14 of the best winter festivals to check out this year

14 of the best winter festivals to check out this year

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat. Photo: joliphotos

It's time to rug up and embrace the cold with these super cosy winter festivals.

When the temperature begins to drop, it’s pretty tempting to retreat to the couch hibernating under a blanket, takeaway in one hand and TV remote in the other. But for those of us who are adventurous and unfazed by the blustery wind and temps, an outdoor activity is just the ticket to fight off those winter blues, and a winter festival promises to do exactly that.

From light shows illuminating a different side to our cities, to Christmas in July and winter feasts and bonfires in Apollo Bay, here are a slew of winter festivals to beef up your calendar over the next couple of months.

Sovereign Hill Winter Wonderlights, Ballarat

If you’ve longed for a white Christmas, then this will be the festival for you. Sovereign Hill in Ballarat is transforming into a magical winter wonderland to celebrate Christmas in July with their annual ‘Winter Wonderlights’ event, as part of the larger Ballarat Winter Festival.

Illuminating the town from June 26 until July 18, the event will see the Victorian-style buildings along the main street come alive through the magic of large-scale light projections, Christmas animations and a trail of fairy lights throughout Sovereign Hill’s garden in the dazzling ‘Winter Wonderlights’ show. There will also be Christmas trees, window displays, and colourful decorations lining the streets, ‘hands-on’ activities for children, a full theatre program, faux snow falls and delicious treats like gingerbread and mulled wine to seriously bring Christmas cheer to all.

No matter where you look, the old-world charm of the 1850s will bask Sovereign Hill in a golden, Yuletide glow. Entertainers, including illusionists and acrobats, will also perform, delighting visitors with their magical skills.

The magical Christmas event takes over Sovereign Hill from 25 June – 18 July 2021. Tickets are on sale now here. Bookings are essential.

Adventure Park Winter Glow, Wallington

Taking inspiration from their ever-popular Christmas Festival of Lights, Adventure Park are once again giving families, couples and friends a chance to explore a dazzling glowing wonderland with their brand-new event ‘Winter Glow’.

Running from June 25 to July 10, the venue will transform into a frosty winter wonderland complete with daily snow showers, two million shimmering lights, dazzling light installations around the park, spectacular fire-twirling, UV face painting, ice-sculpting displays from local artists, and plenty of comfort food and alpine-appropriate drinks. Think roasted marshmallows, mulled wine and hot chocolate. Arriving just in time for the July school holidays (and for Christmas in July), there will also be a massive snow play zone where attendees can make snow angels, build snowmen and for some, touch snow for the first time.

While the water rides won’t be operating (it’s bloody cold remember), the park will be running a bunch of dry rides including Ferris Wheel, Wave Swinger, Crazy Coaster, Red Baron, Carousel and Little Buggy rides, which will all be covered by your entry price.

Adventure Park’s Winter Glow runs from June 25 to July 10. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here.

Winter Wild, Apollo Bay

Far from your average festival, WinterWild is returning to Apollo Bay this August, igniting the Otways with an immersive, boundary-pushing program for the fourth time delivering an experience hailed as Victoria’s answer to Dark Mofo.

The festival – wrapped in the darkness and elemental power of the Victorian winter – will take place over two wintery weekends, August 13-15 and August 27-29, with the festivities kicking off around large ocean-side bonfires before moving in to explore the town of Apollo Bay that’ll be transformed with roving performers and projection art.

The first weekend has punters sorted with music and comedy, featuring the likes of The Vasco Era, Bananagun, The Murlocs, ORB, Parsnip, and Charlie Zangel,winner of Best Newcomer in the 2021 Melbourne Comedy Festival. The second weekend is worth braving the cold for, celebrating food, theatre and surf with burlesque, an outdoor cinema, mulled wine, yoga, workshops, a food trail, and a ‘Wild Feast’ with local seafood bouillabaisse, smokehouse style meats, fresh-caught char-grilled seafood, and seasonal local veggies buried in the coals.

