out of at the end of the night.
- Come into the city early, this not only helps avoid big crowds on the ferries, trains and buses but makes it much easier to get around The Rocks. As all the interstate and international tourists know, there’s loads of interesting things to do down at The Rocks from a spot of shopping at the markets to museums, art galleries and delicious cafes.
- Eat early, it’s so much easier doing this. ALL the food places end up with huge lines and their kitchens are slammed come 7pm. Get in early and have dinner at 5pm and you’ll enjoy the experience a whole heap more.
- Once you’re in early, had an enjoyable time exploring the Rocks and realising why tourists find Sydney so beautiful, had a meal head down to the water’s edge by 5.45pm to get a good spot and watch the lights come on the Opera House at 6pm.
- Plan ahead of time which key venues you want to see when and have a basic walking tour planned. The later it gets the crowds get bigger so keep the second part of your plan simple.
- If you’re bringing kids prepare as you would for any major crowded event, write your mobile number of their inner arm and have a meeting place – going back to where you last saw each other is one that’s always worked in our family. Holding hands is always good too.
- From my own VIVID experience I’ve found having a venue to meet up at later by a set time works really well because it is so very easy to be separated from each other. This way you don’t have to worry about always keeping track of each other in the swelling crowds. Of course it is different with kids involved but if you’re going with a group of adults saying something like meet you at The Rocks Square at 10pm if we get separated (it is hard to hear your phone in the crowds) will be easier. The Rocks Square is in Playfair Street which is parallel to George Street and out of the crowds, by the Rangers office and covered by CCTV camera as well as well lit. Maybe best of all, it is near toilets (they are behind Hero Sushi).
- The busiest time for overwhelming crowds on the weekends tends to be around 9-11pm as people tend to come in later, dealing with unexpected delays in transport (crowded ferries and having to wait until the next one is normal), so if you want to avoid the crush then plan ahead for an earlier experience.
- The busiest nights are from Wednesday to Saturday with Monday and Tuesday nights still have big crowds but not as overwhelming as Friday and Saturday nights. The decision to spread the festival over more venues is to help with this as well as to moderate the deadening effects on trade in different suburban centres – more quiet restaurants and shopping centres etc. On the flip side, if there’s a local restaurant that you love but is often crowded getting along there during VIVID could mean you actually get in.
I am always behind my market stall on the VIVID Saturday and Sunday nights so can only go on what everyone else has told me about the festival light areas being over crowded and barely able to move. From my own experience of coming into town on a week night I know the crowds from Wednesday through are big enough for me, with times when moving along is stop-start.
I’ve found the crowds to be friendly and the areas are very well supervised by rangers, police and under cover agents both on foot and via CCTV. As a stall holder opposite the cafes where the police like to get food I’ve noticed a marked increase in their numbers at VIVID. I know from management that we have a significant increase in security for this time so that always makes me feel good.
Over the years I’ve done meet-up tours walking from Walsh Bay to The Rocks to the harbour foreshore (where the group was split up by the crowds but we met up again at the starting venue), to going with a friend (and losing her too!) and eventually by myself which was the easiest option as I wasn’t concerned about keeping sight of anyone.
VIVID Sydney can be a fabulous experience, especially now it’s being diversified with workshops, seminars and meet-ups. If you’re thoroughly comfortable with huge crowds (think NYE around the harbour and add some for the Saturday nights) with the same good humour, you’ll love it. If you have a moderate tolerance for crowds but still want to see our beautiful city lit up with flare and imagination then get in early and out by 9pm.