The best outdoor cinemas in Sydney
There’s perhaps no better way to spend a balmy Sydney evening than reclined on the grass, the sun dropping beneath the horizon, the wine flowing, Hugh Jackman about to launch into song. Add in your picnic blanket and hamper full of treats, and you have the perfect outing, promised by any number of Sydney’s outdoor cinemas.
Moonlight Cinema, Paddington
Cycling, dog-walking, horse-riding, running, picnicking, feeding the swans… Centennial Park is a bit of an outdoor wonderland. Unsurprisingly, this enormous green expanse also comes with its own natural amphitheatre, the site of the seasonal pop-up Moonlight Cinema. It’s BYO and pet-friendly, so you can pack your pinot noir and your pooch, then fill your picnic basket with treats to munch on during the show. If you forget, there are food and booze trucks, and stalls to stock up on dog treats.
It's a glorious experience lying back on the grass, gazing up at the heavens as the day disappears and the park’s bats begin their nightly migration. But if you want to pimp things up, you can hire a bean bed or go all out with Gold Grass tickets – your waiter will bring you food and drinks before ‘curtains are lifted’.
How to get there: If you're driving, there are limited free places to park within the Centennial grounds, close to Belvedere Amphitheatre on the corner of Carrington Drive and Broome Avenue; arrive early to nab a spot. Also be aware you might have to hunt for an exit, as some gates close at sundown. There are plenty of buses that will take you close to Centennial Park, and Bondi Junction train station is about a 20-minute walk away.
What to bring: Pack a picnic blanket (and perhaps an extra one for warmth as the sun dips), your most gourmet snacks, that fancy wine bottle chiller or esky, cups, plates and serviettes. Oh, and Fido.
Sunset Cinema, North Sydney
During the day, the North Sydney Oval is a hive of sporting activity. Come dusk, it’s all about being slothful at the family-friendly Sunset Cinema. Seating here is split between the grandstand and the grass. Opt for the former and you’re on a bench, with whatever you bring along for comfort – pillows, picnic supplies, blankets. Go for the latter and you can sprawl out on your own rug, hire seating (beanbags and low-slung lawn chairs that don’t impact the oval or block views), or purchase entry to the Lawn Lounge – think premium viewing, a bean lounge and bottomless popcorn.
Wherever you pull up a perch, you can access food trucks selling all the movie essentials: popcorn, pre-ordered picnic boxes, toasties, grazing platters, pizzas and hot chips. All accompanied by beer, wine and gin from the licensed stall. No BYO is permitted.
How to get there: There's plenty of street parking within a 10-minute walk, as well as the Ridge Street Car Park just a few minutes away. There are also multiple bus stops on Falcon Street and Miller Street that put you within walking distance. North Sydney train station is 15-20 minutes away by foot.
What to bring: Pack up the kids (there are plenty of family-friendly flicks screened), the blankets, pillows and cushions. Snacks are a great idea, but they’re also supplied along with booze – leave your own bottles at home. And don’t forget your credit card, as this is a cashless event.
Skyline Drive-In, Blacktown
Sydney welcomed its first drive-in cinema back in 1956 – today, only one remains, and boy does Skyline draw crowds. The establishment harks back to the ’50s heyday in theme, with diner food – burgers, milkshakes, popcorn, pizza – served by staff in era-appropriate dress. And while some of the movies on the big-screen take you back in time, there are also screenings of the latest blockbusters.
If you really want to get into the mood of yesteryear, opt for a fun double feature or late-night horror flick. You’ll want a cosy blanket to snuggle under for this one.
How to get there: There are only a couple of ways to get to a drive-in – we’ll let you figure this one out. Parking should be pretty self-explanatory, too.
What to bring: Make sure the FM radio in your car is working so you can tune in for a more immersive experience. Or bring a small portable radio to keep the volume pumped. And since this is a drive-in, after all, you'll want to be sure you’ve allocated a designated driver – passengers can enjoy a BYO glass of wine during the show, however.
Westpac OpenAir, Sydney CBD
Westpac OpenAir claims to be the most beautiful cinema in the world. That sounds about right to us. Located at the Fleet Steps of Mrs Macquaries Point, right beside the Royal Botanic Garden, the setting offers dreamy views over the water, capturing postcard-worthy views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Swoon.
As night falls, a giant 350-square-metre screen rises from the harbour, projecting a fabulous selection of films through the vast expanse of green – state-of-the-art surround-sounds means you don’t miss a movie beat.
Each year there are a variety of food outlets helmed by notable Sydney chefs – think Mexican snacks, charcuterie boards, pizzas and salads – as well as a fully licensed bar and cafe for that coffee hit.
How to get there: Since this one is in the heart of the city, the ideal way to arrive is via public transport. There are plenty of options, including grabbing a ferry to Circular Quay, a train to Circular Quay station or a bus.
What to bring: There is a grandstand for seating, so no need for picnic blankets or pillows. You can bring a small seat cushion for comfort. No outside food or drinks are permitted.
Sydney outdoor cinema packing list
Here are a few things to make sure you have when you head out for some movie magic:
- Sunscreen and sunnies if you're arriving early to get a good spot, or hang out in the summer sunshine.
- Bug spray to ward off the mozzies.
- Portable phone charger so you have flashlight capabilities to pack up all your bits and bobs when the show ends. Remember to turn off your ringer during the main event, though.
- A jumper or blanket for when the sun goes down.