Our 6 favourite places to experience gay Spain

Our 6 favourite places to experience gay Spain

When it comes to gay-friendly destinations around the globe, it’s hard to beat one of the gayest, most gorgeous of them all: Spain. Widely looked upon as a model nation for gay rights in Europe (in 2013 the Pew Research Center ranked Spain as the most gay-friendly country in the world,) Spain continues to push the envelope for equality and tolerance, with laws in place to protect same-sex marriage, adoption, and transgender rights. Add to the mix some of the world’s largest, most wildly fun Pride Festivals and a rich cultural history that lives on in the passionate, diverse country today, and you’ve got all the makings for an epic gay Spain getaway that will quickly have you returning for more. The only problem? Spain’s stunningly diverse landscape and romantic melange of towns can make it challenging to narrow down where to start first. Here are Mr Hudson’s top recommendations for a gay Spain vacation for the books.

Barcelona

Ah, Barcelona—easily gay Spain’s most coveted destination, a cultural playground of architectural masterpieces, world-class Catalan cuisine and sweeping white sand beaches. A cosmopolitan city with distinct, laid-back Mediterranean vibes, Barcelona promotes an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity, of which perhaps the best example is Catalonia’s landmark Anti-Homophobia Act. A gorgeous gay Barcelona getaway can be had anywhere in the city, but the ever-popular Eixample neighbourhood—also known as Gayxample—is the epicentre of the city’s most sought-after gay-popular establishments.

Barcelona, Spain

Photo: Enes

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Barcelona promotes an atmosphere of tolerance and diversity, of which perhaps the best example is Catalonia’s landmark Anti-Homophobia Act

We wouldn’t blame you for making a beeline straight to Barcelona’s 4.5km of scenic coastline. Start at Sant Miquel or Sant Sebastia Beach, both located near the iconic W Hotel (and just a stone’s throw from downtown Barcelona.) Due to their central location, these gay Barcelona beaches always attract a crowd, but that also means there are plenty of handsome, sun-kissed men around, too. For something a little quieter, Mar Bella is Barcelona’s clothing-optional gay beach. Be sure to stop by Chiringuito BeGay while you’re there, a gay Barcelona institution serving up delicious drinks and beach bites. When you’ve had enough of the dazzling Spanish sun, join Rainbow Barcelona for a fascinating city tour from a gay local. Whether you’re revelling in Gaudi’s esteemed work or crawling the best gay bars, Rainbow Gay Tours promise an inside look at the best of gay Barcelona. (Insider Tip: Check out Rainbow Gay Tours in Madrid, too.)

For a gay party not soon forgotten, time your visit to Barcelona over one of its world-renowned festivals. The Circuit Festival is a gay Spain classic and Barcelona must-do. Every August, some 100,000 people descend on Barcelona for Europe’s largest gay festival and ten days of riotous good times punctuated by themed dance parties and epic DJs. Don’t miss Circuit’s “Water Park Day,” always a crowd pleaser. Barcelona also hosts one of Spain’s largest Pride Festivals, a fabulous celebration of diversity with a myriad of epic parties across the city. Of course, Barcelona offers plenty of action any time of year, with a vibrant gay nightlife scene to rival any European capital. One of our favourite Barcelona gay bars is Plata Bar, a stylish cocktail bar with a sunny terrace, handsome staff, and expertly crafted drinks. Another icon for gay Barcelona nightlife is El Cangrejo, best known for its weekend drag performances and kitschy, colourful decor.

Gayxample’s central location makes it an excellent base from which to explore Barcelona’s highlights (the best of which we’ve outlined in our gay Barcelona Travel Guide). Here you’ll find Alma Barcelona, a sophisticated boutique hotel with a contemporary design and minimalist decor. We love the leafy garden, an intimate spot to leisurely start any morning. Then there’s TWO Hotel and Axel Hotel, both sleek gay accommodations that promise a warm, welcoming atmosphere with plenty of opportunities for mingling with like-minded travellers.

Plata Bar Barcelona

Plata Bar

Barcelona, Spain

Photo: Mourad Saadi

Sitges

For a charming Spanish coastal retreat, it doesn’t get much better than Sitges. A mere 40-minute train ride from Barcelona, Sitges is a foolproof day trip with enough attractions to easily extend into a gay weekend getaway. By day, join bronzed beauties on any of Sitges’ 17 sun-dappled beaches. By night, explore the mecca of gay bars and clubs, world-class restaurants and thought-provoking art galleries. It’s all very elegant with just the right dose of debauchery, showcasing why Sitges is one of Europe’s most sought-after gay holiday destinations; the Spanish Tourism Board is an excellent place to start planning your Sitges itinerary. The heart of Sitges gay district is Old Town, specifically along Calle Montroig, but Sitges’ notoriety as gay Spain’s premier retreat means the entire town is hugely gay-popular.

