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Best LGBTQ+ destinations in Europe
Europe is considered the best in LGBTQ+ travel for a reason. It boasts a vibrant tapestry of LGBTQ+ destinations, each offering a unique blend of culture, acceptance, and celebration of diversity. From the sun-kissed shores of Spain to the rich history of Berlin, these cities and regions have emerged as beacons of inclusivity for travelers of all identities. In this exploration of the “Best LGBTQ+ Destinations in Europe,” we’ll embark on a journey through the continent, unveiling the heartwarming stories of communities, lively festivals, and a spectrum of experiences that make Europe a playground for LGBTQ+ travelers seeking acceptance, entertainment, and cultural enrichment.
Despite some progress in recent years, it seems that the world still has a ways to go in terms of gender equality. A recent survey revealed that numerous LGBTQ+ individuals have faced unfavorable situations while traveling and prefer to visit a destination that prioritizes their safety and comfort. Simple actions like holding hands are still reserved for non-LGBTQ+ individuals who can do so without fear or vigilance, regardless of how accepting a country may seem. However, instead of the commonly mentioned top LGBTQ+ destinations in Europe such as London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Brighton, here are some alternative places worth considering for your travels.
Malta is a highly LGBTQ+-friendly destination for travelers, known for its progressive legal protections, non-discrimination laws, and annual LGBTQ+ events like Malta Pride. The country offers LGBTQ+ travelers a warm and welcoming environment with LGBTQ+-friendly accommodations and a thriving nightlife scene in places like Valletta and St. Julian’s. In addition to its LGBTQ+ inclusivity, Malta boasts stunning landscapes, historic sites, and beautiful beaches, making it an attractive destination for all travelers.
Malta, the first country in the European Union to ban conversion practices, is a leading nation for LGBTQ+ rights and equality. It ranks first on ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe Index and is one of only five countries that guarantee queer rights under the constitution. Discover the charming and intricate streets of Valletta and Rabat, home to must-visit spots like Noni restaurant, Monaliza Lounge bar, and popular nightclub Michelangelo in Paceville. For a comfortable stay, consider Number 11, an upscale “adults-only” boutique hotel nearby. Don’t miss out on pride celebrations in September, including EuroPride in Valletta mid-month.
In 2015, Ireland made history by becoming the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote. That is reason enough why its one of the best LGBTQ+ destinations in Europe. Fast forward two years and Leo Varadkar is elected taoiseach, making him the fourth openly gay head of government in the world. This progressive attitude can be felt throughout Dublin’s LGBTQ-friendly establishments. Two that stand out are Social Fabric Café in the vibrant neighborhood of Stoneybatter, perfect for a friendly brunch, and Street 66 bar – a great spot for cocktails before heading to The George, an iconic LGBTQ+ institution.
Alternatively, cross the river for the Outhouse LGBTQ+ community resource cafe on Capel Street and PantiBar, owned by drag queen, activist and performer Panti Bliss, or the weekly “big gay disco” Sunday Social at Farrier & Draper. The main parade is held on at Dublin Pride, which takes place from late June.
Copenhagen, Denmark, is renowned as a highly LGBTQ+-friendly destination, celebrated for its inclusive culture, progressive policies, and vibrant LGBTQ+ scene. The city consistently ranks as one of the most LGBTQ+-welcoming places globally, with anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ+ rights in all areas of life. Copenhagen boasts a thriving LGBTQ+ nightlife, particularly in the lively district of Vesterbro and the famous LGBTQ+ venue, Centralhjørnet. The city’s annual LGBTQ+ event, Copenhagen Pride, is a highlight, featuring a colorful parade and numerous festivities. Moreover, many of Copenhagen’s hotels, restaurants, and bars are LGBTQ+-friendly, and the city’s atmosphere is one of acceptance and celebration of diversity, making it an excellent destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.
The city is considered as one of the best LGBTQ+ destinations in Europe for good reason. There is a small commercial scene in the Danish capital due to the high level of LGBTQ+ integration, similar to other Scandinavian cities like Stockholm and Oslo. A highly recommended experience is to try eating brunch at Oscar, then afterwards, grab a beer at Centralhjørnet, one of Europe’s oldest gay bars hosting drag and jazz every Sunday.
Glasgow, Scotland, is a welcoming LGBTQ+-friendly destination known for its inclusive atmosphere and vibrant LGBTQ+ community. The city has made significant strides in LGBTQ+ rights, and Scotland, as a whole, has progressive anti-discrimination laws, including legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ scene is diverse and lively, with an array of LGBTQ+ bars, clubs, and events. The annual Glasgow Pride event is a highlight, featuring a colorful parade and various festivities that celebrate diversity and equality. Many accommodations and businesses in Glasgow proudly display their LGBTQ+ inclusivity, creating a warm and accepting environment for LGBTQ+ travelers. The city’s rich history, cultural attractions, and friendly locals further enhance its appeal as a fantastic LGBTQ+-friendly destination.
