To wrap up 2018 and ring in 2019 some family and friends and I ventured to Sydney, Australia for probably the most famous and truly best NYE experience there is on this planet.
Does New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour live up to the hype? More than yes, it exceeds all expectations (if you are prepared for whichever way you choose to do it). As of now this certainly ranks as the best NYE and best fireworks show I have witnessed and experienced, the only other Fireworks display that comes a close second is the Penghu International Oceans Fireworks Festival in Penghu Islands, Taiwan.
I am fortunate that I grew up in Taipei and ever since Taipei 101 was completed, the fireworks show there every year is one heck of a spectacle as well. However, ever since I was a child, I watched the news replay of the various fireworks NYE celebrations around the world, I love fireworks and so did my late dad, and the one that always stole the show was Sydney. I think Sydney harbour just has it all. The water, two iconic architectural wonders (Harbour Bridge and Opera House), flanked on one side with towers and on the other with bushes and trees. It is also summer time in Australia. But its not only that as I realized when I finally experienced this dream come true of mine, the city is very organized and the Aussies know how to throw a classy but fun NYE party throughout the town, even if it turns messy its still organized and fun. What is also great is that there are two incredible fireworks shows. The first is a shorter 10 minute one at 9PM aimed for families with kids who may not be able to stay up, and of course the highlight is the midnight countdown one that lasted 15 minutes. I highly recommend this experience to everyone at least once in their life if they can swing it. Ill include some tips from what I gathered from the locals.
This trip was short and sweet for me as I flew all the way to SYD only for NYE. I had previously been to Australia and had done most of the key sites and experiences, this time I only made up for 2 things I didnt get to do last time that I wanted to. 1) Swim at the iconic Bondi Icebergs and 2) Eat some oysters at Sydney Fish Market (which is a bit overrated and packed full of tourists but the oysters are cheap and deliciously amazing).
In SYD, things I think are a must, even if it seems touristy: 1) Climb Harbour Bridge, 2) Swim in one of the many outdoor salt water pools, especially Bondi Icebergs, 3) Opera House tour and if possible catch a show there, 4) personally havent done it, but if with kids or larger families, Taronga Zoo, 5) go explore the cafes, bars and breweries in the various neighborhoods of SYD. 6) Manly area, for more local beach vibes.
NYE SYD 2018 at the Opera Bar General Information
For NYE we got tickets to the Opera Bar party. The Opera Bar is located on the lower level corniche leading up to the Opera House and is a prime spot to get views of the Harbour, Taronga Zoo, the Bride and Opera House, the spot to be for the fireworks. Each year the bar hosts a themed NYE Party, this year it was Havana Nights. The limited tickets are AUD$500/person (USD$360) and can be bought online and must be printed out, and includes entry, foods (mostly finger foods that taste ok); unfortunately the only beverage included is water, everything else you gotta buy. It is nice because there are a limited number of tickets so it did not feel crowded at all. Dressing up for the theme is encouraged but not required. The crowd is a mix of various age groups but I’d say primarily people from late 20s to 40s, and a perfect mix of locals and tourists. The doors open at 6PM, but it is recommended to get in line at least an hour before to ensure you have a chance to get a booth or seating area, otherwise you’ll be standing all night, unless kind hearted folks in the booths let you rest or share. You must enter with a valid ID and your printed ticket. More general NYE tips below.
We booked the Intercontinental Sydney, one of the few hotels that dont require a minimum stay over this peak period. It was also located within short walking distance the entrance to our NYE party, which is the prime reason we chose it. The hotel prices were insane but expected for this period. It was busy, chaotic and they had poor housekeeping and its also old and tired, but had good management who were quick and professional in addressing our grievances; so besides the location and convenience, I would not necessarily recommend it.
My mom, sister and I all arrived on Sunday 12/30. Our Sunday and Monday were just very relaxing and involved shopping (big post-holidays and New Years sales in Australia during this period), meals, napping and then getting ready for the party. I spent 12/30 morning having brekkie with a friend in Bondi before swimming at Bondi Icebergs. I then got a very good haircut at Men’s Biz barber and grooming shop in the Strand Arcade, highly recommended. After mom and sis arrived, we walked and shopped before dinner at Red Lantern, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant that offers a-la-carte and a Southern Vietnam and Northern Vietnam tasting menu.
12/31 started off with a great breakfast at The Grounds of the City, highly recommended for the excellent vibes, coffee and food. We then took a break before heading to the Sydney Fish Market for lunch at Doyles. This place was packed with tourists and a bit chaotic, but if anything, come here for the cheap and incredibly delicious Oysters from all over Australia, so good. By 2PM most roads leading to the harbour areas begin to close (some blockades and detours begin earlier). While my sister and her friend went to get ready for the party, my mom and I needed a good nap before we got ready for the party.
My sister and friend headed to get a booth at Opera Bar before mom and I walked over and joined them at around 6:30PM. We were supposed to enjoy the sunset as well but it was cloudy and actually began to thunderstorm a bit, but all to clear for both fireworks later on.
