This year I've realized just how many of my own trips and experiences are almost certainly chosen because of my own sexual preference. Where I've traveled to isn't necessarily anything to do with the fact that I'm gay, I guess, but these are the places that I've found that are actually great for other gay travelers like myself--either solo or for gay couples. I never thought I'd be the guy who ended up going to (and actually enjoying!) stereotypically gay destinations, but hey, here I am. Over the past year, I've just realized that I like to travel to places where other gay travelers tend to migrate to. I'm all for venturing out to further places, but every now and then, I just need a gay holiday...
Scotland recently legalized gay marriage so I was pretty excited to spend last New Year’s Eve celebrating in Edinburgh, just as the topic had started to make big news in the country. From what I could find, Edinburgh didn’t seem to have much of an established gay scene. I didn’t even go to a single gay bar while there, but the city’s impressive arts and cultural scene sated my interests. And gay-owned companies like Black Kilt Tours offer private tours and itinerary suggestions to make trips just a bit more special.
Where to stay: Stay Central Hotel. It’s affordable and very central. The interior design was stylish without being stuffy. Read my full review for more photos. Room prices from 60€ per night, plus you can save 10% if you stay 2 nights or more!
What to do: Edinburgh is all about culture. There are more bookstores in this city than there are probably people. The city’s museums are both varied and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the National Museum of Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Experience Museum and the Scottish National Gallery. And no trip to Scotland is complete without a visit into the countryside.
Read more: Scotland travel photos and stories
Madrid is absolutely, positively one of my most favorite cities in all of Europe. I went this year during the IGLTA gay travel convention and had the opportunity to experience the city’s legendary gay nightlife. That centers around the Chueca neighborhood in the middle of the city, bordered by the Gran Via--one of Madrid’s premier shopping streets. (The Spanish really know fashion, FYI. Some of the best European retail brands are Spanish!).
Where to stay: Innside Madrid Sueca. I stayed here for more than a few nights and never tired of the hotel. There’s a rooftop bar (and a tiny swimming pool for warmer days) and the location is literally just blocks away from the Chueca neighborhood. Rooms are comfortable but not boring and the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly in making recommendations on what to do and see in Madrid. Room prices from 130€ per night.
What to do: Madrid is a world-class city but it lacks the hassle of other tourist-heavy destinations in Spain (looking at you, Barcelona). The museums are fantastic. The Prado Museum is one of the world’s best (I even prefer it over the Louvre in Paris!) and the Reina Sofia Museum houses what is probably one of the most interesting, emotional and important works of art from this century: Picasso’s Guernica. Besides art, in Madrid it’s all about food and nightlife -- thankfully you can catch the best of that in the city’s gayborhood. The Mercado de San Anton is a large market complex open-late with restaurants and bars--an easy (and fun!) way to sample local food specialties. (If you need an introduction to Spanish cuisine, try a Madrid Food Tour--they’re a great value and an excellent way to discover the city.)
For gay nightlife in Madrid, it’s all about Chueca. The Room Mate Oscar Hotel has an incredible rooftop bar that’s not just trendy, it’s also popular with locals for chill evenings out. As for gay bars, try Cazador--a hip, trendy cocktail bar that might remind you of something out of Brooklyn or Kreuzberg. La Kama is another popular bar in Chueca with your typical gay pop music and cute bar staff.
Read more: Madrid travel photos and stories
This year I also went to Thailand for the I-don’t-know-how-many-times time. This was arguably my most gay holiday EVER because I went on a group trip with OUT Adventures -- a gay adventure tour operator. We covered a lot of ground on the two-week holiday, but the basic Thailand itinerary of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket is a staple gay-friendly, first-timers itinerary for the country.
Where to stay: Sofitel So Hotel (Bangkok, from 115€ per night), Anantara Resort & Spa (Chiang Mai, from 230€ per night), XXX (Phuket, from ). Bangkok’s Sofitel So is probably the most gay hotel. Open Grindr while you’re there and you’ll see for yourself. They’ve got an amazing rooftop pool and monthly gay parties, not to mention their regular nightlife events at their rooftop restaurant and bar. Read my full review of the Sofitel So.