When it comes to gay beaches, Sitges doesn’t disappoint. Start your beach hopping at Bassa Rodona, an official gay subsection of Platja de la Ribera just in front of Hotel Calipolis. For Sitges gay clothing-optional beach, Playa del Muerto is tucked away down a 45-minute rocky path. You’ll find fewer amenities but also more privacy here. In search of new swimwear so you can stylishly rock all this beach time? Hop into Menswear Sitges, a concept shop specializing in gay outdoor, fetish and clubbing clothing, brought to you by trendy Barcode Clothes.

Sitges

Photo: Blanche Peulot

Photo: Lautaro Chamo

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Sitges’ nightlife sizzles, though, like most of Spain, most fiestas don’t get going until well after midnight

Sitges’ nightlife sizzles, though, like most of Spain, most fiestas don’t get going until well after midnight. Start your evening at La Villa, a cosy gay cocktail bar hidden away in a historic house. Gin takes centre stage here, with over 20 premium varieties available—all of which are best enjoyed on the plant-filled patio. Central Bar Cafe Sitges is another excellent lowkey option to be enjoyed any time of day, with strong coffee served by hunky baristas. Parrots is a gay Sitges favourite, beloved for its drag dinner shows and lively terrace; reservations are highly recommended. Another time-honoured gay restaurant that combines drag and dining is Queenz, where you can expect a delicious meal and world-class Cabaret show. Keep the evening going after the performance at Queenz’ chic gay bar next door. Every summer, Sitges hosts a riveting Pride Festival, with other notable gay events including Europe’s largest Bear festival and a gay-popular Carnival.

For luxurious accommodation in the heart of gay Sitges, Hotel Casa Vilella offers stately rooms and sweeping Mediterranean views. The building dates back to the Noucentisme period, with notable Joan Rubió design characteristics, and is a work of art in and of itself. Another excellent option is Hotel Platjador, just steps from the beach. The hotel’s idyllic rooftop bar and extensive wine list are of particular note.

Madrid

Now for Madrid—the beating heart of gay Spain and arguably one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities. Look no further than Madrid’s Pride Festival to understand the city’s legacy status within the LGBTQ community. Drawing some 2 million participants, it’s Europe’s largest Pride parade and an epic weeklong celebration of equality and diversity. Other notable gay festivals in Madrid include We Party, a winter event held every New Year, and the critically acclaimed LesGaiCineMad, Spain’s premier LGBT+ film festival.

Madrid Gran Vía

Photo: Florian Wehde

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Madrid is the beating heart of gay Spain, arguably one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities

Start your exploration of gay Madrid in Chueca Square, easily distinguishable by the plethora of billowing rainbow flags that decorate most establishments. This is Madrid’s buzzing gayborhood, a veritable hotbed of LGBT bars, cafes, and restaurants. Madrid’s most gay-popular square is also one of its most fashionable, so expect plenty of avant-garde boutiques, alternative design labels, and cosy wine bars. For a full list of our favourite spots in Chueca, don’t miss our in-depth gay Madrid Travel Guide.

In keeping with Spaniards’ insatiable appetite for stylish nightlife venues, Madrid offers snazzy gay haunts of all styles and sizes. An underground gay bar that attracts an earlier crowd, Why Not? is a gorgeous, if narrow, space full of beautiful people unabashedly dancing the night away to pop and Top 40s playlists. If it’s a megaclub you’re after, Sala Cool’s Saturday night gay MalaMala party is the place to see and be seen. Multi-level bars surround the central dance floor, where you’ll find a mosaic of drag queens, trendsetters, locals and tourists. A refurbished cinema turned contemporary gay club, Marta, cariño, promises strong imbibements crafted by equally intoxicating staff in a unique, always lively atmosphere. That said, like most gay Spain nightlife, it’s best to arrive after midnight.

