Top Events

Adelaide Fringe, February

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, February

Byron Bay Bluesfest, April

Australian Open, January

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, June

January

January yawns into action as Australia recovers from its Christmas hangover. The festival season kicks in with sun-stroked outdoor music festivals; Melbourne hosts the Australian Open tennis. Wet season in the Top End.

Australia Day

The date when the First Fleet landed in 1788, 26 January, is Australia's 'birthday'. Australians celebrate with picnics, barbecues, fireworks and, increasingly, nationalistic flag-waving, drunkenness and chest-beating. In less mood to celebrate are Indigenous Australians, who refer to it as Invasion Day or Survival Day.

MONA FOMA

In Hobart, MONA FOMA is MONA’s Festival of Music & Art. Under the auspices of Brian Ritchie, the bass player from Violent Femmes, it’s as edgy, progressive and unexpected as the museum itself.

Sydney Festival

'It's big' says the promo material. Indeed, sprawling over three summer weeks, this fab affiliation of music, dance, talks, theatre and visual arts – much of it free and family-focused – is an artistic behemoth.

Tamworth Country Music Festival

This mid-January hoedown in northern New South Wales is all about big hats, golden guitars and some of the finest country music you’ll hear this side of Nashville, Tennessee (mostly Australian acts, with a few world-class internationals).

Australian Open

Held at Melbourne Park in late January, the Australian Open draws tennis fanatics from around the planet as the world’s best duke it out on the courts. Invariably it's baking hot.

Midsumma Festival

Melbourne’s gay, lesbian and transgender festival starts in mid-January with the music- and dance-fuelled outdoor Midsumma Festival, followed by three weeks of events, including theatre, exhibitions, cabaret, film, live music and socio-political debates.

Southbound Festival

This festival starts off the new year with three days of alternative music and camping in Busselton. Featuring big-name international artists, it's Western Australia's Glastonbury – but with less mud.

February

February is usually Australia's warmest month: hot and sticky up north as the wet season continues, but divine in Tasmania and Victoria. Locals go back to work or to the beach.

Adelaide Fringe

All the acts that don't make the cut (or don't want to) for the more highbrow Adelaide Festival end up in the month-long Fringe, second only to Edinburgh's version. Hyperactive comedy, music and circus acts spill from the Garden of Unearthly Delights in the parklands.

Sydney's Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is a month-long arts festival that runs deep into March and culminates in a flamboyant parade along Sydney’s Oxford St that attracts 300,000 spectators. Gyms empty out and waxing emporiums tally their profits. After-party tickets are gold.

Perth International Arts Festival

Held over 25 days from mid-February, Perth's festival attracts an international line-up, spanning theatre, classical music, jazz, visual arts, dance, film, literature – the whole gamut. It's worth scheduling your trip around it.

Tropfest

The world’s largest short-film festival happens in Parramatta west of Sydney in February, with satellite links to locations in Melbourne, Canberra and Surfers Paradise. A compulsory prop must appear in each entry: a kiss, sneeze, balloon…

Brisbane Street Art Festival

Welcome to the Brisbane Street Art Festival: live music, theatre, exhibitions and cred-heavy street artists turning Brisbane walls into epic artworks each February.

March

March is harvest time in Australia's vineyards and in recent years it has been just as hot as January and February, despite its autumnal status. Melbourne's streets jam up with the Formula One Grand Prix.

WOMADelaide

This annual festival of world music, arts, food and dance is held over four days in Adelaide's luscious Botanic Park, attracting crowds from around Australia. Eight stages host hundreds of acts. It's very family friendly and you can get a cold beer too.

Australian Formula One Grand Prix

Melbourne's normally tranquil Albert Park explodes with four days of Formula One rev-head action in late March. The 5.3km street circuit around the lake is known for its smooth, fast surface.

Port Fairy Folk Festival

On the gorgeous Great Ocean Rd southwest of Melbourne (far enough to make it a long weekender), this folksy fest spreads itself through photogenic little Port Fairy. Book tickets/beds early!

Adelaide Festival

Culture vultures absorb international and Australian dance, drama, opera and theatre performances at this ultra-classy annual event. Australia's biggest multi-arts event.

Ten Days on the Island

Every odd-numbered year from late March until early April, Tasmania's major cultural event takes the stage in venues around the state. Expect plenty of theatre, live music, offbeat film, dance, literature and kids events.

April

Melbourne and the Adelaide Hills are atmospheric as European trees turn golden then maroon. Up north the rain is abating and the desert temperatures are becoming manageable. Easter means pricey accommodation everywhere.

Byron Bay Bluesfest

Music erupts over the Easter weekend when 20,000 festival-goers swamp Byron Bay to hear blues-and-roots bands from all over the world (Ben Harper, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt). Held on Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, 11km north of Byron. Some folks camp.

Barossa Vintage Festival

Biennial festival held in odd-numbered years around Easter has processions, maypole dancing, traditional dinners and much Barossa Valley wine (...shoot for a sip of Penfolds famous Grange).

