Horse racing at Flemington Race Course, Melbourne Cup Carnival, Victoria
Planning when to take your leave? Time your trip with some of Australia’s best celebrations and party seasons.
When it comes time to plan your visit to Australia, you want to see destinations when they are at their most vibrant and exciting. Across the country, our diverse regions offer a wealth of festivities, whether you are foodies looking for local flavours, city explorers finding the best cultural precincts or outdoor types exploring Australia’s natural phenomena. From Western Australia’s season of wildflowers to Melbourne’s race that stops a nation, these are the best celebrations in Australia to time your trip with.
Events that stop the nation
For a country with a comparatively small population of 24 million, Australia punches above its weight for the number of events and celebrations per year. Standing out from the tens of thousands of annual events are three major commemorations that the nation pauses to celebrate.
Australia Day (26 January) celebrates our land, our diversity and our lifestyle, with major spectacles and hundreds of community events throughout the country. As a national holiday there’s always so much to see. Whether you choose to dance to live music, make a splash at the beach, sizzle seafood on a BBQ, or play cricket in the park, Australia Day brings us together.
On ANZAC Day (25 January) Australians remember lives lost in World War I and honours all individuals who have served Australia at war. Across the nation people rise early for moving dawn services, then cheer on servicemen and women marching in parades through the city streets. Then, in the spirit of Anzac mateship, it's time for a well-earned beer and a game of two-up. Try your luck at this national sport at local pubs and clubs, which is only played each year on Anzac Day. It’s also the best time of year to taste an Australian icon – the Anzac biscuit.
On the first Tuesday of November, Australians across the nation stop to celebrate the Melbourne Cup, a major annual horse racing event. Whether you are at the track, at a pub in the middle of the outback or lunching at one of the many restaurants throughout the country, Melbourne Cup is an event that everyone gets involved in. You’ll never have experienced a horse race that virtually takes over a country, with each bar, restaurant, café and shop creating Cup inspired events to enjoy. Dress up, place a bet and enjoy a long lunch with a nail biting ending.
Experience city-wide parties
Along Brisbane’s popular Southbank precinct, the Sunsuper Riverfire (30 September) will take to the night sky for a spectacular fireworks display, sending Brisbane Festival off with a bang! In its 20th year running, the fireworks will dazzle the sky in explosive colours for more than 20 minutes from 7pm, as well as the Australian Defence Force’s aerobatic performances, army helicopter displays and musical numbers that were favourites from 1998 to 2018. Plus, they’ll be an afterparty featuring dance/electronic artist, UV boi.
Another firework display that wows visitors from across the globe, is Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular. The captivating display ignites Sydney Harbour’s night sky to send off the year and welcome in a new one. The family fireworks kick off at 9pm followed by the mesmerising midnight show that launch from the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and barges around the harbour. Before and in-between the shows, there will be a range of entertainment and activities to get involved in around the foreshore and Royal Botanic Gardens to celebrate the new year.
The St Kilda Festival (11 February) is Australia’s biggest free festival, jam-packed with over 60 Aussie musicians across seven stages plus a bunch of activities including carnival rides, circus performances and even bubble soccer for kids and kidults. Some big names headlining the festival include The Jezebels, Tkay Maidza and Dan Sultan, plus for the kids the Hi-5 team and Woody’s World will be coming to join in on the fun.
As part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the city’s Oxford Street transforms into a parade of pride, love and protest. After last year’s ‘yes’ vote to equality, this year’s 40th anniversary Mardi Gras Parade (3 March) is anticipated to be the greatest celebration yet. LGBTQI groups will flaunt a dazzling performance down Oxford street with dance, music and wow-factor floats. It attracts thousands of local and global punters who gather for one spectacular night, so dress in your best glitzy attire and come join in on the festival of love.
Transforming the city into an electrifying light display is Vivid Sydney (25 May to 16 June), the largest festival of light, music and ideas of its kind. As the sun sets, spectacular light projections will illuminate Sydney icons including the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and even Taronga Zoo. Explore the various light walks through the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Rocks and Barangaroo and be amazed by the dozens of vibrant installations and light displays. The extensive festival program features inspiring workshops, music performances and events across the entire city.
