How to plan a trip to Europe and get the most out of 2 weeks

Not only do Europeans know how to get a full-coverage tan, but they also know how to design a city (Barcelona), expertly cook a batch of calamari (Spain) and pair a wine (France, Italy, Portugal). Painfully cool yet blessed with year-round sun, Europe’s top cities know just how to dazzle, pulling out all the stops with tight white chinos on myriad plazas from Milan to Prague. Savour the sights on a two-week-long exploration of the best gay destinations in Europe using our mix-and-match itineraries below.

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Saint-Tropez, France | Photo: La Coccinelle

How to plan a trip to Europe

Whether you’re European or not, your Euro vacation is bound to take some planning if you want to tailor-make your dream itinerary. There are over 40 countries in Europe, all of them distinct in language, culture and heritage. Though going off the beaten track in Europe has its allure, if this is your first trip to Europe then sticking to the tried and tested big cities is a winning option. Regardless of where you choose, be aware of minor cultural differences in each country, such as driving direction and power outlet variations.

You can get across Europe in just four hours but we recommend flying as little as possible, using alternative land options when you can – cars, buses or trains – for more affordability and efficiency. Instead of wasting hours in the airport departure lounge, you can save time for chilling at unique European cafés or tacking on an extra day trip. Consider buying all your tickets to main landmarks in advance, allowing you to skip the queue on arrival.

Another way to make the best of your trip is to wake up early. If not every day, then at least once in order to see the sunrise over the city’s best bits. Rising at the crack of dawn also has the added benefit of helping you side-step the largest tourist crowds at top sightseeing spots. You’ll also be doing a fair bit of walking around Europe so packing your comfiest shoes is a must even if it means spending the whole trip in the same pair of New Balance.

Photo: John Fornander

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

Best time to go to Europe

There’s no right or wrong answer of when to visit Europe. Summer may have the attraction of sunny days and blue skies but winter also brings its own brand of festive magic. Though the weather differs between countries, in general, the shoulder seasons (March to June and September the November) are considered the best times to visit big cities when temperatures are mild and crowds are lesser. If visiting a catholic country like Italy however, remember that April may come with peak crowds during Easter celebrations. July to August meanwhile is the busiest and hottest period with prices rising during school breaks. The sun in southern Europe can be particularly spicy in August, making waiting in line to see the ruins a real headache. As many of Italy’s attractions are outside, we’d recommend leaving Italy until a cooler season.

Photo: Marvin Meyer

1. London - Paris - Rome

Fresh out of the departure gate, we get started on the Holy Trinity of Europe; London, Paris and Rome. Though no longer part of the EU, the UK is certainly still a part of the continent, now revelling in its bachelor status. London can be ‘done’ in four days we reckon, leaving enough time to tick off the main landmarks – Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace – while also allowing you to roam the nation’s best museums, such as the British Museum which features impressive hordes (ancient Egyptian mummies, African jewels, and Greek statues) plundered in the glory days of the British Empire. As for its queer history, London has a lot, stretching back to the 1700s even. Find the gay community in SoHo after seeing a musical on the West End, before Boris-biking it back home through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

Then it’s time for Paris, a city giving London a run for its money in terms of art, architecture and history. Visit any of the 10 best Paris museums, wearing your most practical shoes to move easily from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, passing the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame Cathedral before collapsing for a nap on your boutique hotel’s chaise longue. Wake at sundown in tandem with the city’s nightlife, starting with alfresco dining in old gay hotspots like Clair de Lune, Chaz ma Cousine and La Petite Chaumiere before hitting La Marais, modern Paris’ official gay neighbourhood. Thirdly and finally, we’re off to the Pope’s hood, aka the Eternal City, aka Rome. Four more days should suffice, to lose yourself on winding alleyways that lead towards the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, St. Peters Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and countless other world-famous landmarks. Besides a huge serving of religious heritage, Rome can also provide a bellyful of food culture, best tasted piazza-side at romantic trattorias and pizzerias. Take a break from eating to see a slither of Rome’s vast art collection, marvelling at Michelangelo sculpture, Caravaggio paintings and Raphael frescoes at the very best Roman museums.

London | Photo: Nik Guiney

Drapeau Noir Paris

Photo: Drapeau Noir

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The Spanish capital of Madrid lures us to its centre with a supreme mix of art museums, heritage landmarks and tapas bars on every corner

2. Portugal & Spain

Two weeks in Europe is not enough to see everything, so it’s best to keep things simple to avoid unnecessary stress. Our compacted Spain and Portugal itinerary can ensure you remain as carefree as possible while also touring four gay-friendly European cities. The Spanish capital of Madrid lures us to its centre with a supreme mix of art museums, heritage landmarks and tapas bars on every corner. Take it slow along the Manzanares riverside, appreciating how the city’s green space and modern architecture compliments the older buildings. Nightlife in Madrid can always be relied on, with the gay community centred in the Chueca district near Gran Via. Just like other Spanish cities; don’t arrive too early for the party as the bars rarely get busy until after midnight.

