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Gay travel guide to Sydney for first-timers

Stefan Arestis
Gay travel guide to Sydney for first-timers

Dive into Sydney's gay scene with us, as we spill the tea on the best gay hotspots and share savvy tips for an unforgettable adventure in the Land Down Under!

When we first dipped our toes into Sydney's vibrant gay scene, it felt a bit like two wide-eyed gents attempting to navigate the Land Down Under's queer terrain with the finesse of kangaroos on roller skates.

We were hit with a tidal wave of questions: How long should we stay in Sydney? When should we visit? Where should we stay? What are the best gay hangouts? Which is the best gay beach? How many Speedos should I pack?…

But fear not fellow intrepid LGBTQ explorers for we've distilled our Sydney escapades into a cocktail of practical tips and tricks. Think of it as your personal gay roadmap to Sydney – a city where rainbow flags flutter with pride, and every street corner is a feisty catwalk stage.

So, buckle up, darlings, as we spill the tea on the best of Sydney's gay offerings. No-nonsense advice awaits you.

Let's make your first Sydney sojourn fabulous, fierce, and utterly unforgettable!

Heads up: We just wanted to let you know that this post contains affiliate links. That means if you book something through one of those links, we'll get a small commission, at no extra cost to you. It helps us keep our blog going – so thank you in advance for your support! ♥

A drag queen in a Wonder Woman outfit showing tourists gay hotspots on Oxford Street in Sydney, Australia.

Ready to slay? Explore gay Sydney with Miss Wonder Mama!

Get ready to sashay through Sydney's LGBTQ+ scene with the one and only Wonder Mama leading the charge! This fierce drag diva will spill the tea on the hottest gay spots, bars, and cafés, serving up a side of sass and sharing the juiciest tales from Sydney's LGBTQ+ history.

Don't just tour, sashay…and let the Sydney magic slay!

Find out more

1. Stay in Darlinghurst

Top of the agenda was where to base ourselves in Sydney. Fortunately, this isn't hard. Darlinghurst, specifically Oxford Street, is the beating heart and soul of the Sydney gay scene. This is also where you'll want to base yourself.

Darlinghurst is close to everything – the gay scene on your doorstep. It's also pretty central, the major sites a short walk away, the main central train station a mere 10-15 minute walk. In addition, Sydney Harbour is just a 20-25 minute stroll away, providing an ideal route for morning runs.

Darlinghurst forms a vibrant ‘gay triangle' with Potts Point above it and Surry Hills on its southern edge. The LGBTQ community makes up the bulk of this region of Sydney creating a gay bubble – when you open up your Grindr here you'll see what we mean!

During our first visit to Sydney, we chose to stay in Darlinghurst anticipating that our time would be centered around the gay bars of Oxford Street. This decision made sense, least of all because it reduced our overall travel expenses. For our second visit to Sydney, we went a bit further afield to Surry Hills – still pretty central, still super gay.

Another area we considered was around Sydney Harbour. It's the center of town and has one of the most recognizable buildings in the world as its backdrop – the Opera House! However, the main drawback was its location outside the vibrant gay bubble of Darlinghurst, which, for us was a deal breaker.

Darlinghurst gay neighborhood road signs with rainbows.
Even the road signs in Darlinghurst are fabulous!

2. Consider booking an apartment with a gay host

Whether you spend a weekend or an entire month in Sydney you will never get bored!

Whenever we've visited Sydney we've always stayed at least a month so it made sense to book an Airbnb or Misterbnb. We love having a home base on long trips. It allows us to cook together as well as giving us the chance to have a more local experience.

And of course, it works out a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel for longer trips!

The bonus with having a local gay host is that it's a great way to make a new squirrel friend, one who can also show you the gay scene as well as give you invaluable tips.

STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL

Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check-in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.

