How to get the most out of Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras?
February 15, 2011 6:11 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to experience Sydney's Mardi Gras parade on March 5th? When does the parade start, where should I watch it from, and what associated events are worth going to?

So, by happy coincidence, I'll be passing through Sydney on March 5th when the big Mardi Gras parade happens. I'm really excited about seeing it, but I'm not sure how best to go about it. My main questions are:

1) When does the parade actually start? How much earlier than that do I need to show up to get a good spot? (My travel plans will be easier if I can fly in to Sydney on the afternoon of the 5th, but I can also fly on the 4th if need be.)

2) Where should I watch from?

3) What associated events are worth going to (and affordable on a student budget?) I especially love high-energy dance parties.

Any other tips on getting the most out of the experience are also greatly appreciated!
posted by fermion to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (12 answers total)
It's been at least a few years since I've been to one (it's a bit "seen one, seen them all" in a way) but hopefully this advice will help:

The parade starts in the early evening, perhaps roughly sunset time. You should be able to google that one easily enough.

You should be able to get yourself a decent spot anytime up to a few hours before, but to be safe I'd recommend being in the area no later than midday. You can then work out for yourself whether you need to stake out a spot on the footpath, or whether you can relax in a bar or cafe for a bit longer.

Note that people basically just stand on the footpath. I think there's been a smallish paid grandstand area in recent times, but that's not for you. The tickets would be long gone.

GRAB YOURSELF SOME MILK CRATES OR A SMALL FOLDING LADDER FROM BUNNINGS. I can't stress this enough. Unless you're super tall, if you're even a couple of rows back you won't see anything. Everybody brings milk crates anyway. It probably screws up Dairy Farmers' logistics for a week or two.

You might also want to think about how to ensure not needing to go to the toilet or you could lose your spot. Some friendly locals might mind it for you, but you can't be certain. Milk crates are like gold at Mardi Gras.

I would recommend watching from beyond Taylor Square - ie not on Oxford St but further towards the showgrounds, on Flinders Ave. Less people, because most of the crowds come from the city (Hyde Park) side of things, and don't think to go past Oxford St. The participants are usually more warmed up by then, too. Less nerves, having more fun, or else their drugs have kicked in for real.

Can't comment on associated events. The afterparty last year was apparently a shambles, as the committee had forgotten to book the Hordern Pavilion, which hosted an antiques fair or something instead, so the afterparty was held a different weekend (WTF?). It's meant to be pretty good, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:35 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm just going to second everything UbuRoivas said, especially regarding milk crates and picking a spot further down the route from Taylor Square - there's way more space than on Oxford Street. I've gotten a decent spot there as late as 6pm, but you should still aim to get there sooner.

The official after party is back on at Hordern this year (tickets still available), but if that's too pricey then I've always just gone and hung out at a nearby bar or headed into Newtown. It's pretty festive everywhere!
posted by jaynewould at 6:41 PM on February 15, 2011

Newtown! How negligent of me - that's my neighbourhood.

I can't tell if you're male or female (or even straight or gay) but Newtown is the other main gay & lesbian area of Sydney, in addition to Darlinghust which is where the MG is held (and therefore very busy in the bars & clubs).

The Imperial Hotel on Erskineville Rd was the setting of the Drag-related movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and is always good for a night out. It's been undergoing constant rounds of renovations in recent times, but last time I looked it was open again.

The Newtown Hotel also seems to have re-opened, after a years-long contract dispute between the landlord & the licensee. This was traditionally more of a gay men's pub, with a bit of a bear-ish angle.

The Sly Fox on Enmore Rd (Enmore, right next to Newtown) is a generally butch dyke hangout. Otherwise just wander King St Newtown & Erskineville Road (same area) and see what takes your fancy.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:54 PM on February 15, 2011

Ditto the advice above about Flinders Street and milk crates!

There are lots of parties on the night that are cheaper than the official one. The Dykes on Bikes hang out at the Hampshire in Camperdown, and there are usually a few lesbian parties on Oxford street (these sometimes sell out before the night). I'm sure there's lots of boy stuff going on there too.

In Newtown, the Imperial, which I've been to since its re-opening recently, is a great mixed crowd, and I would guess they're having some kind of Mardi Gras party. The Sly Fox is usually only really queer on Wednesdays, but I don't know about MG night.

I think what associated events would be worth attending for you really depends on more than that you like high energy dance... high energy dance with girls or boys? Techno or indie? etc? Mainstream or alternative? The official afterparty is a guaruntee of high energy dance, but it's way expensive. (I'm volunteering this year so I can try it out--I've never cared to pay the price, so haven't been.)

Also, I'm planning to probably watch the parade either alone or with whatever acquaintances I bump into on the day, so if you'd like a milk crate watching buddy, feel free to mefimail me.
posted by equivocator at 7:40 PM on February 15, 2011

Afterthought: for events, Sydney Star Observer & LOTL (Lesbians on the Loose) are the main local rags for the gay & lesbian community - they should have events calendars & ads etc.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:15 PM on February 15, 2011

MILK CRATES! or something to stand on if you actually want to see the parade is invaluable.

The stretch along Oxford street is a nightmare of people and really difficult to see. Flinders is probably easier to get a good spot.

Oh and watch out that you aren't stuck on the wrong side of the road. its difficult to get across once the parade has started.

Starts just before sunset last time i was there. You probably want to turn up at least a few hours before if you want to see.
posted by mary8nne at 3:59 AM on February 16, 2011

Oh and watch out that you aren't stuck on the wrong side of the road. its difficult to get across once the parade has started.

QFT. Decide beforehand if you're planning to party in the east or the west, and choose your side of the street accordingly. Making a half hour detour via the football stadium is a bitch.
posted by jaynewould at 4:05 AM on February 16, 2011

Oh! Another thing. Find out how to get where you're going on foot, or by train if necessary. The parade disrupts bus routes.
posted by jaynewould at 4:06 AM on February 16, 2011

More info on transit here, including the odd fact that milk crates are no longer permitted on public transport during Mardi Gras. The more you know, huh.
posted by jaynewould at 4:12 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all! I'm sitting in Gloria Jean's Coffee on Oxford Street right now, soon to take up my position on Flinders. I think I'll opt to pay the slightly extortionate prices for plastic stools at a drug store on the route rather than try to get crates on transit. I'll probably head to Newtown after to investigate parties.

Happy Mardi Gras!
posted by fermion at 10:01 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope you have a great time - Mardi Gras is a longstanding & special part of Sydney culture & I really hope you enjoy it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:47 AM on March 5, 2011

So... how was it?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:24 PM on March 6, 2011

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