Tjungu Festival

The otherwise in-between month of April in the Red Centre sees the dynamic Tjungu Festival take over Yulara, with a focus on local Aboriginal culture.

May

The dry season begins in the Northern Territory (NT), northern Western Australia (WA) and Far North Queensland: relief from humidity. A great time to visit Uluru (Ayers Rock), before the tour buses arrive in droves.

Ord Valley Muster

For two weeks every May, Kununurra (far-north WA) hits overdrive during the annual Ord Valley Muster, a collection of sporting, charity and cultural events leading up to a large outdoor concert under the full moon on the banks of the Ord River.

Whale Watching

Between May and October along the southeastern Australian coast, migrating southern right and humpback whales come close to shore to feed, breed and calf. See them at Hervey Bay (New South Wales), Warrnambool (Victoria), Victor Harbor (South Australia), Albany (WA) and North Stradbroke Island (Queensland).

Noosa Food & Wine

One of Australia’s best regional culinary fests, with cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, cheese exhibits, feasting on gourmet fare and live concerts at night. Over three days in mid-May.

Biennale of Sydney

Held in even-numbered years between May and August, Sydney’s Biennale showcases the work of hundreds of contemporary artists and is the country’s largest visual-arts event. Expect tours, talks, screenings and cutting-edge exhibitions. Most events are free.

Uluru Camel Cup

Camel races within sight of the Rock are a fabulous if rather ungainly sight at this festival that never takes itself too seriously.

Alice Springs Cup Carnival

Five days of racing and an abundance of social activities is as good an excuse as any to dust off the old suit or frock and sink a few cold ones under a shady marquee while the horses do their stuff.

June

Winter begins: snow falls across the southern Alps ski resorts and football season fills grandstands across the country. Peak season in the tropical north: waterfalls and outback tracks are accessible (accommodation prices less so).

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival

Sleepy Laura, 330km north of Cairns on the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, hosts the largest traditional Indigenous gathering in Australia. Communities from the region come together for dance, song and ceremony. The Laura Races and Rodeo happen the following weekend.

Ski Season

When winter blows in (June to August), snow bunnies and powder hounds dust off their skis and snowboards and make for the mountains. Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) have the key resorts; there are a couple of small runs in Tasmania too. See www.ski.com.au.

Barunga Festival

Fabulous Aboriginal cultural and sports festival. Music (battle of the bands!), dance, arts, storytelling, crafts, football, athletics and spear throwing. Camp or day trip from Katherine.

Sea & Vines Festival

Wine, seafood and live music in McLaren Vale wineries over the June long weekend. Can get insanely crowded: book your transport and accommodation many moons in advance.

July

Pubs with open fires, cosy coffee shops and empty beaches down south; packed markets, tours and accommodation up north. Bring warm clothes for anywhere south of Alice Springs. Don't miss MIFF.

Beer Can Regatta

The NT festival calendar is studded with quirky gems like this one at Darwin's Mindil Beach, where hundreds of 'boats' constructed from empty beer cans race across the shallows. Much drinking and laughter: staying afloat is a secondary concern.

Melbourne International Film Festival

Right up there with Toronto and Cannes, MIFF has been running since 1952 and has grown into a wildly popular event; tickets sell like piping-hot chestnuts in the inner city. Myriad short films, feature-length spectaculars and documentaries flicker across city screens from late July into early August.

Derby Boab Festival

Derby strings out its party season from late June to mid-July with concerts, mud footy, horse and mudcrab races, film festivals, poetry readings, art exhibitions, street parades and a dinner out on the mudflats.

Walking With Spirits

One of the outback's best festivals with an Indigenous focus. The waterfalls near Beswick are a fab setting for this explosion of traditional dance and music and other entertainment.

Noosa Long Weekend Festival

Noosa – that affluent little beach enclave on Queensland's Sunshine Coast – can get a bit self-centred and serious at times. This 10-day festival gives people a chance to get arty: food, music, dance, readings and workshops.

Darwin Cup Carnival

Darwin's Fannie Bay racecourse erupts with six days of thundering hoofs and fine-lookin' folk. Wear your shiny shoes and your best hat.

Alice Springs Camel Cup

Unpredictable camel racing and beer drinking kicks up the dust in Alice Springs. This is Alice at its most rambunctious best.

Splendour in the Grass

A splendid alt-rock music festival in Byron Bay, Splendour draws the big names from around Australia and overseas for three days in late July (winter, so the grass can get a tad muddy).

August

August is when southerners, sick of winter's grey-sky drear, head to Queensland for some sun. Approaching the last chance to head to the tropical Top End and outback before things get too hot and wet.

Cairns Festival

Running for three weeks from late August to early September, this massive art-and-culture fest brings a stellar program of music, theatre, dance, comedy, film, Indigenous art and public exhibitions. Outdoor events held in public plazas, parks and gardens make good use of Cairns' tropical setting.

Garma Festival

Out in remote East Arnhem Land, Yirrkala launches the Garma Festival, one of the largest and most vibrant celebrations of Indigenous culture in the Top End.