Whilst we've not (yet!) stayed in a hotel during our visit to Sydney, we have a few that have been recommended to us by gay locals as well as by fellow LGBTQ travelers. This list is by no means exhaustive and we welcome any feedback you may have:

Highly rated gay friendly hotels in Darlinghurst

  • Kirketon Hotel: around $80 a night
  • Sydney Boutique Hotel: around $110 a night
  • Medusa Hotel: around $140 a night

Luxury hotels close to Sydney Harbour

  • Ovolo Woolloomooloo: from $350 a night
  • Park Hyatt: from $750 a night
Stefan and Adam at Oxford gay bar in Sydney with a teapot of Margarita.
A gay local will know the best place to get a teapot of Margarita in Sydney!

3. Avoid visiting during Mardi Gras

Sydney Mardi Gras stands as one of the premier gay Pride events in the world. We love it!

The city transforms into a vibrant hub of celebration during the 2-week festival held in February/March. It was particularly heaving for Sydney WorldPride in 2023 when over 300,000 revelers from all around the globe descended on the city!

Yet, here's the catch – this period is the absolute peak for the gay scene in Sydney! Hotel and Airbnb prices skyrocket, and the gay bars are bursting at the seams with enthusiastic partygoers.

If you thrive on the exuberance of Mardi Gras then you're in for an unforgettable experience, with highlights like the Bondi Beach Party and the Mardi Gras After Party on parade day. However, if the idea of large crowds and premium prices seems a bit overwhelming, or you're aiming for a more budget-friendly visit, it might be wise to explore Sydney during other times of the year.

Two men in sailor outfits waving Australian and rainbow flags at a parade.

Gay Australia Tour: Summer Down Under + Mardi Gras

Swim trunks and party pants required for this gay Australia tour. Slather on your highest SPF and get ready for this ripper adventure during ‘Straya’s summer season (North America’s winter).

This gay Australia tour begins in Melbourne and then heads to the fertile Yarra Valley to sip New World Wines. Next up to the bush and beach lining the heritage-listed Great Ocean Road. Then it’s off to temperate Tassie (or Tasmania to the rest of us muggles). Finally, this sunny sojourn culminates in splashy Sydney for Mardi Gras.

Find out more

Sydney WorldPride 2023 sign.
WorldPride Sydney 2023 was one of the best gay events ever!

4. Dedicate 4-5 days to experience gay Sydney

To get the most out of your first trip to good old gay Sydney, we recommend staying for at least 4/5 days, ideally spanning a weekend – perhaps from Thursday to Monday/Tuesday. This will give you ample time to explore the city's iconic sites whilst also being able to delve into its dynamic gay scene.

Our seasoned advice is to resist the temptation of trying to check off every box on the Lonely Planet or other travel blogs' must-see lists. In our early travels as a gay couple, we fell into this trap, meticulously attempting to cover all the top attractions. The result? A frenzied experience – snap a quick photo here, snap another there – with no genuine connection to the surroundings.

We've learned that it's more rewarding to savor one experience thoroughly rather than skimming the surface of every highlight.

A gaggle of gays at the Stonewall Hotel gay bar on Oxford Street in Sydney.
The longer you stay in Sydney the more friends you'll make!

5. Go all out on Oxford Street!

The heart of Sydney's gay nightlife beats loudest on Oxford Street, nicknamed, ‘The Golden Mile'! This is where the majority of the gay parties happen, usually in a large building that will have several bars, drag shows, and a dance area.

The main ones to get acquainted with are Stonewall Hotel and Oxford Hotel. Oh yeah, here's a quirky tidbit about the Sydney gay scene: many bars and clubs are named ‘Hotels' (see below).

Our typical gay night out in Sydney kicks off at the Oxford, which offers a dynamic lineup, whether it's a quiz night, a drag show, or both! Around 11:30 pm, we make our way to Stonewall Hotel for the fabulous drag shows, masterfully hosted by the amiable Glitter King, KevinInTheCity. Post-drag delights continue at Universal, also situated on Oxford Street, boasting more drag performances and a spacious dance floor. Be sure to hit up our comprehensive guide to the best gay bars in Sydney for drag shows.

