Gay Travel Europe: Unmissable Gay Destinations
If you had to pick just one continent for gay travel, Europe has to be the number one answer. It has so much to offer including some of the most gay friendly, progressive and welcoming cities and countries in the world.
Some countries in Europe, such as Spain and Sweden, go beyond simple acceptance or tolerance. They have developed to a point where the LGBT community forms part of society, and gay couples are not labelled ‘gay couples’; they are just another couple in the street – as it should be.
There are many well-known gay travel destinations in Europe, from the gay hot spots in Spain such as Madrid, Barcelona and Sitges, to Berlin in Germany, the gay mecca of Mykonos in Greece and our UK home of Manchester.
But many lesser-known cities and countries in Europe are now following suit to welcome gay travellers into their countries which is a step in the right direction!
But why is gay travel in Europe so easy and progressive in the first place? Here are some reassuring facts for context:
- Denmark was the first country in the world to allow same sex partnerships or unions in 1989.
- The Netherlands as a whole was the first country in the world to bring in a law in 2001 recognizing same sex marriage.
- Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom all recognise same sex marriage.
- To be a member of the EU you have to ban anti-gay discrimination in employment. 25/28 states ban all anti-gay discrimination, the other 3 only some.
It’s no surprise that these countries, and specifically the cities within these countries have become popular gay travel destinations.
Now this is not a blanket statement for the entirety of Europe. Each country is ranked as ‘LGBT friendly’ every year based on consideration laws, practises and policies. Typically as you head east, countries like Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia continue to rank very low. If you choose to travel here, proceed with caution.
Gay travel in Europe is thriving, exciting and leading the way internationally. If you have not yet been, you need to get yourself booked on the next flight out!
But, which destination to choose? In no particular order, here is our ‘Gay Travel Europe: Unmissable Gay Destinations’ shortlist! This is from our own personal experiences – let us know where you would add in the comments section.
Gay Travel Europe: Spain
Spain has a special place in our hearts. We have lived in Madrid during 2018, Barcelona was one of our very first holidays together 10 years ago, Sitges is one of the best prides we have been to and we have been to Gran Canaria 6 times.
When it comes to LGBT rights in Spain, these are all very positive. Same-sex intercourse in Spain has been legal since 1979, unsurprisingly the year after democracy came to Spain and they said good riddance to Franco. Spain was also the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2005 and discrimination protections run nationwide.
There is an inherent feeling of safety, acceptance and normality when it comes to being LGBT in Spain. Therefore, when it comes to gay travel in Europe, Spain as a whole is very high on our list, and in particular the following destinations:
We have lived in Madrid during 2018 and can 100% see ourselves returning here again in the future.
We have felt so welcome in this city. The people are warm and friendly, the city is beautiful and we can be completely at ease with each other in public without a second thought. We aren’t talking about over the top PDAs, we are talking simple hand holding in the street or a kiss goodbye. Considering we are just one of many same-sex couples doing this, no-one even looks twice!
Madrid Pride Parade
The gay neighbourhood of Madrid is Chueca. This is where you will find the majority of gay bars, clubs, shops, saunas, cruising clubs etc. However, the gay scene is in no way restricted to this district alone and spreads out across the entire city. You can expect to find gay nightlife all the way from Chueca to Lavapies. We particularly like two gay-nights which are held bi-weekly – Tanga and Churros con Chocolate – these are extremely popular and a lot of fun!
Madrid City Hall estimates there to be half a million gay people living in Madrid! That works out as approximately 10% of the population which is quite incredible.
Madrid also holds one of the biggest prides in the world. We attended Madrid Pride this year and the city really comes to life and is packed with tourists from all over the world.
A trip to Spain would not be complete without a stop in Madrid!
Barcelona has a lot to offer when it comes to gay travel! It is perhaps one of the most visited places in Spain by tourists.
As a city, Barcelona is special as it combines everything you would expect from a large city, but also boasts a beautiful beach, incredible architecture such as the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, some top-class restaurants and an overwhelming gay scene.