Next up we move to the Catalonian capital for an alternative look at modern Spain in Barcelona. Besides pioneering urban design and a combination of architectural styles around the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla and Sagrada Família, Barcelona can also surprise its visitors with its history as the birthplace of Spain’s LGBTQ movement. Today the gay community is centred on the Gaixample neighbourhood, where you’ll find the liveliest gay bars, clubs and saunas. Also boosting Barcelona’s vacation appeal is its proximity to the seaside town of Sitges, which has as many as three gay beaches; namely Bassa Rodona for live music and cocktails, Platja de l’Home Mort for full-frontal nudity, and Playa de las Balmins for clothing-optional retreats.

More tranquil waterside views can be had on arrival in Porto, the biggest city in northern Portugal laid out along the banks of the Rio Douro. Decidedly underrated, Porto has everything you could want from a romantic break; including hilly backstreets, waterfront port-wine houses and a charming centre strewn with museums, churches and a whole lot of street art. After a few days soaking up the peachy sunsets of Porto, it’s time to head on to Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. Colourful and run through with panoramic hillscapes, Lisbon is known for its Rio Tejo vistas as much as its UNESCO-listed Medieval ruins. Refuel with a couple of Pastel de Natas before either climbing to one of the seven miradouros (viewpoints) or wandering the picture-perfect Alfama district. Last up, Lisbon is not complete without trying Alentejan steaks and gourmet fare at the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants or more affordable corner tascas.

Lisbon | Photo: Hugo Sousa

Photo: John Fornander

3.  Amsterdam, Berlin, Budapest

Our most liberal itinerary across Europe takes us from Amsterdam to Berlin and straight through to Budapest. The party lifestyle is non-stop in Amsterdam, where anything goes. As well as the infamous ‘coffee shops’ and somewhat seedy Red Light District, Amsterdam can keep you busy on any number of meandering bike rides through its charming districts, all connected by a series of cute bridges. Be sure to check out the Van Gogh museum, Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House, joining the world’s most unique pride event which takes place on the river during late July. At all other times, Reguliersdwarstraat is where the city’s gay community congregates and the Homomonument stands. Not to be outdone, Berlin is next with many more opportunities for hedonism. Keep it classy by day exploring the city’s key historical landmarks, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building and the Berlin Wall Memorial, winding up later in the gay hotspots of Kreuzberg and Neukölln for fetish or vanilla activities. Gay culture is also up for grabs in the world’s first queer museum – the Schwules Museum – though during the two-week Christopher Street Day festival and Transgenialer CSD most people will take to the streets.

Our third destination gives some light relief to the bank balance, as Budapest comes in as one of the cheaper cities in Europe, proffering low-cost craft beer, a happening fast-food scene and an unlimited number of architectural styles. Check out the Parliament Building, Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion by day, reenergising in the city’s thermal baths before taking to the centre for some of the best nightlife in the whole of Eastern and Central Europe.

Amsterdam, Netherlands | Photo: Adrien Olichon

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As well as the infamous ‘coffee shops’ and somewhat seedy Red Light District, Amsterdam can keep you busy on any number of meandering bike rides through its charming districts, all connected by a series of cute bridges

4. Amalfi coast, Croatia and Greece

Satisfying your need for all things beachy is our tour that starts along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Typifying the Mediterranean Coast with its mountain backdrop and cliffside woodland raised above turquoise seas, the Amalfi Coast is hard to critique. Each town in the region has its own celebrity fanbase, from wealthy Positano to lofty Ravello, with ancient Amalfi bringing everyone together for a glimpse at its Arabic-Norman cathedral. Besides lounging on all the best beaches, there are countless more things to do on the Amalfi Coast, such as dining at Italy’s finest restaurants, and hiking over the craggy landscape for unrivalled Mediterranean views.

The second part of our beach-ready vacation take us across borders into Croatia to check out its sandy western front. Here you’ll find a range of madly underrated island beaches, some you’ll have all to yourself. Try Sakarun Beach (Dugi Otok Island), Nugal Beach (Makarska), Watermelon Beach (Cres Island) or Zlatni Rat Beach (Brac Island), either idling the day away in a sun lounger or taking up water sports such as snorkelling, diving, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing. Otherwise, if ignoring the thousands of years of Venetian, Roman, Napoleonic and Slavic history seems a little like sacrilege, visit Dubrovnik; a UNESCO-listed walled city on the nation’s southern tip.

