From the industrial warehouses in Berlin to the babbling of water stroking the canals of Amsterdam, European gay life spans across the entire spectrum. And we can't get enough.
We've been around the European block quite a few times, and can safely say, it boasts some of the most progressive places in the world. Yet, each gay scene manages to be different from the others. Some are smaller, some are wilder and some have become so intertwined within city life, that the straight community is left feeling like they're intruding into our special world!
For this list of the top 10 gayest cities in Europe, we look at the gay scene, what gay life is like, what's it like to live there for a member of the LGBTQ community and from our own first-hand experience travelling there as a gay couple.
1. Berlin, Germany
“I don't think we're in Kansas anymore”, we heard ourselves think as we stepped out of Hauptbahnhof train station and into the industrial revolution that is Berlin.
We haven't broken out the ole' cliched ‘Wizard of Oz' analogy for no good reason: Berlin is full of an assortment of people that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Yet regardless of where you go, it seems that every other person in Berlin is a friend of Dorothy! With dozens of queer nightclubs, LGBTQ-owned restaurants, gay hotels and a thriving gay village, the Berlin scene sets a high bar for all other European cities. Wandering through the streets of Schöneberg, we spotted tons of queer couples proudly walking around, holding hands and stealing the odd kiss in the middle of the street.
The gays have made their voices heard throughout the city from as far back as the late 1890s when LGBTQ artists began performing in clubs and making music about their same-sex desires. A gay magazine was published, known as ‘Der Eigene', and gay icon Marlene Dietrich was a fixture on the queer nightlife scene. Back then, the Berlin queer scene reached its climax in the 1920s when it became the first place in the world to actually have a gay scene.
Sadly, during the Nazi regime in the late 30s and 40s, the gay scene was stubbed out, with many homosexuals forced into hiding or sent to concentration camps. There are various memorials throughout the city that commemorate all of the LGBTQ victims of the Second World War. Luckily, after the fall of the Third Reich, the LGBTQ scene began to thrive once more and homosexuality was decriminalised in 1969.
Today, there are so many things to do and see. Some of our favourite gay bars in Berlin include Heile Welt, Hafen, Moöbel Olfe and SchwuZ. And of course, there's the infamous, exclusive Berghain club. The Axel Hetero-Friendly Hotel is a staple for us when it comes to gay accommodation in Berlin. For more, be sure to check out our comprehensive gay guide to Berlin along with our interview of cutie local boy Marcel from Berlin.
2. Madrid, Spain
Arguably the gay capital of Europe, Madrid is not only a fantastic city for LGBTQ tourists, it's a also a great place to live. Home to the largest gay community, Madrid natives have no choice but to embrace our fabulousness! As well as having the biggest (and in our opinion, one of the best!) Pride event in Europe, they also have a fantastic gay scene in Chueca, with something happening every day of the week.
Spain was the third country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage back in 2005, proving just how open-minded and loving the people are. In the Pew Global survey, 88% of locals believe homosexuality should be accepted into society. In fact, central LGBTQ figures in history are honoured throughout the streets, with statues like Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish queer poet, centred in the city. Plus, an entire square in the centre of Madrid was named Plaza de Pedro Zerolo, after an activist who championed the LGBTQ rights movement.
We love meandering through the Chueca gay neighbourhood of Madrid. There are so many gay bars here to check out like Gris, La Kama and LL Bar. In terms of gay clubs, we love Delirio, DLRO Live and Kluster. During Pride in early July, the city becomes one huge gay street festival, with something happening on every other street block in Chueca – it's mad, crazy and always tons of fun!
3. London, UK
According to Grindr, London is the gayest city in the world, recording the highest number of users. So either Londoners are very gay, or very horny. Probably both…
London has had a rich queer history, with gay bars existing in the city as far back as the 1700s! The longest-running lesbian nightclub in the world was located here, known as The Gateways Club.
A sprawling city filled with so many different pockets of culture, the English capital is a dream for all queer people looking to find a place where they belong. Fans of musical theatre will fall in love with the West End, with no shortage of gay musicals and shows to see. The Above The Stag theatre company showcases exclusively LGBTQ productions and is made up of (almost) entirely queer actors, writers and directors.
With gay bars like GAY (which is where we first met back in Feb 2009) welcoming a host of celebrities and performers, to lowkey bars like Admiral Duncan, where you can just chill and have a drink. Plus, it's home to some of the fiercest drag queens in the world! There are the campy queens who encourage you to sing your heart out at the Karaoke Hole and then there are the stunningly beautiful glamazons, who can vogue the house down. Read more in our guide to the best drag clubs in London. Other gems in gay London to look out for include the alternative Sink the Pink parties as well as the big Matinée and We Party full of topless muscle hunks.
