The best gay city breaks in Europe and beyond? We invited one of the world’s most respected travel bloggers, Adam Groffman of Travels with Adam, to introduce his favourite LGBT destinations, along with the key events, cafes, cabarets, clubs and cultural institutions that make them special…
I know the concept of a “gay city” is hard to grasp, but I believe it’s necessary. In relation to facts, technically all our cities are inhabited by LGBTIQ folks. But what is a gay city? For me, it means a space where being homosexual is just like being heterosexual, where gay culture is open and welcomed, where we – queer people – can live in less fear. Unfortunately there are many problems and issues like random violence against gay people and hate crimes in almost every destination in the world, but the cities on this list aim at integration and especially respect.
Of course there are many other U.S. cities (San Francisco!) and Latin American cities (hey, Buenos Aires, hi São Paulo) that are super tolerant and open, but for those looking to fly off on a short city break or weekend away the European cities below offer unrivalled accessibility. Overall Europe has a great atmosphere for gay tourism, but more than just their open character and LGBT scenes each of these destinations has so much to offer…
I couldn’t ignore the US completely though, so the tenth destination on this list is an old favourite from back home, and one that most Europeans can reach easily.
1. Berlin Baby!
It may not have the warmest climate, but Berlin has a warm heart. As the capital of what’s been recently called the most queer country in Europe, Berlin has a long history as a gay destination — home to many icons in gay history from Christopher Isherwood to David Bowie. Today, Berlin is a thriving hotspot with an annual pride (Christopher Street Day) attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each June. Year-round, gay parties and club nights take place everywhere from mega-club Berghain to little venues popular with locals like Cocktail d’Amour. There’s also the Schwules Museum — a unique place to discover queer art and history. Every Monday, Kino International offers the best of queer cinema in the Mongay series. Berlin hosts also the Porn Film Festival and has lots of memorial for fallen LGBTIQ people, either during World War II or more recent temporary shrines celebrating young queer people who may have committed suicide.
2. Barcelona Bedlam
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Barcelona is Spain. Barcelona is queer. The city is Spain, but also Catalunya, and partly “everywhere”. As a port city that’s influenced by a cosmopolitan mix of residents, queer people are in their natural habitat here. You can see sexy gay couples playing volleyball on the city beaches or enjoying the sun in the nudist section of Mar Bella. Moreover, the cabaret scene has several shows including drag, such as at the legendary El Cangrejo club. You can visit the small LGBT bookstore Antinovs or grab a cocktail in many of the gay or gay-friendly bars like El Ciclista or La Federica. Another reason to visit Barcelona is its proximity to Sitges, a small town and beach that has become a sort of mecca of gay culture, famous for the annual Sitges Gay Bear Week and its Carnival celebrations.
3. Move It in Madrid
Madrid is home to Europe’s largest gay pride festival and in 2017 is hosting WorldPride. Madrid’s gay scene is mostly focused around the neighborhood (gayborhood) of La Chueca where you’ll find countless restaurants, bars, shops and bookstores catering to LGBT individuals. It’s not uncommon to spot a gay couple holding hands in the middle of Avenida ????, or while strolling in the beautiful El Retiro park. And beyond this, the culinary experience of Madrid is perfect for a romantic holiday, with amazing food tours, tapas bars and restaurants. The party Churros con Chocolate is one of Madrid’s biggest gay parties. Spanish cinema is maybe one of the most political about gay visibility, with Almodóvar’s frequent depiction of queer people in both Madrid and Barcelona a crucial part of Spain’s era-defining La Movida movement. Not to mention that gay blood can be donated in Spain and you can adopt a child. Viva Espana!
4. Down For Dublin
I love Ireland. People there are friendly and cool, possibly because of their long history of oppression and pain. And yet, they smile and voted overwhelmingly YES (62% to 38%) in a referendum on same sex marriage that gave an example to more intolerant and homophobic nations. This is a reason not only to be proud of being Irish, but to be proud of visiting Ireland. The first stop in Dublin is for sure the great venue The George — an LGBT pub with regularly themed club nights and drag shows. Some graffiti outside the bar celebrates the Irish referendum. And sometimes The George opens its door to host a small market with local artist selling crafts, including trendy scarfs and art by the LGBT community. If you visit in May, don’t forget that Dublin also hosts the International Gay Theatre Festival, with performances and plays that are an exploration of both dramatic art and gay life. Pride in Dublin is in June and if you have the luxury of visiting during this time of the year, make sure you get out of the city and visit more of that picturesque Irish countryside, especially along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Read UTB’s Long Weekend guide for more tips on the perfect Dublin city break.
