FESTIVAL TRAVEL: Catching Australia’s Best Festivals

February 28, 2019

It might seem an obvious statement, but festivals really change the face of the cities they take place in. And not just the face, but the vibe, the sounds and the sense-of-place. Visit the same city both during and outside any major festival, and it can be unrecognisable.

 Mardi Gras, Sydney, NSW. Credit: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Major festivals really do draw hundreds of thousands of people to our cities. Knowing what’s on when, the effect that will have on airfares, hotel accommodation availability and pricing, as well as having access to ticketed events and hospitality offerings can make all the difference to your holiday when the festival is in town.

 Bluesfest, Byron Bay, NSW. Credit: Bluesfest Pty Ltd

Armed with expertise and every bundled festival package you can imagine, your favourite ATAS-accredited travel agent can help you budget, plan and book the perfect festival visit.


Australia’s urban festivals have come a long way from the artistically questionable affairs of their early days—Think: rides, showbags, Dagwood dogs and novelty competitions—in the 1970s and 1980s, now taking their place among the great festivals of the world. All of our capital cities roll out impressive, annual cultural festivals (and associated ‘fringe’ festivals) designed to attract local and international visitors, and engage and entertain the locals.

 Vivid Festival Opening Night – Sydney Opera House. Credit: Tourism Australia

Take Sydney’s Vivid Festival: Vivid had its first outing in 2009 as a relatively simple ‘smart’ light festival curated by lighting designer Mary-Anne Kyriakou and headlined by Brian Eno who, in collaboration with lighting designer Bruce Ramus, projected light paintings onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Within just a few years, Vivid 2012 attracted more than 500,000 visitors, and generating some $10 million income for the state. Vivid is now one of Sydney’s premier annual events.

Festivals are big business. Fast-forward five years, and Vivid 2017 drew a record 2.33 million attendees and injected over $143 million into NSW’s visitor economy. With that many people travelling and visiting, it’s essential that you’re well-prepared to make the most of your own visit.

An ATAS-accredited travel agent can help you plan, book ahead and piece together a festival holiday itinerary that saves you time and money.


A 2018 report* published by the Australia Council, states that more than one million international tourists attended festivals, fairs and cultural events in Australia in 2017—an increase of 61% since 2013. Interestingly, more international tourists engage with the arts than visit wineries or casinos, or attend organised sports events.

Bluesfest, Byron Bay, NSW. Credit: Tourism Australia

Attendance at festivals, fairs and cultural events is the fastest growing arts activity among international tourists to Australia, increasing by 61% from 643,000 attendees in 2013 to over one million in 2017. Furthermore, international arts tourists spent $17 billion in 2017, making up 60% of the $28.4 billion spent in Australia by all international tourists.

We told you it was big business.


Whether it’s the screaming machines and adrenaline rush of the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, a short break soaking up the tunes and chilled-out vibe at the Byron Bay Blues Festival, or exploring the fabulous Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach coastal walk during the annual Sculpture by the Sea festival—the world’s largest free to the public sculpture exhibition—Australia’s major festivals play a massive role in how and when people visit.

 Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, NSW. Credit: Tourism Australia

In regional areas, Festivals might not enjoy quite the scale of their urban counterparts, but they can have an equally significant effect on local economies. Festivals that are changing perceptions of Australia’s rural areas include The Parkes Elvis Festival, Manjimup’s Truffle Kerfuffle, even the Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival in Bangalow, near Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales.

 Parkes Elvis Festival, Parkes, NSW. Credit: Tourism Australia

Be sure to contact your ATAS-accredited travel agent to ensure you’re booked and ticketed to avoid disappointment.


Australia’s festival calendar is a busy one. There’s just about always something on. Right now, for example (February), some of Australia’s biggest events are underway.

 Chevron Festival Gardens venue at Perth Festival. Credit: Perth Festival

Perth Festival (February-March)

The Perth Festival has brought cultural growth, disruption and celebration to Western Australia for more than 60 years. In fact, it’s the oldest annual arts festival in the southern hemisphere.

With a global reputation for diversity and excellence, Perth Festival’s 2019 program includes renowned names in international theatre, circus, music, dance, film, literature and the visual arts, and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.

Adelaide Fringe Festival (February-March)

The Adelaide Fringe Festival completely inhabits South Australia‘s capital. Founded more than 50 years ago, it is now the Southern Hemisphere’s largest, and Australia’s biggest-ticket-selling open-access arts festival.

 In the spirit at the Adelaide Fringe. Credit: southaustralia.com

Venues big and small right across Adelaide, pop-up to house artists from all over the world. Around most of Adelaide’s corners, whether in an alleyway, a tent, a pub, a laundromat or a pool, you’ll find the Fringe festival in full flight.

 Adelaide Fringe Festival good times at Royal Croquet Club. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (February-March)

Mardi Gras, Sydney, NSW. Credit: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Sydney in late February and early March is all about Mardi Gras—a festival and movement that has moved from underground to mainstream in recent years. Building on four decades of powerful protest and LGBTQI celebration, Mardi Gras culminates in a spectacular parade of floats accompanied by thousands of participants that bring Sydney to a standstill awash in glittering colour, glitz and glamour.

These mega-festivals and smaller ones like Canberra’s Floriade truly do change the shape of their home cities as they draw visitors by their thousands from all over the world.

Floriade, Canberra, ACT. Credit: Floriade Australia

By placing your festival visit plans in the capable hands of a professional ATAS-accredited travel agent, you’ll tap into oodles of experience and resources to help you make the most of your precious time and money.

Your ATAS travel agent can help ensure you are set prior to heading off on any adventure, but here are a few travel warnings and useful tips to keep in mind.

ATAS travel agents recommend that Australia passport holders register for travel alerts before they travel.

ATAS accredited travel agents, experience you can trust.

Looking for insights from ATAS-accredited travel agents? Read about the 2019 People’s Choice Award (with a BIG prize up for grabs), the romance of travel, and top tips for student travellers.

*Source: Australia Council for the Arts 2018, International Arts Tourism: Connecting cultures, Australia Council for the Arts.


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