LGBT-friendly Pt. I



Toronto is one of the most queer-friendly cities on the planet. As well as having one of the largest pride weeks in the world, there are LGBTQ events, workshops, parties and projects on a weekly basis, from large-scale film festivals (Inside Out) to monthly dance parties like Yes Yes Y’all. It also has plenty of dedicated LGBT bars/clubs/restaurants. The city as a whole is extremely inclusive. The Drake hotel, located on what is called “Queer West” (Queen St West) works with LGBT artists for pop-up exhibitions, throws an annual pride party, and employs several LGBT staff. Its general store sells fun LGBT products and the hotel hosts many LGBT wedding ceremonies. I feel safe in Toronto, and proud of the city, which is the most LGBT-friendly destination I have ever visited.


The city has gay hotels, bars, pubs, saunas, clubs, and even a gay coffee shop, and there is the homomonument, which commemorates gay people who have been persecuted. For detailed LGBT information try the Pink Point, on Westermarkt near the homomonument, which also sells gay souvenirs. Pride is a party weekend, starting on the last Saturday in July, right across Amsterdam and its canals. Other annual highlights for the gay community include New Year’s Eve, the King’s Day parade in late April and, next week, Leatherpride (22-26 October). The main gay business areas are Reguliersdwarsstraat, Amstelstraat, Kerkstraat, and Warmoesstraat. With appeal for gay people I’d recommend hotel Amistad (doubles from £45) and the boutique Mauro Mansion (doubles from £75). Club Church (Kerkstraat 52) is a cruise club aimed at males, while the bar Vivelavie (Amstelstraat 7) is probably the most popular venue for lesbians.


I stayed at the gorgeous 94DR guest house-hotel-boutique B&B with my other half and our lesbian friends. First, it is stylish and luxurious and everything you wish for in a B&B. Second, the location is perfect for the Scottish capital, being near Arthur’s Seat and the Royal Mile. Third, it is perfect for LGBT couples and friends. The warm welcome of the owners and hosts is great – getting it just right between enthusiastic suggestions and leaving you in peace to enjoy your holiday. Of course, Edinburgh itself is a great gay-friendly city – and the owners gave us great tips on bars and spots to visit. Definitely tap them for their local knowledge. We loved Edinburgh and this truly fabulous base just made the trip.


For a beach and party scene, Rio is unbeatable. We visited during the carnival, five days of flamboyant debauchery that takes over the city. Every neighborhood has its own bloco – free street parties offering visitors an opportunity to experience carnival like a local. The Banda de Ipanema bloco attracts a huge and friendly gay crowd, while around the arches in Lapa there is a smaller, more bohemian scene. We recuperated at a gay beach – Ipanema Farme – a great place for people watching and queijo coalho (hot cheese on a stick) snacks.


Beautiful beaches, amazing architecture and naughty nightlife … Barcelona has it all. Spend a day walking the city, taking in the sights: the Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and the amazing Palau de la Música Catalana. Have a late tapas dinner at Casa Jaime, which is just a short walk from Atame, a fun, vibrant gay bar usually with a drag queen cabaret. Finish the night dancing in Metro Disco, a gay nightclub with added extras. The following day, recover by taking a short train ride to Sitges and spend the day lounging and people-watching on Platja Bassa Rodona, a popular gay beach brimming with bronzed bodies.


Having lived in there for the best part of two years, I got a real sense of why Thailand is considered to be one of the most forward and gay-friendly countries in Asia. There is a real feeling of warmth and acceptance from the Thai people. Although it is not the Thai custom to overly express affection, especially in public, this is no different for same-sex couples as for opposite-sex couples. Bangkok has many hot-spots in the Sukhumvit road and Silom areas where you can eat, drink and dance to your heart’s content in venues aimed at the LGBT community. In short, Thailand is a place where you can truly be free to be yourself.


Tel Aviv may not conjure up visions of dazzling nightlife, hip restaurants, stylish boutiques, and busy streets hopping with clubs and cafes – all of which are all inclusive and gay-friendly. But this vibrant city is an undisputed queer capital of the Middle East. It offers a huge array of gay attractions. I love going to Hilton beach, taking in the sights that the sea and sand have to offer (including bronzed six-packs). At night, Rothschild Boulevard is where gay and straight people mingle amid trendy eateries and stylish sculptures. Make sure to check out Rustico, a fantastic Italian restaurant with a great atmosphere and even greater food.


Usually seen only from the deck of a Yangtze river cruise, the pink-tinged capital of China’s south-west merits a longer stay for the LGBT traveler. Chongqing offers a break from carbon copy clubs, regimented tours and the hermetically sealed backpackers’ bubble, whether it’s happening upon a gay cinema-themed café in scenic Ciqikou old town, sampling hotpot with the locals after a night of cabaret in Shangqingsi, or simply finding a tranquil spot in the mountains to enjoy a cup of tea and a game of mahjong. Getting off the beaten track doesn’t have to mean getting back in the closet.


We visited Reykjavik during Gay Pride in August (the Icelanders know how to party). As the country that had the world’s first out lesbian prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland welcomes one and all. We stayed at the reasonably priced White Swan guesthouse. There’s lots to see and do: whale watching, the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss waterfall, geysers – all set in magical landscapes. Visit during the Rainbow Festival in late January and you may well see the northern lights. The Rainbow Reykjavik website has lots of information for LGBT people.


Of all of the places I have been, Copenhagen has to be the most LGBT-friendly. After all, Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to do same-sex registered partnerships. Definitely worth a visit is what is said to be Europe’s oldest gay bar, Centralhjornet, where there are amazing cocktails and a lot of fun. Another place to visit is Rainbow Square, which used to be called Town Hall square but has been renamed by the city council to honor the LGBT community. With lots of amazing LGBT accommodation and events to celebrate equality and the LGBT community, Copenhagen is a must.

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