5. Manchester Madness
First, Alan Turing. The city of Manchester is as gay as it gets. Imagine the place where Turing was living his gay life in secret being now openly gay. Times have changed and Manchester has a great atmosphere. There’s no Internet without Turing and that’s why you should go to visit his memorial in Sackville Gardens (where you’ll also find a memorial for transgender victims of violence). Nearby, the famous Canal Street, is now the place where a lot of gay bars, restaurants, cafés and venues are located, and was the inspiration for the series Queer as Folk. G-A-Y and The Eagle are part of the venues you need to include in your exploration of Manchester’s gayborhood, or visit during Manchester Pride – the UK’s largest pride festival with major music acts and parties all week.
6. Open Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a must because it hosts one of the weirdest – in the good sense of the word – gay pride festivals in Europe. I’m not talking about the fact that canals and boats are used to parade around A’dam, but of the coolness and the air of sexual freedom and lack of judgements that inhabits this place. Amsterdam has always been a very progressive city and while many people head to the city’s Red Light District, LGBT visitors would do best by visiting Reguliersdwarsstraat – Amsterdamn’s most famous gay street with a handful of great bars. Make sure to visit Club Church, one of the city’s best clubs and play areas. Thursdays at Club Church are a little more tame with drag shows while other nights host naked parties or fetish events.
7. Prague Pride
Further east, Prague has been a beacon of queer culture for years (especially considering the city’s history with the gay porn industry – google it!). A lot of Prague’s best gay nightlife takes place in the Vinohrady district, which also doubles as the city’s cool hipster hotspot. The Club Termix is one of my favorites in the city, which is hidden in the basement behind a door you have to buzz yourself into. Underground, you’ll find the remains of an old Czech car hanging from the ceiling and plenty of youngsters partying to pop beats. Other gay hangouts in Prague include Café Café — a sweet and cosy brunch spot. But visit Prague during their annual pride festival for a real treat — two weeks of seminars and conferences on LGBTQ rights alongside late-night parties with go-go dancers and ending with a parade march through the city.
8. Sexy Stockholm
Scandinavia has long been at the top of many LGBT travelers’ lists — and not just because of the attractive locals. Stockholm’s annual gay pride is the largest in the region with a week-long festival including political and activist meetings as well as live music, parties and even a training center to learn about sexual fetishes and bondage. Year-round, though, Stockholm is a hot gay destination with weekly parties like Candy, Wonk or underground-electro at King Kong. Look for events happening on the city’s coolest island of Sodermalm, especially in the super gay-friendly and fashion-forward district of SoFo — which is pretty much just a copy of Brooklyn but with taller, blonder people.
9. Romantic Rome
Let’s start by the beach, Rome is a great destination for gay travelers and the sunset at Ostia – and the gay beach – is a great way to relax. Visit Rome during the summertime though, and you’ll be treated to plenty of opportunities to drink in public and enjoy a taste of that Italian culture for romance. Make sure to visit the Gay Village – a venue that regularly hosts cultural & art performances for three months over the summer, as well as regular parties in an outdoor park. Year-round, the Glamda club is a regular party where many LGBT couples hang out and enjoy quality DJs, a friendly environment and expensive drinks. It’s young and hip and probably not what your grandmother imagines for a trip to Rome.
10. We Heart NYC
From Manhattan to Brooklyn, NYC is one of the most interesting gay cities in the world. With five boroughs and 8.5 million people, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a trip to New York City. Of course, the iconic Stonewall Inn (famous for being the site of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising protest which marked the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement), is located in Greenwich Village and is a must-visit, especially considering the bar’s recent designation as a National Monument. Nearby in the East Village, The Cock is a longtime dive bar with a friendly and social atmosphere great for tourists (but it’s a cash only bar—an odd exception in NYC). Other places like the Chelsea Market and the Highline are popular LGBT hotspots, each with their own bits of gay history to go with the now trendy and gentrified area. In Brooklyn, besides all the hipsters, flea markets and budget places to eat, the gay bar Metropolitan holds down the scene. LGBT visitors will find New York overwhelmingly welcoming.
This of course is not the limit of great destinations for gay travelers. Just about every city in the world is going to have a scene; just sometimes it’s just harder to discover. Look out for local media or LGBT-newspapers which are printed in most European and American cities. A good way to find LGBT-owned businesses or venues when traveling somewhere foreign is to find a local LGBT center or rights group. Don’t be shy and simply reach out, whether in person or online. Since the advent of the Internet, the gay community has always found ways to connect and communicate safely online, so it’s just a matter of starting there to find the best places to enjoy offline.
About The Author
Adam Groffman started blogging in 2009, becoming a spokesperson for gay travel in the process. For more of his favourite destinations check out his gay guide to Europe, which includes more details on many of the above and some other hot cities for LGBT travellers to explore. Or check out his bio on Urban Travel Blog for more about the man himself.
Searching for more travel inspiration? Check out our weekend guides to over 60 of the world’s greatest destinations, as well as Europe’s best cheap city breaks and our favourite couples’ getaways.