Feeling the love in these inclusive destinations
As we stretch further into the future, we can only hope that we meet diversity, equality, love, and the ability for everyone to be their true self head-on. The LGBTQ+ community embraces these ideals in a strong and visible way. Though global opinions are shifting, queer people still face special considerations when traveling or choosing where to settle, and many cities are taking the initiative and making the effort to welcome all people with open arms, letting it be known that love is love.
We searched the globe for places where the right to be yourself and considered equal are important aspects of the culture, laws, social scene, and employment structures. We’re happy to say whittling the list to 15 was a harder task than expected, but these cities stood out for their history of activism, protection laws, LGBTQ-friendly establishments, districts, and business practices, and their ability to throw a rocking good (and open) party.
We know major contenders—from San Francisco and New York to and Paris and London–are glittering jewels in the LGBTQ+ travel tiara, but there are more cities joining the ranks every year, and we wanted to explore the wider spectrum of tried-and-true to up-and-coming. Here’s our list of 15 exciting LGBTQ-friendly cities no traveler should miss.
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is not the most populous city on our list, but that gives it double points in our book. In some big cities, gay culture sticks to specific neighborhoods and enclaves, but in this city, LGBTQ is the culture. According to the last census, Palm Springs has 115 gay couples per 1,000 households (the third highest rate in the U.S.), and that’s just the domesticated tip of the iceberg.
Party potential: The population swells for epic poolside parties, parades, and world-class DJ sets throughout the year when LGBT events like The Dinah, Pride, White Party, and the International Bear Convergence bring all the boys, girls, and gender nonconforming beauties to the yard. Arenas Road is where you’ll find the largest concentration of gay bars and clubs, and come October it closes to car traffic for one monstrously huge Halloween bash. Palm Springs Pride is the largest Pride festival in Southern California, attracting 125,000 attendees, who bring the love in full force.
- The Transgender Community Coalition is doing great works to promote human rights, and has a current project to place a memorial statue in a Palm Springs city park to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance.
- The city has a 100/100 score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index*.
- The Desert Business Association is one of the oldest LGBTQ professional organizations in the country.
- Palm Springs is home to several gay mens resorts, and nearly 100 percent of hotels in town are LGBTQ-friendly.
Tel Aviv, Israel
As the center of LGBTQ+ culture in the Middle East, Tel Aviv is a bright spot on the queer world stage. In fact, the city is so gay, it should be labeled a straight-friendly destination. City officials estimate that 25 percent of residents identify as non-straight.
Party potential: Pride events here are massive gatherings (around 180,000 people attend), and include a parade, famous beach bash, and all-night afterparties that rival any in the world. Tel Aviv is known for its weekly revelries in the gay scene, which pop up in myriad places. From VRS at Pasaz to Mondays at Kuli Alma to Thursdays at Amazona Bar, whatever scene you’re looking for, there’s a party for it at some point. Dry out the next day on the sand–the most rainbowtastic spot is Hilton Beach, the city’s designated gay beach. However, it has been known to host DJs and dancing, so we can’t promise the party’s over quite yet.
- The LGBTQ Center has been encouraging visibility and equal treatment, and helped bring about the pink triangle in Park Mei’r, the first site in Israel to memorialize homosexual victims of the Holocaust.
- TLVFest is an international LGBTQ+ film festival, the only of its kind in the Middle East, which also runs the TLVFest Movie Club, a monthly screening of queer films.
- Stay at Brown TLV Urban Hotel and spend an evening sipping cocktails on their rooftop sundeck.
Madrid is where you’ll find the one of the biggest gay districts in Europe, Chueca, and one of the most dynamic LGBTQ+ communities in the world. Spain is one of the most welcoming countries for queer people and was the third in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005.
Party potential: Madrid’s Pride parade marks 40 years in 2017, and the city is host to WorldPride and EuroPride this year, marking the first time these festivities will converge in one place. Spanning nine days and infinite opportunities for jubilation, this is a go-to event for embracing queer culture at its most celebratory. Free concerts and on-street parties are particularly festive. Madrid Summit, an International Human Rights Conference is also taking center stage, featuring prominent speakers from around the globe for an educational experience to accompany the best parties on the planet.
