Of course, the City by the Bay is on the list. Beautiful San Fran has a long history of embracing and supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In 1970, the ‘Gay Freedom March’ that took place here is widely believed to be one of the very first – if not ‘the’ first – Pride marches. And it’s not the only trailblazing the city can lay claim to. San Francisco had the first openly gay person to run for public office, the first openly gay person to be elected to office, the first transgender police commissioner and the first openly lesbian judge to be appointed in the US.
So, it goes without saying, any LGBTQ+ traveller will feel beyond welcome here. Immerse yourself in history at the GBLT Historical Society Museum, pay respects at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, or catch a show by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, who’ve been performing for more than 40 years.
When it comes to nightlife, you’ll be spoiled for choice. The Castro is a great area to start (the rainbow crosswalks are the giveaway), with a huge host of venues – some of which have been there for 50 years. Go as you are, find your scene, and have a ball.
South Africa was the first country in Africa to legalise same sex marriage, and Cape Town hosted its first Pride event back in 1993. In 2010, the city also launched South Africa’s own Pride flag combining the country’s flag with the rainbow colours.
The Mother City is overwhelmingly LGBTQ+ friendly – in fact, the community refer to it as the Pink City. Visitors will feel extremely welcome in what is generally known as the queer capital of Africa, among a strong and increasing community – as well as enjoying gorgeous beaches, culture, mountains and an incredible city vibe.
There’s so much to do in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. We’re talking whale watching, wineries, hiking, historical sights and lots (lots) more. If you only do one thing, it has to be Table Mountain. The panoramic views are just incredible. Hop on a cable car, or hike it if you’re feeling brave.
Reward yourself after your mountain ascent with a trip to the De Waterkant area. While LGBTQ+ venues can be found all over the city, this is the quintessentially gay area with fun, friendly venues from coffee shops to drag revues.
Cape Town may be the Pink City, but Johannesburg is the biggest city in the country – and the second biggest in all of Africa – so no surprise there’s also a great LGBTQ+ scene here as well. South Africa was the first country in the world to have a constitution that protected people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and while they are trailblazers in that respect, it’s worth being aware that there’s still some lagging social acceptance in South African society. That said, modern Johannesburg is diverse and progressive, and LGBTQ+ travellers should still have a fantastic experience here.
While there’s no defined gay village in Jo’burg, there are still lots of LGBTQ+ venues spread across the city. The closest you’ll find to an LGBTQ+ area is probably Melville or Ilovo, which also have great coffee shops, chic restaurants and shops. In October, Pride of Africa is the the biggest Pride march on the continent, and is huge, vibrant celebration of being yourself.
Aside from the LGBTQ+ scene, there’s so much to discover in Johannesburg and beyond. In the city, the Apartheid Museum is a must-do. You’re randomly assigned a race at the entrance, which determines the way you experience the museum. Outside the city, there’s the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cradle Humankind – and of course, Jo’burg is the gateway to Kruger Park, for some of the most incredible wildlife experiences in the world.
From trend-setting drag, world-class nightlife venues, queer art galleries and one of the biggest Pride Festivals on Earth – the Big Apple is, and has always been, at the forefront of LGBTQ+ culture. NYC has been a defining force of the modern queer liberation movement, namely the Stonewall riots, which took place here in 1969.
There’s much joy to be found in this fantastically LGBTQ+-friendly city, but there’s sadness in its history too. While in town, pay a visit to the AIDS memorial at St. Vincents Triangle. It honours New York City’s 100,000+ men, women, and children who have died from AIDS, and commemorates and celebrates the efforts of the caregivers and activists of the time. It’s the first major space dedicated to the epidemic in New York City.
On the culture side of things, art collecting couple Charles Fritz and Leslie Lohman opened the Leslie Lohman Museum of Art in 1987, combining pieces including painting, sculpture, photography, and more by a wide roster of queer artists. In addition to well-known names, the museum spotlights smaller artists, including the ones who didn’t survive the 1980s AIDS crisis.
Once you’ve had a chance to take in all – ok, probably not all - of the culture and history that NYC holds, you’ll be ready to experience the modern, vibrant queer nightlife. Most of this takes place in the West Village, and you’ll be able to bar-hop between many of the venues around. Favourites include Alan Cummings’ co-owned bar Club Cummings, the Stonewall Inn, Happyfun Hideaway and Henrietta Hudson.
Hong Kong is a vibrant, multicultural city, as well as a high-flying corporate hub. The heady mix of nature, city buzz and opportunity has attracted a hugely eclectic range of both residents and visitors.
The first gay bars and saunas started to open in Hong Kong around the 1990s, but the LGBTQ+ community started to become much more visible thanks to actor Leslie Cheung, who the first major celebrity to come out publicly as gay. His flamboyant performances and androgynous persona helped embolden and encourage the HK community, and it’s grown and become more vibrant and accepting ever since.
While Hong Kong still has some progress to make on legal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn’t mean that the city is not hugely welcoming and accepting. As well as fantastic bars on Hong Kong Island, Causeway Bay District on Hong Kong Island and the Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon, the Hong Kong gay sauna scene is one of the biggest in the world. There are also gay friendly beaches for the sun-seekers – the most popular is Middle Bay Beach.
It’s Hollywood! Of course, LA is one of the top queer-friendly cities in the US – and probably the world. LGBTQ+ history is deeply rooted here, including uprisings which predate the UK’s liberation movement and the Stonewall Inn riots, and the community continues to be so hugely influential that it’s more common to see a venue advertise themselves as straight-friendly as opposed to the other way around.
