5 sizzling Sydney summer events

Elissa Richard
sydney mardi gras

Sure, Sydney’s been hitting record-breaking temps this summer, but the weather isn’t the only thing that’s sizzling this season. Every summer Down Under, Sydney springs to life with a captivating calendar of cultural events and fun festivals, designed to satisfy summering Sydneysiders during their traditional holiday break—and to offer those of us stuck battling the winter blahs on the north side of the equator with a warm-weather escape chockfull of Sydney signatures (à la beaches, nightlife, and a heavenly harbor front), capped off by culture galore. Herewith a roundup up five show-stopping Sydney summer events worth planning your visit around.

1. Sydney Festival

Held every January for more than three decades, Sydney biggest cultural hurrah bursts on the summer scene with the annual Sydney Festival, showcasing a dizzying array of some 300 ticketed and free performances highlighting theater, dance, music, film, and more. The massive event features more than 750 artists on stage in more than 50 venues around the city, and is known as a hotbed for Australian premieres and cutting-edge shows. Highlights from the 2013 event (which wraps up on January 27) include Semele Walk, mixing a modernized Handel opera with Vivienne Westwood couture; a stage show from Talking Heads' David Byrne; and Eraritjaritjaka, a theatrical performance combining music, design, voice, movement, and video.

2. Summer at the House

Traditionally a dark period at the iconic Sydney Opera House (along with its network of associated venues), Summer at the House programming, launched in 2007, has served to breathe new cultural life into Sydney’s summer months. December and January now come alive with diverse programming offered at accessible price points, including events designed to draw in families during their summer holidays (like this year’s Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat) and more edgy adult-focused programming (like the burlesque-inspired La Soirée). New this year, the Opera House has also launched an adjacent “summer playground” outdoor space, complete with pop-up food stalls and cocktails, live entertainment and activities, and same-day performance tickets available for just $26.

3. Sydney International Art Series

Now in its third year, the Sydney International Art Series presents world-class exhibitions in the city’s leading art institutions. There’s still time to catch this year’s Sydney-exclusive headliners: the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents Francis Bacon: five decades, exhibiting more than 50 Bacon paintings spanning his career (through February 24, 2013), while the freshly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) is featuring five decades of sculpture by British-based, Mumbai-born Anish Kapoor (through April 1, 2013). Or, plan ahead for next year, when Yoko Ono is lined up as the lead exhibiter at the MCA.

4. Flickerfest

Catch some waves, and then catch some flicks on the other side of the sand, at the annual Flickerfest short film festival, held along the Bondi beachfront. Featuring short film productions under the stars, the festival has been gaining momentum for more than 20 years—2013’s event featured 100 handpicked shorts representing artists from more than 25 countries, and the competition received coveted Academy Award accreditation this year. Though the Bondi segment of the event wrapped up on January 20, the festival will take the show on the road with a nationwide tour to nearly 50 venues across Australia, wrapping up this May.

5. Sydney Mardi Gras

Fun and flamboyant, the Sydney Mardi Gras event has coupled the spirit of carnival with a celebration of lesbian and gay culture for 35 years. The annual event spawns three weeks of comedy, music, cabaret, theater, visual arts, film, and more events throughout the city. This year’s festival kicks off February 8: Look for highlights like the family-friendly Mardi Gras Fair Day in Victoria Park (February 10), drag races held on Bondi Beach (March 1), and the main parade (March 2), marching plenty of festooned floats and wildly costumed revelers through Sydney’s streets.