And the gayest city in Europe is… (Discover our top 10 winners)

The gayest continent on earth with a wildly liberal streak through its western and northern nations, Europe is always a good call. But, with as many as 800 cities across 44 different countries, choosing where to lay your head isn’t always easy. Gay marriage and same-sex unions are legal in almost 30 of these nations, allowing for countless pride celebrations to join and a warm welcome from established LGBTQ communities in each. So, do you go for the stoner cyclist’s haven of Amsterdam or do you follow kinky Germans underground in Berlin? Whatever your proclivity, prepare yourself for a memorable ride with the 10 best gay European cities below.

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Berlin | Photo: Stefan Widua

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Berlin knows how to party and, for the queer community in particular – no matter your label – there’s an extensive scene to tap into

1. Berlin, Germany

Starting as we mean to go on, we arrive first in Berlin hellbent on a good time. Luckily, Berlin knows how to party and, for the queer community in particular – no matter your label – there’s an extensive scene to tap into, both day and night. On an afternoon in Schöneberg, you’ll join proud gay couples walking the same historic streets where LGBTQ artists and activists once began the fight for gay rights, as early as the 1890s in fact. As a result, Berlin’s gay scene is said to have boomed in the 1920s before suffering in the wake of totalitarianism during the 30s and 40s. You’ll find a number of monuments around the city commemorating the many LGBTQ victims of WWII, with the Schwules Museum documenting the art, culture and history of Berlin’s homosexual community, which was long centred in Nollendorfplatz.

Today, Nollendorfplatz is still the place to be if you’d like to see the city’s best fetish clubs and leather bars, with September bringing with it the Folsom Europe BDSM and subculture festival. Kreuzberg and Neukölln meanwhile can provide both naked nights and more vanilla fun, seeing half a million visitors take to the streets in June during the Christopher Street Day parade alongside supporters of the more niche Transgenialer CSD (Kreuzberg Pride). See all of Berlin’s gay highlights with our Berlin travel guide.

Berlin | Photo: Anthony Reungere

2. Madrid, Spain

Another of the gay-friendly European cities, known for its passionate greetings and tanned Don Juans, Madrid is certainly a thrill. As well as its progressive locals and large gay community, the city itself is a playground for gay travellers, most notably in the Chueca neighbourhood where there’s always some kind of event happening. The third nation to legalize gay marriage back in 2005, Spain’s capital has since become a model for other countries, with its equality acts allowing for same-sex adoption, marriage and legal safeguards against discrimination. Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain’s most revered queer poet comes immortalised in countless monuments around the city, while the Plaza de Pedro Zerolo is such named for the famous national pioneer of LGBTQ rights.

Madrid Pride comes in early July each year when Plaza Chueca and Calle Pelayo act as the joint epicentre for one of Europe’s biggest parades. Follow Spanish time when heading out at night, avoiding the bars and clubs until at least after 11 pm when crowds finally begin pouring in until the early hours of the morning. As you might expect from such as liberal city, many of Madrid’s gay bars have darkrooms in the back, while hardcore fetish bars and cruising are also common. If you’re after something a little more understated, try taking your drinks outside for a bit of botellón (or pre-drinking) in good company on beautiful heritage streets. See more of Madrid’s best bits with our Madrid travel guide.

Madrid | Photo: Carabo Spain

Photo: Hotel Axel Madrid

3. Amsterdam, Netherlands

A city where anything goes, from selling sex to buying drugs, Amsterdam, most importantly, is where people come to be free. Drawn through with waterways and connected by hundreds of photogenic bridges, Amsterdam is the city of the cyclist, allowing for scenic rides along the Prinsengracht canal and the Amstel River which both become awash with parade boats during the annual gay canal pride. The city also hosts Amsterdam Pride and Milkshake, a summertime queer music festival, which both work to turn the streets into a sea of bodies, all connecting through live music, activism and some heavy partying. At all other times, you can find Amsterdam’s gay scene centred on Reguliersdwarsstraat, particularly at the city’s oldest gay bar, Cafe t’ Mandje, a popular late-night meeting point with kitschy décor dating back to the 1920s. As well as the main street, additional sex shops and gay bars make themselves known with rainbow flags between the brothels in the Red Light District.

