Your Mardi Gras Guide to Australian Pride
Head Down Under for one of the world’s most colorful celebrations
This year I learned that whether you’re LGBTQ+ or an ally, Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival is something everyone should experience. Not only is it one of the biggest and most colorful Pride celebrations in the world, it’s also the ultimate excuse to head Down Under and explore! Mardi Gras’ main event is a parade down Oxford Street that’s famous for its music, dancing, enormous floats, elaborate costumes, participants of every background and age, and dozens of men who are better at walking in heels than me. It’s truly wonderful to stand next to thousands of people who don’t just tolerate diversity, but celebrate it wholeheartedly.
In 2019, more than 12,500 people marched in the parade, and a crowd of over half a million—including me!—cheered them on before dancing the night away. Want in on the fun? Here’s your guide to the ultimate Mardi Gras experience in Sydney.
When To Go:
Next year’s parade takes place on February 29th, 2020, right at the end of Australia’s summer (a.k.a., that time when those of us in the northern hemisphere are ready to ditch the cold for sand and sun). Every hotel room in the city fills up, so be sure to plan as far in advance as possible! We arrived a few days before the parade, and seemingly every person in Sydney (whether queer, straight, cis, and/or trans) had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the festivities—it was hard to go more than a block without seeing several Pride flags hung with care.
Where to Stay:
Speaking of hotels, I suggest booking in at the beautiful Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay. It’s located in a serene waterfront neighbourhood that’s east of the city’s downtown core. Mardi Gras is an extraordinarily fun party, but it can also be busy, and it’s lovely to have a quiet retreat. Plus, it’s closer to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and their gorgeous beaches (the most famous of which is Bondi).
While the parade is the biggest spectacle, there’s an extraordinary amount of programming that takes place during the month leading up to it, so have a look at all the scheduled cruises, parties, cultural events, and shows (hello, Sissy Ball!), before picking your favorites and building them into your trip.
What to Wear:
Mardi Gras festivities are live and let live, meaning all people (and outfits) are welcome. Like any good Pride event, however, the unofficial policy is The More Outrageous The Better, so don’t be afraid to go big. After bedazzling my own face, I found that half the fun was looking at the other outfits as we headed towards the parade, each one more reflective/sparkly/sculpturesque than the next.
Where to Watch:
If you’re planning to watch the parade the traditional way (i.e., for free), you can stake out a spot early in the day, then hang out. Another option is to do as the locals do, which is to arrive later on with a milk crate, which boosts your height from the back and allows you to peer over the crowds. Rain or shine, the parade kicks off at 7:30pm, so be sure to bring the essentials (a hat, water, sunscreen, extra rhinestones, etc.) to get you through the day. Most of the floats head past after sunset, however, so hot weather won’t be an issue once things kick off.
However, perhaps (like me) you’re not terribly fond of crowds, or perhaps (also like me) you prefer to have steady access to a bar, snacks, and good views. If that’s the case, then tickets to the parade’s Diamond Club are for you. This exclusive party provides a VIP vantage point for watching the parade, as well as food trucks, canapes, and drinks. Tickets sell out each year, so be sure to snag yours early. We showed up just 20 minutes before things kicked off, and quickly found a great spot from which to cheer everyone on.
The After Party:
Once the parade ends, a party-to-end-all-parties begins when more than 12,000 people descend on Hordern Pavilion for the official Mardis Gras after party. The enormity of this event was difficult for me to comprehend even as I was experiencing it—there were bars, restaurants, and more dance floors/DJs/performers than I could count (Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters headlined in 2019, while Cher showed up the year before and induced more than one total meltdown). This event is big, it’s loud, and it’s filled with people who love to party. Remember that security is strict, so don’t bring more than a cell phone, wallet, and your friends.
If you’re heading to the after party (or anywhere, really), be prepared to walk! The demand for taxis and rideshares is crazy, so choose your parade viewing location based on where you’re going after (and choose your shoes in kind consideration of your feet).
What To Do In And Around Sydney:
Before and after all the Mardi Gras events you’ve booked, you’re going to want to see Sydney! There’s much to explore in this beautiful city by the sea, so here are a few ideas to get you started:
-Tour the Sydney Opera House (and perhaps see a show?)
-Brave your fear of heights at the BridgeClimb
-Go on an art and culture crawl through some of the city’s coolest, most off-the-beaten-track neighorboods with Culture Scouts
-Lose your mind over the diversity of animals at Featherdale Wildlife Park
-Spend a day in the Blue Mountains with Planet Dwellers
-Learn to ride the waves with Let’s Go Surfing
-Visit The Imperial—my new favorite venue of all time—for dinner and a drag show