This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2019. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
In my opinion, Sydney has the best New Year’s Eve fireworks display in the world.
Over the years I’ve spent NYE in many destinations. Some of my favourites were partying at the Falls Festival in Tasmania, taking in the street festivities in Prague, and dancing to country music at a classic Texan bar in Austin.
But nowhere in the world has been more exciting than Sydney. I’ve watched the fireworks display in Sydney twice, and both times it has completely blown my mind! The city spends millions of dollars on the fireworks show every year, so it’s no surprise that the show is so damn spectacular.
There are two major things you should know when considering your spot for watching the NYE fireworks in Sydney:
- First, the layout. The show changes slightly every year, but it’s generally centered around the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are also a handful of barges placed throughout the harbour that pump out fireworks, so anyone standing on the waterfront near the city can get in on the action.
- Second, the timing. There are actually two fireworks displays: one at 9PM (which is mostly for the sake of families with young kids) and the main gig at 12AM. The earlier show is not as huge as the midnight one, but it’s still pretty good. Best to watch both if you can manage it! The midnight show is an absolute must.
I’m going to list out all the main options for seeing the fireworks. These vary in price greatly so prepare to be shocked by how expensive some of them are! The NYE fireworks display in Sydney is incredibly popular, so you’ll often pay more for better views. I’ll also list a few free/cheap options for those of you who don’t want to bankrupt yourselves on this event!
Option 1: Do a boat cruise
There are thousands of parties, events, and festivals that you can join every December 31, but if you want prime views of the fireworks, a boat cruise might be your best shot. It’s one of the most expensive options, but if you’ll only be spending NYE in Sydney once in your life, then it’s probably worth splashing out on.
There are loads of companies that offer boat cruises on the harbour on NYE. You can get a cruise for just one of the fireworks shows, or for both. The boat cruises will usually include a drink (or sometimes an open bar) and food or snacks. They’ll sail around the harbour and then set up in a good viewing position before the fireworks begin.
Option 2: Attend an event at Sydney Opera House
There is usually a ticketed concert at Sydney Opera House with live entertainment each year, but 2021 is a little different due to the pandemic.
There are a handful of ticketed events around the Opera House, and these are likely to be some of the best spots to see the fireworks in Sydney. Prices vary greatly, but as do inclusions – you can see a live opera show before the fireworks, have dinner at the famous Bennelong restaurant, or hang out beside the harbour at the Opera Bar with live entertainment. Your choice!
Option 3: Find a venue with a view
In 2014, a friend invited us to a house party at his new apartment in McMahons Point. In true Australian style, we spent the afternoon having some bevvies (slang for alcoholic beverages) with our mates, then made our way up to the rooftop for the fireworks display. With views of the Harbour Bridge, it was the perfect vantage point for the light show!
There are some hotels and restaurants that overlook the harbour, or bars with rooftops (such as The Glenmore) that will throw a NYE party where you can watch the fireworks. For something totally luxe, you can go up Sydney Tower for a fancy dinner with wine pairings and views of the fireworks from the tallest building in Sydney.
Option 4: Go to a paid entry park
The ticketed parks are a fairly cheap way to see the NYE fireworks. I went with this option for the first time in 2021. It might seem silly to have to pay for entry to a public park, but it’s actually a really good way for the city to limit numbers of people in these spots (otherwise they get waaaaaaay overcrowded).
I went to Hickson Road Reserve, and it was totally epic to be right underneath all the action! As a short person who usually struggles to see in a crowd, I appreciated that I didn’t have to worry about seeing over people’s heads because the show was literally happening in the sky above me. These paid entry parks also have public bathroom facilities, and they sometimes they offer entertainment and food/drinks for sale.
Check the Sydney New Year’s Eve website for available paid park options. The Royal Botanic Gardens and the areas around Circular Quay are some solid choices for great views, though note that some look towards either the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, but not necessarily both. If I had to choose between them, I’d go with one that looks at the Harbour Bridge as it features the most spectacular parts of the fireworks display.
Option 5: Go to a free park
In 2018, Rob and I went to Ballast Point Park in Balmain which is free to enter and doesn’t get overly crowded. Unfortunately it is harder to get there as there are no train lines going into Balmain (only buses) and some of the streets get closed off, so it’s mostly locals who arrive to watch the fireworks. If you want a more low-key and cheap experience away from the crowds, I’d highly recommend this option or one of the other free parks around the city.
Be sure to get there early. The Sydney New Year’s Eve website usually gives an indication of what time each area is meant to fill up. One thing to remember is that each park has different rules, like whether alcohol is allowed, and some have different opening times. Once you’re in the park, it’s best not to leave until after the fireworks display as you might lose your spot.
Plan for a long day/evening on the lawns by taking along essential supplies – a picnic blanket, a shade umbrella or wide-brim hat, a jacket to keep warm after sunset, plenty of food/snacks, and a water bottle (there will be taps that you can use to refill it inside all of the parks). Also remember to take sunscreen as it’s midsummer so you will burn extremely quickly, and sunset isn’t until after 8PM!
Book your tickets early. If you are choosing one of the paid options (boat cruise, events at venues, or paid entry parks), get your tickets as soon as possible! The most popular options usually sell out a few months in advance, so the later you leave it, the less chance you’ll have of getting the option you want.
Public transport can be a mess. Before and after the fireworks display, the trains and buses get severely overcrowded… last year we couldn’t get onto a bus out of Balmain (and taxis/Ubers are just not an option at this time) so we ended up skating home which took about an hour! Prepare for difficulties with public transport by taking your trips around the city much earlier than you think you need to, and plan an alternate method of getting back to your accommodation.
Be sensible. Police officers are literally swarming the city on New Year’s Eve. This can be a bit intimidating, but just remember they are there for your own safety. They’ll be on the lookout for unruly behavior, illegal drugs, and alcohol where it’s not allowed, so just be careful about sticking to the rules.