- Madrid hosted one of the biggest Pride parades ever in 2016, with a reported 1.5 million people in attendance.
- Madrid has the highest number of LGBTQ+ people in Spain, and one of the largest populations in Europe.
- LesGaiCineMad is a forerunner in the LGBTQ+ film festivals, especially for Spanish-speaking countries, and draws more than 14,000 people each October.
- Monthly and weekly parties like dance nights at La Riviera and ¡Que trabaje Rita! have revelers dancing until the wee hours year-round.
There were few places gayer in 1920s Europe than Berlin. It’s where coquettes of every kind held court in cabarets and the full spectrum of sexuality displayed their pride at the Eldorado. Despite the menacing bootheel of fascism, the gay spirit of the city could not be crushed, and Berlin stands today as one of the most welcoming and inclusive LGBTQ+ destinations.
Party potential: The city has three gayborhoods, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, and Prenzlauer Berg, and an infamously indulgent nightlife, so there is no shortage of places to get your party on. Festivals crowd the calendar, and summer is an especially sizzling time to arrive. In July alone, Europe’s largest gay and lesbian party, Stadtfest, takes over Nollendorfplatz; Yo! Sissy Music Festival promotes female-identifying acts that rock the Columbia Complex; and CSD Berlin keeps the pride party on its toes with a march, rally, and entertainment from bands and DJs.
- Berlin is the birthplace of the first gay magazine (Der Eigene), first gay village (Schöneberg), first known transwoman to undergo vaginoplasty (Dora R.), and the first gay organization to lobby for legal rights (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee).
- In recent times, Klaus Wowereit, an openly gay man, served as mayor for over 13 years.
- The Schwules Museum* (Gay Museum*) is a must-see stop for art lovers. This museum is one of the first to feature works exclusively by LGBTQ+ artists.
- Stay at the Axel Hotel for gay-friendly, adults-only, swanky vibes.
The population of Iceland is small but mighty, and laws here are quite progressive. Organizations such as Samtökin ’78 are fighting the good fight, and the fruits of their labor are visible in the cultural landscape. The organization’s community center in Reykjavik hosts open houses and promotes education and visibility. Social groups such as Ungliðahópur (youth group), KMK Women with Women, and Gay Religion Group are furthering conversation and community.
Party potential: Kiki Queer Club is the official gay bar of the city, but numerous bars around town are super LGBTQ-friendly. Bars such as Gaukurinn feature events like Drag-Súgur, a cabaret extravaganza for “queens and kings, fairies and trolls and all the other beautiful creatures of the night.” Come Pride in August, around 90,000 people show up to celebrate at the ensuing parade and parties, and numbers continue to grow each year. It’s a spectacular array of color, character, and inclusion.
- Trans Ísland has been championing trans rights since 2007.
- Marriage equality in Iceland was granted in 2010, and registered partnerships for same-sex couples became legal in 1996. Icelandic same-sex couples became eligible for public access to IVF insemination treatment and joint adoption of children in 2006.
- Bears on Ice in September and Rainbow Reykjavik in late January to early February shake up the city’s party snow globe with an array of events.
- Café Babalu is a charming, gay-owned eatery with outdoor seating for warm-weather visits.
Los Angeles and West Hollywood, California
Los Angeles has been a gay haven for decades and has been home to many queer icons throughout its history. The county is also home to the incorporated city of West Hollywood, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
Party potential: West Hollywood is host to events such as LA Pride, Outfest film showcase, and the infamously awesome West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. One of the few walkable places in southern California, WeHo practically begs for gaiety galore at places like the Abbey Food & Bar, Fubar, the Bayou, and Hamburger Mary’s (drag queen Bingo, anyone?), to name a very few.
- LA is home to one of the earliest protests for gay rights in America, the 1967 demonstrations and pickets in response to police raids on the Black Cat Tavern.
