What's it really like?
Sydney may be home to one of the best gay parties in the world in the form of Mardi Gras, but its trendier sibling Melbourne has a lot to bring to the table. Australia’s cultural capital is home to a thriving artistic and urban scene, filled with an ever-evolving, uber-cool lineup of bars, clubs, restaurants, galleries, and live music venues. Gay Melbourne venues make up a big part of this, especially in the youthful hipster areas of Collingswood and Fitzroy and in the polished, upscale seaside suburb of St Kilda.
Gay bars in Melbourne range from low-key dives to fetish basements filled with men in leather chaps, but everywhere is friendly and accepting. There’s an active, fun drag scene, and you’ll never struggle to find a gay club or party in town. Meanwhile, Australia’s major cities have not felt the impact of gay hookup apps as strongly as other places in the world: while it’s easy to meet someone with a good old swipe right, saunas and cruising bars are still extremely popular.
Of course, there’s more to Melbourne than gay bars and saunas. World-class museums and lovely parks pepper the city, while day trips can take you to wine tasting tours, outdoor adventures, and even face-to-face encounters with penguins. When you’re done for the day, you can be guaranteed there will be a welcoming queer space somewhere nearby for you to meet and mingle with gay locals and visitors.
Melbourne’s best gay-friendly hotels can be divided into two areas City Center or St Kilda. Its only 20 minutes on the tram to between the two but both have different vibes. Much of St Kilda charm’s lies in it’s gorgeous palm-fringed promenade while City Center is closer to much of Melbourne’s gay action.
Historically speaking, Australia as a whole has not always had the best record in regards to LGBT rights. This, however, has changed a lot in recent years, and the country is now among the world’s most gay-friendly. A landmark vote in 2017 finally legalized same-sex marriage across the country, and gay people have been formally protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2003.
More specifically, attitudes to homosexuality have always been far more progressive and open-minded in Australia’s major urban hubs compared to more remote regions. Melbourne, as the country’s cultural capital, has long had the sort of arty vibe that tends to welcome all approaches to gender and sexuality with open arms. With its annual Mardi Gras celebrations, Sydney may be Australia’s gay capital, but Melbourne is by no means less gay-friendly.
Gay couples are highly unlikely to experience any discrimination in Melbourne, especially in the gay areas of Collingwood, St Kilda, Fitzroy, South Yarra, and Prahran. All hotels in Melbourne are gay-friendly, but some in these neighborhoods may be more specifically geared towards gay visitors.
Australia was one of the quickest countries in the world to respond to the HIV pandemic with appropriate public health programs. As a result, the country has been successful in keeping the spread of HIV under control. According to the most recent data, 63% of cases of HIV in Australia are attributed to men who have sex with men, and about 6.3% of men who have sex with men in Australia are living with HIV.
It is pretty easy to get tested for HIV in Melbourne. There are various clinics offering tests throughout the city, but not all of them will be free. We recommend the Melbourne Sexual Health Center in Carlton, which is a short walk away from the gay area in Collingswood and which offers free HIV and STI testing for everyone, including international visitors. You may have to call ahead to book an appointment, but this is usually given for the following day at the latest. You can find out more about accessing their services here.
Gay venues are distributed around Melbourne’s considerable expanse, but there are two main gayborhoods: downtown Collingwood and seaside St Kilda. St Kilda has historically been the larger gay hub, but many venues there have closed in recent years while the popular nightlife districts of Collingwood and Fitzroy have become increasingly gayer.
Both are awesome areas to stay in, and each has its advantage. St Kilda is an upscale area with a beautiful, pleasant promenade, cool urban beaches, and several trendy shops and restaurants. It is just next to South Yarra and Prahran, which are two other popular gay neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, Collingwood is one of Melbourne’s cooler, grittier districts. A former blue collar neighborhood, it has undergone the type of artsy gentrification seen in similar districts throughout the world: think colorful street art, industrial-style bars, impossibly cool brunch spots, and some of the best live music in the country. It is right next to Fitzroy, an equally trendy area popular with students and young professionals.
Traveling between these two gay hubs is relatively easy, thanks to Melbourne’s excellent public transport network. The number 12 tram connects Collingwood and Fitzroy to St Kilda in under an hour. If you don’t mind paying more, a taxi between the two areas will take about 20 minutes.
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