By Nicholas Fonseca
October 06, 2014
Credit: Destination NSW/James Horan

Technically, the South Australian capital of Adelaide is known as the Festival City. But truth is, Sydney offers some pretty stiff competition for the title. Whatever your interest—be it music, sports, literature or great debate—there’s a gathering that will appeal to you at some point during the year. The city can claim a particular embarrassment of riches as autumn turns to winter, with no fewer than three name-brand jubilees (Vivid Festival, Sydney Writers Festival, and the Sydney Film Festival) turning everyone’s calendars into a riot of activity. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, held in late August at the Opera House, is a newer addition to the line-up that, per its title, always stirs up controversy and has nabbed some seriously cool names (in 2014, Salman Rushdie and the brilliant New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum debated whether television has replaced the novel). And then there’s the world-famous gay and lesbian Mardi Gras celebration, which draws huge crowds to the streets for a night of unabashed love.

Sydney Festival

You know it’s a new year when Sydney Festival arrives: this multi-pronged event covers music, art, theatre, dance, kids’ events, and lecture talks. The opening night party, a free concert held in the Domain, is a must for every Sydneysider. Last year, I saw funk legend Chaka Khan dazzle a crowd of thousands.

Vivid Festival

This three-week celebration of ‘lights, music, and ideas aims to give locals (and visitors) a visual boost with an array of harbor-side light installations, the most spectacular being the lighting of the Sydney Opera House sails with colorful patterns. There are also heaps of fantastic musical performances on offer—last year alone saw Pixies, St. Vincent, Ms Lauryn Hill, and Giorgio Moroder swing through for shows.

Sydney Writers Festival

At the Sydney Writers Festival, four hundred writers participate in more than 300 hundred events—that’s right: this thing is huge. The festival regularly pulls in the biggest names in words –Dave Eggers, A.M. Homes, Andrew Solomon, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan—for illuminating readings, one-on-one talks and panel discussions. It’s a total feast for writers (and readers) who want to gorge on ideas and inspiration.

Sydney Film Festival

It may not be on the level of Cannes, Berlin, or Toronto, but each year’s Sydney Film Festival line-up is still worth seeing. Event director Nashen Moodley has placed a special emphasis on world cinema and documentaries since his arrival in 2012, and always manages to snag a good handful of buzzy titles (The Tree of Life, Snowpiercer) before they unveil around the world.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

A riot of glamour and glitter that lasts an entire month? Yes, please. From early February through to the first weekend of March, Sydney is home to the biggest celebration of queer pride and political activism in the world. There are heaps of events: talks, theatre, dance, concerts, a film festival, a community fair day, and dance parties galore. The main event is the dazzling night-time parade down Oxford and Flinders Streets, followed by the giant party at Fox Studios, where thousands dance and visit until Sunday morning.