Legalizing gay marriage back in 2001 (with same-sex relationships legalized way back in 1811), Amsterdam certainly leads with its liberal ideals. Hold hands on the streets, steal a snog outside the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, do whatever without fear of reproof! While exploring the city, be sure to look for the Homomonument, a site promoted as a living monument to homosexuals oppressed and persecuted around the world, also learning more of the city’s LGBT history at the Pink Point information desk close by.  Get on your bike and roam the city with our Amsterdam travel guide.

Amsterdam Pride

Amsterdam Pride | Photo: Shutterstock

4. London, UK

Boasting the highest number of Grindr users out of any city in the world, London is arguably the gayest (and/or horniest) city in Europe by far. This could even be a result of the city’s long gay history, as London has hosted a steady stream of gay bars since the 1700s, with Soho becoming the first gay district in Europe. This area surrounding Old Compton Street in central London remains the go-to place for 21st century gays, constantly in transformation with queer-oriented theatres, cafés, sex shops and bookstores on every street. Visit Soho during pride to see the district at its liveliest, though other up-and-coming areas in East London and the pubs around Earl’s Court can also show you a good time. As well as drinking outlets, musical theatre remains alive and well on London’s West End, with gay musicals and LGBTQ productions on the regular in smaller venues and clubs such as Above The Stag. Uncover London’s best kept gay secrets with Mr Hudson’s London travel guide.

Gay London

Photo: Toa Heftiba

Gay London

Photo: Massimo Rinaldi

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

With Denmark being one of the first European nations to legalize same-sex marriage in 2012 (and same-sex unions back in 1989), it’s capital of Copenhagen certainly has the credentials to be crowned gay capital of Europe. Not only that but Copenhagen is also cool as heck, on one side embracing its quaint old city ways and, on the other, showcasing modern industrialism and hipster fun in the Meatpacking District. Though smaller events like World Aids Day and the EuroGames are celebrated throughout the year, the pinnacle event for the gay community must be Copenhagen Pride, which actually happens twice a year in both June and February.

As well as your usual dance clubs, Copenhagen goes one better with a selection of sophisticated gay spots near City Hall, while the alternative scene meets nearer Central Station or in Vesterbro, the city’s old Red Light District. When not partying with leggy blondes in Studiestræde, take advantage of Copenhagen’s convenient waterways on a boat tour around the city, seeing a mix of architectural styles as well as the famed Little Mermaid statue dedicated to Danish children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. For more details on the city’s best art museums, cafés and leading restaurants, see our trusty Copenhagen travel guide.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen | Photo: Mehmet A.

6. Paris, France

Love doesn’t discriminate in the French capital of Paris, which is why it will eternally be one of the best gay cities Europe has to offer. At one point, up to half of all of the nation’s gay men lived in Paris, and today the city seems as queer as ever. To find your people, head straight for La Marais, the only official gaybourhood of Paris which hosts the large majority of the city’s gay bars, clubs, cafés and LGBTQ businesses.

Historically speaking, Paris has always been a little queer, known informally as the ‘Vice of Sodom’ in the Middle Ages and having legalised homosexuality as early as the French Revolution back in 1791. Since then, Paris has only gotten gayer, developing a thriving queer culture throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, to rival even Berlin. At this point, Le Monocle, Clair de Lune and Chez Ma Cousine were all places for the gender non-conforming to come and let their hair down, and today the subculture remains. Embrace your inner flaneur and wander from art gallery to boutique taking in the romantic architecture all around, stopping for a breath of fresh air on the Left Bank and Seine River. You can of course climb atop the Eiffel Tower and get lost in Le Louvre but if Paris Pride is going down, you’ll want to be on Rue Sainte-Croix de Bretonnerie. Otherwise, for a bit of gay heritage, visit the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where lies the kiss-covered grave of famed gay playwright, Oscar Wilde. For more on the city’s best bits, see our Paris travel guide.

Paris | Photo: Charleen Vesin

25hours Hotel Paris | Photo: The Gay Passport

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Besides hosting the UK’s largest pride parade, Manchester also hosts Queer Contact arts festival, Drag Fest UK and Sparkle Festival

7. Manchester, UK

Our second mention in the UK is the northern city of Manchester with its incomprehensible accents and pub-centric bonhomie. The hometown of 60’s icons The Beatles and 90’s Britpop lads Oasis, Manchester remains the UK’s top city for discovering new subcultures, with countless small venues dedicated to live music. The queer community is also a big one, coming to prominence in the 1990s alongside the release of TV series, Queer As Folk, which was filmed across the city.

