Between a sort of ingrained desire to explore the world and that good ol’ disposable income, us gays sure do love to travel. One Forbes study found that 85% of gays and lesbians have a current passport, compared to less than 35% of all American adults.
Whether jet-setting across Europe or Instagramming the sights and sounds of America’s coastline, there have always been certain cities that beckon LGBT travelers. Some—like San Francisco, Berlin and London—have longstanding histories as forerunners of the gay civil rights movement. Other international destinations are must-see spots for gay men and women due to picturesque vistas, debaucherous after-dark scenes and a litany of entertainment options.
While travel trends tend to fluctuate alongside air travel prices and exchange rates, there are some spots that never see a shortage of gay travelers.
Below we’ve gathered 30 such cities—presented in order of popularity—based on the search habits of Vespa users. Owned by the premier gay social network Hornet and offering an impressive list of gay city guides for 300 international destinations, Vespa (available as an app and on the web) brings together the minds of travel bloggers and in-the-know city dwellers, all for your convenience, whether traveling to a new land or exploring your hometown. With Vespa, you’re never left wondering where the nearest gay bar, nightclub or Pride event could be.
Now, on with our list:
While not known for its gay scene, Italy’s “Eternal City” is properly on most people’s bucket list. Melding the contemporary with the historical, Rome has a massive LGBT population, but you won’t find a centralized gayborhood. A small gay street (actually called Gay Street) has a few gay bars, restaurants and hotels grouped together. For an early night spot, try Freni e Frizioni, frequented by students and hipsters; our favorite late-night stopovers include My Bar, which offers karaoke and drag with sidewalk seating near the Colosseum, and Coming Out, the city’s most popular gay bar, offering dinner and drinks until late.
In the world’s largest city, with a population of over 24 million, you’re guaranteed to find whatever it is you’re looking for. Rich with commerce and technology, the sheer amount of business that takes place here is impressive, and the air bustles with the sound of millions of smartphones that never power off. In a city overflowing with money and extravagance, it’s no surprise that the gay scene is just as vivacious. DJs and packed dance floors can be found at venues like Icon by Angel and Lucca, where shirts come off and hardbodies like to play. Shanghai Pride, taking place in June, is the first LGBTQ pride event to take place in mainland China, and it’s packed with a week of workshops, cultural festivals and dance parties.
Melbourne has a thriving gay community based in and around the Collingwood area of Melbourne, Chapel Street, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy and Prahran. In St. Kilda, the Greyhound Hotel on Brighton Road is known for its DJ sets and fun drag shows, and travelers should check out establishments like The Laird (a great place for happy hour-timed cocktails) and Prince Public Bar for fun local experiences.
27. Kuala Lumpur
One of Southern Asia’s most dynamic cities, Kuala Lumpur’s uniqueness comes from its diverse population, and you’ll find Chinese, Indian and even British influences in its architecture and food. Homosexuality is still illegal here, which means discretion is strongly advised. But despite those strict views on same-sex relationships, there’s a growing underground gay scene, and designated gay nights at bars and clubs are increasing in popularity. Rooftop bar DivineBliss KL, for example, hosts its gay night on Saturdays, and places like Blue are packed with gays on the weekend.
26. Fort Lauderdale
If Miami’s ever-evolving gay scene isn’t exactly your cup of tea, rest assured that Fort Lauderdale (only 23 miles north) has become a go-to spot for gays seeking a low-key getaway. The gayborhood of Wilton Manors offers an abundance of LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly businesses, whether you’re looking to quietly hang with friends (try Naked Grape Wine Bar), dance the night away (head to Village Pub) or grab a bite (the burgers at Georgie’s Alibi are award-winning).
Located on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle isn’t nearly as gloomy as its reputation might have you believe. A prime spot for those looking to either rough it in the wilderness or take in culture and entertainment (or both), Seattle’s gay scene isn’t simply focused in its Capitol Hill gayborhood; rather it’s spread throughout the city. Among our favorite venues for a night on the town: C.C. Attle’s, perfect for a drag number or two; Pony, a perfect, cozy little dive bar you can’t help but fall in love with; and the Seattle Eagle, popular for its bear and leather parties.
One of the top 10 most-visited American metropolises, Atlanta offers visitors a diverse cultural experience, from historical sites like the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site to several renowned museums, 343 national parks and a thriving nightlife scene. Gay Atlanta is also diverse, colorful and fun (just like its Housewives), and a majority of the gay bars are concentrated in Midtown. People-watch at Blake’s on the Park, a neighborhood bar with a young clientele, or mingle with the city’s leather and hipster crowds at Mary’s on the East Side.
23. Las Vegas
A getaway that caters to both world travelers and those who are vacationing on a budget, “Sin City” never really sleeps. Explore the Nevada desert with outdoor activities during the day, shop at the luxe boutiques on the Strip—or head to the premium outlet stores on the outskirts of town—in the afternoon, gamble the night away at a plethora of hotel casinos and dance til the morning at a wide range of dance clubs. Gay spots in Las Vegas include fun dive bars like Fun Hog Ranch and The Garage and the more swanky drag/dance club Piranha, where bottle service is at the ready for those willing to shell out the cash.
