San Francisco. Miami. Toronto. Some cities are known around the world as welcoming, inclusive gay travel destinations. But LGBT travelers don’t have to limit themselves to these — not when there are so many other places to explore. Here are five fun, vibrant and accepting destinations to consider.
A word of caution: While we believe that one day, lesbian and gay couples will be able to travel anywhere they want without fear, that day has not yet come. “More than seventy-five countries consider consensual same-sex sexual relations a crime, sometimes carrying severe punishment,” the State Department warns.1 Research your destination’s customs and laws beforehand, and be aware that attitudes in rural areas may be less accepting than in cities.
Rio de Janeiro isn’t the only gay-friendly destination in South America. Bogotá, Colombia’s charming capital city, is a lively and welcoming destination for LGBT travelers. “If you’re getting your hipster on in Bogotá’s Chapinero, you’ll often find immaculately hipstered same-sex couples happily sauntering around the place – and you probably won’t find any problems in expressing yourself to the maximum,” the Colombia Travel Blog advises.2
Wander the old La Candelaria district, ride a cable car up to Monserrate, then stay out late. Nightlife abounds; the best-known club is Theatron, with five floors of different dance music and an open bar. Afraid to travel to a country once known for narco-trafficking violence? Don’t be. Colombia has become much safer in recent years, the State Department says, although tourists should be cautious.3 Some areas of Bogotá are considered unsafe for visitors, especially after dark.
The Caribbean islands aren’t all gay-friendly destinations. While French, Dutch, and U.S. islands welcome LGBT travelers, some, including Jamaica and Barbados, can be homophobic.4 Curaçao, a small island off the coast of Venezuela, prides itself on embracing gay travelers with open arms. Part of the Dutch Antilles, Curaçao’s motto is "Biba i laga Biba": “live and let live.”5 The island is known for its pretty beaches, abundant snorkeling and picturesque capital, Willemstad. After a day in the sun, vacationers can cool down at local gay-friendly bars and clubs. Favorites include the Rainbow Lounge at the Floris Suite Hotel and the HangOver Party Bar. For a little extra sparkle, plan your visit around Carnival in February or Pride Week at the end of September.
The Dutch capital is a great LGBT travel destination for so many reasons: distinctive architecture, art museums, world-class dining and intriguing boutiques. Our favorite thing to do is simply stroll or cycle along the canals, peer into open windows and daydream about living in Amsterdam. Would it be more fun to live in a 16th-century canal house, or a tidy little houseboat?
The Netherlands has a long history of protecting and respecting gay rights, and in 2001 was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.6 Amsterdam is home to one of the world’s oldest gay bars: Café ‘t Mandje, which first opened in 1927.7 And Amsterdam’s annual Pride festival, EuroPride, is one of the largest and most colorful in the world.
Sometimes called the gay capital of the Middle East, the coastal city of Tel Aviv is an oasis of welcome for all LGBT people. “Everything in Tel Aviv is gay, inherently gay,” hotel owner Leon Avigad told The Boston Globe. “The people are creative, open-minded, liberal, accepting, and daring.” Around 180,000 people come to the annual pride celebration in June. There’s lots to do in Tel Aviv: Sip a drink on the beach, then go for a swim. Take a tour of 1930s Bauhaus architecture, then step back several centuries and wander the old city of Jaffa.
Is China a gay-friendly destination? Not always, and not everywhere — but Shanghai is widely considered the most welcoming city in China for LGBT travelers. While homosexuality is still “socially and culturally taboo” in China, Shanghai’s gay community has been steadily gaining acceptance. The city’s pride festival, begun in 2009, was the first in mainland China.
The most gay-friendly neighborhood in Shanghai is the French Concession, a quaint area with tree-lined avenues, outdoor cafes and fashion boutiques. It’s also home to most of Shanghai's gay bars, including the underground Shanghai Studio and Eddy’s Bar, a long-running local hangout.8 Beyond the French Concession, you could spend weeks exploring Shanghai’s varied neighborhoods. Stroll The Bund, along the Huangpu River; explore the ancient Yuyuan Garden; visit Buddhist shrines; and, of course, eat as many fried dumplings as you can.
Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.