Light festivals have been popping up all over the place in the last few years, Vivid has become huge in Sydney and Adelaide has joined in on the trend with the Illuminate Adelaide festival each winter. This July 2023, it’s bigger and better than ever as it settles nicely into the South Australian festival calendar.
Illuminate Adelaide combines art, technology, and light. It happens every year and features lots of light installations, digital art, and interactive experiences. The city becomes colourful and exciting as the streets, parks, and landmarks are transformed.
The festival offers a variety of displays and exhibitions across the city (and occasionally across the state) that engage people of all ages. It’s a great way to experience creativity and culture and get out of the house on those cold days.
This post will share all the information you need to make the most of Illuminate Adelaide 2023. I will share the best free and paid exhibitions and tips for avoiding crowds.
NOTE: Illuminate Adelaide is over for 2023. Look out for it again in 2024. Details here will be updated as soon as they come to hand.
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TL;DR? Here's the outline
- About Illuminate Adelaide
- Free Illuminate Adelaide Events
- Illuminate Adelaide Ticketed Events
- Illuminate Adelaide Regional Events
- Illuminate Adelaide with Kids
- Tips for Enjoying Illuminate 2023
About Illuminate Adelaide
Illuminate Adelaide traces its roots back to its inaugural edition in 2021. The festival was conceived as a way to invigorate the city of Adelaide, showcasing its artistic and technological prowess.
Building on the success of previous light-based events held in the region, Illuminate Adelaide aimed to create a unique platform for local and international artists to come together and explore the transformative power of light.
Over the years, the festival has grown in scale and popularity, attracting visitors from near and far. It has become a significant cultural event, fostering collaboration, innovation, and community engagement.
This year the Illuminate Adelaide dates are from 28th June until 30th July and there are more than twenty different events across the city.
We acknowledge that the Kaurna people are the traditional custodians of the land where Illuminate Adelaide operates.
Free Illuminate Adelaide Events
While there are plenty of paid events around the city, there are also plenty of things to do at Illuminate Adelaide for free.
These are always a favourite. The city centre comes alive with a range of sculptures and installations.
Adelaide’s City Lights program is back, transforming urban landscapes into a vibrant playground of art, light, and technology, inviting people of all ages to explore the city in a surprising new light.
With a range of installations, interactive sculptures, and innovative artworks, this year’s City Lights promises to be the brightest and most unforgettable yet.
The installations are split into three distinct groups in the north, west and east of the city square.
Each group comfortably takes around an hour to walk around and enjoy the artwork, so you can have three different nights out in the city or plan one big night to see them all.
The good part is that all the walking and wonder will keep you warm in the middle of winter.
When: 7th to 23rd July
Where: All over the city centre (map will be released in June)
New this year for Illuminate Adelaide, in this series, curated by Dearna Newchurch, contemporary First Nations artists will use Augmented Reality (AR) as a storytelling platform, offering a fresh perspective on the power of this emerging technology.
Augmented Revolution, brought to life by Monkeystack at select sites within the City Lights program, will explore themes of identity, connection to Country, and disruption, showcasing the diverse and intricate aspects of First Nations’ living culture.
When: 7th to 23rd July
Where: Adelaide CBD
New Light 2023
As part of Illuminate Adelaide’s City Lights program, New Light 2023 will showcase commissioned artworks that delve into thought-provoking and intricate concepts.
They can be viewed on the big media screens near the entrance to the Adelaide Festival Centre on King William Road.
When: 7th to 23rd July
Where: Adelaide Festival Centre Media Screens
Illuminate Adelaide Ticketed Events
The best of the Illuminate Adelaide events require tickets to be purchased in advance.
While it may be possible to turn up at the door and purchase tickets, many of the events do sell out so it is recommended that you purchase them in advance. Here are some of the most popular.
Mirror, Mirror is described as “a playground of interactive technology inviting you to discover your own creativity”. It is an Australian first exhibition, previously being shown in Montreal, Canada.
Once inside the pavilion, there are a series of interactive displays where art light and technology combine with names like the “Forest of Echoes”, “Memory Storage” and “Mirrors of Tomorrow”.
Mirror Mirror is the work of Moment Factory, the people behind Light Cycles for the last two years.
Tip – Are you an RAA member? You can get 20% off Mirror Mirror by booking on their website here.
When: 28th June until 30th July
Where: Victoria Square / Tarntanyangga
One of the most popular Illuminate Adelaide events for the last two years has been Light Cycles in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
This year, Moment Factory has created six new experiences to adorn the pathways and garden beds of the gardens.
This year, Resonate will begin from the gates on North Terrace and follow a brand new path to encourage us to “resonate deeply with our environment through their spectacular signature mix of light, technology and original soundscapes”.
Light Cycles has been my favourite over the past two years, and I expect Resonate to be just as good again. Make sure you get in early and book tickets because this will likely sell out for the third year in a row.
Tickets can be purchased here
When: 29th June to 30th July
Where: Adelaide Botanic Gardens
Architects of Air: Arborialis
Architects of Air, a UK-based company known for their inflatable mazes, have been captivating audiences worldwide for the past thirty years. Their illuminated, inflatable structures called Luminaria offer spaces for exploration and relaxation.