22. Washington, D.C.
In this compact city on the Potomac River, gay bars and restaurants are spread out among different neighborhoods, from the historic gay ‘hood DuPont Circle to more newly developed blocks like Logan Circle, which offers a variety of nightlife options. Spend time at a mellow neighborhood bar like Green Lantern or hit up a spot like Number Nine, great for happy hour—all depending on your mood.
While perhaps not as well-known for being a gay draw as its Catalan sister Barcelona, the truth is that Madrid is a bigger city with more gay offerings throughout the year. A great destination for tourists—especially for those who enjoy local neighborhoods, art and nightlife, Madrid is a vibrant city that doesn’t sleep. Keep in mind that the city’s nightlife starts extremely late, so don’t be surprised if you arrive at 11 p.m. to a bar (1 a.m. to a club) and still don’t see a crowd. In another hour, the place will be packed. Some of our favorite watering holes include the huge LOL Club and the double-level Studio 54.
Looking to work on your tan? Then the sultry, humid heat of Miami beckons. Renowned as one of America’s sleekest, sexiest destinations, in Miami, nightlife, great eats and beach time reigns supreme. Particularly popular for its annual tentpole events—Winter Party Festival (March), White Party (November) and Miami Beach Pride (April) among them—spots like dinner-and-cabaret venue Palace and state-of-the-art club Score are sure to be packed to the gills whenever you find yourself in Southern Florida.
Boasting 300 days of sunshine per year, you can’t go wrong with a pure blue skyline above the Colorado Mountains and the country’s largest park system. Add cultue and entertainment to the mix and it’s no wonder why the Mile High City has become a must-visit destination for gays. At night, bars like Charlie’s (where you’ll watch cowboys line-dancing to Country/Western tracks), Tracks (a multi-level space with themed nights) and the outdoor patio of X Bar are sure to hit the spot.
Known for its pristine neighborhoods, slick and modern architecture and multinational cultures, Singapore is a great place to discover if you enjoy year-round warm weather, friendly people, a rich art scene and a thriving gay community. Must-visit gay bars and cafés on this island republic include the indoor/outdoor Tantric, the no-frills dive bar DYMK (it stands for “Does Your Mother Know?”) and the bar/café Ps Cafe.
Only in Amsterdam will you find a floating gay parade, traveling down the city’s famed canals each August during Amsterdam Pride. (You’ll know you’re there thanks to the thousands of scantily clad European men dancing.) Gay Amsterdam gives tourists the rare opportunity to feel completely free and unashamed—something that is definitely not to be missed! On your trip, you’ll want to check out popular spots like the hot weekend spot Amstel Fifty Four and Taboo (known for its terrace packed with friendly gay guys).
The second largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, this Atlantic Ocean spot is a popular vacation destination due to its year-round warm weather and white sandy beaches buttressed by cliffs and coves. (Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?) It’s also popular for watersports (of the surfing and waterskiing variety, ya perv!) and whale-watching. While gay spots aren’t exactly abounding on Fuerteventura, you’ll definitely want to check out Spectrum—the area’s gay bar, featuring cheap drinks and DJ sets—and Sauna KM 22, the local gay sauna.
The Windy City’s thriving gay scene (nicknamed Boystown) is considered one of the world’s best gay neighborhoods. Packed with boys (and girls), you’ll have no trouble finding gay bars, clubs, great places to grab a bite (maybe that infamous Chicago deep-dish pizza?) and historic architecture–all in a very-walkable neighborhood. Don’t forget to check out Chicago’s longest running video bar, Sidetrack (we love the rooftop beer garden), or hang among the bears, dykes and daddies at Big Chicks.
It’s a huge city with gay bars and gay parties scattered around, but the center of the Tokyo gay scene lies within Shinjuku and Ni-Chome. These two neighborhoods, especially Ni-Chome, are packed with restaurants, bars, clubs and other businesses that cater to gay locals and tourists. Some favorite gay bars in the area include Arty Farty and Dragon, but if you’re feeling a bit more mischievous, spend a few hours (or the night) at Kaikan, an eight-floor gay sauna and bathhouse.
13. Mexico City
A constantly evolving metropolis, here’s a destination that both embodies Mexico’s history and acts as a shining example of cultural renaissance the world over. Visit spots like cowboy bar Vaqueros and drag haven Oasis Bar to sample Mexico City’s local gay flavors.
Gay travel experts Two Bad Tourists describe Barcelona—one of Europe’s top destinations—as the perfect spot for LGBT travelers, thanks to its mild temperatures, seaside location and its wealth of culture and nightlife. Vespa’s Barcelona city guide includes of plethora of fun places to check out, from the small hipster bar La Penúltima to the mid-week party institution Metro Disco.
