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What to do in Sydney this winter

It’s cold outside, but here are 13 great reasons to rug up and head out to the city.

The heart of Sydney is once again pulsing with music, art, festivals and food. From ice-skating rinks to heated outdoor igloos and the inaugural Sydney Solstice Festival, there’s plenty to see and do in the city this winter.

So zip up those coats and get ready to rediscover the myriad charms of the harbour city with a slew of activities and events for people of all ages.

YCK Laneways Night Over Light for Sydney Solstice

Explore the brand-new Sydney Solstice Festival

8 to 20 June

Move over Vivid – there’s a new winter festival in town, and it’s set to become a major fixture on Sydney’s cultural calendar. The Sydney Solstice Festival is a celebration of food, arts, nightlife and culture leading up to the shortest day of the year on 21 June. Events are spread across several hubs: the city centre, Darling Harbour and surrounds, the Oxford Street precinct, and Newtown and the inner west.

The packed program includes a week of live music to mark the reopening of the Metro Theatre, Aboriginal whale watching and star-gazing cruises, an immersive dinner experience at Sydney Town Hall called The Queen’s Feast, a country and western music festival, as well as several mini-festivals at Paddington’s Five Ways, Darling Harbour and South Eveleigh.

Take in a concert at Winter in the Domain

25 June to 18 July

Live music is well and truly back! Catch some of Australia’s favourite artists when they play in the pop-up Big Top tent, including The Presets, Hot Dub Time Machine, The Cat Empire, Missy Higgins, Matt Corby, Boy & Bear, and Thelma Plum. Many of the shows are open to all ages, and for the festival duration, the area around the Big Top is being turned into a family friendly amusement zone called Winterpark featuring rides, an ice-skating rink, and food and drink stalls.

Tramsheds Growers Market

Shop up a storm at a local market

The city’s markets are an ideal place to pick up unique wares and just-picked produce, while supporting local and independent artisans and growers. Stock up on your weekly groceries at the Sunday Tramsheds Growers Market or the Millers Point Monday Farmers’ Market, or spend a few hours combing through the stalls and listening to live music at the Saturday Glebe Market or the weekend Rocks Market. In addition to those regular fixtures, the Cannery Rosebery holds a monthly market, the quarterly Glebe Artisan Market is happening on June 12 and Carriageworks is hosting its Winter Seasonal Market on June 19. Don’t forget your reusable bags!

Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre

Go for a dip in a heated indoor pool

When it’s too cold to brave the beach, head to an indoor aquatic centre where you can swim laps, join a fitness class or let the kids splash around and have some fun.

Cook and Phillip Park Pool has 3 heated pools including one that converts into a wave pool on weekends. Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre has 2 heated indoor pools, a giant inflatable on the weekends, as well as spa, sauna and steam room facilities. Gunyama Park Aquatic Centre which opened earlier this year boasts 3 indoor pools, including a kids’ play area featuring slides, fountains and a mega-drencher.

Indulge your inner Francophile at Bastille Festival

14 to 18 July

Come hungry to this free festival of all things French, where you can nibble and sip your way across France’s wine and food regions within Circular Quay. Vendors will sell paper thin crepes from Normandie, pizza-like flammekueche from Alsace, oozy melted raclette from the Alps, flawless patisserie and lots more delectable treats. Wash it down with wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cotes du Rhone, Loire, Provence and Champagne as you browse market stalls packed with locally made homewares, jewelry and accessories.

Psst, don't miss a Bastille Day celebration at The Argyle on Wednesday 14 July.

Darling Harbour ice rink

Twirl around an ice-skating rink

Practice your triple axles at the 2 ice rinks popping up in the city this June – one at Winterpark in the Domain and the other in the ICC forecourt at Darling Harbour. Winterpark is open from 26 June to 18 July every afternoon and evenings during the week. The Darling Harbour rink is open from 4pm to 9pm on weekdays and 10am to 9pm on weekends from 8 to 20 June. Bookings are recommended.

Vivid Sydney Festival. Image credit: Destination NSW

See the city light up after dark during Vivid Sydney

6 to 28 August

After a hiatus last year, Sydney’s premiere winter festival returns to once again illuminate the heart of the city. Light projections bring the city’s architecture and outdoor spaces to life, Vivid Live gathers some of Australia’s most innovative musical talent for a series of shows, and the Ideas portion of the festival expands your mind with a stimulating schedule of workshops and talks. This year the Sydney Opera House sails will feature colourful projections by Martu artists depicting Western Australia’s Parnngurr community and landscape.