Lighting a fire under winter with a multi-artform fusillade to rip through the darkness, WinterWild is Victoria’s answer to Dark Mofo, and it’s well worth travelling down the Great Ocean Road for. WinterWild will run across two weekends, from August 13–15 and from August 27–29, check it out here.

Woodend Winter Arts Festival, Woodend

Running throughout winter, the reimagined, extended Woodend Winter Arts Festival has something for everyone. Serving as the perfect excuse to escape Melbourne and experience the food, wine, sights and sounds of the Woodend region, the festival will now run across two weekends, July 10-11 and August 7-8 (having been rescheduled due to the recent Victorian lockdown).

The festival will feature intimate, classic concerts including a world premiere from John O’Donnell who will perform his edition of the original version of Bach’s Art of Fugue. There will also be two daytime a cappella concerts of Anniversaries from Ensemble Gombert, and an exploration of 17th century Italian opera by Ensemble 642. You can also expect a screening of Woodend’s world-renowned filmmaker Michael Dillon‘s A Little Bit Mongolian, exhibitions and more.

The perfect opportunity for a staycation, Woodend is bursting with boutique wineries, cosy cafes, country-style bakeries, inviting pubs and picturesque hiking trails to help fill your time on your visit.

Woodend Winter Arts Festival is happening on July 10-11 and August 7-8. For tickets and more information, head to the festival website.

East Gippsland Winter Festival, Bairnsdale

The East Gippsland Winter Festival is set to light up East Gippsland for the very first time from June 19 to July 11 with an array of events, installations and activities spanning from Bairnsdale to Mallacoota, Bruthen to Omeo and everywhere in between.

The festival salutes winter’s long nights with 86 events, ranging from pop-ups, lavish winter feasts, and light and art installations, to lantern parades, tour and workshops.

Highlights include the festival launch with live music, roaming performers, art projects and installations, local food and wine; a winter high tea; World Bathing Day celebrations; a one-day Winter Seafood Festival; live ice carving; a resin art workshop; a ‘Bonfire, Burgers, Beer and Banter’ night; and on the evening of Winter solstice, guests are invited to gather by the bonfire in Bruthen for a night of sharing stories and entertainment.

Start planning your itinerary for the ultimate winter getaway, just a short car or train ride from home.

The East Gippsland Winter Festival runs from June 19 through to July 11. Check out the full program here.

Winter Shiraz Weekend, Geelong

Hosted by Wine Geelong, this exciting celebration of Geelong Wine will take place on July 3 and 4 this year, offering guests a unique and exclusive opportunity to taste their way across a diverse selection of award-winning Geelong wineries from the Surf Coast, Moorabool Valley and Bellarine Peninsula.

With 26 participating wineries, each will offer its own unique programs giving guests plenty of opportunities to meet the individual winemakers, purchase bottles on special and warm up with a glass and an open fire while talented chef’s match the region’s renowned cool climate wines with hearty winter fare.

Some of the highlights for this year include a shiraz masterclass with Banks Road winemaker Will Herham; Jack Rabbit Vineyard’s ‘Local Heroes’ four-course degustation dinner; woodfired meatballs paired with Syrah at Lethbridge; live music at McGlashan’s Estate; mulled wine, paella and a toasty fire at Oneday Estate; and a three-course winemakers lunch with winemaker Robin Brockett at Scotchmans Hill.

So throw off your jacket, take up a place by the fire with a glass of wine and enjoy a reprieve from the cold. Why not book some local accommodation and make a weekend of it?

The Winter Shiraz Festival goes down on July 3 & July 4. Head to the Winter Shiraz Weekend website for the full program of events.

Eynesbury Winter Festival, Eynesbury

If you’re looking for something for the kids, the Eynesbury Winter Festival is just an hours drive away to the bluestone homestead.

