The 7 great wonders of the world (for gay travellers)

The Seven Ancient Wonders of the world are well-known to symbolise the great treasures of humanity but today we bring you the Seven LGBT+ Wonders of the World, heritage sites mapping the queer movement over time and space. Looking at the world’s man-made wonders through a queer lens, we swap the Pyramids of Giza for the Villa of Hadrian, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for the Castro of San Francisco. Travel with us to the world’s best gay holiday destinations and learn something new about our collective gay history on the journey.

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New York City | Photo: Florian Wehde

1. Stonewall Inn, New York, USA

A central battleground in the fight for LGBTQ rights lies on Christopher Street in New York City. Here’s where the Stonewall Inn now lies, a bar and emblem of the struggle many minorities had to endure in order to win the freedoms the modern world now benefits from. Though the original Stonewall Inn was located a short distance away on Seventh Avenue Street, today the bar stands between 51 to 53 Christopher Street and marks the site of one of the most important LGBT events ever to take place. One of a number of police raids that occurred in the 1960s led to the famous Stonewall riots, a historic moment that is widely viewed as a catalyst for legal change and the birth of modern LGBT+ rights.

The site’s rebellious history lies even further back, as Stonewall Inn was once a speakeasy masking as a tearoom during prohibition, before being burnt down decades later and rebuilt by the Mafia as a gay bar in the 60s. Despite receiving some protection from blackmailing gangsters at this time, the bar’s gay community was the regular target of police targeting, eventually resulting in the famed riots that began on June 28th 1969 when many in the queer community finally fought back to resist arrest. After grabbing a drink in the bar in memory of these LGBT torchbearers, cross over to Christopher Park opposite where you’ll find a monument to commemorate the events leading to gay liberation in America. From there, fill your New York itinerary with any of the other great places to explore in New York City.

Stonewall, New York City | Photo: Gay Globetrotter

Photo: Malcolm Lightbody

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The concept of channelling Tantra sexual energy is showcased on the walls of the Khajuraho temples, telling stories of carnal pleasure and sexual transcendence perfectly preserved

2. Khajuraho Temples, Madhya Pradesh, India

Across the globe and much further back, homosexuality was indeed celebrated. In India of millennia past, gay sex and gender fluidity were seen as natural phenomena, at once both beautiful and godly. The Khajuraho Temples are a collection of monuments based in Madhya Pradesh, constructed during the Jain dynasty by the Hindu-believing Chandelas, around one thousand years ago. Once a system of over 80 temples spanning 20 square kilometres, today just 20 temples, each prized and ornately carved in Hindu artwork. Get up close to these temples and you’ll soon realise their explicit significance. On each wall or carved structure, erotic homosexual acts are depicted in beautiful detail; catch a female-only orgy in Kandariya Mahadeva temple or oral sex between two men in Lakshmana temple, passing by various sculptures of elusive gender.

Whereas more puritanical centres of worship developed into Vaishnav, Shakta and Shaiva, Tantra as a steamy sect of meditative worship stemmed from Khajuraho alone. The concept of channelling Tantra sexual energy is showcased on the walls of the Khajuraho temples, telling stories of carnal pleasure and sexual transcendence perfectly preserved. Besides sculpting horny motifs, the ancient Hindus were tremendously progressive in counting sexual and gender minorities as a firm part of Indian cultural life, though British colonialism would later strike down many of these freedoms. One of the top gay destinations also noted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Khajuraho town can be combined with a tour of Central Madhya Pradesh and beyond. Discover more about one of the world’s most exciting gay travel destinations with our guide to gay India.

Khajuraho Temples, Madhya Pradesh, India | Photo: Varun Pyasi

3. Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Italy

One of the most high-profile gay historic figures ever to live goes to the Roman emperor known as Hadrian. Though perhaps better known historically for his wall built on the border of Northern England to protect the Roman territory of Britannia, Hadrian holds a far greater legacy in queer history. A popular ruler and peacekeeper responsible for the construction of the Pantheon in Rome and many other famed projects, Hadrian’s lesser-known record tells a story of homosexual heartache. Hadrian famously had just one male lover named Antinous, who drowned while the pair were sailing the Nile in 130AD. Grieving in the lavish way of an emperor, Hadrian had priests declare Antinous a god, building a new city and naming it Antinopolis in memory of his great lover.

Temples were built for the new god and the cult of Antinous continued even after Hadrian’s death. Hadrian’s residence was built in memory of Antinous, and today stands as one of the most visited archaeological sites in the country and UNESCO Heritage Site. A palace rather than a villa, the complex spans 300 acres, featuring gardens, grottos, temples and baths, both a hub of the Roman Empire and an over-the-top homage to a lover. Just 40 minutes outside of Rome, visit Tivoli to stroll the gardens and pavilions of Hadrian’s Villa, spotting cherubic sculptures of young men amidst artful landscaping and classical Greek architecture. As well as Hadrian’s Villa, find more of the best gay attractions in Italy with our article of 7 favourite places to experience gay Italy.

Villa Adriana | Photo: Emphyrio

Villa Adriana | Photo: Alberto Sandrin

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Today, Lesbos lies as a World Heritage Site for its picturesque heritage towns where a laid-back vibe remains surrounded by azure coastline and paradise beaches

4. Lesbos, Greece

The Greek island where the terms both ‘lesbian’ and ‘Sapphic’ originated, Lesbos has long been one of the top gay vacation spots in Greece, not simply because of its luscious beaches and island allure. Between the period of 630 to 570 BC, Lesbos was home to the famed poet Sappho, a gay woman who wrote lyric poetry and performed while playing the lyre, influencing the style and paving the way for the modern romantic poets thereafter. Though much of her work has been lost to history, the lasting remnants are timeless, immortalising Greek gods in homoerotic melody.

