The massive international event is so overwhelming that deciding what to do is a challenge – a challenge we’ll gladly accept.
Who better to help us around town than Sydney native David Francis? More than just an Instagram star, Francis was named Mr. Gay Pride Australia 2017 and works with nonprofit organizations including StartOut Australia, a charity that connects LGBTQ+ youth with role models.
Oh, and did we mention he’s single?
“I just love how Mardi Gras brings so many people together in a way that allows everyone to be their true selves, even if only for one night or one week,” David tells Queerty. “It’s the time of year where you can dress up however you want and no one bats an eyelid. Where people come out from all ages, backgrounds, sexualities, races and all shapes and sizes to watch or take part in the parade celebrating everything from our First Nations people to Dykes on Bikes to the international Bear community to the Trans Youth Alliance. The entire city is buzzing with people, noise, glitter and everyone’s smiling.”
With no further ado, let David and Sydney photographer Rod Spark take you on the ultimate guided tour of Sydney as it prepares to host you for Mardi Gras 2020.
“This photo is taken from the southern end of Bondi Beach, arguably the most famous beach in Sydney, if not all of Australia. Hard to believe it’s only 20 minutes from downtown. This is the first glimpse of sand and ocean as you wind down the hill towards the beach. Make sure to come early to guarantee your spot as the crowds get bigger the hotter the day gets. If there’s no room left on the sand, simply set up camp on the surrounding grassy areas, which allows you to escape the crowds and the sand sticking to your feet.”
Surf and Sun
“This is North Bondi, the gayer end of the beach. This is where I love to hang with friends, have a bit of a picnic, blast some music and work on the tan with as little interference from a swimsuit as possible. This is the place to see and be seen, and there’s always someone around to tickle your fancy because there are people of all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds. Be sure to slather on the sunscreen though because there’s nothing worse than being burnt for the rest of the Mardi Gras activities. Tan yes, sunburn no.”
Doyles at Watsons Bay
“Doyles is a Sydney institution. It’s a 30-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, where Doyles is located, and it’s a great way to see Sydney harbour from the water. Doyles is a seafood restaurant with stunning views looking back to the city. Although it may not be the cheapest in town, the food is always fresh from the ocean. Hands down, the best fish and chips I have ever eaten in my life so it’s at the top of my recommendation list. This is a Sydney Mardi Gras experience you’ll want to enjoy.”
Sydney Harbour View
“Here I am on one of Sydney’s famous green and yellow ferries, the best and cheapest way to see the city and the harbour from the water, and it’s lovely from every imaginable angle. The ferries run from the Sydney waterfront to Circular Quay in the heart of downtown to places such as Watsons Bay (where Doyles is located), Taronga Zoo Sydney, Manly Beach, and Cockatoo Island. You can get views back to the city from The Royal Botanic Gardens, the prime minister’s home, and some of the big waterfront mansions owned by the Sydney rich and famous.”
“Situated right underneath the forecourt and sails of the Sydney Opera House, Opera Bar offers stunning views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and all the way downtown to the financial district. I love a good afternoon champagne with friends–arriving just in time to watch the sunset behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge, some days showing off with beautiful orange and pink tones in the sky. Make sure to stay long enough as the sunset turns into night and watch the city lights flicker on and glow in the background.”
“Being a bit of an architecture and history nerd, I always love travelling past Customs House, a heritage landmark right by Circular Quay train station. As you step into the building you’ll find a full-scale model of the Sydney downtown area built under glass panels right beneath your feet. As you walk over you can look down on this amazing city and experience it from another angle you wouldn’t have seen before.”
Pitt Street Mall
“This is Sydney’s favorite mall for designer labels, from the latest in tech right down to casual fashion. I like that I can do most of my shopping in the one place including both the large department stores and international designer brands. Mardi Gras is so diverse in terms of people and activities that there’s no one way to dress. Instead, you will discover people who love skimpy sparkly outfits to people who love dressing up in costumes to those just dressed for an ordinary night out on the town. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, head down to Oxford Street and check out some of the gay run boutique shopping outlets along the strip.”
“Bang Clothing is a gay owned and run store located in the gaybourhood along Oxford Street and Flinders Street offering a mixture of underwear, swimwear and sportswear. Daly Male is another gay owned and run store which offers a broader selection of clothing for all occasions with more casual and formal wear to sequin shorts and party shirts. Both places have welcome and inviting staff that will help you prepare whatever outfit you want for your next Mardi Gras event. Style, of course, is subjective and I’m a big believer in expressing yourself and as long as you are comfortable, who cares what anyone else says or thinks!”
