Gay Woman’s Travel Guide: Sydney, Australia

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Five hundred and seven pounds of glitter.

Sounds like a lot, but everything’s bigger Down Under. And apparently gayer, because 507 pounds of rainbow glitter indeed rained on 500,000 people at this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. One of the largest global celebrations of the LGBTQ community, Sydney’s Mardi Gras is held over a three-week period in February and March during the Southern hemisphere’s midsummer. It kicks off with Fair Day, a community event enjoyed by over 80,000 people, and a Festival leading up to the big, glittery event: The Mardi Gras Parade and Party. (Watch the four-hour livestream of this year’s parade here.) 

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Mardi Gras, which began as a street protest in 1978 following an anti-LGBT incident which was not unlike Stonewall, is now Australia’s proudest and most popular celebration of diversity and self-expression. It hosts over 100 events for people of all ages, sexualities, gender expressions and orientations and at the Party, which often features an international headliner, over 12,000 folks dance the night away.

While Australia is world famous for its openness and tolerance, the land of G’Day is yet to fully embrace marriage equality, and a movement is underway to bestow this last remaining right on LGBT Aussies.

For most Americans, Australia is the trip of a lifetime—and many believe it takes a lifetime to get there. But the 14-hour trip from the West Coast is a worthwhile investment of time and money, because Sydney is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Brilliant sun, countless beaches that mark the continent’s kiss with the Pacific, and the native flora and fauna make the capital city of New South Wales, and its regional areas, more than worth the trek.

WHERE TO BEGIN

The heart of Sydney, much like Boston or San Francisco, is in its harbor. Sydney Harbour is the world’s largest natural harbor and is framed by two iconic structures: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a magnificent single-span piece of engineering, and the renowned Sydney Opera House—arguably the country’s cultural centre, the sculpted roofs of which resemble giant sails. To get a bird’s eye view of this paradise, climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge itself, as did Oprah and Cate Blanchett (not together!) with the folks at BridgeClimb. Suits, cables and all the protection you need to ensure your safety are provided; your guide will even take a commemorative photo of you at the top!

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Afterward, wander through the charming and picturesque cobblestone laneways of The Rocks, the original colonial site where European settlers stepped ashore in 1788, now lined with cosy cafes, boutique shopping, and the oldest pubs in the country.

Beyond Sydney’s harbor and central business district are many vibrant and diverse neighborhoods and suburbs, most of which are gay-friendly. Potts Point is an upscale inner-city hood favored by professional queers many of whom enjoy apartments with harbor views and leafy gardens. The streetscape consists of chic restaurants and eateries, including Good Times Artisan Ice Cream Parlor, the brainchild of Nathan Stasi, and founded with the assistance of acclaimed out lesbian chef Christine Manfield. Their soft serve ice cream cones, cups and sandwiches are all made with natural ingredients…and a queer twist: the Chief Wiggum comes with a donut; there’s the Ziggy Stardust with homemade popping candy, and when we visited they were formulating a flavor for Lickalottapuss. 

If Potts Point and nearby Darlinghurst are a gay-male mecca, Newtown is where you find the lesbians. They are everywhere: in the pubs, bookshops, cafes, and restaurants, even ordering donuts from Donut Time (YOU GUYS, GO TO DONUT TIME). I literally was bathing in lesbians in Newtown. And, there’s a reason for this: Newtown is that kind-of-industrial, grungy neighborhood, a little like Bushwick in Brooklyn or Fishtown in Philly, where artists and creative types can live on the cheap and hang out with each other. King Street is the main artery where you’ll find most shops, in addition to lesbian-friendly bars like The Courthouse and the Newtown Hotel. There are other places to meet girls, too. Like many cities, Sydney’s lesbian bars have been replaced by lesbian nights and events: down the road from Newton is a suburb called Enmore, home to a Wednesday night Drag King event Sly Fox. Unicorns is an underground queer party that has a heavy mix of women, and, for the more profesh lez, there’s Lemon With a Twist at Slide Bar, which is held the first Friday of every month.

To beef up on your Sydney LGBTQ history, and to get your bearings, look no further than local gay guide Mario Paez, who operates Planetdwellers’s Sydney Gayborhood Walking Tour, now in its 9th year. Mario is a gentle and knowledgeable companion and a long term resident of Sydney, who can take you to nooks and crannies not in any guidebook. He may begin your tour on Sydney’s golden gay mile, Oxford Street, which is the Mardi Gras Parade route, pointing out popular LGBT watering holes and establishments. Stroll through Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Kings Cross, and back to Surry Hills, where you end your tour with a celebratory beverage at a local gay bar of your choice. No website or book offers such a rich history of gay Sydney. Certainly, none are as warm or as cute as Mario.

Australia is a continent that is a country that is an island—the only such landmass in the world. And Sydney enjoys a spectacular coastline of countless white sand beaches, the most famous of which is Bondi Beach. Buy yourself an Opal Card and catch a bus or train out to Bondi for a truly bucket list activity: a surfing lesson with Let’s Go Surfing. I was paired with a lovely and bubbly female instructor for a one-on-one lesson in navigating strong Sydney surf. After your lesson, you must throw back a ‘flat white’ coffee at one of the cafes and then do the coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach. The Bondi to Bronte Coastal Trail is a series of two cliff-top paths created in the 1930s that includes walks through Bondi, Tamarama, and Bronte beaches. I guarantee at least a dozen stunning photo ops.

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