Havana Nights at Opera Bar, Sydney New Year’s Eve 2018
The decorations and photo booths are definitely a homage to Havana and Cuba. Upon entering you will come upon the main stage and dance floor, there are a variety of guest artists and DJ that play, the main bar serves all the beverages (but there are a few remote bars as well). You will also see the photo booths. As you walk around or hang out in your seats in the booths, staff either dressed up or in staff uniform come around with foods and trinkets (sunglasses, hats, hairbands, glitter, temporary tattoos and more). If you feeling lazy, you can order beverages from a few attendants walking around and pay right from your seat or standing spot. We ordered lots of champagne, the champagne served is Vueve Cliquot and you can get rose, regular or magnums (just go for the magnum, its worth it and its NYE). The far end houses the toilets. The booths are in the covered portion of the Opera Bar, and so when it rained everyone came down from the raised corniche to stay dry. During the fireworks you should get a spot on the raised corniche about half an hour prior to the start of the shows (if you are not already sitting and standing in this area).
And this is how the night went by. Lots of champagne, a few shots, getting tattooed and getting obnoxious with the various accessories being handed out. As well as dancing by our booth and on the main dance floor. There are a few staff entertainers dressed in the theme who come around to take photos and entertain as well. Of course a bit of socializing as well, we were very fortunate and found a friendly German family who were willing to share their booth with us!
At 8:30PM, the upper corniche starts filling up as everyone prepares for the first 9PM show. Right on time, the sky lights up with fireworks, lasers and music and to think this is only a small taste of what is to come.
The upper corniche once again begins to fill up at 11:30PM as everyone prepares to bid 2018 a farewell and welcome 2019. The countdown clock is projected on to the bridge and begins at 11:59PM and everyone with their champagne glasses and phones ready begin to countdown. At 12AM the most spectacular 15 minutes fireworks, laser and music show begins. The spectacle, the colors, the scale, the beauty of the locale, the joy and awe of everyone around you even those who have been to this every year, just creates for a truly magical, touching and surreal experience. On one side you see waterfall fireworks falling gracefully from the Harbour Bridge with lasers beaming from the top and then you turn around and see fireworks shooting off the curves of the Opera House and further out behind in the harbour, and every time you think it is about to end, another massive display gets shot up and it reignites the excitement and another round of “Wow” and “Woohoo!” is rips through the crowd. I was worried it wouldnt be as incredible as the helicopter footage from the air showing the entire harbour, but I must say being right there having both the bridge and Opera House in view and seeing all the fireworks and laser going on was even better than what I had seen on TV. Plenty of people, including myself, cried at the end and many more were just in awe and just smiles everyone. It truly is something special and I am ruined forever when it comes to New Years celebrations.
Drunk, happy and smiling, we headed back to our hotel and I fell asleep before having to wake up earlier than one should have to on New Year’s Day to catch my flight out of SYD.
General New Year’s Eve in Sydney Tips (based on info I gathered)
- Plan and Research.
- Shops, cafes, restaurants and most sites remain open during this period. Many higher end restaurants are closed for the holidays, and some businesses have special hours, especially on 12/31 and 1/1. However, you will certainly not go hungry, thirsty or bored, and remember the world over descends on Sydney so tourist spots are for sure open.
- Be ready for crowds.
- Be ready for high hotel prices, even the most basic of accommodation options will have surge pricing. Uber and taxi prices will also surge like crazy before and more specifically after, consider hiring a car if you are staying outside the walking area.
- Wear shoes that are comfortable as there is a lot of walking and standing. Most roads are closed so you have to walk some distance before getting to running roads to catch a cab, uber or public transport, unless you stay within the closed area and can walk back to your hotel.
- There are a variety of NYE parties and ways to do NYE in Sydney. Especially if you are planning to camp out in one of the parks, this requires a bit of coordination and planning and understanding that it will be a bit rough but I think worth it for the show. From my understanding the camping is the lowest cost method. Otherwise you can arrive early at a variety of standing room public spots along the waters, where some people also camp out. Or pay for a party. Lots of parties on any harbour front venue, each geared for a type of crowd with different themes, prices and inclusions. There are also the boat parties but mind you you will be on the boat all night. Or, get a nice harbour view hotel room, or find a friend who has a harbour front apartment or house (probably harder to do) and enjoy the show from there. From my understanding there really isnt a bad view of this show.
- Carry only essentials with you. You will need your event tickets, and ID with you at all times. Have both cash and at least 1 credit card on you.
- Eat before the parties, and if you are camping out go stock up on food.
- Stay hydrated but also keep in mind if you are camping out restrooms will be a bit more challenging.
- Check the weather!
- Cameras ready and be ready for a great time no matter what you choose to do.
Hopefully you too can someday experience New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour. If you have already, I hope it was an incredible experience. I think the next spot for me is Dubai.
Cheers to 2019