Our 7 favourite places to experience gay Italy

While the Catholic Church pulls back from LGBTQ+ progress, Italy maintains its allure among queer travellers with its dedication to high fashion, sublime pasta and a side helping of male eye candy. On the face of it LGBT Italy looks somewhat downbeat, but squint a little harder and you’ll soon find a diverse range of gay venues suitable for dancing, cruising and indulging in steamy sauna meet-cutes. You can’t go wrong with a city break exploring the religious architecture of Rome or the classy art galleries of Milan but venture outside your comfort zone to see what surprises Italy has in store. From the sizzling beach hangouts of Puglia to the colourful cliff towns of Tuscany, these are our seven favourite places to experience gay Italy.

Tailor Made Journey

Tailor-Made Italy: The Vatican to Venice

On a privately guided journey that reveals Italy's splendours at their most compelling, enjoy a special early entrance to the Vatican, view the artistic treasures of Florence, learn about an art restoration project and sample Italian cuisine with tastings in Tuscany and a food tour in Venice.

Photo: Samuel Ferrara

1. Puglia

Located to the southeast in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia is a popular beachside escape boasting UNESCO sites, wartime history and delectable regional food all within picture-perfect surroundings. The best beaches in Puglia cater to all orientations and it can be hard to distinguish between gay and straight locals. All come tanned and scantily dressed, treating the beach as nature’s catwalk and messing with our usually reliable gaydar. For your best chance at meeting like-minded people, venture to the southern part of Puglia known as Salento. Here you’ll find some of the best gay hangouts, with the ultimate gay beach Italy within a short ride of Gallipoli. To get your full kit off in good gay company, travel one hour north to D’Ayala nudist beach.

Besides the region’s beautiful beaches, you’ll find a bohemian vibe touting authentic culture, top-notch cuisine and a growing LGBTQ community, particularly within cities such as Gallipoli and Taranto. Revert to a better, simpler time in the old town of Gallipoli. Its name translates to ‘beautiful city’ and that’s exactly what you grow to expect soon after arriving on the Salento peninsula. Connected to the mainland by a 17th-century bridge and walled in by fortifications built in the Middle Ages, Puglia is precious land holding both turquoise-lapped beaches and important national history.

Public transport in the region can be lacking which is why we recommend hiring a car during your stay. That way you’ll be able to veer off the beaten track and discover the hidden cultural gems in and around small towns including Alberobello, Lecce, Ostuni, Otranto and Polignano a Mare.

Puglia | Photo: Massimo Virgilio

Photo: Fabio Schiano

2. Taormina

A hilltop coastal town in the otherwise conservative region of Sicily, Taormina will delight visitors with warm hospitality and fair weather amid protected natural surroundings that lay embedded with ancient ruins. Known as ‘the Pearl of the Mediterranean’ from its elevated position overlooking Mount Etna and the gulf, Taormina Italy is the perfect place to take it easy. Walk with ease through town, passing by the charming shopping streets of Corso Umberto and dining on Sicilian specialities in any of the town’s restaurants, before eventually meeting popular beach spots such as Giardini Naxos and Mazzarò. Isola Bella meanwhile, a protected oasis with crystal-clear lake waters, offers a fun alternative swim spot at the foot of the town.

By day, Taormina keeps us busy with outpost viewpoints in nature peppered with medieval-style architecture and ornate churches showcasing the town’s unique cultural history. Roman and Greek ruins attract many to the area but it is the laid-back atmosphere that keeps us here. At night, the town becomes all the more gay-friendly, particularly at gay bars like Shatulle where both locals and international gather in good company. While gay-run businesses are few and far between, most nightlife in the town is to be considered gay-friendly, with Isoco Guest House holding a great reputation among the LGBTQ+ community.

Taormina | Photo: Alexis Subias

3. Catania

Sticking to the Sicilian coastline for a second, we make a stop at Catania, another of the region’s more inclusive destinations with its own horde of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and culinary delights beside the sea. Said to be one of the most gay-friendly cities in the region, Catania goes hand in hand with Taormina for gay travellers seeking culture, heritage and low-key partying. A bustling port city made famous by its proximity to Mount Etna and UNESCO-listed baroque architecture, Gay Catania attracts a young and dynamic crowd who breathe life into the old town with rainbow bunting and artsy community spaces. The gay scene here is a lively one, centred in and around Nievki, the meeting point of the queer community. One of the town’s most historic gay hangouts is Via Alessi, an alternative bar and restaurant which has welcomed LGBT people since the 1970s. The climax for gay Sicily and the queer calendar arrives in late June each year when gays and advocates take to the streets for Catania Gay Pride Parade. At any other time, stay amused with our list of the top things to do in Syracuse and south-east Sicily.