Madrid, Spain

Photo: Mary Rebecca Elliott

Room Mate Oscar Hotel might not be an official gay hotel, but its central location in Chueca makes it an uber-popular option with the LGBT community. With its bright, modern rooms and first-rate service, it’s undoubtedly one of our favourite Madrid hotels. Don’t miss the lovely rooftop terrace and cocktail bar, a perfect spot to spend an afternoon gazing out to Madrid’s gayborhood. Another excellent option not far from Chueca is the five-star Urso Hotel & Spa, set in a 20th-century palace and boasting elegant four-poster beds and bespoke design touches. It’s all undeniably luxurious without ever feeling pretentious.

Room Mate Oscar Hotel Madrid Spain

Room Mate Oscar

Room Marte Oscar Hotel Madrid Spain

Room Mate Oscar

Room Mate Oscar Hotel Madrid Spain

Room Mate Oscar

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Gay Ibiza is what you make of it—wildly fun with a cosmopolitan edge and home to azure waters, swaths of protected terrain, and stunning white sand beaches

Ibiza

The seductive ‘nightlife capital of the Mediterranean,’ Ibiza’s spirited reputation precedes it. And while you won’t find us complaining about the world-class DJs and bacchanalian nightlife, the Spanish island offers much more than debauchery alone. Gay Ibiza is what you make of it—wildly fun with a cosmopolitan edge and home to azure waters, swaths of protected terrain, and stunning white sand beaches. Mr Hudson’s ultimate guide to Ibiza and Formentera is a fitting starting point for planning your picture-perfect gay Spain vacation. That said, gay Ibiza centres around Calle de la Virgen, where bustling gay bars and terraces dominate the territory. It’s especially lively during Ibiza Pride, attracting travellers from some 50+ countries.

Sweat out the previous evening’s toxins at any one of Ibiza’s blissful beaches, where clutch opportunities for tranquil respite and replenishment await before another all-night raver on the town. Head first to Es Cavallet, Ibiza’s only official gay beach (and popular nudist hangout.) This long white sandy beach surrounded by dunes is also where you’ll find Chiringay, a gay Ibiza institution that doles out quality food and boozy tropical cocktails. Worth a mention is Figueretas Beach, a gay-popular hangout largely due to its proximity to the nearby gay Ibiza hallmarks Chaos Bar and Cenit Hotel.

Ibiza

Photo: Jose Llamas

Photo: Mariano Nocetti

Wondering where to head for legendary gay Ibiza nightlife with a healthy dose of panache? Mr Hudson’s list of approved venues starts with Sunrise Ibiza, a fantastic gay club conveniently located in the centre of action-packed Calle De La Virgen. You’ll know you’ve arrived by the Instagrammable swings and on-point ambience. For a sweet little cocktail bar that doubles as a gay meeting spot, MonaLisa is a stylish option with creative cocktails and the occasional celebrity sighting. One of Ibiza’s first gay bars, JJ Bar offers two decades of next-level in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The quality drinks and spectacular terrace views don’t hurt, either. Finally, don’t miss DADO, one of our favourite gay bars on Calle de la Virgen for its fabulous people-watching opportunities from the gorgeous terrace. A large variety of mouthwatering mocktails makes this a particularly unique option for those inclined to abstain for an evening.

The Purple Hotel is Ibiza’s premier gay adults-only hotel, an elegant way to experience the best of Ibiza’s gay scene without sacrificing style in the process. The pool and on-site bar are always popular spots for meeting and mingling, while Ibiza’s top gay nightlife is never far from hand. Sir Joan has paradisiacal port views with sophisticated Bohemian vibes. Rooms draw inspiration from the island’s nautical elements, with stripped wood yacht floors and stainless-steel wall panels. It’s extravagant in all the right ways, a luxe Ibiza accommodation option perfectly befitting of the island’s indulgent ways.

Cala Comte, Ibiza

Cala Comte, Ibiza | Photo: Michael Baccin

Valencia

Valencia might not be the first destination to come to mind when you think of gay Spain, but just a few days in the country’s third largest city may very well change that. Home to a burgeoning gay scene full of flourishing gay bars, fashionable gay travellers and, of course, a distinguished Pride Festival, Valencia has all the building blocks of a fascinating gay getaway—not to mention its striking futuristic architecture, vibrant Old Town, decadent regional cuisine, and dazzling golden sand beaches.

Unlike Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia doesn’t have a distinct gayborhood. That said, you’ll find plenty of rainbow flags flying in hip Ruzafa Barrio, also home to some of the city’s best independent art galleries, quirky concept shops, and trendy tapas bars. Once the sun goes down hop over to quaint El Carme for many of Valencia’s top gay bars and clubs. When it comes to sandy stretches, Playa de la Arenas is Valencia’s main beach, but it gets undeniably crowded. Those in the know head to gay-popular, clothing-optional Playa de l’Arbre del Gos instead.

