Finally, 2021. It felt as though we were counting down to the end of 2020 for months – and while the new year might be off to a more tumultuous start than we’d hoped, it’s nonetheless finally here. And in Sydney there’s plenty going on to help you start things on a high note. Sydney Festival is back animating the city, a bunch of notable restaurants are offering a side serving of music alongside their stellar menus and city streets are becoming mini galleries thanks to a clutch of new art installations. Here’s what else I’ll be doing this month.

The best of the festival
Sydney Festival has returned for 2021, injecting the city with a dose of optimism and normalcy in the form of an all-Aussie program of music, theatre and dance. Much of it will happen at a brand-spanking-new outdoor stage at Barangaroo, making the most of the (finally) balmy Sydney weather. My picks? The Rise and Fall of Saint George (January 15) is a loving tribute to the late English pop star George Michael and promises to be an uplifting, riotous time. Tickets are sold out, but it’ll be live streaming on the night. Watch it here.

In Spirit: A Retrospective, dazzling Indigenous dance company Bangarra pulls from more than 30 years of repertoire – and more than 65,000 years of culture – in a stunning tribute to the connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel to this land. Rapture: A Song Cycle of Desire and Ecstasy, Murder and Mayhem brings together performers Paul Capsis and iOTA for a musical that combines glam rock with cabaret, reimagining tunes by Blondie, The Kinks, Megan Washington and Deb Conway. A bunch of gigs by local performers including E^ST, Jaguar Jonze, Thandi Phoenix, Clarissa Mei and Urthboy will take over venues such as The Vanguard, Factory Theatre and The Lansdowne. And, from dusk on January 25 until dawn on January 26, The Vigil will return for its third year, offering a space to reflect on Australia’s Indigenous heritage, colonial institutions and multicultural present.

Hit the streets
A bunch of Sydney streets have become de facto art galleries, thanks to a series of new installations commissioned by the City of Sydney to reignite the CBD. A micro-forest – complete with beehives and critically endangered scrub – planted in a Haymarket alleyway will host a series of talks on environmental topics by artists, scientists, environmentalists and poets. Over on Abercrombie Lane, a fuzzy pink ghost wearing a crown will tell your future as part of a video installation by local artist Katy B Plummer.

And if you want to check out some of the pre-existing artworks across the city but don’t know where to begin, a community-minded Sydneysider spent his lockdown stomping the streets in search of art. He found it splashed across buildings, hung in cafes and exhibited in traditional art galleries. He’s compiled it all in a handy resource, Art Out, which can be used either as an interactive digital gallery or for a self-guided art tour of the city. There are currently more than 300 works on the site, covering nine suburbs and counting.

Channelling Europe
Our next European holiday is likely a while away yet. The next best thing? Soaking up the atmosphere at two new European-style diners. Potts Point’s Bar Sopra is harnessing the tapas-bar vibes of Spain with tasty snacks of white anchovies, charcuterie and cheese, and pouring vino from a mainly Australian wine list (with a smattering of French and Italian drops).

Over on Woolloomooloo Wharf, Via Napoli’s Luigi Esposito is really bringing the Italian coastal vibes with his latest diner, The Amalfi Way. Decorated in yellows, blues and whites, and serving up a seafood-heavy menu and Napoli-style pizza, it’s about the closest we’ll get to pulling up a seat overlooking the Med in Positano any time soon.

Dinner and a show
If there’s one delightful thing the nightmare of Covid-19 has given us, it’s the return of the dinner-and-a-show concept – and Sydney’s diners have embraced the idea with gusto. Every evening this month (apart from Sundays) diners at Restaurant Hubert will enjoy a jazzy performance from artists such as Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts, the Lauren White Trio, Dan Barnett and the Edoardo Santoni Trio. The music will sound all the better accompanied by an optional four-course menu ($88) that includes Wagyu-beef tartare and chicken fricassee.

Down the road at Bennelong – which has been hosting classical performers in the evenings since late last year as part of its Bennelong Ensembles productions – Sunday lunch is now devoted to musical genres such as ragtime, tango and blues. Enjoy the tunes as you feast on a three-course meal.