My favorite gay party on Oxford Street is Palms. A lot of our local friends disagree with me for saying this because Palms is a cozy basement club often with a queue snaking outside. They tell me it's not worth the wait because it feels a tad claustrophobic inside. However, I love Palms because they focus on 1980s and 1990s pop music which is totally my bag!

Another gay party in Sydney we loved is Poof Doof at Arq, located on Flinders Street just off Oxford Street. Billing itself as the ‘Home of House Music', Poof Doof delivers a sensory extravaganza with hot topless GoGo dancers, stellar live DJs, and show-stopping productions.

Group of gay guys partying at the Universal gay club in Sydney.
An epic night out at the gay bars of Oxford Street

6. Plan a Sunday at The Beresford Hotel

“Guys, Beresford Sundays is like gay Church in Sydney, you must go!”

…said almost every gay guy we spoke to when we first arrived in Sydney.

After a heavy Saturday night out at Poof Doof, we leisurely rose on Sunday and eventually strolled over to The Beresford Hotel around 5 pm. Beresford Sunday is conveniently located just a short walk from Oxford Street.

Upon entering there is a bar in the front area. As you continue walking to the back there is a seating area for food. We had a couple of burgers here as a late lunch, providing the perfect remedy for our hangover.

Adjacent to our seating spot was a charming courtyard space. After savoring our burgers, we migrated here to take full advantage of the 6-8 pm Happy Hour.

We'll never forget how we felt as we entered that courtyard. We were spellbound! The crowd was throbbing, a lineup of eye candy that'd make Willy Wonka blush! It felt like the entire gay community of Sydney had assembled here to see and be seen. The best part? Zero attitude! This is what we love most about Australia – the people are friendly, genuine, and exceptionally approachable. Making new friends here happens effortlessly!

As the evening progressed, the crowd migrated to the upstairs club area to watch the drag shows, which commenced at 10 pm and later danced into the early hours.

Trust us, this is the best gay party in Sydney!

Stef and Seby at the Beresford Sunday gay party in Sydney.
Beresford Sunday is Aussie Gay Church!

7. Get steamy at the Sydney Sauna

Who can resist the allure of a steamy bathhouse while on the road? It's an excellent way to, shall we say, connect with locals!

The Sydney Sauna stands out as one of the premier gay bathhouses in Sydney, especially for first-timers. Nestled right on Oxford Street it gets super busy, particularly on weekends.

Spanning two levels, the Sydney Sauna boasts a cafe, mazes, private cabins, a modest pool, a steam room, a sauna, showers, and a cinema room. What impressed us most was its impeccable cleanliness, a notable contrast to some of the gay saunas in the USA we've visited and across Europe.

The peak times at Sydney Sauna are on weekend evenings from around 10/11 pm, marking the initial ‘wave' of guys, and later, around 2/3 am when the club scene begins to wind down.

Other noteworthy gay saunas in Sydney worth exploring include the Bodyline Spa and Sauna (conveniently located near The Beresford, holding the title of the longest-running gay bathhouse in Sydney), and the 357 Sydney City Steam in Chinatown (popular among Asian gays and their admirers).

Sydney Sauna best gay bathhouse in Sydney.
Sydney Sauna on Oxford Street

8. Plan a day out to Cobblers and Obelisk gay beach

Sydney's beaches are a treat. Bondi Beach is the closest to the city, Manly Beach across the Bay was recommended to us by almost every Sydneysider as a highlight. However, Sydney also has several gay beaches, most of them officially nudist!

The main gay nudist beaches of Sydney are Obelisk, Little Congwong, and Lady Bay, each one a convenient 20-30 minute Uber ride from Darlinghurst.

Our personal favorite is Obelisk, mainly for the seclusion it provides. It is located in the Middle Head section of Sydney Harbour National Park. It is enveloped by bushland, which becomes quite the play area!