Bring on more islands, we say, and it just so happens that the Greek archipelago isn’t so far away. Though it would be hard to pick a bad apple, opt for one of the best gay-friendly Greek Islands (e.g. Santorini, Mykonos, Halkidiki, Corfu, Milos, Rhodes or Zakynthos) for the tried-and-tested vacation of a lifetime. Besides balmy Aegean seas and never-ending coastline, Greece offers much in the way of ancient history, across its Olympian ruins, crumbling amphitheatres and Meteora monasteries. Enjoy an art tour of Greece’s biggest cities or stay in rural locale for access to volcano hiking, forest cycling, rock climbing and more, all in view of the glittering blue. Two things you shouldn’t leave Greece not having tried; one is the iconic boat trip at sunset and two is to sample Greek specialities of feta, olives and ouzo while listening to a live bouzouki performance. Ya mas!

Amalfi | Photo: Tom Podmore

5. South of France and North of Italy

For a high-end Riviera break with a touch of northern Italy, we present our France/Italy itinerary. A playground for the rich and famous, southeast France is made for the movies. Otherwise known as the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera is home to a number of fancy resort towns, including Nice, Saint Tropez and Cannes, as a part of Provence. In addition to the region’s famed film festival, highlights of the riviera include belle époque villas, chic bars and offshore island resorts all amongst red-rock headlands and coastal vistas. In land a little, you’ll find the hilly region is also full to bursting with vineyards, perfumery flowers and a scattering of elevated villages. Visit the region’s largest city of Marseille for yacht bars and fine museums, or save up to drop a load on the roulette tables of Monaco’s high-rolling casinos, staying for Grand Prix races or a day trip to one of our favourite Europe hidden gems; the outlying town of Le Rocher.

On to Italy, we stop first in Milan to offload our winnings in the myriad fashion boutiques and art houses across the city. If buying is not in the budget, browse 20th-century art for free at Milan’s best museums, adding on the Triennale Design Museum for key architecture and design movements. Before leaving the city, be sure to devour some Michelin-starred Milanese cooking, a style which melds Mediterranean fruits, spices and herbs with cooking techniques from France. One final Italian city to leave lasting memories is Venice, the floating city known as the pinnacle couples’ city break. With canals outnumbering streets in Venice, the best way to get around is by gondola, timing your trip just right for sunset views behind the San Marco Cathedral. On the way, peer in on the interiors of Doge Palace, starting or ending on Palazzo Ducale. When you do find your feet, cobbles will lead you down narrow backstreets to meet small basilicas and convents marbled and frescoed to perfection. When peckish, enjoy a royal feast of Venetian tapas and prosecco at any of the centre’s canal-side bistros.

Photo: John Fornander

Marseille, France | Photo: T

6. Prague, Vienna, Budapest

One of the cheaper dates we’ll take you on is our two-week itinerary through key cities in the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary. First, we take on Prague, a city known for its wildly affordable Czech beer and key sights that centre on the Old Town. Cross the 14th-century Charles Bridge to get in, viewing the Astronomical Clock and hilltop Castle Complex while learning of the nation’s Velvet Revolution that liberated the nation from communist rule back in 1989. While Prague’s art and architecture is enough of an attraction in its own right, with Gothic churches and sculpture by David Černy, don’t miss a slow afternoon chilling out by the Vltava River for people-watching and a beer.

From Prague, we move to Vienna, the Austrian capital renowned for its classical music and royal heritage. There’s a fair few palaces to visit while in Vienna, including the Belvedere, Schönbrunn and Hofburg, but balancing your schedule with a visit to the MuseumsQuartier and a Vienna coffeehouse is a must. After revelling in the imperial architecture, enliven your ears at any of the great music venues throughout the city, particularly the Musikverein where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra perform. Other key places include the Staatsoper opera house, the Konzerthaus and the Haus der Musik museum for a rundown of the city’s musical history. After a full day of culture, fill up on Austrian fare at any of the wine taverns fringing the city centre or simply enjoy some schnitzel in a no-fuss Beisln pub.

So nice we’ve named it twice is the city of Budapest, a central stop and convenient addition to many a European itinerary. Blending all of the architectural styles you can think of into one stylish whole, Budapest is truly one of the hidden gems in Europe that can satisfy most with a fair bit of dramatic history and bathhouse culture. Learn of the city’s ‘golden age’ and WWII history at landmarks such as the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial, before resting among the same hot springs once bathed in by the Romans.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio


Vienna | Photo: Paul Volkmer

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Prague, Czechia | Photo: Dmitry Goykolov

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