Today, Lesbos (or, more accurately, Lesvos) lies as a World Heritage Site for its picturesque heritage towns where a laid-back vibe remains surrounded by azure coastline and pristine beaches. Eresos, the site of Sappho’s birth, is particularly popular among LGBT+ tourists, but explore further out to the island’s lesser-known areas to find tolerant villages and gay hangouts, in proximity to the wild parties of Mykonos, another Greek gay haven to stop by. Though certain areas of Greece are less liberal due to Orthodox influence, its islands and biggest cities lean liberal. Go island-hopping worry-free with our guide to the best gay-friendly Greek islands.

Lesbos | Photo: Greg Montani

5. Alexandria, Egypt

Both bisexual and Great with a capital ‘g’ is the Ancient Egyptian king of Macedon, Alexander. The founder of the city of Alexandria, Alexander the Great cut a substantial figure as his armies swept across Persia towards India to establish the world’s biggest ever empire by 323BC. Though only 32 when he died, Alexander was married at least twice, and produced an heir, though historians attest that the king was bisexual and in fact preferred the company of men. Over his lifetime he had two same-sex relationships, both of which lasted longer than his marriages. The first was with Hephaestion, his childhood best friend, and his second with Bagoas, a Persian eunuch.

Though artefacts tell us much of Alexander’s life, the city’s LGBT heritage lies largely a mystery, thanks to Pharaoh Ptolemy, who is said to have kidnapped Alexander’s body and moved it to Alexandria, a detail which confounds archaeologists to this day. Other historic articles associated with Alexander include the Pharos (or lighthouse) which was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World before its collapse, and the Temple of the Muses, once the world’s largest library lost to history after it burnt down. In its heyday, Alexandria had grown to become a lively port city known for its cosmopolitanism and diversity where homosexuality was accepted into society. Today, however, due to an increasing condemnation of homosexuality in Egyptian society, visitors to Alexandria are advised to be both careful and discreet. Though there is a very underground gay scene in both Alexandria and the capital Cairo, gay dating apps are often the subject of police targeting and setups have been known to occur.

Photo: Roxanne Ahewchuk

Alexandria, Egypt | Photo: Leo Abdelnaby

6. Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, Berlin

A bit of a heavy one but undoubtedly a worthwhile visit during any visit to Berlin is the Memorial based in Tiergarten Park, not far from the Brandenburger Tor. Honouring the thousands of homosexual men and women persecuted by the Nazi regime throughout WWII, the memorial stands as a simple reminder of the injustices served against gay people in the 20th century and a symbol of what has changed since.

To learn of the history of homosexuals in Berlin is to realise that Nazism was opposed to the freedoms and rights already hard-gained by the LGBT community as early as the 1920s. One of the most liberal places in the world before the rise of Hitler, Berlin saw its well-established subculture of nightclubs, bars, theatre shows and publications abruptly move into hiding when the nation criminalised homosexuality in 1935 and sent huge numbers of homosexuals into concentration camps. Even after the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945, many gay men still ended up in prison as Nazi judges remained in their posts. It wasn’t until 1969 that homosexuality once again became legal and the LGBTQ community could live freely. Take a few hours to absorb all this cultural context, alongside a visit to the nearby Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, before lightening up with a walk through the modern city following our list of the top places to visit in Berlin.

Berlin Street Art

Berlin | Photo: Jeison Higuita

7. The Castro, San Francisco, USA

From New York to San Francisco, we move to the warm and welcoming US gaybourhood of The Castro, a famed meeting point for the global gay community. Born in the 1940s as the city’s main gay district when a number of discharged gay and bisexual US military men settled in the area, The Castro fast developed into a liberal haven, homing queers and non-conformists from across the US. The district’s first gay bar, Missouri Mule, opened in 1963, ushering in the Summer of Love in 1967 when gender-fluid hippies descended on The Castro in number. By the time Harvey Milk became the city’s first openly gay politician and ran for national office, The Castro was already firmly established, though still the target of discrimination and subject to outdated laws which Milk spent his short life trying to overturn.

After the political assassination of Milk, The Castro was hit hard by the AIDS crisis, with local residents working together to promote testing and safer gay relations. After the highs and lows, The Castro has put itself firmly on the map for its endless community spirit and forged history, celebrating Pride each year since 1970. Stay within the neighbourhood to best get a feel of the laid-back atmosphere, stopping at any of the many LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs, restaurants and cultural institutions about town. In particular, the GLBT History Museum, the Rainbow Honor Walk and the nightlife spot QBar are not to be missed. Venture out from The Castro to explore more of the 10 best gay things to do in San Francisco.

Castro Theatre | Photo: Guido Coppa

Photo: Fleur Brebels

Bonus: The Legacy Walk, Chicago, Illinois

The US’s queer heritage doesn’t end there, however. Chicago also deserves a mention for its commemorative Legacy Walk running the length of North Halsted in the Boystown neighbourhood, another of the best gay districts in the US. Here you’ll find an endless line of columns on which feature memorial plaques of LGBTQ greats whose achievements have helped shape the world. Now registered as an official Chicago landmark district with its own visitors’ centre, walk from Belmont to Grace Street taking in the names of those who helped establish LGBTQ+ rights and push scientific, social and cultural progress. Thereafter on your trip, move with confidence through the city, staying at the best lodgings and mapping the best attractions, using our Chicago Travel Guide as your trusty advisor.

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