Running from Friday 25 June to Sunday 25 July, the festival will be jam-packed with an ice rink, hot cocoa, roving entertainers, winter-warming food, and a series of mini winter events including romantic ‘skate and date’ and funky R’n’B skate nights under the stars, movie nights, appearances from special guests, and a special. dog-friendly Eynesbury winter market featuring a wide variety of stalls and entertainment.

There will also be live music and performers, a jumping castle, a photo station and pop up igloos, in case you needed more convincing.

A festival highlight will be the Winter Solstice event on Saturday, July 10 which will see the entire precinct come alive and the sky lit up with a ten-minute fireworks display. There will be something for the whole family from African drummers, a bonfire, food trucks, roving fire performers and a marshmallow toasting pit.

The Eynesbury Winter Festival runs from June 25 to July 25. Visit the website for more information.

Queen Vic Winter Night Market, Melbourne

Each year the Queen Vic night market returns for a season of food, drinks and entertainment designed to help you make the most of the chilly Melbourne winter.

While currently postponed due to the restrictions enforced on Melbourne, the festival has revealed their intention is to press ahead with the beloved night market when possible, delivering decadent food, roaring fires, delicious mulled wines, handcrafted jewellery and goods, live performances and a whole spectrum of fun for everyone.

Mid-season, the markets deliver an experience that’s the closest thing we’ll have to a white Christmas, with illuminated Christmas trees, snow, Santa Claus, eggnog and carollers.

It’s a winter event for all ages, that we promise you won’t disappoint. Oh, and there’s no entry fee. So just come rugged up in your favourite coat with an empty stomach.

Keep your eye on the Queen Victoria Market social pages for updates or visit the website.

Vivid Sydney, Sydney

If you’re in the harbourside city in August, Vivid Sydney will be a spectacle worth seeing.

Spanning the categories Vivid Light, Vivid Ideas, Vivid Music, Vivid Live at Sydney Opera House, and their Up Late Series, Vivid will host more than 200 events across its three-week August journey this year.

On the music front, Vivid will feature the likes of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Tropical Fuck Storm, Amyl & The Sniffers, Ngaiire, Sampa The Great, Flight Facilities, Golden Features, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Genesis Owusu, among many others.

When the sun goes down, immersive and kinetic light installations and projections will illuminate the city’s most prominent landmarks including the MCA, Opera House, Botanic Gardens, Taronga Zoo and Luna Park, while Vivid Ideas will consist of talks from Jameela Jamil alongside Jamila Rizvi, Magda Szubanski alongside Julia Baird, Sarah Wilson alongside Dr Norman Swan, and Briggs alongside Nat’s What I Reckon.

The Up Late Series brings live music, late-night talks, DJs, performances and art to venues across the city, including Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Australian Museum, Powerhouse Museum, and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Spark your sense of wonder and come out to play as Sydney transforms into a playground of the unexpected.

Vivid Sydney goes down from Friday August 6 until Saturday August 28. Head here for the full program.

Darker Days, Bright

Going down in North East Victoria, Darker Days will be bigger, better, darker and diving deeper into winter than ever before, with three full days of events presented by the loved Bright Brewery.

A celebration of all things dark and decadent – with a special focus on dark beer, live music and crackling bonfires – the winter fest will be headlined by surf-rock icon Churchill who will be joined by an eclectic line–up of Victorian musicians, including six-piece funk outfit Funk Rabbit, returning pop-punk outfit Since We Kissed, and indie-pop/rock duo This Way North.

Alongside the music, you’ll find brewers like the Bright Brewery (of course), Mr Banks Brewing Co and Molly Rose Brewing and high country drinks from Reed & Co Distillery, Apline Cider, Billy Button Wines and Backwoods Distilling.

Darker Days runs from July 16 to July 18. You can book tickets via the website here.

Dark Mofo, Tasmania

If you feel like making the trip to Tasmania, this could be your last chance to see the famed winter festival Dark Mofo, with the festival director giving a strong indication that this year’s event could be the last, saying the event had “perhaps run its course”.