West Hollywood, or WeHo, is the epicentre of LGBTQ+ La La Land life. It’s packed with gorgeous restaurants, shops, bars and clubs. In fact, 40% of residents in this area identify as gay. It’s deeply warm and welcoming with the best kind of ‘come as you are’ attitude. But these positive vibes spread across the whole city, and there are a whole host of glitteringly fabulous spots to discover.
Outside of the nightlife, there are so many attractions in LA there’s no way we list them all. Of course there are all the classics – the Hollywood sign, Venice Beach, the Griffith Observatory – but on the LGBTQ+ side of things, you can enjoy exhibitions of queer artists at contemporary art museums like LACMA and The ONE Archives, and if you’re keen to hit the beach (and who wouldn’t be, it is California after all), head for Will Rogers State Beach, a gay beach on the edge of the city.
This fabulous Florida city is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the world. Not surprisingly, it has a well-deserved reputation as a welcoming and fun-filled destination, attracting millions of LGBTQ+ visitors every year, with diverse neighbourhoods that will make LGBTQ+ visitors of all ages feel comfortable to be their whole selves. Every April, visitors from all over come to experience Miami Beach Pride, a multi-day celebration of all things queer and the destination’s largest LGBTQ+ event.
South Beach is ground zero for some of the best nightlife, with seemingly endless options for gay-friendly partying. Perhaps the most famous LGBTQ-friendly venue in Miami, Palace has been going strong since the 1980s. The drag queens here are local celebrities, and the famous mimosa brunch draws huge crowds every weekend. There’s a vibrant, friendly atmosphere at the unassuming Hotel Gaythering, and the weekly karaoke nights are known to pretty wild.
The beaches, naturally, are a must-do. There’s also a huge amount of culture to discover. The Wynwood neighbourhood is home to art galleries and eclectic street art, including the Wynwood Walls outdoor museum and the Museum of Graffiti. If you want to venture outside the city (and no one will blame you if you don’t), you can get wild in a different way with tours of the Everglades spotting alligators and manatees.
Scotland has been recognised more than once as the best country in Europe for LGBTQ+ equality, so it stands to reason that its capital would be an incredibly warm and welcoming place with a thriving LGBTQ+ community. From cosy pubs with real ale to buzzing nightclubs with fabulous cocktails and DJ nights, Edinburgh has lots of friendly and safe hangouts. Your first stop should be the famous Pink Triangle - the area around the Edinburgh Playhouse and Broughton Street - which is a long-standing gay-friendly area.
CC Blooms is known as Edinburgh’s main gay club, and is busiest on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as on Tuesdays when it hosts a weekly, and extremely popular, drag show. The Street, GHQ and Planet Bar (a bar aimed towards women), are also all great nearby locations for a drink and a dance. For those looking for a slightly quieter night, the Regent Bar is a relaxed gay pub a short walk away.
The trendy seek out the four shabby-chic pillars of Victoria Bar, Boda Bar, Sofi’s Bar, and Joseph Pearce which are all on or near Leith Walk. The other area, near the University of Edinburgh’s central campus in Bristo Square, is less clearly defined. Paradise Palms on Potterow is a quirky gay bar that tends to draw a relatively young crowd, serving a range of cocktails, as well as an all-vegetarian menu.
There’s also a range of clubs that will host LGBTQ+ specific nights so it’s always worth a quick search of what’s on during the dates you’ll be there. And of course, the city lights up with Pride Edinburgh every June.
While Israel is a conservative country, Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan, diverse and accepting bubble – in fact, with 25% of the residents identifying as gay, it’s one of the gayest cities in the world. Any LGBTQ+ visitor will feel more than at home here, embraced and celebrated.
As a relatively young city at just around 100 years old, a lot of the attractions here are modern too – like the stunning 1930s Bauhaus architecture. But most visitors are here for the stunning white sand and clear blue waters of the beaches. Hilton Beach is the most famous gay beach, but if you fancy being a bit more ‘au natural’, Ga’ash Beach a little out of the city is a safe and welcoming gay nude beach.
Back in the city, the LGBTQ+ nightlife is considered to be up there with the best in the world. Rather than having specific venues, instead there are weekly parties that take over various bars across the city. They start late, get wild, and are a whole lot of fun – so be ready!
And of course, there’s Tel Aviv Pride. It’s the only Pride event in the Middle East, and more than 100,000 fill the city for one of the biggest parties in the world.
The list wouldn’t be complete without our home in the North, Manchester. We might be biased, but this city has a truly brilliant LGBTQ+ nightlife scene. The world-famous cobbled streets of the Gay Village are home to staples such as The Brewers, where you can always see performances from local drag talent, and lesbian bar Vanilla. There are also LGBTQ+ friendly places further afield such as the Northern Quarter’s Firehouse - the home of the vogue dance house Ghettofabulous, and sex-liberated late-night cocktail bar Behind Closed Doors.
There’s also plenty to do for families, and several sober venues. Skating Queer is the newest addition to the calendar, with beginner-friendly sober queer roller skating every Saturday evening in Ardwick. Back in the Northern Quarter, Feel Good Club serves up coffee, brunch and positive affirmations every day of the week and is owned by a lesbian couple (pop in for a visit and you might see their gorgeous little pup Luna). It’s also worth checking the temporary and permanent exhibitions at the People’s History Museum, Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester Museum to see what’s on when you visit - Manchester Art Gallery recently had its top floor dedicated to a Derek Jarhman exhibition exploring his work and contribution to the LGBTQ+ community.
When you plan your visit to Manchester, make sure you consider the annual Manchester Pride Festival on the last weekend of August every year. The world class event centres around celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and platforms local and international talent in the centre of the Gay Village, attracting the likes of Ariana Grande, Disclosure and Zara Larsson. The 4-day weekend also has a range of free, creative and sober events under the Superbia programme.
Click here to find out more about Manchester Pride 2022.