There is a vibrant food scene in Glasgow that draws many travellers. In addition to Waterloo, Underground is another classic gay bar that’s equally fun for drag or karaoke. Delmonica’s has been a part of Merchant City’s gay triangle for over a decade. Stay nearby at the Brunswick hotel, which sits on a street lined with rainbow flags. You should also visit Category Is Books, a fiercely independent LGBTQ+ bookstore.
In Italy, LGBTQ+ residents are not fully recognized in law: although same-sex relationships and civil unions are legal, marriage isn’t. Milan, however, is known for holding hands or kissing same-sex couples, unlike many other Italian cities. Porta Venezia around Via Lecco is home to a queer centre, including Leccomilano, Bar Basso, or Blanco, a relaxed cafe-bar.
For a big night out, there’s warehouse club Magazzini, the quirkily named Toilet, or Club Plastic, which has been a haunt of Madonna, Freddie Mercury and Elton John since 1980. Gate Party is a queer event held every month that includes light shows, theatrical sets, dancers and performers.
Go to Birmingham and its easy to find rainbow flags. The Gay Village is easily visible, with its bars, shops, and cafes centered around Hurst Street. Start with bibimbap at Topokki’s Korean restaurant before drinks at Missing, Sidewalk, or The Fox, before dancing at the legendary Nightingale Club, the oldest gay club in the city.
Celebrate the summer’s hottest LGBTQ+ happening, Fierce’s Healing Gardens of Bab: a key component of Birmingham Festival. The event will feature an array of captivating artworks, captivating performances, vibrant drag shows, and dynamic club nights, featuring talented individuals from countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Canada, India and Australia. Additionally, don’t miss out on Birmingham Pride occurring late September. For a prime location with stunning views of the city, check out aparthotel Staying Cool.
As seen with Malta, many Mediterranean islands provide a safe haven for LGBTQ+ travelers. From the stunning island of Ibiza to Gran Canaria, these destinations welcome and support the community. Greece is also highly progressive in its recognition of LGBTQ+ rights, having legalized same-sex sexual activity for both men and women over 70 years ago. Mykonos has held a reputation as a queer paradise since the 1970s, when it became a favorite spot for Jackie Onassis. In the 1980s, it transformed into a popular gay resort, offering accommodations for its primarily male visitors.
For gay men of a certain age, Finland is inextricably associated with leather-clad iconic hero Tom of Finland, whose books depict a ruggedly sexualised masculinity during a time pre-1971 when homosexuality was still illegal. You can now visit the area where author Touko Laaksonen spent his entire adult life, passing the Kansalaistori (People’s Square) in front of parliament that used to be a clandestine gay meeting place.
For LGBTQ+ individuals who enjoy karaoke, Mann’s Street is a popular boozy establishment worth checking out. The Kamppi district also offers some exciting options, such as Street Pride and Kvääristö, which cater to queer women, transgender, and non-binary individuals. Those interested in shaking up the gay scene can even consider joining Helsinki Homoinvaasio, a group that takes over straight bars for a unique experience. And if you plan to visit during Helsinki Pride, be prepared to join the 100,000 attendees. For accommodation, LGBTQ-friendly design hotel Klaus K is a great choice.
According to the European Union, Belgium scores highly for LGBTQ+ rights protection. Astonishingly, same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1795, and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2003, making it the second country in the world. While Brussels is the queer capital of Belgium, Antwerp, a fashion hub on the water, is equally welcoming.
Kartonnen Dozen, the sole LGBTQ+ bookshop in Flanders, is located in the Zurenborg district. Meanwhile, Hessenhuis cafe, a popular “safe haven” that has been welcoming patrons since 1993, is housed in a building with almost 500 years of history. For those looking for late-night options, Cargo Club or fetish club The Boots are recommended. And sometime on August, Antwerp Pride will be taking place. Visitors can stay at Boulevard Leopold, situated in the Jewish Quarter. The elegant deco palace was originally a three-storey 1890 Flemish townhouse and was converted into its current form by its LGBTQ+ owners over a period of nine months.
Despite the popularity of Barcelona and Sitges among LGBTQ+ holidaymakers, the sweltering Spanish capital, which has a queer population of 500,000, is Spain’s most queer-friendly city. In the meantime, Madrid Pride attracts over 1.5 million people each year, including 300,000 overseas visitors, making it the second largest LGBTQ+ festival in the world next to San Francisco.
Spain is known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly nations globally. It has a rich history of inclusivity, having legalized same-sex sexual activity in 1979 and being the third country to legalize gay marriage in 2005. The vibrant neighborhood of Chueca, often referred to as Madrid’s “gaybourhood”, is a must-visit for its numerous bars and venues situated around Plaza de Chueca. You’ll also want to check out the newly renovated Mercado San Antón for its delectable food stalls and rooftop terrace. For some delightful entertainment, head over to LL Bar – a cozy establishment that hosts drag performances. And if you’re in the mood for some cocktails, be sure to visit Lakama, a newer lounge-bar in the area. As for accommodation, consider staying at Axel Hotel – an adults-only and open-minded hotel located in the popular Barrio de las Letras neighborhood.