Sydney things to do in winter: Top five activities

As the temperature drops, so too does a heap of cold-weather events in Sydney. Paul Chai looks at the top five things to do in Sydney in winter.

The weather outside may be frightful, but there is a delightful array of cool-weather activities on in the Harbour City this winter. You don't have to be a member of the hardcore Bondi Icebergs swimming troupe to have something to do in the colder months - Sydney finds different ways to enjoy the beaches and harbour and no matter what the weather, residents and visitors get among the galleries and restaurants that make the city great.

The big winter ticket is Vivid Sydney, the cultural festival that once again this year is luring tens of thousands of people out and away from their heaters.

"For 18 days and nights visitors will experience Sydney like never before as the city bursts with creativity and sheer, brilliant light," said Stuart Ayres, NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, of this year's event. "It's truly an unmissable event, and one which we are very proud of."

But Vivid Sydney is just one part of a wider push to keep the city lively during winter. For our family, the colder months mean a trip to the beach, Bondi beach, for the city's only seaside open-air ice rink, where the kids never tire of playing on the ice with the soundtrack of crashing waves.

Footy fans will be heading to the Sydney Swans games as our home team once again dominates the Australian Football League ladder, getting to an NRL game or gearing up for the Qantas Wallabies to take on the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup.

Whether you are into the arts, sports or a family day out, we have you covered this chilly season. Here are our top picks of what to do in Sydney over the winter months...

Vivid Sydney

It's the final weekend of Sydney's biggest winter arts-and-culture love-in, Vivid Sydney. The event is in its seventh year and has become an integral event on the cultural calendar. The various strands of Vivid Light, Vivid Music and Vivid Ideas bring together the best of arts and culture from around the world.

See the Harbour City's most iconic buildings, including the Opera House, transformed into a Living Mural, Harbour Lights sees fleets of coloured boats light up the harbour or get down for a final glimpse of Dolly, the three-metre-high crocheted, light-up doll down at Circular Quay.


"Vivid Sydney aims to connect and inspire people in a shared, vibrant, multi-coloured experience," said Sandra Chipchase, chief executive officer of Destination NSW, the event organiser. "Vivid Sydney puts art into the hands of the public, giving visitors a visually triumphant feast of artistic and technical innovation."

Vivid Music has a strong line-up this year: TV on the Radio headline gigs at the Opera House (June 8-9) and the Heaps Gay festival kicks off tomorrow at the Factory in Marrickville packing Kim from the Presets, Black Vanilla and The Magda Szubanskis into your long weekend. Or catch the final Fractured Fantasy @ The Argyle, a themed night with djs and Vivid-inspired drinks and entertainment down in the Rocks.

What started as an event to get Sydneysiders out on a winter's night has grown to the point that 1.4 million people went last year – don't miss the final weekend of fun. 

Bondi Winter Magic, Bondi

Bondi has always been a year-round destination for Sydneysiders, whether they are sipping a cocktail at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar or checking out a live band at the Beach Road Hotel.

But come winter there is something wonderfully whimsical about an ice rink situated right on the beach. Last year, the Bondi Ice Rink – where you can don your skates just metres from the famous sand – drew more than 40,000 visitors and this year it extends its run, opening from June 20 to July 12.

The beachside rink has a strong family appeal with kids taking part in skating lessons, getting on the ice with the assistance of the Pete the Penguin skating aids (a metre-high plastic penguin to assist the kids with their balance), or getting involved with the rinkside craft activities for kids who don't fancy donning a pair of skates.

"The ice rink is a wonderful event because it helps build a sense of community and it stimulates the local economy during its slower trading months of the year," said Waverley Mayor Sally Betts. "Businesses requested the ice rink stay open for longer at the end of last year's event and we happily agreed."

Away from the rink the Bondi Winter Magic festival has Art of the Streets, where local artists will hold an open-air exhibition in Rosscoe Street Mall on July 12, or Music on the Street, a busker-off held on July 26. 

Winter Garden

If you prefer a city backdrop to your ice skating, the Winter Garden takes place at Cook and Phillip Park in the stunning shadow of St Mary's Cathedral.

The garden party, where you can have some icy fun and enjoy warm mugs full of gluhwein, runs for a full month from June 19 to July 19. And it's a cold-weather event with a warm heart, with profits going to charity.

"We are working with the Sydney Children's Hospital in ensuring that we will be giving back to the community and one of the best foundations, the Sydney Children's Hospital foundation," says Andrew Lemon, director of the Winter Garden. "Winter Garden will feature an open air ice-skating rink with traditional European culinary delights and captivating entertainment for the whole family."

The centrepiece of this wintry wonderland is the Winter Garden Lounge, where skaters and non-skaters alike can curl up in front of an open fire and catch some festival entertainment; a mix of theme nights, live music, DJs and some skating pros showing amateur skaters how it is done. There is also a pop-up Lindt Chocolate Cafe to provide chilly visitors with a hot chocolate and a huge inflatable slide if you are feeling brave. "I'm really looking forward to the Winter Garden as it is for all ages," Lemon says. "The Winter Garden is bringing you the most enchanting winter experience in Australia." 

Bledisloe Cup Festival

The only sign of winter for rugby fans on August 8 will be the chill down their spines as arch-rivals the Qantas Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks face off in the Bledisloe Cup at ANZ Stadium.

The game is part of the wider Bledisloe Cup Festival which runs from August 5-8 with a raft of rugby-flavoured events, including a fan event at the "Bledisloe Bay" at Darling Harbour where you can meet the team, the Women In Business & Sport Luncheon, a Samsung Snapshot photographic competition and the Classic Wallabies Golf Day at Manly Golf Club, where a string of Wallabies greats, past and present, will test their skills and patience on a different sort of green as they play a round of golf against each other.

"The Bledisloe Cup Festival has been enjoyed by thousands of rugby fans since its first year in 2012 and this year will be bigger than ever," says ARU general manager, commercial, John Nicholl. "Bledisloe Cup matches between the Trans-Tasman rivals are always keenly contested and each year the excitement around the match grows with the Festival events providing opportunities for pre-match banter between Wallabies and All Blacks fans."

Then it all gets serious come game day. 

Australian Museum night talks

Winter is the ideal time to snuggle up for some evening chats in the hallowed halls of the Australian Museum. Its popular schedule of sleepovers and night talks gives after-hours access to this Sydney institution and allows kids and adults to engage further with the exhibits, including the new Wild Planet gallery.

The first night talk on July 2 is A Parallel Universe: Windows Beneath the Waves, in which Matt Smith talks about his ethereal photo of a bluebottle that was a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. An experienced wildlife photographer, Smith will give expert tips as well as discussing the basics of good photography and how to develop a style.

On July 9, the night talk To Bee or Not to Be looks at the secret world of our honey-making friends, and how their survival could be linked to our own.

At the end of winter keep an eye out for the Australian Museum Sleepover in the new Wild Planet gallery, where you can bed down for the night with more than 400 animals in the Tree of Life exhibit. This new section of the museum opens in August, another winter treat for Sydneysiders.

"The sleepovers are a very popular night at the museum," said the Australian Museum's Claire Vince. "Parents bring their children in at 5pm, have dinner, play games and then they can go on torchlight tours with our scientists."