When it comes to attractive destinations in Europe, these days the gay traveler is spoilt for choice, with many of the continent’s big cities proud of their flourishing gay and lesbian scenes.
We've picked four cities that are among the hippest, most cosmopolitan and urbane cities around. They lead the way as beacons of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness, where everyone can find their own particular niche.
Berlin is just about the gayest city in Europe. In 2001 it even voted in a gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who, when he came out in the run-up to the mayoral elections, delivered the phrase that has now entered common gay parlance in Germany: "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so." - "I’m gay, and it's ok that way".
It has a Gay Museum, Archive and Library, in the Schwules Museum, which has excellent resources relating to gay cultural history, and during the summer a section of Berlin’s enormous central park is flooded with nude sunbathers, so many of whom are gays and lesbians that the park is fondly known in local circles as "Tunten-wiese" or "Queens' Meadow". It is clearly a city that is at ease with its gay identity.
Berlin is synonymous with wild, hedonistic parties, its gay scene spilling out from legions of gay and lesbian bars. Anyone who’s witnessed the full outrageous spectacle of the city’s CSD Pride parade will know it’s a city where pretty much anything goes. But because Berlin is such a tolerant town, the scene is not limited to exclusively gay bars or venues. In reality, gay life is just another feature of the richness, color and vibrancy of this amazing city.
As a gay and lesbian destination, London needs very little introduction to the discerning visitor. Its scene boasts a sheer quantity of exciting bars and clubs that few other cities in Europe can compete with.
If Soho, London’s gay village in the West End, is undoubtedly the symbolic heart of the city’s gay community, then its backbone is Old Compton Street. A long strip of gay bars, restaurants, clothing and book shops, it is a haven of tolerance and laid-back al-fresco drinking and dining. Wandering down it is to follow in the footsteps of gay luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and the film director Derek Jarman.
Whilst much of the action has historically focused on Soho, the city is also proud to say that gay scenes exist in Earl’s Court (for many years a hive of activity) and have more recently sprung up in the painfully trendy, nightlife-infused areas of Shoreditch and Hoxton to the east, and Vauxhall to the south.
Aside from the extensiveness of its gay nightlife, the city is, well, frankly a virtually unbeatable all-round destination: An incredible mixture of important historical monuments – reflecting its pre-eminent position as an historical world power – high culture and the arts, museums, and gorgeous oases of greenery and calm (away from the frantic pace) in its many parks and gardens.
More than any other city in the world, Amsterdam not only appears to tolerate gay and lesbian culture it actively seems to celebrate it. Truly this is a city upon which the mantle of gay mecca can sit comfortably!
The centerpiece of the event is the ‘canal parade’, which roars along the Prinzengracht in a frenzy of costumes and color. Every March, Amsterdam also hosts its Fetish Fantasy Weekend, whilst Amsterdam’s Leather Pride takes place in October.
The city’s gay action is broken down into a few distinct areas. To the north of the old town, tucked neatly in between Dam Square and Central Station, and in the heart of the red-light district, the Warmoesstraat is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s leather-bars and rainbow-flagged saunas.
Further south, the city’s Museumquarter is home to many of Amsterdam’s smartest shopping streets, the most exclusive of all being the P.C. Hooftstraat which positively drips with classy boutiques. It also contains the Reguliersdwarsstraat area, which, along with the Amstel and Kerkstraat districts (one of the city’s longest-standing gay areas) is the focal point of the gay and lesbian scene in Amsterdam.
On long summer evenings, drinkers spill out onto the streets from the area’s many heaving gay and lesbian bars, while its clubs are crammed with partygoers until well into the morning.
The Amstel area neighbors the Rembrandtplein, another of Amsterdam’s elegant squares named after the late Dutch master Rembrandt, and now a neighborhood of typical Dutch pubs playing authentic Dutch music. Whilst not perhaps as exclusively gay as it once was, it’s nevertheless a thriving hub of trendy gay bars and clubs.
Next to this is the ‘Homomonument’, a gay monument made of three large pink granite triangles. It stands, near the Anne Frank house, as a symbol of Holland’s continuing commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness for all.
Barcelona is a chic, relaxed city and almost certainly the most liberal part of what is a very live-and-let-live, progressive sort of country.
Its broad, elegant boulevards are packed full of some of the best shopping in Europe, the narrow, winding alleyways of the Barri Gotic, the city’s Gothic quarter, rich in sights of historical interest. But it is as the sun sets that the city really comes to life, with a great deal to offer the gay or lesbian traveler.
The epicenter of Barcelona’s gay party scene is undoubtedly the glorious Eixample, (pronounced eshaumplay) and known locally as ‘gayxample’. But all across the city, from stylish dining by the marina, to scruffy local favorites where you can knock back a few drinks and stuff yourself with an assortment of choice bites, there’re more great eateries than you could possibly visit in the space of a quick holiday.
As well as being home to many of the best bars and clubs, the area also houses several of the city’s gay-interest shops and bookshops.
The Quadrat d’Or, or Golden Square, flaunts much of the city’s archetypically extravagant modernist architecture, including some particularly glorious examples from the Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi.
A little to the south of the city the town of Sitges, long a haunt of artists – Miró was born there, and Dalí used to take his holidays in the town – is a hugely popular gay beach resort.
In addition to the Platja de la Bossa Rodona, there are also a number of places where nudism is permitted. The Calle de San Bonaventura, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, is lined with most of the town’s gay bars and clubs, and in the day, proves an ideal place to sit, have a coffee and watch the world go by.
Once a year, in February, mayhem descends on the town in the form of its carnival, an explosion of flamboyance, color and gay pride.
For more information about other interesting gay-friendly European destinations, visit www.medestino.com!