What to do: Eat, eat, eat and eat some more! Food is probably the best way to experience the Thai culture, but if you’re after other things to do, travel agents like OUT Adventures put together incredible itineraries that include everything from cooking classes to treks. I highly recommend sea kayaking in Phuket, visiting an elephant nature park in the north and experiencing the amazing gay nightlife of Bangkok (that’d be at DJ Station or any of the bars in Silom Soi 2).
Read more: Thailand travel photos and stories
It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Stockholm on this list. The country has long been a favorite for gay travelers and the city has so much to offer its tourists. There’s a great mix of art, culture and design, add in some shopping and style, plus some great outdoors and adventure activities all easily accessed on the outskirts of the city. Stockholm really has it all. The city’s gay nightlife is in the downtown district but a lot of the best shopping and trendy restaurants & cafés are located further south, on Södermalm--an island easily reached on public transportation from the historic center.
Where to stay: The unofficial “gay” hotel of Stockholm is the Berns Hotel. It’s one of the most beautiful properties in Stockholm and is so much more than just a nice hotel. With trendy restaurants on the ground floor, a basement club and a music/performance venue, there’s really no reason to go anywhere else. But if you must: things elsewhere in Stockholm are all easily reached from the Berns Hotel, whether by walking (gay nightlife, the historic downtown and many of the museums) or public transportation (Södermalm).
What to do: Stockholm’s gay nightlife is easiest experienced in the downtown district. The Friday night “Candy” at Le Bon Palais is a staple of Stockholm’s local gay scene with a variety of dance floors with everything from electronic to pop and even Eurovision-exclusives. The other best gay night out in Stockholm is probably at the nearby Wonk, though to be honest I found Candy more fun. For food, try Chokladkoppen--a cafe in Stortorget Square with great sandwiches (get the shrimp one!)--or Mälarpaviljongen--an excellent restaurant and bar located on three floating docks. The international staff is friendly and the owners also support charity work at home and abroad, specifically for LGBT individuals.
Outside of food and nightlife, Stockholm is all about shopping and the “Fika” culture (ie, coffee and cake every afternoon). The best shopping is done at thrift shops and local Swedish designers have set up shops throughout Södermalm, especially in the SoFo neighborhood (check out this great map, available for free in many SoFo shops). Also worth exploring is Visit Stockholm’s official Gay & Lesbian guide which includes additional recommendations on restaurants, nightlife and activities.
Read more: Stockholm travel photos and stories
Amsterdam makes it on a lot of lists as a top spot for travel in Europe, but it’s also a pretty fine gay hotspot as well. The city is so much more than sex, drugs and parties (though there’s a lot of that) and is actually home to some of Europe’s best museums and certainly one of the most beautiful scenic views. Amsterdam’s got something for every type of tourist--whether you’re in town for romance, parties, art or culture.
Where to stay: Avoid staying in the red light district unless you want to be surrounded by flesh-hungry backpackers looking for cheap drugs, beer and sex. It’s great for a visit (maybe even to the sex museum if you need to do some shopping), but otherwise look for a cool hotel in either the beautiful Jordaan neighborhood or the local favorite De Pijp neighborhood. Try AirBNB for some really cool options in both of those areas.
What to do: First off: visit during gay pride! It’s a great time of year to see the city and the whole of Amsterdam seems to be alive in the week leading up to the gay canal parade. Amsterdam’s gay nightlife is pretty well focused on a single street in the city center, Reguliersdwarsstraat, where some of the city’s more popular bars are located. Sex shops and some other gay bars are located in and around the Red Light District, mostly on Warmoesstraat--just look for the rainbow flags. Check out Cafe t’Mandje, though. It’s Amsterdam’s oldest gay bar and has been serving the city’s LGBT community for almost a century! Perhaps Amsterdam’s best-known gay attraction, however, is the city’s Homomonment--a “living monument” to all homosexuals oppressed or persecuted. More info about Amsterdam’s gay history can be found online or at the Pink Point information stand near the Homomonument.
Other things that should make it on any Amsterdam itinerary include the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour and maybe even a tour of the city’s independent, craft breweries. Make sure you eat well while in Amsterdam--there’s some truly great food (especially the Indonesian/Surinamese style).