We went to Obelisk Beach on a Saturday afternoon around 2 pm. It was pretty busy, buzzing with activity – guys of all ages and a sprinkling of women. Everyone was joyful and most were in their birthday suit! Embracing the liberating spirit, we joined the scene, shedding our clothes and staking out our spot on the sand.

There is nothing more empowering than sunbathing and then taking a refreshing dip in the sea while wearing absolutely nothing. We felt so alive and free! We believe everyone should experience this feeling at least once in their lives.

It's worth noting that nudism here is entirely optional. Some guys opted for Speedos, and that's perfectly acceptable.

Obelisk's only drawback is its east-facing orientation, causing it to lose sunlight relatively quickly. No worries: a brief stroll across the road leads to Cobblers, another gay nudist beach that faces west, basking in the golden hour of the evening. Additionally, Cobblers features a green, bushy area where guys often go to cruise.

Gay guy hitchhiking in Speedos at Obelisk gay beach in Sydney.
‘Oh shoot I lost my ride (and trousers)…will anyone stop to give me a ride back to Darlinghurst?!'

9. Book yourself a show at the Sydney Opera House

I mean, come on – it's one of the most iconic buildings in the world, right? It's like visiting New York and skipping a Broadway show…

Upon touchdown in Sydney after our long-haul flight from Europe, we were wired—partly from the adrenaline, partly from the jet lag. After settling into our apartment, it became clear that a restful night was not in the cards. So, we opted for a morning run to Sydney Harbour to witness the sun casting its first rays over the Opera House. A little eccentric, perhaps, but undeniably one of the highlights of our trip!

The Opera House hosts a diverse array of shows throughout the year, including musicals, plays, and live concerts. On one visit, Seby surprised me with tickets to Miss Saigon for my birthday, and it was a hit. Other blockbuster musicals that have graced this iconic venue include West Side Story, Wicked, & Juliet, Grease, and Beauty & the Beast. During the Christmas season, you can catch productions like my personal favorite, Swan Lake. In April, the Sydney Comedy Festival takes center stage, while legendary artists such as Bjork, Sting, and Bob Dylan have delivered unforgettable performances. For the latest show lineup, we recommend checking the Sydney Opera House website.

One additional fabulous highlight of the Opera House is its vibrant display of rainbow colors during Mardi Gras – something to look out for if you find yourself in town around February/March!

Stef and Seby watching Miss Saigon musical at the Sydney Opera House
The perfect surprise present from my Seby at the Sydney Opera House

10. Strut with sass on a Sydney drag queen tour with Wonder Mama

From the get-go, Wonder Mama had us in stitches with her razor-sharp wit and killer heels!

Sashaying down Sydney's iconic Oxford Street on a Tuesday afternoon, Miss Wonder Mama turned heads and dropped jaws. With her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, she guided us through the city's vibrant queer history, sharing juicy tales that had us living for the drama.

Starting at Hyde Park by the historic Australian War Memorial, our journey took us up Oxford Street, with stops at Aussie Boys, The Bookshop Darlinghurst, House of Priscilla, Stonewall Hotel, Oxford Hotel, and the Sydney Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square. An essential stopover at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial in Green Park added a poignant touch, making this tour a must for LGBTQ travelers seeking a blend of flamboyance and vital history.

For those wanting their first taste of the gay rainbow in Sydney, trust me, darling, this is an experience you'll be spilling the tea about for ages.

Category is: unforgettable!

Wonder Mama drag queen gay tour of Sydney.
Miss Wonder Mama herself – the perfect guide to gay Sydney!

11. Try a Chicken Parmi at East Village Hotel

If you're looking for a romantic rooftop bar to impress your date, we recommend the East Village Hotel. Whilst not officially a gay venue, it's located right in the heart of Darlinghurst, so the clientele is inevitably going to be mainly family!

The ‘hotel' venue itself spans three levels but the rooftop terrace is our favorite. We visited for drinks and dinner on a Thursday evening with some local friends who claimed this was their go-to spot for a Chicken Parmy.

