10 Must-Visit Festivals in Australia

Rainbow Serpent Festival | © Asher Floyd/Wikimedia Commons
Rainbow Serpent Festival | © Asher Floyd/Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Tom Smith
22 December 2017

Australians love a party, so it’s no surprise that festivals light up every corner of the country throughout the year. Whether you want to welcome the winter solstice by burning an effigy or witness a totally water-less regatta, here are all the weird and wonderful Australian festivals you need to add to your bucket list.

Vivid Sydney

Billed as the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas, Vivid also lays claim to being Australia’s largest annual event, bringing more than two million visitors to Sydney’s streets over three sparkling weeks each winter. The planet’s most talented light artists transform the Harbour City’s most iconic landmarks into their collective canvas, illuminating buildings like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge with dazzling projections. There’s also a diverse programme of live music plus talks from global thinkers and creators.

Vivid Sydney | © Adam JWC/Wikimedia Commons

Melbourne International Comedy Festival

There are three big comedy festivals in the world: one in Edinburgh, one in Montreal, and one right here in Australia. The planet’s premier comics descend on Melbourne for four weeks each March and April for a side-splitting celebration of everything humorous, pulling 770,000 attendees to thousands of performances at venues across the city.

Adelaide Fringe Festival

Edinburgh is the only city on earth that throws a bigger fringe festival than Adelaide. The South Australian capital transforms into an orgy of the arts for one month each February and March. First held in 1960, Fringe describes itself as “mythical, magical, fantabulous, fantasmagorical, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Every spare corner of the city is converted into a venue for song, dance, comedy, magic, cabaret, theatre, or whatever one of the 5000 artists can dream up.

Adelaide Fringe | © Vincent Sunny/Wikimedia Commons

Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay

This Byron Bay institution is Australia’s biggest and best music festival, and a must-do if you can snag a ticket — all 30,000 passes routinely sell out within minutes of going on sale. Held over three days in late July in the cruisy North Byron Parklands, Splendour has been attracting lengthy lineups studded with stars since 2001, as well as a chilled-out, friendly crowd who lap up the Byron vibes.

Henley-on-Todd Regatta, Alice Springs

Alice Springs’ Todd River is a bone-dry riverbed — but that doesn’t stop the locals from throwing a regatta each August, carrying boats by hand for the thousands of spectators that flock to the Red Centre for the festivities. That’s not the Northern Territory’s only madcap event: each July, Alice also hosts a camel-racing carnival, while Darwin throws the Beer Can Regatta, featuring boats made of recycled tinnies.

Henley-on-Todd Regatta | © Mark Marathon/Wikimedia Commons

Margaret River Gourmet Escape

Margaret River — a gorgeous coastal region three hours south of Perth that’s famous for its beaches and wineries — is a foodies’ paradise at the best of times, let alone when Gourmet Escape rolls into town. The four-day food and wine festival draws 80,000 gourmands each November to feast on Margaret River’s finest produce prepared by world-renowned chefs… and to enjoy a glass of local vino, of course.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Pride parades don’t get much bigger than Sydney’s Mardi Gras, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people from around Australia and the globe. Originally held as a gay rights protest in 1978, Mardi Gras has grown into one of Sydney’s biggest tourist drawcards — and the 2018 installment in March promises to be a particularly big one, toasting the 40th anniversary of the event.

Sydney Mardi Gras | © Hasitha Tudugalle/Wikimedia Commons

Birdsville Races

This unique outback racing carnival falls firmly into the ‘only in Australia’ category. First held in 1882, the Birdsville Races are about much more than the horses galloping around the dustbowl track — the population of the tiny Central Queensland town swells from 100 to 7000 on the first weekend of September for a three-day event that’s vital to the social cohesion of this remote part of the country. It also raises much-needed funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

Dark Mofo, Hobart

Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is one of Australia’s hottest destinations, and Dark Mofo is its wild and woolly winter festival. The 10-day June event seduced more than 400,000 admirers this year, delving into ancient winter solstice rituals as well as much more modern culture, including everything from nude swims to fire-burning ceremonies on the longest night of the year.

Dark Mofo | © Stefan Karpiniec/Flickr

Floriade, Canberra

Half a million green thumbs make a beeline to Canberra each September and October to check out Floriade, Australia’s biggest celebration of spring and the largest flower festival in the Southern Hemisphere. Each spring since 1988, Commonwealth Park on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin has bloomed with blossoms as far as the eye can see, and the best part? It’s absolutely free.

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