A dream destination for those seeking art, fashion and historic sites, the “City of Lights” has a ton to offer the gay traveler. First-time visitors will want to stop by local gay spots like the cozy and casual Banana Café, Le Bear’s Den for cheap drinks and the occasional drag performance and Mix, a giant club space underneath the Gare Montparnasse railway station.
10. Palm Springs
As the saying goes, Palm Springs is for “the gays and the grays,” and in this case the saying holds true. This literal “hot spot” features a thriving gay scene and over the years has really built up its nightlife and culinary offerings. Before or after checking out the outlet stores just outside the city limits, you can’t go wrong by stopping into popular gay hangouts like Toucan’s (where you’ll typically find cheap drinks and a drag show), Hunters (a video bar with a throbbing dance floor) and Toolshed (most popular for its Sunday Beer Bust)—or waste some time at one of the city’s many clothing-optional gay resorts.
Sydney is one of those magical cities that should be on everyone’s bucket list. The center of gay Sydney is Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, and many of the city’s gay bars and clubs sit between Hyde Park and the Victoria Barracks in Paddington. You’ll find that many bars in Sydney are referred to as “hotels,” like the iconic bar Midnight Shift, a two-level club that’s perfect for a night of drinking and dancing.
With a female president who is a strong ally to the LGBTQ community, Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, is yet another reason to visit this gorgeous country appropriately described as “the beautiful island” by locals. There are several must-visit bars when you find yourself in Taipei, including Cafe Dalida, which is popular among locals and tourists alike, and the friendly bear bar G Paradise.
Considered one of Europe’s gayest capitals—no surprise since 10% of it’s 3.5 million inhabitants are gay—Berlin is well-known for the wall that once divided east and west, punk rock, electronic music, fetish freedom and a thriving gay scene. With two distinct gay districts that cater to the city’s extremely diverse population, Berlin’s gay nightlife rivals almost any city in the world. Check out our very own Guide to Getting Laid in Berlin.
6. Hong Kong
Uniquely blending East and West, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most unique cities. Even after Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, this port city retained a lot of its British influences and is truly an international destination. Hong Kong translated means “fragrant harbor”—no surprise with the smell of crispy duck, dim sum, street food and other mouth-watering food in the air. While you’re here you’ll want to check out gay favorites like T:ME (great for weekday cocktails) and LINQ (free vodka on Wednesdays!) for a fun time.
5. Los Angeles
If you’re looking for glitz, glamour and a celebrity sighting here and there, look no further—Los Angeles is calling your name. From the shops of Beverly Hills to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame to a hipper-by-the-minute Downtown, it’s no surprise that L.A.’s gay scene is just as fabulous (and surprisingly diverse). You’ll find no shortage of gay bars, restaurants, shopping and more in three very gay-centric neighborhoods: West Hollywood (stop by world-famous gay bar The Abbey), Silver Lake (known for leather bars like Eagle L.A.) and Downtown (currently all the rage due to spots like rock ‘n’ roll gay bar Precinct).
4. New York
Famed as one of the planet’s most exciting and diverse cities, New York City should rightfully appear on everyone’s bucket list. It’s home to iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, food from every corner of the globe, parties and events that take place every night of the week and a gay nightlife scene that, while not what it once was, is still serving up the perfect blend of raunchy fun and nonstop excitement. Some of the Big Apple’s favorite gay spots include Barracuda, a Chelsea spot perfect for happy hour or a drag show; Ritz, which offers up three separate dance floors; and a Sunday drag brunch at the Highline Ballroom that regularly features Drag Race girls.
Wielding cultural influence in the spheres of finance, technology, fashion and culture, London has established itself as an important metropolis along the lines of New York, Shanghai and Tokyo. As the home of Europe’s largest LGBT community, it’s not surprising that London can easily offer gay travelers anything they seek—including The Queen herself. You can’t go wrong with drinks and dancing at G.A.Y. (seriously, you’ve never seen so many twinks in one place) or Heaven (a very popular spot for late-night dancing and the occasional drag performance), although Horse Meat Disco—a Sunday night party at Vauxhall’s The Eagle—is also worth the trek.
With delicious Thai cuisine, five-star accommodations, stunning architecture and an exciting gay scene, Bangkok is a top gay tourist destination and a non-stop party. It’s Thailand’s political, cultural and entertainment capital, so it’s no surprise that millions visit this vibrant city each year. Besides its annual three-day White Party, world travelers can discover spots like Telephone and Balcony (for dinner and drinks) and the cozy and stylish Stranger (for music and drag).
It’s one of the most open and liberal cities on earth, combining beautiful architecture that blends Victorian and Modern styles, food that encompasses Mission-style burritos and Michelin-starred restaurants and shopping that ranges from hippie chic to couture. All of these things help make San Francisco one of the top tourist destinations in the world along with the most searched global destination by Vespa users. With so much to do in this city, from art to eating to hitting up parks to nightlife, you’ll have to check out The Hornet Guide to Gay San Francisco to piece together the perfect trip.