Each year, around 300,000 people converge on Sydney’s Oxford Street glitter strip for the Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and Party – one of the biggest Pride Parades in the world.
From its origins as political protest in 1978 that led to the violent arrest of 53 people, the parade is now a well-oiled spectacle that shuts down the “gaybourhood” on the eastern fringe of Sydney’s CBD.
Around 200 floats, up to 12,500 participants and hundreds of thousands on the sidelines make this one of the most colourful nights on Sydney’s gay and lesbian calendar.
Pre-show celebrations usually start at 7.15 pm with the parade often getting under way around 7.45 pm. But with many roads around the parade route closing at 5pm, it’s best to get there as early as you can.
The first road closures are near Hyde Park at 3 pm, then it is major roads along and surrounding the parade route, including Oxford, Flinders and College streets at 5 pm.
At 6 pm, a part of South Dowling Street closes ahead of sections of Moore Park Road and Anzac Parade and some on and off-ramps in the Eastern Distributor at 6.30pm.
All roads will reopen by 4am Sunday.
The Parade Route
Traditionally held on the first Saturday in March (although in 2020 it’s on February 29), the raucous parade runs for 1.7 kilometres up Oxford Street and along Flinders Street towards Moore Park.
The best vantage points for the parade are obviously along the parade route, which starts at Whitlam Square (Liverpool and College Streets) and runs up Oxford Street to Taylor Square. The parade then turns right down Flinders Street and heads to Moore Park.
Many streets will be blocked off, so leave the car at home and take public transport or walk to the area. Visit www.transportnsw.info to plan your trip.
If you haven’t already secured seats in the VIP viewing area, or you weren’t invited to one of the many parties in high-rise apartments along the parade route, then here are your next best options.
Oxford Street is usually heaving with people. But if you can get a front row spot close to the action, then it’s potentially one of the best areas to enjoy the night.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations float will be the first float in the parade, in recognition of the land the celebration takes part on.
They’ll be closely followed by Dykes on Bikes – Australia’s longest running female-identified motorcycle club, and one of the countries oldest LGBTQI community groups.
You actually hear the rev of the 100 or so motorcycles well before you see them, but it’s always a welcome cue that the parade is underway.
Many bars and clubs along Oxford Street offer their own dinner and drink packages with access to balconies.
But be warned, it will be a lock-in and you won’t be able to leave while the parade is under way.
It’s one option to consider if you want to sit back with a champagne or vino and avoid the crush. Check individual venue websites for details.
Taylor Square at Flinders Street
This is one of the more popular areas to watch the parade, so take your milk crate and get there early to grab your spot.
Check out Sydney’s Rainbow Crossing near Kinsellas while you while away the time.
With expansive views of the parade weaving up Oxford Street and turning down Flinders St, this is one area that’s certain to fill up fast.
There’s also a dedicated drop-off and pick-up zone nearby at Forbes Street.
Short and Flinders Street
Near the end of the parade route, this area is often less crowded and is more suitable for families with children. It’s usually less crowded than Taylor Square and you’ll still get to see the parade as it makes its way along Flinders St.
Flinders Street and South Dowling Street
This spot is right near Drivers Triangle, towards the end of the parade route, and you’ll get a great view of the parade as it moves along Flinders St.
The parade officially wraps up around 11 pm.
The good news is Sydney’s controversial lockout laws have now been scrapped so venues on Oxford Street and Darlinghurst should be doing a roaring trade.
Last drinks, however, are called at 3 am for most establishments.
The closest train stations to the start of the parade route are Central, Town Hall, Martin Place and St James. It’s best to walk from these stations to Oxford St.
Pedestrian will only be able to cross the parade route up until 6 pm, when the parade route will be locked down. So make sure you reach your preferred viewing area well before the parade starts.
Bus routes in the eastern suburbs and the CBD will also be affected.
- Buses that usually use Oxford Street will use Darlinghurst Road and William Street instead.
- Buses that usually use Alison Road and Anzac Parade will use Cleveland Street and Chalmers Street instead.
- Buses that usually use Castlereagh Street and Elizabeth Street will start and end their trips at Central instead between 8.30 pm and 12.30 am.
For more information on getting around during Mardi Gras visit Trip Planner.
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