Read more: Amsterdam travel photos and stories
East London (Shoreditch)
Listen, I don’t want to hear from you that London’s over and done with. London is never boring. End story. Thankfully the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch is also a constantly changing landscape with new shops and trends popping up regularly. That just gives you even more reason to visit yet again. I spent a week in East London this past November and it was hardly enough--I can’t wait to return in 2015!
Where to stay: No question. It’s got to be the ACE Hotel. From the outside, the building just might look like a rather boring affair, but walk in the lobby and the sweet smell of coffee and MacBooks (trust me, that’s a smell) is overpowering. Staff at the hotel is über-hip with their tattoos and perfectly tousled hair. And the rooms. Oh the rooms! Mine came with a guitar, a beautifully blue bathrobe and just enough style that made me feel like I was in my own perfectly imagined home that I wish--oh how I wish!--I could have straight out of Wallpaper magazine.
What to do: With some of London’s historical gay nightlife being forced out of Soho, it’s been popping up in Shoreditch for the past few years (see the Dalston Superstore, specifically). And with East London’s natural tendencies to be quirky, there are fun monthly events popular with gay locals that would make for a great reason to visit. My plan for 2015 is to make it for one of the Naked Boys Reading events. Otherwise, there’s always shopping! Shoreditch has seen a boon in mens lifestyle shops (and barbershops) for almost a decade now, you literally can’t walk down a street more than 50 meters without finding something cool to buy. If you’re not shopping, check out the Whitechapel Gallery which often puts on shows with just enough quirk (and sometimes, nudity) to continue attracting tourists.
Read more: London travel photos and stories
Arguably, it’s Europe’s prettiest city. Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, certainly attracts enough tourists per year. But it’s also a great destination for gay tourists--and not just because of that porn connection. (Though you might be surprised to run into the odd porn star while on the streets of Prague.) What makes Prague great for gay tourists? It’s the scenery, the cafés, the history and, of course, the nightlife.
Where to stay: The funky design hotel, Prague Fusion, is centrally located and has just enough of that new world design to counter-balance Prague’s old world charm. Hotel prices in Prague can sometimes be problematic, so if you want to stay in the city’s newest gayborhood (also just the area that’s obviously Prague’s trendiest/coolest/most-up-and-coming), look for an AirBNB place to rent in the Žižkov neighborhood.
What to do: In Prague, it’s as much about history as it is beauty. For those with more specific interests, there are museums like the ones dedicated to people like Franz Kafka or Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonso Mucha. Then once you’ve taken in the major tourist sites around the Prague Old Town Square (don’t bother sticking around for the astronomical clock’s chime), head out to the outlying areas like Žižkov. Prague’s best gay nightlife, in my humble opinion, is at the Club Termix--a small, underground bar and club that has cheap drinks, fun music and a great crowd. In the Old Town, the Friends Club is the place to hang out at night, or Café Café during the day.
Read more: Prague travel photos and stories
Do I even have to say anything? Just read this. Gay-friendly cafes and bars can be found throughout the city, though historically the streets around Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg were the gay-friendly hotspots. Today you'll find gay bars all over the city, though--even in the places you might least expect. The new gay Berlin has pretty much moved over to Neukölln where you'll find gay clubs, queer bars and even occasional drag shows.
Where to stay: This year the new 25 Hours Hotel opened up and its rooftop bar has climbed to the top of West Berlin’s “scene.” If you like men in suits and stiff drinks (with a price-tag, mind you), this is the place to bunk up. Rooms come with hammocks, even, so if you’re looking for a bit of romance, this hotel can be a bit of an adventure. Otherwise, the Michelberger Hotel in the east is a local favorite and already attracts a gay crowd. Not least because of the well-designed bar, lobby and rooms (it’s the same designer as the 25 Hours, actually) but the lobby’s often full of gay & lesbian couples.
What to do: It’s impossible for me to pick out the best of the best, so seriously--just read my complete Berlin travel guide (it’s totally free!). Top picks for gay tourists, though? Besides all the touristic stuff, make sure you visit the monument to the LGBT victims of the Holocaust and check out the gay nightlife that’s burgeoning in the off-beat and always fun neighborhoods of Krezuberg and Neukölln. Berlin’s gay pride is called CSD (named after that famous Christopher Street) and the city swells up with tourists in the week before and after gay pride, so make sure you book a hotel early!