Your guide to LGBTQIA+ Sydney

Discover the bustling bars, charming neighbourhoods and progressive cultural events that make Sydney a true LGBTQIA+ destination.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Aug 2022 -
min read

Internationally renowned as a queer capital, cosmopolitan Sydney promises you a warm welcome, whatever your orientation or gender identity. The harbour city is, of course, home to the world’s largest annual LGBTQIA+ festival, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, but there’s much more for queer folk to see and do during a visit.

Out and about in Surry Hills

Dining scene in Surry Hills

Travel tips & practicalities

Australia consistently ranks among the most queer-friendly destinations in the world, and Sydney is particularly hospitable. Here, LGBTQIA+ people are protected from discrimination by law and are free to marry whomever they choose. It’s common to see same-sex couples holding hands, although locals of all orientations generally refrain from passionate kissing and other explicit displays of affection in public. LGBTQIA+ folk have several resources available to them when they arrive in Sydney. For local and national news with a queer focus, check out the Star Observer, and keep an eye on Time Out Sydney’s LGBTIQ vertical for relevant news and information about one-off events.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

Neighbourhoods to know

You’ll spot rainbow flags and encounter queer couples wherever you go in Sydney, but for a concentrated dose of the city’s rainbow culture, a few neighbourhoods stand out. On the eastern fringe of the city centre, head to the adjoining suburbs of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. Explore Oxford Street, which is lined with Sydney’s biggest range of LGBTQIA+ nightlife venues and many other queer-focused businesses, such as The Bookshop Darlinghurst, as well as a diverse selection of cafés and restaurants. Be sure to grab an afternoon drink at The Colombian Hotel, which has been serving locals for decades.

Couple walking through Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills

Couple walking through Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills 

Sydney’s other unofficial ‘rainbow strip’ is King Street in Newtown in the Inner West, where the vibe leans more alternative. Here, you’ll find tattoo parlours, design stores and some of Sydney’s best Thai food, along with a diverse crowd of locals — not only queer folk but also students from nearby universities, bohemian families and many of Sydney’s musicians and artists. The surrounding suburbs of Erskineville, Enmore and Marrickville are also packed with LGBTQIA+ residents. 

Not sure where to stay while you’re in Sydney? Consider the suburbs of Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay, which sit between Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Sydney Harbour. This densely populated area has long been popular with queer Sydneysiders, and Potts Point in particular offers a range of accommodation, from upmarket chain hotels to boutique lodges. From here, Oxford Street is an easy walk.

If you’d rather be closer to the beach (this is the city where Speedo’s were invented, after all), notoriously queer-friendly stretches of sand include Clovelly, Tamarama and Coogee. If staying at the latter, be sure to check out the rainbow walkway on the steps to the water – the council voted unanimously to make the colourful curves a permanent feature in 2021.

Rainbow walkway on the steps at Coogee

Rainbow walkway on the steps to the water at Coogee

Nightlife highlights

There are a raft of queer-focused venues in Sydney where you can raise a glass and meet like-minded souls. Just off Oxford Street in Surry Hills, The Beresford is a hub for well-dressed gay men, who enjoy lazy afternoons in the venue’s courtyard before heading indoors to dance the night away. (Tip: the crowd is particularly gay on Sundays.) Nearby, Universal on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst is a thriving queer space with a diverse roster events, from theatre and drag shows to full-on club nights. And the stalwart Oxford Hotel on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst is a multi-level rainbow utopia catering to all moods. 

Universal on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

Show at Universal on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst - Credit: Universal

Away from Oxford Street, in Newtown, you’ll find diverse and enthusiastic mixed crowds at venues up and down King Street. One favourite of the neighbourhood’s queer population is the Marlborough Hotel, affectionately known as ‘the Marly’, which has a basement dance space and plenty of secluded corners upstairs for those who’d rather sit and chat. Catch a drag show at The Imperial, a few minutes’ walk away from Newtown in Erskineville. It’s the quintessential LGBTQIA+ Sydney venue, best known for its starring role in the cult film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Sydney is also well known for its nomadic LGBTQIA+ club nights, which cater to every niche imaginable. The broadest and most inclusive of these is Heaps Gay, which is just as likely to be held in a laneway as a mega club.

Heaps Gay Qweens Ball outside Sydney Town Hall

Heaps Gay Qweens Ball outside Sydney Town Hall

The best of Mardi Gras 

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival is much more than just a parade: it’s an entire season of celebration that locals affectionally refer to as ‘gay Christmas’. Stretching across February and early March, the festival program includes dozens of unique events, from large-scale social gatherings to edgy theatre and dance performances.

Apart from the parade itself, the biggest event on the annual calendar is the family-friendly Fair Day, which takes place in Victoria Park near Newtown. Head along for live entertainment, a smorgasbord of stalls, fantastic people-watching and even a hotly contested dog show.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras - Sydney

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade - Credit: Jeffrey Feng

Then, on the first Saturday in March, it’s time for the parade. If you’re hoping to watch the festivities up close, arrive well ahead of time or secure your spot at one of the ticketed events held at venues along Oxford Street. After the parade winds down, revellers head to the world-famous Mardi Gras Party, which attracts international pop-star performers and some of the world’s biggest DJs. 

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