Between Dark Mofo, Vivid and Rising, Australia’s east coast is spoiled for choice for arts and culture festivals in the colder months. We’re here to make the case for Illuminate Adelaide, one of the newest additions to the national line-up.

Established in 2020, the festival was slated to kick off its first season in July 2021 but was impacted by a snap Covid lockdown and wild weather. The organisers pushed on in 2022 and were rewarded with an impressive 1.2 million visitors. Illuminate isn’t so much the little festival that could, more the country’s newest winter favourite.

This year Illuminate has done it again. Two of the flagship experiences have been from Montreal-based multimedia studio Moment Factory, featuring the world premiere of Resonate in the Adelaide Botanic Garden, and kid-friendly Mirror Mirror in Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga.

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Resonate invites attendees to wander through the gardens at night with a self-guided tour of six illuminated installations fusing art and technology accompanied by at-times eerie soundscapes. It’s an engaging experience that invites you to connect with nature by elevating the everyday into something spectacular.

Also outdoors and family-friendly is the return of Adelaide Zoo’s Light Creatures, a cute collection of lanterns, inflatable animals and illuminations by night. Mirror Mirror, another family favourite, is a colourful indoor playground that acts as an immersive maze combining lasers, digital art and physical installations. Along with the inflatable colour-spiked tunnels of Architects of Air, there’s something in the wonder of play that can inspire the child in us all – if you’re attending without kids, we recommend an off-peak ticket.

If you’re looking for classical art, head to the excellent Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition, Frida & Diego: Love & Revolution, at AGSA until September. This vibrant show, showing the lovers’ pieces side by side, is accented with colourful walls, video instalments, and several costumes of the era.

There are plenty of free things to do as well; City Lights delivers installations across the city, along with illuminated art installations sprawled across buildings, and firepits dotted along a bustling Rundle Street. Across the road, you’ll find Base Camp, a pop-up food and drink precinct with indoor and outdoor seating. Don’t let the night-time temperatures scare you, as there’s a smattering of firepits here too, keeping punters warm.

In 2023, Illuminate has delivered an ideal mix of sophisticated art, Instagrammable installations, offbeat music, and family-friendly events. While Sydney’s Vivid has become a firm contender, and Melbourne’s Rising is getting better each year after replacing White Night and Melbourne Festival, the cutting-edge curation at Illuminate this year is a thrilling experience.

Can it rival Dark Mofo? While Illuminate has some of the hallmarks of Tassie’s edgier winter festival, it’s more approachable with plenty on offer for those with kids in tow. Catch it before it goes, and we’ll be back next year.

Illuminate Adelaide runs until July 31 – check the official website for more details.

The writer was hosted by Illuminate Adelaide.