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Enlighten Festival of Light, Canberra’s answer to Vivid

The Australian capital’s after-dark festival returns for its seventh year with a program of stunning installations and vibrant events.

By Dan F Stapleton
Published: 6 March, 2017

There’s plenty to fall in love with when you visit Australia’s national capital, including glorious tracts of inner city bush, dozens of magnificent architectural works and some of the most inventive restaurants in the country. For 10 days each March, Canberra shines a light on the best of these attractions in Enlighten, an eclectic, unpredictable festival that kicks off when the sun goes down.

Autumn nights in Canberra are dry and mild, so there’s no need to pack a heavy coat. Just don’t forget to charge your smartphone ­– all Enlighten attendees are encouraged to create photo art of their own and share it via Instagram.

Here are the attractions you’ll definitely want to snap at this year’s festival.

Lose yourself in a lush forest

When: 2-10 March
Tickets: $

The vast Australian National Botanic Gardens promise to captivate during the Luminous Botanicus III event, which features a 1.4 kilometre (0.9 mile) lit path through Australian landscapes, a choir in the rainforest and a wood-fired pizzeria amid a grove of eucalypts. The gardens have long been considered one of Canberra’s most enchanting spots. At this event, you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled on a beautiful party in the middle of the bush.


Be mesmerised at Questacon

Parliament House, Enlighten, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

When: 3-12 March
Tickets: Free

Many of Canberra’s world-class cultural institutions will be open late during Enlighten, but our pick is the wacky National Science & Technology Centre, otherwise known as Questacon. Be sure to seek out the fairy floss cart, which will be serving mind-boggling “flashing floss” that changes colour. For something more serene, grab a hamper and blanket from the café and spread out in the museum grounds – you’ll have great views of the large-scale light projections on some of the buildings nearby, including Parliament House.


Dance at a cashed-up rave

When: 3 March
Tickets: $

Visitors aren’t normally permitted in the factory production corridor of the National Mint, which manufactures Australia’s coins. But the rules are different for one evening during Enlighten, when DJs, belly dancers and revellers converge for a fun-filled evening dance party, Industrial Illumination. Each guest will be issued with a fluorescent high-vis (that’s Australian for high visibility) vest – the same kind you see worn by workers on construction sites – and a glowstick before being let loose in the Mint, which will be lit only with ultraviolet light.


Take an African twilight safari

National Zoo and Aquarium, Enlighten, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

When: 4 & 11 March
Tickets: $-$$

The tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards and other animals at the National Zoo & Aquarium’s Savannah area are most captivating at dusk, when many of them are naturally at their most active. To celebrate Enlighten, the zoo is staying open late so guests can mingle with these great beasts while the sun goes down. You’ll feel transported by the live African drumming performances and there will be experts on hand to answer all your questions. Other parts of the zoo, including an area reserved just for dingo pups, will also be open to Enlighten visitors.


Watch fire on the parliament lawns

Zap Circus, Enlighten, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

When: 10 March
Tickets: Free

One of the real thrills of Enlighten is seeing some of Australia’s most serious locations being subverted by rebellious performers. Case in point: this year’s Circus Fire Spectacular, which is taking place on the hallowed lawns of Canberra’s parliamentary precinct. These fiery tricks require immense concentration at any time of day, but after sunset there’s an even greater sense of danger. Luckily, the performers from Zap Circus are experts.