Besides hosting the UK’s largest pride parade, Manchester also hosts Queer Contact arts festival, Drag Fest UK and Sparkle Festival, with more drag events and themed nights happening nightly in the Gay Village on Canal Street in the city’s best gay bars, clubs and LGBTQ venues. By day meanwhile, visitors can sober up in Sackville Gardens, a park featuring monuments and sculptures dedicated to Alan Turing, Transgender Remembrance and the AIDS pandemic. Discover the best hotels, restaurants and gay clubs in the city with our full Manchester travel guide.

Photo: Wendy Wei

Manchester | Photo: Dyana Wing

8. Brussels, Belgium

A petite city often overshadowed by its rival French neighbour, Brussels comes as a happy surprise for most. As cosmopolitan, liberal and free as Paris, Brussels has the added bonus of being more compact and less weary of its tourists. The heart of the EU, Brussels is a city that speaks everyone’s language, making its parties that bit more interesting. Mingle in good gay company on Saint-Jaques, finding most of the nightlife action on Marché Au Charbon, particularly in the month of May when the narrow streets and sloped lanes behind Grand Place fill with revellers for an entire week of pride celebrations, culminating on Saturday for Pride Day Brussels.

Certainly one of the best gay destinations in Europe for its longstanding acceptance of same-sex unions (legal since 1795) and same-sex marriage since 2003, Brussels continues to pursue equality. Adoption for same-sex couples is now legal and anti-discrimination rights – including transgender rights – have been written into law across Belgium. Enjoy the easy-going attitude on walks from the upper to the lower part of the city, savouring the distinct personalities of each ‘quartier’ among surrealist galleries, museums and outdoor events. Explore the capital to the fullest with our Brussels travel guide.

Brussels | Photo: Fransa

9. Brighton, UK

Hogging the limelight with a third mention is the UK with its unofficial queer capital of Brighton. Gayer than Manchester and London combined (if that’s possible!), the seaside town of Brighton wears its crown with pride, lovingly looked after by a diverse population of boho, free-thinking types.

Located just 60 minutes by train from London City, Brighton is the go-to weekend spot for gay Londoners looking to relax beside the sea before getting lost among like-minded gents along the cobbled lanes of St. James Street or the area around Kemptown. Hosting 250,000 people each year for its Pride festival, Brighton remains a melting-pot for gay culture year round, a trend started in the 19th century when men from across the country came to meet up with soldiers stationed here. Visit during February to attend a number of LGBTQ History Month events held across the city, otherwise trying for Trans Pride and Eyes Wide Open Festival, or for regular performances by the Gay Men’s Chorus or comedy nights at Bent Double. See the full extent of the city’s gay pride with our Brighton travel guide.

Brighton | Photo: Alex Ovs

Photo: Rosemary Ketchum

10. Barcelona, Spain

The last in our list of gay cities Europe is Barcelona, Spain’s sun-soaked second city. Though not the capital, Barcelona is a primary choice for gaycations thanks to its plethora of LGBT-friendly attractions around a beautifully designed cosmopolitan centre. Each superblock offers a new theme, though the gay community can usually be found around Eixample in the LGBT district, meeting up at the city’s best gay bars, restaurants and shops.

Find a balcony view or an alfresco tapas spot for a lazy afternoon on the square, or otherwise make moves to the city’s nearby beach destination of Sitges, just 30 minutes away by train. Strip off in gay company on any of the three gay beaches (clothing-optional on Platja de l’Home Mort and Playa de las Balmins) or enjoy some other things to do in Sitges, such as cocktails and live music in Bassa Rodona town. Though Sitges certainly has pride, it’s Barcelona city centre with the biggest store of events, including the main pride parade in June, Bear Pride in March, Circuit Festival in August and the International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in October. Look to our Barcelona travel guide for tips on where to stay and what to do any time of year.

Barcelona | Photo: Tomas Nozina

Photo: Glodi Miessi

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Gran Vía, Madrid | Photo: Florian Wehde

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