‘Chicken what?' I hear you ask…

Chicken Parmy is the Australian rendition of the Italian classic, Parmigiana, somewhat akin to a schnitzel – breaded chicken breast covered in tomato sauce and Parmigiano cheese.

It's one of the many culinary traditions that Italian immigrants brought to Australia but made it their own. While a traditional Italian Parmigiana features eggplant, the Australians incorporated the chicken breast, serving it with a side of chips and salad. Its popularity soared in the 1980s, and it's now considered a pub staple across Australia.

And, of course, in true Aussie tradition, the word became shortened from Parmigiano to Parmy.

Our verdict? Absolutely delicious…especially when hungover!

Stef Seb and Alan eaeting Chicken Parmy at the East Village rooftop in Sydney.
Trying Chicken Parmy with our buddy Alan at East Village Sydney

12. Marvel at Sydney’s top free attractions

There's a whole lot of Sydney to explore without breaking the bank. We found you could cover the majority of them on a morning run, or an evening stroll…or both.

Starting from our base in Darlinghurst, we headed north toward the harbor, a journey taking around 30 minutes (in our case closer to an hour because we had to stop to re-take a gazillion photos of Seby with the butterflies in the Botanic Garden!).

Our first stop, Hyde Park, renowned as the oldest public parkland in Australia. We often use Hyde Park as our reference point in Sydney, considering it the heart of the city center. Continuing northwards leads to the Royal Botanic Garden, a lush oasis of landscaped beauty and exotic plants. Entry is free and is open daily from 7 am to sunset.

As you continue North from the Botanic Garden, the magnificent Harbour unfolds, with the Opera House stealing the spotlight. While tickets are required for a show inside, you can still explore its exterior. For an optimal view, we recommend heading to the Harbour Bridge side of the bay, especially during sunrise. We went to ‘Daws Point Reserve' close to the Park Hyatt Sydney, which allowed us to see the sun rising behind the Opera House.

Next on the list is the iconic Harbour Bridge, the world's largest steel arch bridge, standing 440 feet (134 meters) above the harbor. Its distinctive arch design earned it the affectionate nickname “The Coathanger”. It links Dawes Point on the harbor side to Milsons Point. As you make your way across, we recommend a pit stop at the midway viewing platform for a breathtaking, bird's-eye view of the harbor.

The final spot we recommend checking out is Mrs Macquarie's Point. It's nestled next to the Botanic Gardens and a favored romantic sunset spot for couples as well as friends hanging out with some 420. Did you also wonder about its peculiar name? In 1810, the wife of Governor Macquarie left her mark by commissioning a seat to be chiseled into the rock, offering her an ideal perch to gaze at the harbor. The name has stuck ever since!

Sunrise over the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Sunrise is our favorite time of day to see the Sydney Opera House

13. Spend a day on the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

This is one of the most popular walks in Sydney that every local told us to do. It's a 3.7-mile (6km) coastal walk starting at Bondi Beach and finishing at the serene Coogee Beach. It takes around 2-3 hours, but in our case, it was closer to 4 hours because we stopped for a picnic midway and inevitable photo shoots!

The starting point is Sydney's famous Bondi Beach, itself a cool hangout. On sunny days the beach comes alive with surfers catching waves, beachgoers basking in the sun, and a lively atmosphere that epitomizes the Sydney lifestyle. And everyone is ripped! It's reason alone to visit.

The trail gracefully winds along the coastline, revealing the sheer beauty of the Sydney shoreline. We were mesmerized by the panoramic ocean views that unfolded before us.

Remember the part about everyone being ripped? Well along this coastal walk, we passed by several outdoor gyms where guys would work out…talk about eye candy… We also passed picnic spots, several beaches, hidden coves, and picturesque rocky cliffs. The best part is that it won't cost you a cent.

The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk isn't just a highlight, it's a Sydney essential!

Stefan posing at a lookout on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney.
Beat that for a stunning view!

14. Try the ice cream at Gelato Messina

Want to try the best ice cream in the whole world? Gelato Messina is where you need to head. What makes it The Best ice cream in the world we hear you ask? ‘Cause we say so!