- ONE Magazine, which was headquartered in Los Angeles, was the first U.S. pro-gay publication.
- Just east of WeHo in Los Feliz is Otherwild, a boutique and gathering space that hosts events such as Queer Bazaar and LGBTQ-inclusive workshops.
- The Los Angeles LGBT Center not only provides educational resources and health and social services, it also hosts exhibitions and performances that speak to diverse queer experiences.
It’s been said that the Danes are the happiest people on earth, but are they also the gayest? They’re among the gay-friendliest at any rate. Same-sex registered partnerships have been legal since 1989 (the first such law in the world), same-sex couples can legally adopt, gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. Oh, also, the country legalized marriage equality in 2012.
Copenhagen Pride Festival makes August an ideal time to visit, when all events—from awards ceremonies to concerts to film screenings—are free to attend. Not able to travel until February? No matter, the city also throws Winter Pride Week each year. Studiestræde is where you’ll find the most popular gay bars, such as Cosy Bar with its small but lively dance floor, and Jailhouse CPH if handcuffs are more your thing.
- The city is bidding to host the WorldPride & EuroGames in 2021.
- In 2014, the city council named the square next to city hall Rainbow Square in honor of LGBT acceptance.
- Join the LGBT Historical Walking Tour of Copenhagen to see the city from outside the heteronormative lens.
- MIX Copenhagen takes place late October through early November, and is one of the oldest LGBTQ film festivals in the world, turning 32 this year.
The Midwest, it is a changin’, and queer communities are strong stalwarts of that progress. Marriage equality passed in Minnesota in 2013, and Minneapolis has had an anti-discrimination ordinance for trans people since 1975. Twin Cities Pride events run the gamut from picnics to live comedy to Pull for Pride, a charity event benefitting homeless youth. Quorum, the LGBTQ+ business association, promotes queer-owned business development, and is a great resource for how to support the local gay economy.
Party potential: Party spots crop up all over the city, as there is no definitive gayborhood. The Saloon, 19 Bar, and Gay 90’s are prime places to get down with local revelers. Hop over to the Town House Bar in St. Paul, where Dragged Out, a diverse group of LGBTQ+ performers bring down the house on the third Friday of every month. Sports fans will love Lavender’s athletics-themed happy hours on the third Thursdays. Revive from a long night out at Lush for Saturday Drag Brunch.
- Minneapolis is home to 11 businesses on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Best Places to Work 2017 list, and has a 100/100 Municipal Equality Index score.
- The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, Inc. is based in the city.
- The Red Ribbon Ride is a 4-day regional event that takes to the streets in July and raises funds for HIV/AIDS awareness and services.
- Loews Minneapolis Hotel is LGBTQ-friendly, centrally located, and walking distance to Pride events, with great access to the parade route.
What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam, unless it’s the revolutionary equality laws that have made an impact on the global stage. Home to the COC Nederland, one of the first LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the world, Amsterdam has a long history of inclusivity. There is a special police project aimed at protecting queer people from harassment and discrimination, multiple sports clubs converge under the umbrella Pride & Sports Amsterdam organization, and IHLIA LGBT Heritage is Europe’s largest collection of LGBTQ+ literature and heritage items.
Party potential: Club Church, the ever-popular club for all things themed and tawdry, is practically a religion in the gay scene, but its “men only” parties (which include transmen) skew it toward the male crowd. The oldest gay club in town, established in 1927, is still spry and kicking after a 2008 reopening, making Café ‘t Mandje a must-visit. Lellebel has been entertaining patrons seven days a week since 1997 with live drag shows and theme nights. All the clubs and parties kick it up a notch for Pride Amsterdam, which draws more than half a million people in July and early August. Reguliersdwarsstraat is the center of queer nightlife, as is the area around Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat.
- In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to make same-sex marriage legal, and then-Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, officiated the weddings of the first four couples that year.
- Homosexuality was decriminalized as early as 1811 in Amsterdam.