We first travelled to Barcelona in 2011 at the tender age of 22 for one of our first holidays as a couple and we weren’t quite prepared for how gay it was! We were a little naïve and when we decided to go to a gay club we thought it was simply that, a gay club…. It turned out to be a cruising club with dark rooms, cruising areas, and adult films on TVs above the toilets! Like I say, two naïve 22 year olds but it was an eye-opening experience! Turns out this is the norm in Barcelona…
There is an abundance of gay clubs and bars throughout Barcelona. These are mainly focused around the famed Eixample district which has been nicknamed ‘Gayxample’. Make sure you check out El Punto for a few drinks before heading to a larger gay club, such as Arena. In El Punto, when you order a drink ask for free entry tickets to Arena and save €15.
Barcelona also offers gay friendly hotels such as the infamous Axel (also nice for a drink at the Sky Bar), and if you want some luxury make sure you check out the Cotton House Hotel.
For gay beaches head to Mar Bella beach (also a nudist beach), although in reality you will find groups of gay people all the way along the beaches.
Lastly, you can expect to find all your favourite gay brand shops such as Boxer, ES and Addicted in the Gayxample district, a multitude of saunas and quite literally something for everyone.
The best way to explore gay Barcelona is definitely with Rainbow Gay Tours – check out our experience with them and see why you need to get on board!
We can’t recommend Sitges enough! If you make it to Spain you have to make the effort to come here for a few days.
Sitges is a beautiful, quaint beach town just 30 minutes southwest from Barcelona by train. It is very easy to get to and definitely worth the trip.
Sitges is known for its Mediterranean beaches, pretty narrow streets, stunning marina and especially for its gay scene. The gay scene is so prominent here in Sitges, it takes centre stage at the very centre of the town. In fact, if you Google ‘Sitges’, it specifically mentions that it is filled with gay bars. This is not just a town or city with a gay scene, in our opinion it is a gay town!
We specifically loved the fact that Sitges has a large gay scene without being a full-on city. This is a rare find as most small towns may only have one or two gay bars. Sitges has gay bars, clubs, cruising clubs, gay saunas, gay shops (Addicted etc) and gay beaches.
Gay travel aside, Sitges is a beautiful town well worth spending a weekend in no matter what walk of life you come from.
We have been to Gran Canaria 6 times (and will be going back in June 2019!) In fact, Gran Canaria was our very first holiday together when we were 19, and at that point we did not realise quite how gay Gran Canaria was, especially the resort towns of Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles.
Fast forward to 2015 and we returned to Gran Canaria in November for Winter Pride: after this we were hooked, and returned the following year for both Summer and Winter Pride, and Summer Pride again in May 2017! Check out our full guide for more info on Gran Canaria Pride.
This has to be one of the biggest prides we have been to in terms of length, available events, and the concentration of people and parties. The whole of Pride takes place in and around Playa del Ingles, with the nightlife centred around the Yumbo Centre. This is an open-air shopping mall by day and gay haven by night. During Winter/Summer Pride you can expect over 10,000 people partying in the Yumbo Centre on any one night during the two-week long celebrations! There are bars catering to everyone – bear bars, cruising bars, drag shows, aswell as bars playing the latest chart-toppers if you’re like us and want to spend your night dancing!
Gran Canaria itself is a year-round tourist destination, mainly because as a Canary Island is one of the few places in Europe where you will find some winter sun. It boasts some incredible sand dunes in Maspalomas, mountainous countryside to explore and is one of the most gay friendly places we have visited.
Gay Travel Europe: Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm is known as the ‘Open City’ and that pretty much sums things up. It is welcoming to all people regardless of sexuality, gender, race or opinion and stands very proudly by this statement. Sweden is considered one of the most progressive countries in the world for LGBT rights!
We spent 5 days in Stockholm this Autumn and had the best time. The city is built across 14 islands, making for some stunning scenery, it has a lot of history, dining to die for and lots of fun activities to do including the ABBA museum!
Similar to Spain, the LGBT community is simply part of the fabric of society here, you can just be yourself without having to look over your shoulder or judge your surroundings first.
Stockholm does not have a specific gay district but rather a number of bars and clubs spread across the city. Check out our full ‘Gay Guide to Stockholm’ for more.
Gay Travel Europe: Berlin, Germany,
Berlin is somewhere we have both travelled to separately. Sion spent 5 days here with a friend and Ben as part of a Contiki trip. Two very different experiences but both have got us wanting to head back together and experience all that Berlin has to offer.
Berlin is considered the gay capital of Germany. It has a long LGBT history with an entire museum dedicated to Berlin’s gay history! Berlin was also the first place in the world to have a gay district (Schöneberg). Germany as a whole is also said to have one of the highest LGBT populations in all of Europe – sold yet?