Kick back with your mates in a private igloo

Several restaurants and bars have erected transparent igloos in their outdoor spaces, like individual climate-controlled VIP bubbles you can rent for a few hours or even overnight. A garden igloo at the Winery in Surry Hills costs $50 per person and comes with complimentary snacks. The waterside igloos at Darling Harbour’s Cargo Bar cost $59 per person and includes nibbles with a 90 minute drinks package. Perhaps the most photogenic is the luxe igloo suite at Pier One. It’s designed by blogger and influencer Tara Milk Tea, fits up to 10 people and has an overnight stay option. Prices start from $600 for a 2.5 hour session.

Double Bill Brekky Boy at Winter Jazz Festival

Listen to top local talent during Winter Jazz Fest

Jazz lovers and aficionados of improvised music won’t want to miss this showcase of Australian artists as they explore the sounds of classic, contemporary and world jazz. The lineup includes trumpeter and composer Phil Slater, ARIA-award winning vocalist Elana Stone, the world-music inflected Bungarribee quartet, and pianist Greg Coffin with his contemporary jazz trio. Each will take over the Australian Institute of Music’s new venue, The Space, for an intimate one-night show.

Rediscover the city on a free walking tour

Sydney is the oldest city in Australia, so there’s plenty of history to uncover on the 2.5 hour Colonial Walk through the city centre and the Rocks. The Sydney Sights walking tour is a similar length and will take you past the city’s more famous landmarks as well as down laneways to find art and hidden bars. Nature lovers can explore the heritage-listed, 30-hectare Royal Botanical Gardens on a 1.5-hour guided walk which runs several times a week. Or look up the Secret City website on your phone and select one of the 5 self-guided walks through the Rocks, Chinatown, Darling Harbour and the city centre. The routes vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and you’ll have to solve riddles along the way.

And if you love art, make sure you try one of City Art's free walking tours. Rediscover the lively streets of Chinatown and Haymarket as you explore inspiring and imaginative artworks. Or encounter artistic creations that are concealed in laneways, sandwiched between buildings, planted in the pavement and elevated high above the street.

Come From Away the Musical

Laugh, cry and be transported at the theatre

Hamilton is set to return to Broadway in September, but until then Sydney is the only place in the world you can watch Lin Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical live. If the tickets are too dear, try your luck in the daily lottery where you can win $10 tickets. 2 other TONY-award winning musicals are coming to town this winter: Once returns to the Darlinghurst Theatre for another season after a sell-out run in 2019, and Come From Away debuts at the Capitol Theatre to tell the unusual story of passengers stranded in a small town after the events of 9/11.

The Doss House at the Rocks

Cosy up near the fireplace at these historic pubs

Grab a house-brewed ale and pull up a chair by the hearth at the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel. The fireplace has been warming punters since the Rocks pub was established in 1841. There are 2 other pubs nearby located in 1840s heritage buildings which have retained their fireplaces: the Hero of Waterloo Hotel which has live music every weekend, and whiskey and cocktail bar the Doss House which serves hot mulled wine in winter. Over in Woolloomooloo, the Old Fitzroy Hotel offers a cosy fireplace, food by an ex-Momofuku Seiōbo chef, and an attached theatre if you’re in the mood for a show. In the city centre, the Duke of Clarence channels a cosy 18th-century London tavern with bookshelves, armchairs and delicious Sunday roasts.

Have we missed a cosy pub? Let us know.

Barangaroo Reserve

Enjoy the winter sunshine in these parks and gardens

Nothing invigorates the mind, body and soul like a brisk walk in the fresh air, and the city centre has some truly unique and spectacular green spaces to explore. Find respite from the daily grind in the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a serene and tranquil walled garden designed by landscape architects from Guangzhou, China.

Or take in the harbour views from Barangaroo Reserve with its meandering paths, stepped lawns and terraced gardens featuring Sydney sandstone and native plants – it’s an amazing transformation of a former industrial shipping site. And of course there is the Domain and Royal Botanic Garden, with its running trails, wide open spaces, and unparalleled vistas of Sydney’s harbour landmarks. No matter how many times you’ve seen it before, it’s an outlook that never fails to impress.

Psst... You have until 31 July to redeem your Dine and Discover vouchers for food, drink and entertainment. The city is full of museums, hotels and restaurants that will happily accept them.

Want more? Find the latest events in the city.