The captivating midwinter festival unlike any other kicked off Wednesday, delivering offbeat theatre productions alongside retrospectives of classic films, a nude solstice swim, nightly communal feasts, music luminaries, light shows and late openings of the lauded local museum, Mona, that the festival runs in conjunction with.

Held in the lead-up to the winter solstice, it can often be confronting, disturbing, thought-provoking, or just plain weird, but definitely something worth checking out if that’s what you’re into.

Dark Mofo runs from June 16 to June 22. Check out the full program here.

Illuminate Adelaide, Adelaide

Every winter, for two weeks and three weekends, Illuminate Adelaide will light up the city’s streets, laneways and architecture with a program of free and ticketed events by local, national and international artists and companies.

Taking place from Friday July 16 until Sunday August 1 this year, program highlights range from indigenous hip hop group Dem Mob from the APY lands in northern SA, to Melbourne-born The Avalanches and NSW-born Mo’Ju, to Canada’s Moment Factory, premiering Light Cycles at the local Botanic Gardens. There will also be over 40 free city-wide installations, projections and immersive experiences, MAAD – a multi-venue party, a festival of ideas with various speakers, a digital garden, and the famed Van Gogh multi-sensory tribute, plus heaps more.

Illuminate Adelaide runs from Friday July 16 to Sunday August 1. Ticketed events are now on sale. For more info, head here.

Cabin Fever Festival, Margaret River

Cabin Fever is a 10-day winter adventure, laden with unique events for lovers of decadent food, fine local wines and live music – from mystery dinners to cheese and wine pairing battles – every experience is an indulgence for the senses.

Running from July 16 to July 25, you’ll find all the wintry goodness you’re used to sampling during Cabin Fever; cheese toasties, fireside wines, hearty comfort food and more.

Among the key drawcards will be Perth French bistro Le Rebelle venturing to the South West of Western Australia to create a feast with Dunsborough’s Yarri for a Bordeaux versus Margaret River wine tasting, with guests sampling hero wines from both regions. The return of the Cheese Toastie Battle at The Common will see a new line-up of chefs battling it out to be crowned the Cheese Toastie Champion.

Blazing Brews at Beerfarm is also back with fire, live music and a range of food and beverage offerings. Chow’s Table and Wildhop Brewery will team up for a carnivore’s delight with East Meats West, showcasing both eastern and western cuisine styles, while Shelter Brewing Co. will embrace their seafront location with a sea shanty event while chef. Chef Ben Jacob’s newest venture Lagoon Yallingup will team up with Fremantle’s Manuka Woodfired Kitchen to create a four-course dinner with matched wines at Lagoon’s ocean-side venue.

With winter feasts, rich wines, magnificent parties, live music; choose from the weird, the decadent and the raucous.

Check out the Cabin Fever Festival website for details.

Winter Sounds, Daylesford

Relax, soak away your stresses and bliss out to top Australian artists with a weekend in Victoria’s spa capital this July at Daylesford‘s new winter music festival.

Courtesy of the team behind Echuca’s award-winning Riverboats Music Festival, the inaugural Winter Sounds will encapsulate five venues across Daylesford and the surrounding hills over three days, boasting an all-Australian music lineup and plenty of country charm.

Running from July 16-18, the three-day event will be spread across five heritage venues, including Daylesford Uniting Church, Bullarto Village Hall, Daylesford Town Hall, Glenlyon Town Hall and Palais Hepburn Springs, offering audiences a chance to be transported to a different time and place for a set of intimate and extraordinary musical experiences from the likes of C.W. Stoneking, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks, Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Blake Scott, Freya Josephine Hollick, The Luke Sinclair Set, Harmony Byrne and Jazz Party.

Alongside the performers, Winter Sounds will feature pop-up bars at each venue to showcase local wine and food, with each venue having been carefully selected to offer intimate musical experiences.

Winter Sounds is happening from Friday July 16-Sunday July 18. Tickets are on sale now via the Winter Sounds website.