Stone Country Festival

This fine festival in Gunbalanya is one of the more accessible Arnhem Land festivals, with artistic traditions and performances very much the centrepiece.

Henley-on-Todd Regatta

Alice Springs' iconic 'boat' races on the (usually) bone-dry Todd River on the third Saturday in August. Watch from the riverbanks, or build your own boat and join in.

September

Spring heralds a rampant bloom of wildflowers across outback WA and SA, with flower festivals happening in places such as Canberra and Toowoomba. Football finishes and the spring horse-racing carnival begins.

AFL Grand Final

The pinnacle of the Australian Football League (AFL) season is this high-flying spectacle in Melbourne, watched (on TV) by millions of impassioned Aussies. Tickets to the game are scarce, but at half-time everyone's neighbourhood BBQ moves into the local park for a little amateur kick-to-kick.

Brisbane Festival

One of Australia's largest and most diverse arts festivals runs for 22 days in September and features an impressive line-up of concerts, plays, dance performances and fringe events around the city. It finishes off with Riverfire, an elaborate fireworks show over the river.

Shinju Matsuri Festival of the Pearl

Starting either in late August or in early September, Broome's Shinju Matsuri Festival of the Pearl celebrates the town's pearl industry and multicultural heritage with a carnival of nations, a film festival, art exhibitions, food, concerts, fireworks and dragon-boat races.

Perth Wildflower Festival

In September and early October, Kings Park and the Botanic Garden are filled with colourful wildflower displays in the annual Kings Park Festival, which celebrates WA's unique and spectacular flora. Events include guided walks, talks and live music every Sunday.

Pilbara Red Earth Arts Festival

Over 10 days, Karratha and the surrounding coastal Pilbara towns come alive for the Red Earth Arts Festival, an eclectic mix of live music (all genres), theatre, comedy, visual arts (including film, photography and sculpture) and storytelling.

Floriade

Floriade is a florid display of spring flowers in Canberra running from mid-September until mid-October. Locals shake off the winter chills with a look at some blooms.

Alice Desert Festival

Central Australian visual arts, music, dancing, exhibitions and street performers. Runs right through September, spilling into August and October.

October

The weather avoids extremes everywhere: a good time to go camping or to hang out at some vineyards (it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it...). The build-up to the rains begins in the Top End – very humid.

Melbourne Festival

This annual arts festival offers some of the best of opera, theatre, dance and visual arts from around Australia and the world. It starts in early October and runs through to early November.

Riverland Wine & Food Festival

Sample Riverland food and drink in Berri, on the banks of the mighty, meandering Murray River (Australia's Mississippi).

November

Northern beaches may close due to 'stingers' – jellyfish in the shallow waters off north Queensland, the NT and WA. Outdoor events ramp up; the surf life-saving season flexes its muscles on beaches everywhere.

Margaret River Gourmet Escape

The culinary world's heavy hitters descend on Margaret River for four days of culinary inspiration; Nigella Lawson and Rick Stein headlined the event in 2016. Australia's growing crew of celebrity chefs usually attend as well.

Melbourne Cup

On the first Tuesday in November, Australia's (if not the world's) premier horse race chews up the turf in Melbourne (www.melbournecup.com). Country towns schedule racing events to coincide with the day and the country does actually pause to watch the 'race that stops a nation'.

Sculpture by the Sea

From late October to early November, the cliff-top trail from Bondi Beach to Tamarama in Sydney transforms into an exquisite sculpture garden. Serious prize money is on offer for the most creative, curious or quizzical offerings from international and local sculptors.

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues

Wangaratta – population 17,000, in rural northeast Victoria – fills up with groovy, finger-snappin' beboppers for this esteemed annual jazz and blues fest.

Fremantle Festival

Ten days of parades, performances, music, dance, comedy, visual arts, street theatre and workshops. Founded in 1905, it's Australia's longest-running festival. Highlights include the Kite Extravaganza on South Beach and the Wardarnji Indigenous Festival.

A Day on the Green

Class acts and classy wines at the Barossa's Peter Lehmann Wines, with singers that have in the past included Sting and Jimmy Barnes. Held in November, but sometimes spills over into December, and occasionally moves to other wine regions.

Barra Fishing

The best months to go fishing for barramundi tend to be either side of the Wet and Dry – November is nearly guaranteed to be good, but there's also March, April and October in case you miss out.

December

Ring the bell, school's out! Holidays begin two weeks before Christmas. Cities are packed with shoppers and the weather is desirably hot. Up north, monsoon season is under way: afternoon thunderstorms bring pelting rain.

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Pack a picnic and join the Boxing Day (26 December) crowds along Sydney’s waterfront to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart, the world’s most arduous open-ocean yacht race (628 nautical miles!).

Woodford Folk Festival

On the Sunshine Coast, the Woodford Folk Festival stages a diverse collection of performers playing folk sounds from across the globe. Runs from 27 December to 1 January.

Sydney Harbour Fireworks

A fantastic way to ring in the New Year: join the crowds overlooking the harbour as the Sydney Harbour Fireworks light up the night sky. There’s a family display at 9pm; the main event erupts at midnight.