“I’ve always loved reading non-fiction books to learn something new about the world. Darlinghurst Bookshop caters to the gay market with its wide selection of fiction, biographies, gay Sydney history and it celebrates local authors and artists. Here I’m checking out Ian McKellen’s bio. Ian is someone I respect not only for his acting career but especially for his longstanding work as a champion for the LGBTQ movement worldwide. His story is something I think everyone should read because it’s important for the emerging generations to understand the fight for rights, freedoms and equality from those who came before us to allow us to live how we do today. “
“Taylor Square is the heart of Oxford Street and the focal point of the Mardi Gras Parade. This is where all the floats will turn as they head towards the after-party event. The flag symbolizes the support and the fight for gay rights over many years. It has also been the commemoration point for numerous marriage equality rallies as well as a place where the community comes together to honor and reflect on significant moments in history from around the world, such as the candlelight vigil held for the Orlando 49.”
Taylor Square Rainbow Crosswalk
“Our rainbow crosswalk is located right behind Taylor Square, which is the gay heart of Sydney and the focal point of the Mardi Gras parade (where Oxford Street meets Flinders Street). It’s the only rainbow crossing in the world shaped like an actual rainbow and it was something the community fought hard to have installed over a number of years. We initially had one on the main road intersection, but it was taken out due to safety concerns as people would stop to snap a few photos. The new crossing is on a much quieter junction and gives you a little bit of extra time to walk, hence having time stop and jump to get this photo! LOL.”
“This place draws a very mixed crowd during the week and weekend. It’s where to play a few rounds of pool and meet new people. Try the ‘Duck Me’ cocktail which comes with a little rubber ducky floating in the glass.”
“For accommodations, I recommend either the Cambridge Hotel on Riley Street or the Pullman Hotel on College Street.”
“Belloccio is the main gay-run restaurant on the Oxford Street strip serving a mix of Greek and Italian cuisine from pasta to grilled meats and seafood. The staff is so enthusiastic about the food that it is hard to resist anything. On this visit we started off with oysters, garlic bread and calamari followed by the grilled lamb cutlets. For dessert, I enjoyed the traditional Australia meringue cake “Pavlova” with cream and fresh summer fruits. But this is hardly the only option in the ‘hood. Since Sydney is such a multicultural place, you have delicious faire ranging from Italian to Chinese to Thai to Japanese. And of course, there are plenty of burger joints, too, if you desire something simpler.”
“Here I am getting a cheeky happy snap with the gorgeous and stunning queens, Verushka Darling, Victoria Anthony and Lada Mars. Stonewall is usually the most popular bar on the strip being a great place for a drink after dinner where you can enjoy the drag shows, gender-bender bingo, karaoke, MaleBox or GoGo boys, depending which night you come by.
“PS: If you want a big night out, head to Arq, the biggest gay club in the city, with a huge dance floor both upstairs and downstairs. Think high ceilings, shirts off, sweaty dance floor kind of vibe. The local slogan is Everyone ends up at Arq, which is kind of true.”
Explore the countryside
Mardi Gras may well be the best experience of your life. But like all great experiences, it’s also likely to be exhausting. Arrange to stay a few extra days after (or before) the festival for rest and relaxation in the New South Wales countryside, just a few hours outside the metropolis. Hike in the majestic scenery at UNESCO World Heritage site the Blue Mountains, only an hour from Sydney, visit Australia’s oldest wine region the Hunter Valley, and head north to the pristine beaches at Byron Bay, the famous boho beach town.
“I like to gather some friends, rent a car and head to the Blue Mountains for an overnight stay. The Three Sisters is one of the big drawcards, a famous rock formation with the Australian bush making a picturesque backdrop. Pack a picnic and set out on a hike to discover one of the lovely waterfulls which dot the mountains. If you wanted to experience the sceneic railway and cable cars, make sure to book in advance so you can bypass all the crowds. A personal fave is exploring the Jenolan Caves just a little bit out of the Blue Mountains area, where you wander underground through rock formations in a total sense of wonder.
“Further North of Sydney, head to the Hunter Valley wine region where we grow world-class grapes which make world-class wines. Jump on a wine tour or walk through the beautifully manicured Hunter Valley gardens while enjoing local cheese and cured meats.”
“And you are likely to come across a mob of Kangaroos, who hop around amid the vineyards.”
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Qantas has long championed the rights of LGBTQ people, outwardly showing support for the community in a number of ways. From a CEO ranked number one in a list of LGBTQ executives worldwide, to an extravagant float in the Mardi Gras parade each year, to special “Rainbow Roo” livery on aircraft, Qantas have always been vocal supporters of the community.