- Homomonument, erected in 1987, is the world’s first memorial site dedicated to gay and lesbian service members who died during WWII, as well as victims of persecution throughout time. Nearby, Pink Point is an LGBTQ+ information kiosk with a wide array of resources for travelers.
- Lunchroom Downtown was the first openly gay public business in the city, and is still an inviting place for all people seeking a good cup of coffee.
Could we expect the country that birthed the political heartthrob of a generation, (Trudeau makes all sexualities sigh, no?), to give us anything short of amazing? The city has a booming gay district, as well as pockets of queer culture throughout and has events for these communities on the regular. The Toronto Queer Arts and Culture Festival and Inside Out LGBT Film Festival are among the brightest.
Party potential: Throughout June, the city celebrates Pride Month, culminating in the massive Pride parade, marches, and street fair. While the corner of Church and Wellesley Streets represents the center of the main gayborhood, queer nights pop up at bars around the city. The Beaver, Pegasus on Church, WAYLA, and the Steady are shining stars when it comes to letting loose, but there are many welcoming clubs, bars, lounges, and cafes to suit you desires.
- 1971 brought the first Pride-like gathering to the city, as 300 people came together for a picnic and event organized by the Community Homophile Association of Toronto and Toronto Gay Action.
- Mayor Mel Lastman, who was conservative-leaning, marched in the 1998 Pride Parade, which sent a symbolic message toward inclusiveness.
- Buddies in Bad Times Theatre stage excellent queer stories, and throw annual fundraiser ArtAttack! in November, which includes an art auction that doubles as a party.
- Pop into the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore and café at Glad Day on Church Street, and stay for a reading, drag brunch, or dance party.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This dynamic city should not be disregarded as a destination for travelers escaping hetero-suburban ennui. Puerto Vallarta has a lively LGBTQ scene, and an inclusive nightlife atmosphere that make it one of the top destinations for gay travelers.
Party potential: Puerto Vallarta knows how to party. Bars like Apaches can rev up your night with its famous happy hour. Then head to Bar Frida, the city’s “friendliest cantina,” for exceptional music playing on the juke box, and family-style tables to get even the shy strangers acquainted. In May, the city puts on eight days of Pride events that include concerts, films, parties, cultural activities, and the Pride Parade.
- The first Vallarta Pride was held in just 2013 by the ACT LGBT A.C. committee, and is showing huge promise for growth of the community, breaking records this year with 7,000 attendees and involvement by the mayor of the city.
- GayPV is a magazine and travel guide based in Puerto Vallarta, and highlights things to do, news, and general information.
- Vallarta has a lot of queer-friendly accommodations, like Casa Capula, which caters to gay travelers.
- Zona Romantica is the gay district, and it’s here you’ll find the most liberal mindsets.
Portland has always been a place that draws people with a penchant for skirting the norm, and queer culture thrives here. The city boasts one of the highest rates of LGBTQ+ residents, second only to San Francisco. There is no designated gayborhood, as anything goes in this city’s society, and LGBTQ+ issues fold into the fabric of everyday life.
Party potential: Take your pick of places in Portland to celebrate all things queer; there’s something for everyone. Darcelle XV Showplace is one of the oldest drag clubs in the country, while leather daddies and bears mingle at Eagle Portland, and burlesque beauties bring their A game at Crush. Portland Queer Film Festival turns 21 this year, and if it were a person could finally celebrate (legally) with attendees at rollicking post-screening parties. If you’re sports-inclined, seek out the NetRippers Football Club, the city’s LGBTQ+ soccer network.
- The Portland Two Spirit Society was formed to help LGBTQ+ indigenous people reclaim their traditions of honoring the two-spirit role.
- The Portland Gay Liberation Front was formed in 1970, and worked tirelessly to advance gay rights. Today the city has more than 10 organizations that are resources for LGBTQ+ people.
- The Oregon Queer Youth Summit is an annual gathering that hosts queer prom, keynote speeches, and opportunities for education and support through workshops in a safe community environment.
