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Guide to Sydney’s Mardi Gras

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, SydneyCREDIT: Jeffrey Feng

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade along Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.

#ilovesydney

Guide to Sydney’s
Mardi Gras

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Sydney CREDIT: Jeffrey Feng

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade along Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.

#ilovesydney

Hashtags #ilovesydney

Drawing thousands of LGBTQI visitors to Sydney each year, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival is a queer celebration like no other. Across three weeks, rainbow flags fly throughout the city as LGBTQI folk and their friends bounce between cultural performances, social gatherings, dance parties and more. It all leads up to Parade Day, when parts of central Sydney become a giant pedestrian zone and upwards of half a million people join in the fun. Here’s how to make the most of Mardi Gras. 

Highlights: 

  • Soaking up the buzz in the city’s queer neighbourhoods 
  • Partying at Mardi Gras-themed club nights 
  • Being there on the night for the legendary Mardi Gras parade 

The basics 

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival officially kicks off in mid-February and concludes with Parade Day on the first Saturday in March. However, some unofficial Mardi Gras events, such as themed dance parties at LGBTQI venues, take place before or after the festival proper. 

Two of the biggest festival events, the parade and Fair Day, are free to attend, but most of the program is ticketed, including the epic post-parade Mardi Gras Party (see below). Festival tickets often sell out weeks or months in advance, so keep an eye out for Mardi Gras program details, which are usually released in November. 

If you’re attending the festival from interstate or overseas, consider basing yourself in one of Sydney’s rainbow neighbourhoods, such as Surry Hills or Darlinghurst. These suburbs on the fringe of the city centre feel particularly festive during Mardi Gras season and are often the scene of impromptu LGBTQI gatherings. In Surry Hills, book into Adina Apartment Hotel for generously sized rooms, or check in to a boutique hotel like the disco-themed 57 Hotel or the pet-friendly Little Albion. And for views of the buzzy Darlinghurst end of Oxford Street, which usually hosts the Mardi Gras parade, go all-out and secure a room at the five-star Pullman Sydney Hyde Park

The festival program 

Whatever your interests, you’ll find something appealing on the Mardi Gras festival program, which ranges from big-budget theatre and dance performances to panel conversations about issues affecting LGBTQI Australians. Some of the most engaging events take place on the fringes of the festival in emerging queer neighbourhoods such as Marrickville in the Inner West. 

Everyone is welcome to attend Mardi Gras Fair Day, including rainbow parents with kids and non-LGBTQI folk. The all-day event usually takes place in picturesque Victoria Park, bordering Sydney University in Broadway, and combines live entertainment, market stalls, discussion panels and plenty of promenading. From mid-afternoon onwards, the crowd begins to migrate from the park along City Road to the Inner West hub of Newtown, where the celebrations continue at queer-friendly venues on King Street.  

Another annual highlight is the Mardi Gras Film Festival by Queer Screen, which in recent years has gained a reputation as one of the most significant LGBTQI cinema events in the world, showcasing scores of features, documentaries and short films each season. 

Coca-Cola Sign, Kings Cross CREDIT: Destination NSW

The Coca-Cola sign also known as 'The Coke Sign' lit up for the Mardi Gras weekend in Kings Cross, Sydney.

#ilovesydney

Coca-Cola Sign, Kings Cross CREDIT: Destination NSW

The Coca-Cola sign also known as 'The Coke Sign' lit up for the Mardi Gras weekend in Kings Cross, Sydney.

#ilovesydney

The parade 

The Mardi Gras parade usually makes its way up Oxford Street to Taylor Square before turning onto Flinders Street and heading towards Moore Park, where the official after-party is held. While the atmosphere on Oxford Street is fantastic, the strip can become crowded and visibility can be limited. If you’d rather have more space, consider a vantage point along Flinders Street. 

Another option for viewing the parade is to purchase a VIP ticket for the seating area at Taylor Square. This is the spot where the floats pause to be filmed by television crews — it’s unbeatable if you want to take in all the colour and detail. Alternatively, check the websites of Oxford Street venues such at The Oxford Hotel and The Colombian Hotel, which hold ticketed events on Parade Day.  

It can be difficult to gain access to venues and shops along the route while the parade is underway, so brings essentials such as water with you. 

The after-party 

Afterwards, many revellers continue on to the Mardi Gras Party, which is usually held at a concert hall in Moore Park. This ticketed event is the largest dance party on Sydney’s LGBTQI calendar and usually features a performance from an iconic pop star, such as Cher or Kylie Minogue. To reach Moore Park after the parade, you’ll probably need to walk: some roads are temporarily closed for the parade and taxis and share rides can be hard to find. But it’s a pleasant stroll and a great opportunity to strike up conversations with friendly locals. 

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