The Australian Open brings the world’s hottest players to Melbourne for two weeks of tennis thrills during January. More than 550,000 spectators attend one of the biggest sporting events in Australia. ‘The Happy Slam’ as Roger Federer likes to call the Grand Slam tennis tournament, is an opportunity to watch tennis’s biggest sporting stars battle it out on the court and to explore the urban culture of laid-back Melbourne. Join the vibrant atmosphere in and around the city with matches broadcast on big screens, festive beer gardens, pubs and live music events.
The Australian football league (AFL) is huge in Australia, with the AFL Grand Final being one of the biggest events on the sports calendar. It kicks off on 29 September in the AFL heartland of Melbourne and it’s so much more than just scoring goals. The state of Victoria allocates AFL Grand Final day a public holiday, so people from across Australia come to the state to join in on the fun. There will be the Grand Final Parade that attracts more than 60,000 fans to witness team players ride on Utes (trucks) down the city streets, AFL-themed events across pubs, parks and Federation Square and of course, the game held at the MCG stadium. Once the full-time whistle has blown, the MCG welcomes the public to a free Premiership party inside the stadium. Last year, international rock band, The Killers took to the stage, so while details for this year’s concert are still being anticipated, you can expect some incredible talent to headline the festivities.
Australia's biggest food festivals
Good Food Month is a month-long celebration of Sydney’s food scene, as well as premium local produce from regional New South Wales. Food lovers can cram their calendars with amazing dinner dates, sip fabulous cocktails, explore Sydney’s small bars and vibrant food precincts throughout October.
Melbourne Food and Wine Festival offers something for everyone – large scale food events, intimate dinners cooked by some of the world’s leading chefs, authentic food experiences in Melbourne’s culturally diverse suburbs and family activities.
Orange F.O.O.D Week (Food of Orange District) is a celebration of the finest produce from around the Orange region and is Australia’s longest running regional food festival. Just a 3.5 hour drive from Sydney, this fantastic foodie event attracts visitors near and far to come and explore a range of gourmet events, food and wine markets, talks, tastings and dinner parties across the beautiful Orange region.
In Australia’s South West is the spectacular Margaret River Region, and each November the region hosts a unique three -day food and wine festival. The Margaret River Gourmet Escape invites visitors to discover local flavours, wine events and participate in Q&As and talks with international and national food and wine celebrities. This is the ultimate experience for wine -enthusiasts and culinary adventurers!
Seasonal natural celebrations
Humans may like to travel, but so too do many other creatures. Seasonal animal migrations are an incredible experience to bear witness to and there are some extraordinary sightings you can have right here in Australia. The annual whale shark migration to Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia occurs between March and July, where they come to mate and feed on coral spawn and plankton. During these months you can swim alongside these friendly giants.
Also sighted around Ningaloo, as well as Queensland and Northern New South Wales are dugongs. They migrate to the warm, shallow waters when temperatures cool down to feed on seagrass along Australia’s shorelines. Your best chance at encountering one of these unique mammals is by taking a cruise, scenic flight or on a snorkelling tour.
During spring, thousands of birds including curlews, bar-tailed godtwits, turnstones and snipes, migrate from Alaska and northern parts of Asia to shoreline mudflats and coastal wetlands across Australia. This round-trip is known as the East Asian - Australasian Flyway that spans an incredible 26 countries. A great bird watching location includes Moreton Bay and the Pumicestone Passage that extends between north Brisbane to the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Experience the dazzling colours of spring blooms while discovering your green thumb at one of Australia’s flower events. In Toowoomba, Queensland, they celebrate the Carnival of Flowers (September) where, for 10 days, the city hosts a variety of food, wine and musical events, all of which are highlighted by the beautiful floral displays throughout the city.
In Victoria, the town of Bright hold their Spring Festival (October-November) with vibrant flower gardens, fireworks, fetes and food events.
Australia’s rose capital, Renmark in South Australia, celebrates the Renmark Rose Festival (October) promising a range of events and spectacular rose gardens. Be sure to check out the National Rose Collection in Ruston’s Rose Garden.
If uou want to witness incredible displays of Australia’s native wildflowers, then The Kings Park Festival (September) in Perth is for you. The park transforms into a showcase of blooms from regions across Western Australia with the city hosting a range of music events, exhibitions and an educational event just for the kids called Adorable Florables that teaches them about conserving native flowers and plants.
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