Cultural capital of Australia, and repeatedly voted as one of the word’s most liveable cities, Melbourne has an edgy, cool urban feel that will feel familiar to visitors from Europe, with a changeable climate to match.
With its compact Central Business District (CBD), major arts infrastructure, annual festivals, impressive sporting facilities, sprawling suburbs and its own seaside neighbourhood and harbour, together with great shopping, cool and funky restaurant and bar scene, and the most diverse and happening gay scene in Australia, Melbourne really does have something for everyone.
The Melbourne gay scene is liberally spread around the city, and divides roughly north and south of the Yarra river, with very little in the way of gay venues, other than Gay Saunas in the CBD. The city hosts year-round LGBT events, with the biggest being in the summer months.
The Northside gay scene is arty, independent and alternative, and has most of the city’s leather and sex-on-site venues. It also has a higher lesbian population. The main gay-orientated districts in this part of town are Abbotsford, Collingwood, Fitzroy, Northcote, Brunswick and Carlton.
Southside has a higher gay male population, with numerous Gay Bars, Gay Dance Clubs and fashion outlets to serve them, with a main focus around Chapel Street, one of Melbourne’s major shopping and trendy restaurant areas. The gay influence spreads around the districts of Windsor, Prahran, South Yarra, Richmond and South Melbourne, including St Kilda.
Allow time to get to know both North and Southside – both areas have a whole lot of attractions for gay visitors.
Melbourne Airport is a major international airport of four terminals, with regular flights to all main Australian and New Zealand cities, and direct flights to major Asian hub cities and to Europe.
There is no train connection from the airport to the city centre, and with taxis being expensive, a good option is the regular Skybus which operates 24/7. The bus picks up from Terminals 1 and 3 and drops at the Southern Cross Station Coach Terminal, in the CBD. The $17 one-way fare compares to over $50 in a taxi.
The city’s second airport, Avalan, located to the southwest of the city, is used by low-cost carrier Jetstar on domestic routes. A shuttle bus connects this airport to the city centre coach terminal at Southern Cross.
Melbourne’s compact CBD is laid out in a grid system like Manhattan and is easy to get around on foot or by hopping on and off the trams. All the main city attractions lie within a 20-minute journey time from the centre and can be easily reached by the city’s good public transport network of trams, buses and trains.
To use the city’s public transport system, you will now need a Myki card which includes temporary day passes for visitors. You will need to top this up with money before travelling. Myki cards are widely available at designated machines and at 7Eleven stores. Fares are based on the city zones – Zone 1 being the inner city and Zone 2 the middle and outer suburbs.
The most popular areas for gay visitors are city centre (CBD), St Kilda and South Yarra/Prahran.
For our list of some of the best hotels in Melbourne for gay travellers, visit the Gay Melbourne Hotels page.
Federation Square is the best starting point and good orientation point for touring the CBD. Located just by Flinders Street station, the Square has a very useful visitor centre. Also located in the Square is ACMI, the Centre for the Moving Image.
The CBD is well worth exploring for its cool bars and hotels, many of which are tucked away in small alleyways. There are many world-class fashion stores to be found here also (as well as on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and Chapel Street in Prahran).
NGV (The National Gallery of Victoria) is the oldest public art gallery in Australia. Spread over two sites, Federation Square being the home of Australian art, and St Kilda Road housing the International Collection, NGV hosts many cool exhibitions year round and is a must visit for art lovers.
The Eureka Tower is the tallest residential building in the southern hemisphere and has a viewing deck open to the public at the top for awesome views over the entire city.
Immigration Museum on Flinders Street tells the often moving stories of immigrants who have settled in Melbourne from all over the world, and is well worth a visit.
Chapel Street in South Yarra & Prahran – for designer shopping and café culture and to discover the heart of the Southside gay scene (also nearby Commercial Road).
Prahran Market – for delicious gourmet food.
Royal Botanic Gardens – a lovely spot located in South Yarra.
St Kilda – for your genuine Melbourne seaside experience, always busy at weekends. Great range of cafes, bars and shopping, as well as the Pier and Esplanade with a great Sunday market. Also not to miss here is Luna Park, the famous amusement park that dates back to 1912.
The Shrine of Remembrance, also in St Kilda – don’t miss the unique Ray of Light demonstration which takes place every 30 minutes.
Melbourne Zoo – located in Parkville, with a popular Jazz at the Zoo event on weekend evenings.
Melbourne Museum – in Carlton, this is the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere with seven main galleries.
Fitzroy and Collingwood are the trendy suburbs north of the CBD, full of cool cafes, restaurants, and independent fashion labels, and the centre of another vibrant gay scene of the city.
The river Yarra flows through the city with plenty of riverside walks, jogging and cycle lanes.
The summer season (December – February) attracts the most visitors, though beware Melbourne’s reputation for severe and abrupt weather changes, which can deliver all four seasons of weather in one day, so come prepared. Be sure to experience one of the city’s many annual gay events during your stay – you will have plenty to choose from:
The highlight of Melbourne’s gay calendar is, without a doubt, the Midsumma Festival – a gay festival with a huge variety of events that runs for three weeks from mid January throughout the city. The Melbourne Pride March takes place as part of the Festival, culminating in a huge party on St Kilda Beach, with Fitzroy Street traffic replaced with the partying crowds for the day.
Chillout is an Autumn gay rural festival, taking place in nearby Daylesford and Hepburn Springs over four days in early March.
Another gay cultural highlight of the city is the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, held in April. It screens over 150 films in 11 days, and is one of the top 5 gay film festivals in the world.
With the winter comes HiBearNation, held every June, featuring the unique Mr Australasia Bear Competition as the highlight of a whole week of events attracting bears, cubs and their admirers from the world over to Melbourne. The internationally renowned Men on Men Art Competition, run by The Laird, is also launched during this week.
Rounding up the annual Melbourne gay festival line up is AWOL (A Week of Leather) held every August/September time, at The Laird, with the highlight being the Code Black Party.
All visitors, except holders of Australian and New Zealand passports, must obtain either a visa or an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) before entering Australia.
New Zealand citizens are issued with a visa on arrival in Australia.
Passport holders of most European countries can apply online for an eVisitor visa. These visas are free. Check your eligibility for an eVisitor visa here.
Passport holders from the USA, Canada, Singapore and many other countries can apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Check your eligibility for an ETA here.
The currency is the Australian dollar. ATM’s are widely available throughout the city. Debit and Credit cards are widely accepted.
Melbourne hosts many of Australia’s best and largest annual arts and sports events – some of the major highlights include:
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival – the third largest in the world, and the biggest cultural event in Australia, takes place over a full month, every April.
The Melbourne Cabaret Festival takes place every June, with a diverse range of acts performing in venues throughout the city.
The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s grandest horse racing event, and takes place every November. This, together with the Queens Birthday Weekend in June, create some of the best long party weekends in the city, as well as the Labour Day Weekend in May and the Easter Long Weekend in March or April.
Sports mad Melbourne hosts many of the best Australian Rules Football teams and venues, including the MCG and the Etihad Stadiums, together with the major cricket, tennis and horse racing venues of the country.
The Great Ocean Road is an unmissable and classic drive from Melbourne, to take in the twelve apostles of crumbling limestone rocks which dominate this part of the South Australian coast. Best to take two days to do this justice, with an overnight stop in one of the coastal towns along the well signed route.