Berlin is another place that has something for every type of traveller. Whether you are looking for a cultural experience, a city break, or to party, it excels in them all. From what we have heard, if you are there to party you are in for a treat!
We will be travelling back to Berlin as a couple in 2019 (we hope), so let us know your favourite things to do in the comments below.
Gay Travel Europe: Rome, Italy
Italy as a whole is sometimes stereotyped as being quite conservative, however head over to Rome and you will be warmly welcomed into the city.
Romes gay scene might not be quite as large as other cities in Europe, but the main gay street (Via di San Giovanni in Laterano) has a spectacular view of The Colosseum. Here you will find a few gay bars including Coming Out and My Bar. These both serve food by day and turn into local party bars at night. There are also some larger gay parties found in bigger clubs in the city, such as Glam and Gloss.
This year we arrived in Rome during Pride. This was a 2 day event – the streets were full of people celebrating, especially during the Parade and the parties got pretty wild!
Rome itself is a very beautiful city, full of history, incredible architecture, the best Italian food (of course), beautiful people and is most definitely worth adding to your gay travel Europe list!
Gay Travel Europe: Manchester, UK
We might be biased, but Manchester has to be the go-to destination when you are thinking about gay travel in the UK. London and Brighton both have their place and are great, but for us Manchester has the edge.
The UK legalised same-sex marriage in 2014, has anti-discrimination laws in place and in the ILGA-Europe’s 2015 review of LGBTI rights, the UK received the highest score in Europe, with 86% progress toward “respect of human rights and full equality”.
If you have heard anything about Manchester you must have heard about Canal Street. Canal Street is in the city centre, in the heart of what is known as ‘Manchesters Gay Village’ – yes, we have a whole Gay Village here!
There are over 20 gay bars and clubs all lined up along Canal Street starting with the very popular Kiki at the top, right down to G-A-Y at the bottom. More bars and clubs can be found on the adjoining streets, such as the larger club Cruz 101, or one of our personal favourites, Thompsons. Having all these bars in such close proximity makes for an amazing night out.
Manchester also holds one of the largest pride events in the country, take a look at our ‘Guide to Manchester Pride’ for more information.
What is on our Gay Travel Europe list for 2019
There are many more places in Europe that are known to be very gay friendly and we will be visiting some of them in 2019. Here is what will be coming up!
We have not been…….yet! But we have to include Mykonos because we have heard so much about Mykonos being the gay mecca of Greece and have wanted to go for years. It looks simply stunning.
When we think about Mykonos, we think of white washed houses with blue roofs, cobbled streets, beautiful beaches and beautiful beach boys in their speedos!
We will be going to Mykonos and 4 other Greek islands in 2019 on our gay sailing trip and you can join us – head over to our ‘Gay Sailing Trip to Mykonos’ page to find out how you can join! (We are down to the final few cabins as of December 2018).
We only recently came across Slovenia as a country being marketed as the ‘New Zealand of Europe’. After doing more research we can see why, Slovenia looks stunning. Just take a look at Lake Bled!
When it comes to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, we have read it is also very welcoming to the LGBT community and could be one of the next up and coming gay travel destinations in Europe!
We will be heading there in June 2019 for Pink Week. We will share our experience with you next year!
Travelling around Europe
One of the best things when it comes to travel in Europe is the cost. Flights can be incredibly cheap if you plan in advance – check out Ryanair and Easyjet, you will see that flights between places like the UK and Spain can be as little as $35!
Equally, if you are doing a longer trip you could get a Eurail, or Interrail pass. You pay one fee which covers all your travel by train around the majority of Europe for a set period of time.
Or, if you are quite a nervous traveller and enjoy the company of other people, there are countless organised tour companies to choose from. These include all your travel, often visiting multiple countries, accommodation, activities and experiences, some meals, and allow you to meet a whole new group of friends to explore with. One of Bens personal favourites is Contiki (who he travelled to Berlin with in 2016), as they are aimed at the younger traveller who want a mixture of culture and party, but there are plenty to choose from including Intrepid and G Adventures, or Trafalgar and Exodus for the more mature traveller.
In all honesty, when is comes to gay travel in Europe you could easily write an entire novel on it! There is so much out there and as we travel more we will share the best of it with you!