Our friends in Sydney insisted we could not leave the city without sampling the heavenly creations at Gelato Messina Darlinghurst! Naturally, we had to test it out for ourselves, so with great zeal we stepped into a world where ice cream dreams come true.

Gelato Messina boasts an array of flavors that transcend the ordinary. Among our top picks were the exotic Coconut Pandam and the indulgent Milk Chocolate Fudge. What's more, the inventive minds behind the counter whip up daily specials with playful names like Hello Sailor, adding an element of surprise to every visit.

The best part? They encouraged us to sample multiple flavors before settling on our ultimate choice…talk about generosity! When it comes to portion sizes, Gelato Messina believes in abundance, ensuring that each scoop is a satisfying journey into frozen ecstasy.

Our pleasure!

Seby with a generous ice cream serving from Gelato Messina in Sydney.
“A size queen? Moi?!”

15. Gay Sydney Travel FAQ

To wrap up our gay Sydney article, we've compiled all the questions that danced through our minds during our first visit – questions we're betting you might be pondering too.

Why are bars/clubs called “hotels” in Sydney?

This tradition traces back to a bygone era when these venues served as hotels for overseas workers, featuring a bar on the ground floor and boarding rooms upstairs. The reason was down to the former liquor licensing laws whereby you had to provide accommodation to obtain a license to sell liquor. So if you did not offer accommodation, you would not be granted a liquor license by the State. Therefore, pubs and hotels became the same thing.

Over time these licensing laws have been liberalized but hotels like Stonewall, Oxford, and the Beresford retained the tradition and kept the name.

When is the best time of year to visit Sydney?

Sydney is a 365-day-a-year destination. The gay scene is on fire throughout the year, those ripped guys that will cause your Grindr to crash will always be in town. While summer (December to February) is the hottest, perfect for beach days and Mardi Gras, the shoulder seasons of fall (March to May) and spring (September to November) offer pleasant weather. The coldest and wettest months are in winter (June to August).

Stefan in Speedos at the Cobblers nudist gay beach in Sydney.
Late September: not a bad time of year to hit the beaches of Sydney

Can I hold my boyfriend's hand when walking the streets of Sydney?

Absolutely! Particularly if you're in the gay bubble of Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, or Potts Point. This is one of the gayest cities in the world that we've been to.

Which is the gayest gym in Sydney?

Almost every other gay we spoke to either went to Fitness First in Kings Cross or Darlinghurst (just off Oxford Street). They are super cruisy; a paradise for gay guys looking to work out, and, well, work out!

Tip from us, even if you're mobile phone home carrier offers you an affordable package for Australia, it's worth getting a local Aussie SIM card so that you have a local number. This will allow you to sign up for local gyms like Fitness First and use them for a week for free.

Where can I see koalas and kangaroos in Sydney?

To see them in the wild you need to head to the Outback or more rural areas. But closer to home your best bet is at Taronga Zoo, Sydney Zoo, or better, the Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park where you can get close up to them and even feed them. To reach it head to Central Station, take the T1 train to Doonside Station (around 50 minutes), and from here it's a 20-minute walk.

Is Golden Gaytime an actual gay ice cream?

Hell yeah…and it tastes of unicorns and rainbows!

This slice of Aussie yumminess was released in 1959 when ‘Gaytime' meant having a good time. We love the fact that it has stood the test of time, its name unchanged despite the evolving meaning of ‘gay' since the 1950s.

Stefan with a Golden Gaytime ice cream in Sydney.
You've not lived until you've tasted a GAY ice cream!

For more inspiration:

Stefan Arestis

Hey everyone, I'm Stefan, the curly-haired Greek flavor behind the gay travel blog Nomadic Boys. Together with my other half, I have explored more than 90 countries across 5 continents. What I love most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, learning new cultures. I've written about LGBTQ travel in numerous online publications such as Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times and Pink News as well as for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Check my full bio here.