Thursday, June 20, 2024

Checking in Down Under for Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Are you ready to party Down Under? Australia’s harborside cultural capital, Sydney, is counting down to that most fabulous time of year—Mardi Gras—and we know where you should stay.

Sydney, home of the world-famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is a long flight from the States but it’s nice to know what’s waiting for you on the other side of the world more than makes your journey worth it! The first priority is picking somewhere fabulous to stay and there are numerous distinctive and world class establishments to recommend.

Vivid, Sydney 2023

In your travels you may see Sydney referred to as ‘Warrane,’ which is the Aboriginal name for the settlement at beautiful Sydney Cove, from which the city has grown since British settlement in 1788 when it was famously established as a penal colony.

Today, Sydney is the undisputed cultural capital of the South Pacific, drawing together many strands of a diverse present-day culture while acknowledging its multilayered colonial legacy. This creates a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere against the stunning natural beauty of the harbor foreshores, its waterways and parklands, and bustling urban improvements. Add to this a laid-back approach to life and friendly locals, and you have the pick of international destinations for 2024.

In 2023, Sydney lured a record number of U.S. visitors with some landmark hotel openings, a thriving and innovative culinary scene, and cultural firsts, including marquee events such as Sydney WorldPride, Vivid Sydney, FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the first-ever SXSW Sydney which will return in 2024.

February welcomes the start of Australia’s most prominent LGBTQ celebration, the month-long  Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a 45-year beacon of diversity and acceptance in the region. This year’s packed program can be found here and includes Sissy Ball (Feb. 24), Paradiso Pool Party (Feb. 26), Queer Art After Hours (Feb. 28), Diamond Dance (Feb. 29), and of course, the world-famous and iconic Parade (Mar. 2) where hundreds of thousands celebrate diversity with glitter and glamour.

To cap it all off is a Party the likes of which you will never have seen before—across six venues and over 10 hours of decadence and debauchery! This year’s Party is headlined by Adam Lambert.

Where to stay: Editor’s Pick

Ovolo Hotel Wolloomooloo

The harborside inner city suburb of Woolloomooloo, specifically Ovolo Hotel Woolloomooloo on the Finger Wharf, is one of our top picks for where to stay during your visit. It’s far enough away from all the action to give you privacy and time out but within access of events such as Queer Art After Hours at the Art Gallery of NSW—which is within sight and walking distance of the hotel. Bars, cafes, and parties are just a ride share (Uber or DiDi) away. Fun fact: ‘Woolloomooloo’ is thought to derive from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of plenty.’

Best of all, when staying at Ovolo you’re situated on the water in a historic building with major loft and warehouse vibes. Ovolo is a 5-star boutique property that offers guests ample room to move. We stayed in a loft-style suite (2 floors with water views) that felt more like an apartment than a hotel suite. Not familiar with the Ovolo brand? Check out this teaser, and a Tripadvisor accolade:

The Woolloomooloo property’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool with poolside cabanas, drinks and dining at Alibi (craft cocktails and a vegetarian menu), a 24-hour gym, and free high-speed Wi-Fi, just to name a few. The staff are incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, and there are a few perks, such as vintage computer games, a pool table, snacks, and welcome drinks. The mini bar is free, and breakfast is included! The breakfast at Alibi is mostly plant-based, with healthy options such as yogurt, seasonal fruit, green smoothies, avocado, hummus, and eggs made fresh to order. So is the coffee, and this is the place to ask for that Aussie caffeine sensation, the Flat White.

So much of the atmosphere is inherently supplied by the Finger Wharf itself—a heritage-listed former working wharf and passenger terminal (c.1910), that locals lobbied hard to save it from demolition. Thankfully, they won and it was restored to an airy, eye-catching, architecturally unique precinct housing a marina, residential apartments (Russell Crowe lives here), restaurants, and hotel. Today, when you enter the Ovolo, you’ll be greeted by the grand scale of the wharf’s engineering with many of the original architectural fixtures preserved for authentic ambiance. Added to this are the quirky design touches of today and a few nods to Sydney’s rock ‘n’ roll glory days. Maybe you will book the AC/DC or the INXS suite!

One of the most enchanting things about Ovolo is the light and breezy concept of ‘indoor-alfresco’ dining at Alibi. The innovative vegetarian Mediterranean menu helmed by plant-based Aussie dining pioneer Shannon Martinez, and the excellent bar with botanical-infused cocktails and spritzes (best Margarita we’ve ever had outside of Mexico was here!), is worth staying on property for—and that’s saying something in a foodie town like Sydney. Plus, this is a relaxed and cool place to hang out with its tropical greenhouse and boho vibe!

Shannon Martinez (center)

For Mardi Gras, Ovolo has partnered with Virgin Australia to offer guests some special experiences for the rainbow season!

Mardi Gras Brunch

In celebration of Mardi Gras, Ovolo is rolling out the rainbow carpet and co-hosting the ultimate brunch with Virgin Australia. This vibrant morning is filled with delectable bites, fabulous cocktails, and entertainment from the infectiously fun ‘Hot Trans Summer’ DJ Victoria Anthony, and some of Australia’s best drag queens.

DJ Victoria Anthony will play at Alibi’s Mardi Gras Brunch

Dial up the fabulousness with your outfit for your chance to win some amazing prizes including flights with Virgin Australia. Tickets are A$99 per person, which includes brunch and two hours of bottomless Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, and Espresso Martinis. Located at Alibi Bar & Dining on Saturday, March 2, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm. Tickets are limited. Book here.

Brunch, Party and Recover with a stay at Ovolo Woolloomooloo

Add a little more glitz and glamour to your stay at Ovolo this Mardi Gras. Guests who book a stay at Ovolo HoteWoolloomooloo over the Mardi Gras weekend will enjoy bonus perks, including a disco cocktail on arrival and a recovery pack gift bag valued at over $150! Enter the promo code VAMG24 when booking to receive your bonus perks. All the d3tails are at Ovolo Woolloomooloo Boutique & Luxury Design Hotel in Sydney (

Sydney has seen some stunning redevelopments in iconic buildings or sites as the capital of the South Pacific continues to enjoy its economic, cultural, and property boom.

Other new hotels

W Sydney

Now open, W Sydney is Sydney’s new waterfront luxurious accommodation boasting the innovative design we’ve come to expect from the W brand. This property features amenities such as a relaxing spa, a rooftop pool with breathtaking views of the city, and a rich late-night dessert menu. Its prime location downtown makes it an ideal place for travelers to stay while visiting Sydney.

The Capitol Hotel

The Capitol Hotel is sure to delight theater buffs with 95 spectacular rooms decorated with custom prints paying homage to the performing arts. Adjacent to one of Australia’s only surviving atmospheric theaters, the heritage-listed Capitol Theatre, The Capitol Hotel is the perfect accommodation for travelers looking to be at the center of the city’s culture and art.  

For more information visit

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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