The iridescent waters of Darling Harbour sparkling in the evening makes the perfect setting for Sydney Solstice’s events.

It’s a popular precinct for families, with a number of free events for the kids.

Start with the Darling Harbour Winter Festival. On the forecourt of the International Convention Centre (ICC), an ice-skating rink and 25-metre ice slide. There will be skating performances and workshops, as well as an opportunity for young and old to unleash their inner Torvill and Dean.

Exciting, party vibes continue at the Tumbalong Park hub as an eclectic mix of Sydney-based DJs drop banging beats through the day and into the night (Thursday-Sunday until June 20). Stay energised with charcoal-grilled meats, loaded schnitzels, waffles and mulled wine from the foodie market and take time out in the alpine-style wooden chalets.

Darling Harbour Winter Festival in action

MasterChef contestant and dessert extraordinaire Reynold Poernomo will bring his dessert bar, Koi, to the festival with his elegant creations. There will also be savoury treats from Mr Bao, famous for their pillowy gua baos filled with a fusion of Vietnamese and Japanese fillings.

Over by the Australian National Maritime Museum, the free-entry Harbour Garden offers an explosion of colourful giant inflatable artworks inspired by Australia’s maritime history and sea-life.

The Museum will also be running a rooftop projection throughout Sydney Solstice. Studio A’s Jaycee Kim and digital artist Christopher Haysom have teamed up on this subversive animation inspired by the winter solstice. The animation offers a portal into the shapeshifting underwater fantasy of Merman Metamorphisis – also the title of the animation.

To take a deep dive into Australia’s marine life, Whale Watching Sydney has partnered with Tribal Warrior for a special cruise collaboration. Whales play an important role in Aboriginal culture. They feature in Dreaming stories and as totem animals for various language groups. There are also many significant sites of artwork depicting whales around the Sydney foreshore.

The three-hour cruise from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay will take you out to the open ocean, where you will learn about Guriwil the whale and discover the connection and responsibility of  Aboriginal communities to this important animal. Guests will also have the chance to participate in an ancient whale song to summon the whales. An Aboriginal elder and guide will lead the cruise and share their stories of land, water and sky which have been passed down from Aboriginal ancestors.

If you’re looking to capture the views of Sydney’s spectacular harbour, Captain Cook Cruises will be hosting the Sydney Solstice Gold Lunch series which showcases some of Australia’s great food and wine producers. All cruises are aboard the company’s luxurious Sydney 2000 vessel and include a four-course set menu with a selection of paired wines. There is also evening dinner cruises scheduled to coincide with the 7:30pm Darling Harbour fireworks.

Enjoy fine food out on the harbour

Alternatively, book one of the many Cockle Bay, King Street Wharf or Harbourside restaurants to enjoy great views of the pyrotechnic displays at 7:30pm or 9pm, Thursday to Saturday (there will also be fireworks on Sunday, June 13).

This long weekend the Terminus Hotel in Pyrmont is holding a festival celebrating Australia’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Brews, Beats, Burgers is a chance to meet some of the state’s talented brewers from around Sydney and regional NSW.

They’ll showcase their creative flair for flavours, and there will be live music from local talent as well as a banging burger menu.

Insider recommendations

MasterChef Dessert King Reynold Poernormo of Koi Dessert Bar tells Explore: “This will be Koi’s first festival appearance since before COVID, and I’m excited to see so many people out and about again. We’ve missed their priceless reactions to our desserts … and can’t wait to give them something they’ve never seen – like our S’Mores dessert.”

During Sydney Solstice, he recommends not missing the Darling Harbour Winter Festival and “Songlines of our Universe sounds amazing, live music meets stargazing at the Sydney Observatory – super cool!”

Take me there

Fly: Fly Launceston to Sydney one way from $127 with Jetstar. Fly from Dubbo to Sydney from $211 with Rex. Or fly from Canberra from $98 with Rex.

Drive: Sydney is a 90-minute drive from Wollongong; four hours from Orange; and about five hours from Tamworth.

Stay: Stay at the luxurious Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour from $319 per night or the Crowne Plaza Sydney Darling Harbour from $212 per night.

Dates: Sydney Solstice is on now until Sunday, June 20.

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