A visitors guide to the Sydney Mardi Gras

Say Yes to Love banner Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Credit: Jeffrey Fong

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, and with Australia’s recent passing of the Same-Sex Marriage law, I have a feeling it’s going to be one hell of a party. I have put together this short visitors guide to help you have a great time during this fabulous Sydney festival.

Sydney likes its big events and the Sydney Gay, and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of our biggest and most colourful. In this post, I have gathered tips from friends, both local and those who visited especially for the event to help make sure you get all the best advice to help you plan your visit. If you still have questions after reading this head over to our friendly Facebook community and we will try to help.

While the parade on March 3 is the main event, there is a 16-day program that runs from 16 Feb to the 4th march with plenty of highlights including Fair Day on 18 February and a whole series of talks and events.

The 1978er's bus Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Credit: Hamid Mousa

The Mardi Gras Parade is the finale of the program. Over 300,000 people line the 1.7km long parade route to watch the 8500 participants march, dance and ride their way past.  You can either book one of the ticketed areas or join the public at the start or finish points or in the throng along Oxford Street. If you have mobility issues, you can register for access to one of the four accessible areas.

5 Tips for enjoying the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade

My friend Andre who is a Mardi Gras veteran has shared his top 5 tips

  1. Position is everything! Planned to arrive early enough and secure a good spot to see the parade. Keep in mind facilities (toilets, mainly) as you wouldn’t want to walk for blocks when nature calls!
  2. Check local venues on Oxford St. some bars/clubs will have drink packages that will include access to venues balconies, which will give you an advantage and an excellent overview of all the action!
  3. Keep hydrated: it’s usually a long afternoon/evening, so keep your fluids up! Water is essential as you don’t want to be dehydrated or get too affected by alcohol.
  4. Keep an eye on your belongings and friends. The event attracts large crowds, which may allow for opportunistic crime to happen. Carry only the essentials (phone, transport card, cash/bank card, keys) and avoid unnecessary items on you.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes and check the weather forecast.

Getting ready for the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade

Best Places to Watch the Mardi Gras in Sydney

Fellow Australian Travel Blogger, Paula McInerney of the Contented Traveller has been attending the parade for years and shared her best advice.

The biggest LGBTQI festival in the world takes place in Sydney, and people come from all over the world to participate in and celebrate. So yes, it gets busy, but in the best possible way because everyone is feeling the love. Here are the best vantage points to see the action.

Before the parade 

In the early afternoon wander up and down Oxford St to start to get into the mood. Then head to the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool Street about 4 pm to watch everyone heading into Hyde Park. It is an excellent vantage point as this is where the floats are setting up, also.

After you have had your full dose of drag queens, glitter and costumes, which you never will get sick off, go into Hyde Park as each of the groups is putting the final touches to their dance routines before the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade.

During the Parade

Now it is time to find a spot to watch the parade. Raquel’s Spanish restaurant on Oxford St was our go-to place for dinner, and we used to stand on tables to watch the parade or run outside. Now, however, it is closed, so if you can’t get into a restaurant on Oxford St, you can do what many many others do and buy a $5 milk crate and stand on it at the starting point of the celebrations, the corner of College and Oxford St.

How to feel part of the Mardi Gras Action

Crystal from Castaway with Crystal shares her advice for enjoying the parade. “I have been to Mardi Gras about seven times, and it’s one of my favourite nights of the year! My best suggestion for this exciting celebration of love is to dress up in your craziest outfit to have more fun. If you look like you were in the parade, you will be treated like royalty, with people wanting your photo and complimenting you as you strut the streets. I particularly like matching my outfits with my friends, so we look like a team. One year we all went as insects, another like an animal print girl-band.

When the parade is over the streets are opened up to pedestrians for a short time, and this is always my fave. We run around in the middle of the roads taking loads of photos and just generally having fun!

Where should you stay to enjoy Mardi Gras

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras two women on a bike by Jeffrey Fong
Credit: Jeffrey Fong

Ok so now you are armed with some great advice on enjoying the parade I thought I should share my thoughts on the best places to stay for Mardi Gras. You need to book early to get a good room at a reasonable rate. While writing this in late December, I am finding many of the best options getting close to being booked out. The prices are also going up steeply, so I suggest booking your Mardi Gras accommodation as soon as you know you will be coming.

Hotels at the city end of the Parade route.

Hyde Park Plaza – Book a room with a balcony or views of Oxford Street

With a rooftop pool for pre-parade tanning and rooms with balconies and unobstructed views of the parade route, this will book out early.  Rooms have kitchenettes if you fancy self-catering and studio, 1 and two bedrooms are available.  Check current prices on TripAdvisor

Pullman Hyde Park – 5-star hotel right on the starting line

The Pullman is the closest five-star hotel to the parade route. The staff here go out of the way to make sure everyone feels welcome and enjoys the event. Some rooms have views out over Hyde Park and Oxford Street.  It’s also an excellent location for exploring Sydney before or after the event. Just stick “Mardi Gras” into the search box on the Pullman reviews on Tripadvisor to see how others felt about staying there during the Parade weekend.

Hotels near the middle of the route and just off Oxford Street

Cambridge Hotel

The Cambridge is a very popular hotel that has a ton of repeat visitors so they must be doing something right.  Great location just off Oxford Street its a good spot for Mardi Gras.  The rooms have been done up in recent years, and some have balconies.  Check out the photos and find the current price on  TripAdvisor

Adge Apartments – 12 funky two bedroom apartments
These apartments are perfect for two couples or a group of friends to share with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in each. They are nicely furnished with decent linens and nice extras like espresso machines and music docks. Some apartments have balconies with views out of the city. Personally, I found the carpet a little too colourful but other than that this place is an excellent choice and only a few minutes walk from Oxford Street. Check out the photos of the carpet (and the rest of the property) on TripAdvisor

Adina Apartments – Perfect for wining and dining
I have stayed at Adina Apartments twice on staycations that involved too much parting to want to figure out how to get home. There are a dozen great restaurants within a 5 min walk, and Oxford street is just at the bottom of the road. These apartments are 3-star and could do probably do with a good refresh, but they are a decent size and in such a good location that I still think they are a reasonable choice.  However, I suggest you read the most recent reviews at TripAdvisor before you go ahead and book.

At the end of the route and to the south

Meriton Suites Waterloo – Foodie hotspot close to the city.
There are lots of Meriton complexes in this part of the city.  This one is quite a large complex with 180 plus rooms all featuring full kitchens and close to the end of the route and the party venues.

So there you have it, my best tips for enjoying the Sydney Mardi Gras.  If you want some more info on areas to stay in Sydney you can check out my comprehensive post Choosing where to stay for your Sydney holiday

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, and with Australia's recent passing of the Same-Sex Marriage law, I have a feeling it's going to be one hell of a party. This is one of the most fun things to do in Sydney. I have put together this short visitors guide to help you have a great time during this fabulous Sydney festival

3 Comments

  1. As a mother of a gay son, who is my primary travel partner, it is always refreshing to find some awesome places and events we can plan for, knowing we would feel welcome. Thank you for sharing this. It looks like a blast!

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