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Gay Travel: Europe
The gay traveler is spoilt for choice in Europe, 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, with vibrant gay and lesbian communities, and great nightlife!
Berlin is just about the gayest city in Europe. In 2001 it even voted in a gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who 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".
Berlin is a city at ease with its gay identity. It has a Gay Museum, Archive and Library, in the Schwules Museum, with excellent resources on gay cultural history. During the summer, a section of Berlin’s enormous Central Park is flooded with nude gay and lesbian sunbathers, so many so that the park is fondly known in local circles as "Tunten-wiese" or "Queens' Meadow".
Berlin is synonymous with wild, hedonistic parties, with 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. Gay life is just another feature of this vibrant and colourful city.
Nollendorfplatz, to the west of the city, is perhaps the city’s most overtly male ‘gay area’. It has a series of important gay landmarks, including Bruno – perhaps the biggest gay-interest store in Europe.
Schöneberg, in the south-west of the city, is another prominent gay area which contains the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of streets; Motzstr, Fuggerstr, and Eisenacherstr, the CSD Pride Parade offices and Mann O Meter, Berlin’s LGBT information centre.
The scene in Kreuzberg (to the south-east) is equally alternative and gay-friendly, whilst Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg form part of a newer scene in the east with plenty of sex shops, saunas, restaurants, and bars.
If you want to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the gay community, Berlin has two main magazines, 'Siegessaule' and ‘Sergeij’, which are published monthly and can be found in newsagents across the city.
London boasts a sheer quantity of exciting gay and lesbian bars and clubs that few other cities in Europe can compete with.
Soho, London’s gay village in the West End, is the symbolic heart of the city’s gay community. Its backbone is Old Compton Street, the former hangout of gay luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and the film director Derek Jarman. 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.
Gay scenes loud and proud can be found in Earl’s Court, the painfully trendy, nightlife-infused areas of Shoreditch and Hoxton to the east, and Vauxhall to the south.
The highlight of London’s gay calendar, the annual London Pride LGBT Cultural Festival, which traditionally takes place from mid-June to early-July, is among the largest and most exhilarating of its kind. The London Pride attracts a crowd from all over the globe, with many people booking cheap flights to London well in advance to avoid missing out on the festivities.
Outside of London, the United Kingdom has one of the largest gay and lesbian communities anywhere in the world, and is proud to lay claim to two other particularly important gay communities in Brighton and on Manchester’s Canal Street, as well as several other enclaves dotted around the country.
Amsterdam not only appears to tolerate gay and lesbian culture, it actively celebrates it!
Like most of Europe’s other major urban centers, the city holds a Gay Pride event. But few can hold a candle to the pomp and show of Amsterdam’s Gay Pride (held from August 3-7).
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.
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 Reguliersdwarsstraat, 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 Rembrandtplein is an elegant square 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.
For friendly assistance and insider tips on gay Amsterdam head for the ‘Pink Point’, (at the Westermarkt, on the Keizersgracht) a gay and lesbian information kiosk that also sells souvenirs.
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 one of the most liberal parts of a very live-and-let-live, progressive sort of country.
Its broad, elegant boulevards are home to some of the best shopping in Europe, and the narrow, winding alleyways of the Barri Gotic are rich in sights of historical interest. But the city really comes alive when the sun sets, with a great deal to offer the gay or lesbian traveler.
The epicenter of Barcelona’s gay party scene is Eixample, known locally as ‘gayxample’. 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.
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, is 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.