- There’s a famous bookstore in town (and, no, it’s not Powell’s). In Other Words is the inspiration and filming location of Portlandia’s feminist bookstore. The real thing hosts queer poetry nights and other community events, has a killer selection of LGBTQ+ books, and is the only non-profit feminist bookstore in the U.S.
This might be America’s first (or foremost) gay playground. Since the 1970s the gay population has been substantial, though there has been gay representation here since the 1920s, and the 2010 U.S. Census showed it to have the highest rate of same-sex couples in the country.
Party potential: Celebrations are a way of life in P-town, and holidays are especially festive. Halloween is off the chain, Holly Folly decks the halls, and Carnival brings 90,000 people to town for a week of parties, art fairs, a parade, and a costume ball. Girl Splash and Bear Week round out a jam-packed queer calendar that also includes the must-do Tea Dance at the Boatslip Beach Club every afternoon starting at 4 p.m. The bars and cabaret room at the Crown & Anchor are party hotspots, while the Shipwreck Lounge’s patio is the perfect place for crisp cocktails and candid conversation.
- The Fantasia Fair is the longest running transgender festival in the world, and transforms the city each October with its environment of friendship, knowledge, and gender expression awareness.
- Women of Provincetown Innkeepers is a collective comprising nine queer-friendly inns owned by women.
- The Post Office Cabaret, which is said to have the best bloody mary in town, serves a seriously fortifying breakfast, and you can come back at night for live entertainment.
- The history of art, especially performance, is still very much a part of the culture. So be sure to see shows at Provincetown Playhouse or Provincetown Theater.
Chicago is a city of diversity, unique neighborhoods, character, pride, and heart. It’s no wonder then that the LGBTQ+ culture here is both product and influencer of these principles. The Chicago Pride Parade has been going strong since 1970, and shows no signs of stopping, with attendance growing from around 200 in its first year to over 1 million in 2016. Pride Fest kicks off the weekend before, so come to town for both, and enjoy one of the top gay-friendly cities.
Party potential: To get you in the party spirit, Chi-Town has no shortage of drinking establishments. Try Berlin Nightclub for anything from drag competitions to Prince tributes to goth nights with gay gusto. The Closet is more intimate, while Roscoe’s Tavern will make you a cheap date (and by that we mean they’ve got good drink specials). These are just a scratch at the surface; there are plenty more gay-friendly places in the city.
- Chicago’s Society for Human Rights was established in 1924, and was the first gay rights organization in the U.S.
- The Gay Games VII were held in Chicago in 2006.
- The Center on Halsted is a leader in care and advancement of LGBTQ+ community rights and welfare.
- Hang out in Boystown, the first recognized gay village in the country. It remains a vibrant center of LGBTQ+ culture.
Belgium is increasingly a gay-friendly country in attitude, and its laws are following suit. Actually, same-sex activities have been legal since 1795, and it was the second country to allow same-sex marriage. Regulations are changing to be more fair and inclusive of trans people, and anti-discrimination laws have included gender identity and sexual orientation since 2013.
Party potential: For those with a short attention span, Le Boys Boudoir changes event types every night, but almost always has a hopping dance floor. Most of the action is centered around the Rue du Marché au Charbon, and the streets are generally lively, especially on the weekends. La Demence monthly parties are mega-popular, and gay people pour in from around Europe to attend. Chez Maman is your place for drag shows, or head to Brussels Pride for everything under the sun.
- The Prime Minister of Belgium from 2011-2014 was openly gay, and only the second modern head of state to be so.
- The Brussels Pride theme this year was Asylum and Migration, opening up important discussions about refugee rights, especially those who are LGBTQ+.
- The Rainbow House is a place where various LGBTQ+ associations organize social activities, and offers a café where queer people can get information, assistance, and a welcoming environment.
- The Festival Massimadi is a 3-day LGBTQ film festival of Africa that takes place in May at Bronks theater in Brussels.
Which LGBTQ-friendly cities are you most excited to see?
* HRC’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI) demonstrates the ways that many cities can—and do—support the LGBTQ people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so.
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