Valencia

Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

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Cafe de las Horas is a veritable stunner, dripping with glittering chandeliers and chic Parisian influences

Valencia gay nightlife is synonymous with The Muse, one of the city’s premier gay bars. Expect contemporary decor and a sizeable dance area, along with a sunny outdoor terrace that makes for a perfect spot to sip sangria at the start of your night. Cafe de las Horas is a veritable stunner, dripping with glittering chandeliers and chic Parisian influences. The vintage, old-world atmosphere is a highly popular spot with gays, especially when there’s a cabaret show happening. Open all day, this spot is equally as enjoyable for coffee and pastries as it is for champagne. La Boba y el Gato Rancio is a laid-back gay bar distinguished by the not-so-subtle giant rainbow flag out front, attracting a decent crowd earlier in the evening. We also love Trapezzio Gay-Friendly Cafe for its expansive terrace and ultra-friendly staff.

Jardin Botanico Hotel Boutique is an enchanting art hotel nestled in the heart of the gay-popular Carmen district. While not a gay hotel per se, it is extremely popular with discerning gay travellers who value luxurious yet minimalist design. Original architecture, whirlpool tubs, and spacious rooms are notable bonuses. Another gay-popular Valencia hotel we can’t get enough of is the Caro Hotel, a 19th-century palace turned gorgeous boutique offering 26 bespoke rooms. Particularly impressive are the original old city walls that have been seamlessly integrated into the contemporary decor. It’s the perfect crossing of both historic and modern Valencia—with no sumptuous detail left unaccounted.

Caro Hotel Valencia

Caro Hotel

Gay Spain

Photo: John Fornander

Caro Hotel Valencia

Caro Hotel

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Once a sleepy fishing village, today Benidorm is a lively gay coastal retreat idyllically situated in Spain’s Alicante region

Benidorm

Once a sleepy fishing village, today Benidorm is a lively gay coastal retreat idyllically situated in Spain’s Alicante region. With some 50 gay bars—the first of which opened its doors back in the ‘70s—what Benidorm lacks in size it makes up for with plenty of pizzazz. The renowned music festivals Low-Cost Festival and Electrobeach draw a nice annual crowd to Benidorm, as does the city’s week-long Pride Festival which (unlike many other Pride events) is free to the general public. Quaint, walkable Old Town doubles as Benidorm’s gay village, a laid-back conglomeration of mellow gay bars spilling over with tourists, expats and Spaniards alike. Near to Old Town is the alluring gay Poniente Beach; its tree-lined promenade makes for an appealing afternoon walk alongside the Mediterranean. Another famous gay beach is Raco de Conill, a sheltered little spot that, due to the seclusion, also attracts nudists.

Benidorm Spain

Photo: Maximilian Pazak

With some 50 gay bars and clubs, attempting to list all Benidorm’s top nightlife spots seems an effort in futility. What follows is a handful of Mr Hudson approved gay Benidorm nightlife favourites. (For a full list of locales befitting any gay Spain travel guide, this is a helpful list.) Luckily, most of Benidorm’s best gay bars are all within easy walking access from each other. Start your evening at El Papagayo, a gorgeous ‘straight-friendly’ cafe and terrace with hospitable Dutch owners. Near to the Benidorm harbour and overlooking the gay section of Poniente Beach, Refuel Cafe makes an excellent spot to do just that. While away an afternoon soaking in the Spanish sun and enjoying the view, often dotted with scantily clad, fanciable fellas. For one of Benidorm’s newer gay bars, Brief Encounter is a lively pub in the centre of all the best gay action. Or, if it’s themed nights and speciality parties you’re after, Sensations Benidorm boasts a spirited crowd ready to keep the action going until sunrise.

Benidorm

Photo: Maksim Ivanov

A stone’s throw from Poniente Beach is Hotel Villa del Mar, a swanky beach hotel with a panoramic rooftop bar we can’t get enough of. Splurge on the jacuzzi room for sweeping sea views and an undeniably romantic base in which to sip a glass of wine with your special someone. Then there’s Hotel Don Pancho, a smart beach hotel with personal terraces that face out to ravishing coastal views. Expect adults-only, upscale vibes.

Benidorm Spain

Photo: Neil Thomas

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