In their latest installation, Arborialis, attendees can wander through a labyrinthine wonderland that evokes the enchanting atmosphere of forests, complete with a soundtrack inspired by untouched ecosystems. It’s a perfect place to immerse yourself in the sensory-driven experience, getting lost in the twists and turns of the Luminarium’s branches.
When: 1st July until 23rd July
Where: Rymill Park/Murlawirrapurka
As the moon appears, the mysteries of the animal kingdom come to life, captivating budding zoologists and nature enthusiasts alike.
Visitors can step through the gates of Adelaide Zoo after dark and immerse themselves in a mesmerising tribute to the wonders of the natural world.
Illuminate Adelaide’s family-friendly highlight offers an evolving experience, with new species of larger-than-life characters and interactive installations.
From waking gentle giants to floating jellyfish and the majestic golden Falcon, attendees can expect a wild night of adventure alongside their friends and family.
I went along to Light Creatures last year and enjoyed seeing the installations throughout the zoo, so even if you don’t have little people with you, this can be a fun evening out.
When: 29th June until 23rd July
Where: Adelaide Zoo
Yothu Yindi, the Yolngu rock pioneers, made a significant impact in 1990s Australia with their music, including hits like “Treaty” and “Tribal Voice.”
The band served as a platform for renowned artists such as Gurrumul and King Stingray, showcasing their talent and message.
Today, three decades later, the revitalised group consisting of original members and fresh talent from North East Arnhem Land continues to honour the band’s legacy and the spirit of intergenerational kinship.
During this NAIDOC week celebration, the ARIA Hall of Fame inductees will bring renewed energy to their classic songs, resonating with present-day discussions on Voice, Treaty, and Truth.
Yothu Yindi’s performance promises to evoke emotions, provoke thoughts, and inspire movement.
Get your tickets for Yothu Yindi here
When: 7th July
Where: Hindley Street Music Hall
Restless Dance Theatre, an award-winning Australian dance company, has been promoting self-expression, accessibility, and movement for over three decades.
The Adelaide-based company returns to Queen’s Theatre for their latest work, exploring the interplay between light and darkness, shape and movement, and perception and reality.
Titled Shifting Perspectives, this production combines dance performance with innovative light-and-mirror set pieces by artist Matthew Adey (House of Unholy).
It offers a thought-provoking and immersive experience, delving into the concept of bodies of light and the lightness of the body, showcasing Restless Dance Theatre’s visionary approach as a leading artistic innovator in South Australia.
When: 27th – 30th July
Where: Queens Theatre
More Illuminate Adelaide Events
Above I have covered all of the most popular Illuminate Adelaide events, but this is not all of them. You can find even more events over on the website, including more music events, a behinds the scenes tour of the Botanic Gardens and more.
Illuminate Adelaide Regional Events
Each year there are also one or two Illuminate Adelaide events that are not actually in Adelaide! In 2023 Illuminate Adelaide has teamed up with the River Revival campaign and will have a free event on the Mannum riverbank.
Called River Lights, each evening will see a range of immersive displays light up the main street and riverside parks.
When: 4th – 13th August, 6 pm until 10 pm
Where: Mannum town centre
Illuminate Adelaide with Kids
Illuminate Adelaide is a fantastic festival for kids, especially since it falls during the school holidays. That means no early mornings after a late night out exploring the lights, and the freedom to go any night, not just the busy weekends.
The festival offers a wide range of events and activities that are both educational and entertaining. Kids will love Light Creatures at the Adelaide Zoo, and wandering through the streets enjoying the City Lights.
Tips for Enjoying Illuminate 2023
After attending numerous Illuminate Adelaide events over the last two years, here are my tips for an enjoyable evening
- dress warm and bring an umbrella, after all, this is a winter festival
- book tickets at least a few days in advance. The most popular events such as Resonate and Light Creatures will almost certainly sell out.
- it can get very crowded, even just walking around the streets to see the City Lights, so perhaps plan to go on a weeknight rather than a weekend if you can.
- consider catching public transport in the city. Car parking can be a challenge, especially on the busier nights.
- if you don’t have kids, make a night of it. Have dinner first, book a ticket to one of the events, such as Resonate or Arborialis, and then afterwards wander the streets looking at the City Lights – they stay on until 11 pm and many of the families will go home well before then.
Where to Eat Before the Adelaide Illuminate Festival
This year much of the Illuminate action seems to be moving to the East End of the city, so a good area to eat dinner beforehand is the Rundle Street precinct.
If you do want to eat elsewhere in the city, such as on Gouger Street, then the free city trams can take you back to North Terrace.
There is also a pop-up dedicated food venue too. Basecamp is a food and beverage venue that in previous years has been located near the entrance to the Botanic Gardens.
This year it is moving to Rundle Park to be closer to more of the events – such as City Lights, Architects of Air and Resonate.
When: Various hours from 29th June until 30th July
Where: Rundle Park / Kadlitpina
Where to Stay in Adelaide Near Illuminate Venues
If you are visiting Adelaide just for the Illuminate festival, you might like to stay close to the venues, which again means in the city’s East End. I would recommend the Crown Plaza or the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel to be right in the thick of it.
Adelaide’s city centre is not very big though, so in reality you could stay anywhere in the city and still find it easy to access the events. Some of my favourite hotels are the Hotel Indigo Adelaide Markets and the Oval Hotel.
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