After the dinner rush has come and gone, Wednesday nights in the CBD are usually cold and quiet. But not last night – instead the city was heaving, with Melburnians greeting the start of Rising in full force.

The winter festival has drawn its events and hubs closer this year, with Fed Square and Flinders Street at the heart. It’s easier than ever to wander in from the street and join in the fun, or hop from one place to the next thanks to easy proximity.

Flinders Street Station Ballroom has been transformed with an ambitious, blockbuster exhibition by 30 First Peoples artists and collectives. The first visitors to Shadow Spirit got to step into kaleidoscopic projections, watch intimate new video commissions, get up close with the art and explore the ancestral knowledge of Australia’s First Peoples.

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A stone’s throw away, a massive marquee has been set up in the carpark beside St Paul’s Cathedral. And underneath, Night Trade is a pumping party featuring a bus of massive, neon-coloured puppets (that you can take control of), a pop-up stage for surprise performances from Rising’s music program, floating idols, charcoal-fired skewers, a huge tank of Archie Rose Negronis and plenty more. The best part: entry is free.

Moving over to Melbourne Town Hall, plop down on a bean bag to watch Euphoria, a new feature-length installation film from the German director behind Manifesto, which showed at ACMI in 2015. He’s transformed the civic space into a forum for dissecting capitalism – through a late-night cab ride around New York City, an explosive dance piece inside a bank, a life-sized children’s choir and five duelling drummers. It all plays out across seven screens – including one that wraps around the entire room. With action happening on each wall, you’ll want to look in every direction.

And down by the Yarra River, Birrarung Marr is the site of The Rink, twice the size of last year’s ice-skating rink and filled with families, couples and groups of friends gliding through the ice under a sculptural canopy projected with stars and the cosmos. You can still head down even if you won’t skate – take a look at towering technicolour wallaby sculptures by an Archibald Prize finalist, warm up with mulled wine or boozy Mörk hot chocolate, order a woodfired pizza or crepes and watch the skaters go by.

Broadsheet photographer Kayla May has captured the action at those four spots, but there’s also heaps more to do across the festival’s massive program. See you out there.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Rising.