4. Barcelona, Spain
While Madrid gets all the attention for having the biggest Pride festival in Europe, Barcelona still holds its own as a truly great gay city. It's the birthplace of the gay LGBTQ movement in Spain after all. Activists famously threw the city into turmoil when they took to the streets in the 1970s, demanding their rights to be granted and their voices to be heard.
The Gaixample gay neighbourhood of Barcelona (pronounced gay-shample) is where you'll find all the best gay bars, clubs, shops, hotels, saunas and more. This is also where most members of the LGBTQ community live. Some of our favourite gay bars here include Moeem, Punto and La Chappelle. In terms of gay clubs, we loved Arena, Metro, and the Black Room. There are even gay cafes and restaurants here like Priscilla, Botanic and Patio Central.
Plus, the proximity to a great beach makes all the difference. With golden sands, gentle blue waters, and never-ending sunshine, we love nothing more than laying back on the awesome Mar Bella beach after a long day of sightseeing. Just make sure you come here early to find a spot to lay your towel, especially in July/August, when it gets PACKED!
Barcelona is also close to one of our favourite gay resort towns: Sitges! We love the gay scene of this small compact place and of course the super-chilled clothing-optional gay beaches like Balmins and Playa del Muerto.
5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a world leader with LGBTQ rights, becoming the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage back in 2001. Almost everyone here is so used to our community that they are blazé about our public displays of affection. We never once felt odd about walking the streets of Amsterdam holding hands.
The gay scene of Amsterdam is super diverse with bars to suit everyone like SoHo, Amstel 54 and even one targetted to “black and coloured” queer men called Cafe Reality. We always manage to find something new and exciting whenever we visit.
‘Off with her head' – we cry as we walk on through to the lively club that is The Queens Head. With pumping loud music, drag performers, and super glam decor, you can party the night away in all your royal fantasies. Alternatively, you can mozy on over to Prik bar for a fruity cocktail, sitting in the cool, evening breeze outside (weather permitting of course).
Amsterdam is also home to one of the most unique Pride events in the world, which takes place on the water! Sure, other cities might have street parties or epic beach fiestas, but Amsterdam sees members of the community hop on board the boats and sail on down through the canals. That is how you outdo your neighbours, rainbow style! Amsterdam Pride usually takes place during the last week of July and definitely one not to miss! Read more in our comprehensive guide to Amsterdam for gay travellers.
6. Brighton, UK
When you imagine the great LGBTQ scenes of the world, you instantly think of New York, Toronto, Berlin and London. Brighton may not necessarily spring to mind, but it absolutely should!
Silent but deadly, Brighton is a city that harbours a vast LGBTQ community, a fun gay scene and amazing support from its straight residents. They don't call it the ‘unofficial' gay capital of the UK for no reason! It holds one of the most exciting Pride festivals in the UK with over 250,000 attendees and featuring headliners like Kylie and Britney.
Put it this way, Brighton is so gay that around 15% of the population is thought to be on the LGBTQ spectrum, with similar surveys conducted in the early 2000s, which found Brighton to hold one of the highest numbers of same-sex households in the world.
Brighton started to become a well-beloved area by the gays in the late 19th century when men from all over the country would come down to the seaside town to meet soldiers who were stationed there. This led to a diverse mix of people congregating in one place, turning Brighton into a melting pot of different cultures.
Loads of LGBTQ hangouts can be found around St. James Street. We love The Queen Arms – a bright purple building with rainbows plastered on the inside of all the windows. Drag artists here don't hold back. They're brash, cut-throat and will read someone to filth; if you arrive here with any kind of nuisances about yourself, then you best pack up your bags asap! All jokes aside, this is one gay city we love to pieces.
7. Lisbon, Portugal
Often overlooked by its sassy neighbour Spain, Portugal is another beacon of light for the LGBTQ community. Despite the strong influence of the Catholic Church, the queer community of Portugal is widely embraced in society and are afforded almost all the same rights as their straight counterparts.
We spent a day with a group exploring the city, learning about the gay history of Lisbon. We learnt about central figures on the scene who spearheaded the LGBTQ rights movement and transformed Lisbon into the open and accepting city that it is today.
The bulk of the gay scene can be found along R.de Barroca. The Gay Bar 106 pulls no punches. Even its name doesn't mess around, letting you know exactly what it is. Inside, its soft and lush lighting feels so inviting that you just can't help but feel right at home when you arrive. Another gem is The Bar TRS3, which is an adorable little bear haven. It's a little cosier than some of the other gay bars of Lisbon, but its charm and atmosphere more than make up for its small size.