Photo: Sarah Richter

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Make time for St Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, all of which lie close to elegant plazas providing the perfect space for Rome’s classiest bars, restaurants and high-end boutiques

4. Rome

Ah, Rome. How could we not talk about her? So-called capital of the world where art, café culture and ancient history collide in spectacular style, Rome lays down some serious power play. Masculine presenting and tanned to perfection, the city and its people are hard not to crush on. As culture grows more liberal, the vibrancy of the gay community grows with it, allowing for a seductive mix of gay dance parties, saunas and cruising spots among the capital’s many cultural hotspots. Make time for St Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, all of which lie close to elegant plazas providing the perfect space for Rome’s classiest bars, restaurants and high-end boutiques. If you want to keep it casual, take a break with a leisurely slurp of espresso at a curbside café, or picnic in the many serene green spaces across town. A beach day is also an option while in Rome; simply travel southwest for epic sunset views on golden sand beaches, stopping at Ostia, Anzio, Sperlonga or wherever takes your fancy.

Get your introduction to Gay Rome by fanning out east from the Colosseum along Via San Giovanni, a social street lined with gay-friendly bars, clubs and restaurants. Align your visit with the summer-long Gay Village festival, one of the most important events in the city’s gay calendar which sees Parco del Ninfeo and surrounding neighbourhoods become overrun with LGBT street parties, live music, performance art, film screenings and more. On all other occasions, start off in any one of Rome’s highbrow cocktail bars and microbreweries, lowering the tone later on at an underground fetish party, wild gay club or good ol’ fashioned gay disco. Get to know gay travel Italy in more depth before you travel, starting with our Rome travel guide.

Rome | Photo: Josh Stewart

5. Torre del Lago (Tuscany)

One of the more memorable small towns in Italy is Torre del Lago, found in Versilia within the romantic vacation region of Tuscany. With the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the tranquil Lago di Massaciuccoli to the east, Torre del Lago is in a prime place for relaxation, studded with cultural offerings such as heritage museums, manicured gardens and year-round musical tributes to home-grown composer Giacomo Puccini, culminating in the annual ‘Festival Pucciniano’. Tire yourself out with a cycle around town before settling for the night at a boutique hotel or B&B, or alternatively, retreating to the gorgeous Tuscan countryside for a spot of glamping.

Drawing comparisons with Mykonos and Sitges, Torre del Lago is a beachside town offering lush landscapes, rugged coast and a ton of gay-friendly nightlife offerings to keep you busy. Walk the promenade to find the village’s main collection of gay bars, pubs and clubs, an area which serves as both the location of the annual Mardi Gras event and gateway to the town’s biggest gay beach.

6. Milan

Model of the term ‘cosmopolitan city break’, Milan tops the lists of top gay Italy travel destinations, thanks to its status as the high-fashion capital of the world. More than simply a walking advertisement for Gucci, Fendi and Prada, Milan surprises first-time visitors with its raw creative energy and avant-garde culture. Home to the largest – not to mention the most glamorous – gay community in the country, Gay Milan offers a vibrant space for LGBTQ divas and fashionistas from all corners of the globe.

All angles in the city centre nod to some era of architecture; be it art nouveau around Corso Magenta, rationalism in Piazza San Babila or the futuristic skyline shaped by the likes of Zaha Hadid and César Pelli. Move slowly through the city and keep your sights upwards to best enjoy the city’s incredible sights (and look cool while doing so!), but when night comes around it’s time to let loose. While much of the city’s nightlife is gay-friendly, the clubs and bars around the Porta Venezia district are community outposts that host nightly gay-themed events. To find out about the next big gay event, pick up a free copy of Zerodue or Milano Pride magazines from stores and cafés around town, reading more about the best gay bars Milan has to offer with our full Milan travel guide.

Milan | Photo: Cristina Gottardi

Photo: Jeff Tumale

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All pastel hues and lemon-scented breeze, the Amalfi Coast will awaken the romantic within even the most grizzly of bears

7. Amalfi Coast

One more stop, one more UNESCO World Heritage Site to tick off the bucket list. The entire 50 kilometre stretch of the Amalfi Coast running along the southern edge of the Sorrento Peninsula is listed by UNESCO and for good reason. All pastel hues and lemon-scented breeze, the Amalfi Coast will awaken the romantic within even the most grizzly of bears. The atmosphere is another reason to smile, as Amalfi locals are among some of Italy’s most easy-going. The region’s collection of small beaches can be jagged and sloping but that’s just part of Amalfi’s charm, making it easier to grab a private moment on the pebbles! The nearby port town of Salerno, while not a beach town, offers some stunning places to stay in proximity to Amalfi’s best bits.

Moving inland from the coast, you’ll find steep winding roads rising into hills hosting hotels and residences with panoramic views across Positano and Amalfi. Not the most walkable of areas, explore the best Amalfi coast towns with ease by hiring a car or boarding a boat tour, with the latter allowing for a salty breeze with unmatched views of Amalfi’s lemon groves, terraced vineyards and sheer cliffs from afar. Capri Island is another must-see just a short sail away from the mainland, bringing utmost sophistication and tranquillity to the high seas. Despite the gay community here being somewhat spread out leaving the party scene muted, the Gay Amalfi Coast shows itself in small nods of acceptance towards same-sex couples and offers romantic vacations for all. Consider visiting the nearby city of Naples or stick around and fill your days with some of the best things to do on the Amalfi Coast.

Photo: Kakob Owens

Amalfi | Photo: Alessio Bachetti

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