One of the most famous gay hotels in Lisbon is The Late Birds, only a stone's throw away from all the main gay venues. It offers luxurious spas, relaxing pools, and definitely one of the best places to base yourself in the city.
8. Manchester, UK
How can we begin to describe how gloriously gay Manchester is? An entire street dedicated to our community wasn't enough, we needed a whole village. With tons of gay bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes packed into the charming Canal Street, the Gay Village of Manchester is almost like one big gay oasis!
Fans of the original hit TV series Queer As Folk (ie the British version) will recognise many of the sites around the area, as most of the scenes for the show were filmed here.
There is always a party happening at the GAY club. Either a RuPaul's Drag Race contestant is performing, or they have a themed night. We always know before stepping through the door that we're in for a treat here. With LGBTQ pop anthems playing throughout the night, it's the perfect place to let your hair down and leave your worries behind. Cruz 101 cruising bar across the street has an opposite effect. It's edgy. It's urban. It's exciting. Located in an industrious warehouse, harsh grunge music bounces off the walls, with men prowling through the dancefloor looking for their next adventure!
One place we can't recommend enough is The Molly House. With a name like that, you'd think you were popping around to your grandmother's for tea….and well, that's exactly what it is. A charming little room with art hanging on the walls, cakes and scones on the menu and traditional English tea. Be sure to check out our gay guide to Manchester for more about the exciting gay scene of Canal Street.
9. Prague, Czech Republic
Over the years, the Czech Republic has become very gay-friendly with its capital becoming a huge queer mecca. We found Prague to be the most gay friendly city in East Europe, setting a standard for other countries in the region to up their game when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
The gay scene here isn't as vast as the likes of Berlin or London, but it is a warm and receptive community. The gay area is in Vinohrady, with gay bars to check out like Piano, The Saints and Klub U. Prague is also famous for being a city for coffee lovers, packed to the brim with gay cafes like Q Cafe, Celebrity and Cafe Bar Flirt.
At night, we hit up the town and go to the funky and pop fused Termax, with its epic strobe lighting, pumping dance music and swirling disco balls. If Prague feels like the scene of a storybook, then this club is the paradise where everyone lives happily ever after. Close by is the more laidback Termix, with a cosy interior setting, cheap drinks, and fun company.
Prague Pride takes place in the first week of August and the whole city gets lit up with rainbow colours. Marching through the idyllic city, with its mix of Gothic-style buildings, Romanesque chapels, colourful palaces and garden squares feels like the homecoming scene at the end of a fairytale! The Mezipatra queer film festival in November is another gay event in Prague to look out for. For more, check out our detailed gay guide to Prague.
10. Paris, France
The city of romance isn't just for straight couples – LGBTQ pairings get a look in too! In the 1990s, it was estimated that a whopping 46% of France's gay men live here!
La Marais is the official gayborhood of Paris and also the only officially recognised gay neighbourhood in France. This is where you'll find the majority of the gay bars, cafes, clubs and LGBTQ businesses of Paris.
Paris' reputation as a queer haven dates as far back as the Middle Ages when it was nicknamed “the vice of Sodom”. In 1791, during the French Revolution, France became the first country in the world to decriminalise homosexuality, which led to the growth of queer culture in the late 1700s and 1800s in Paris. As such, the city quickly evolved into a world centre for LGBTQ culture, rivalling Berlin as one of the queerest places in the world in the early 1900s! During this era, gay nightlife and drag balls flourished with Le Monocle being a popular spot for women in tuxedos, along with other hotspots like Clair de Lune, Chez Ma Cousine and La Petite Chaumiere.
Today, Paris remains the most visited destination in the world amongst both gay and straight travellers. It has an excellent gay scene. One of the best places to check out is COX (it's a nightclub, get your mind out the gutter!), Bears Den, RAIDD and El Hombre. Some of our favourite gay clubs in Paris include Le Club 18, Le Tango (La Boîte à Frissons) and Scream.
Paris Pride is the largest LGBTQ event in France. Whilst it's not on par with London or Madrid, it remains one of the best in Europe to check out, often attracting crowds of up to several hundred thousand.
For more inspiration:
- Make sure you read about what to expect during Barcelona Pride
- If you're travelling in France we also have a gay guide to Lyon
- As well as these excellent gay friendly hotels in Nice
- Read about the best gay beaches in Europe to show off your speedos
- If you'd like to explore Europe by boat check out our guide to the best gay cruises
- As well as the best gay nude cruises if you like to sail with your kit off
- You might also like to explore these gay nude beaches in Italy while you're at it