Alternative lifestyles are finally receiving long over-due acceptance in Western society. Once relegated to concealing their relationships, same-sex couples can now receive marriage benefits in 32 states and counting. Unfortunately, globally, LGBTQ acceptance is not as common.
To help guide travelers searching for acceptance overseas, Lonely Planet has compiled a list of the top ten gay-friendly destinations—places that are accepting and welcoming of individuals regardless of sexuality.
- Copenhagen, Denmark
Denmark may be the home of Lego and at the forefront of New Nordic Cuisine, but importantly it made history in 1989 by becoming the first nation in the world to recognise registered same-sex partnerships. And at Denmark’s heart is the relaxed beauty of its compact cobblestoned capital, Copenhagen. Copenhagen is home to Europe’s oldest openly gay bar, Centralhjørnet, whose origins date back to the 1950s; as well as the hip and super-cool district of Vesterbro, which also happens to be the city’s red-light district. One of the most tolerant and open communities in Europe, Copenhagen’s functional yet edgy fashion scene, brilliant array of cocktail bars, excellent range of gay-friendly boutique accommodation and packed calendar of events make it the gay-friendliest place on Earth.
At 105.6m, City Hall Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Copenhagen and provides some of the best views of the cobblestoned city. In 2014, the adjoining square was named the ‘Rainbow Square’ in recognition of the quest for equal rights.
The Land of the Long White Cloud has long been lauded for its inclusive and progressive behaviour toward the LGBTQ community. In 1998 New Zealand was the first nation to adopt the label of “Gay and Lesbian Friendly” when referring to businesses and accommodation—an initiative now recognized globally. The country offers a brilliant network of gay- and lesbian-friendly home-stays, which run the length and breadth of the country from the top of the semitropical North Island to the depths of the glacial South. Since passing same-sex marriage laws in 2013, New Zealand has actively promoted same-sex marriage tourism to the likes of Australia and other Pacific nations where equality laws are less progressive.
Gay Ski Week, part of Winter Pride, has become a perennial favorite and takes place in picturesque Queenstown in late July or early August.
- Toronto, Canada
Toronto continues to be a beacon for the LGBTQ traveler in North America, and Canada is hands down the most advanced and progressive nation in the Americas for the gay community. Toronto’s The Village, located in Church-Wellesley, is the cultural hub of the city, bursting with galleries, theaters, and gay-friendly businesses. Home to events such as Pride Week Celebrations, Pride March and Dyke March, gay subculture has blossomed and thrived in The Village for decades and it will soon be home to the world’s first gay-focused athletic center at 519 Church St.
Forget dressing as a skeleton or a witch, if you’re attending the Village’s fabulous Halloween Block Party, think Gwyneth Paltrow’s pink Oscar gown or Lady Gaga’s lobster hat.
- Palm Springs, United States
Located approximately 100 miles east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs is a sun-seeker’s paradise where the sun shines almost all year round and where the city has embraced everything gay. Palm Springs provides the LGBTQ traveler with an amazing array of outdoor activities, excellent shopping and dining, and the world’s best poolside lounging. Palm Springs also offers the largest volume of male- and female-only accommodation anywhere in the world (many of these places are clothing-optional). Pack the SPF and make the most of the sun!
- Sitges, Spain
The coastal city of Sitges rests approximately 35 kilometers southwest of Barcelona and is home to Spain’s first ever gay disco, which opened back in the 1980s. It’s now one of Europe’s “Big Four” destinations for LGBTQ travelers. Its stretch of sandy, often clothing-optional beaches make it a favorite for men, but its eclectic calendar of events ensures that there’s something for the entire community.
Europe’s “Big Four” also include Mykonos, Gran Canaria, and Ibiza, all key stops on many same-sex-exclusive Mediterranean cruises.
- Berlin, Germany
Every fetish you could ever dream up can be catered for in Berlin. Germany’s wild side is on display here and Berlin proudly boasts a vibrant and inclusive gay history that dates back to the golden age of the 1920s. The districts of Schöneberg (which hosts Gay Pride), Kreuzberg, and Prenzlauerberg provide a diverse range of clubs, bars, and restaurants for sampling. With no closing time in Berlin, the party never ends!
For the more adventurous, get your fetish on at Easter Fetish Week, or don some leather at Folsom Europe.
- Skiathos & Mykonos, Greece
Ever since Jackie Onassis started visiting the Greek island of Mykonos in the 1970s, gay men have been flocking to the island of whitewashed houses and flower-filled courtyards, seeking out glamour and the famous Mediterranean sun. For a less hedonistic holiday, the sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and pine forested hills of Skiathos offer a relaxed and authentic experience for the LGBTQ traveler.
The Elysium Hotel, an exclusively gay boutique hotel, is the perfect playground for hedonists heading to Mykonos town.
- New York City, United States
The Stonewall riots that occurred in the late 1960s in Greenwich Village are synonymous with the birth of the modern gay-rights movement. The incredibly inclusive communities of the West Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen provide a fabulous array of gay-friendly accommodation options. Littered with significant LGBTQ landmarks such as Christopher St, the Harvey Milk School, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and Broadway and the Theater District, New York is a gay traveler’s mecca.
If you’re considering getting hitched while in the Big Apple, go here.
- Reykjavik, Iceland
The world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik has been described as one of the friendliest places and most inclusive on Earth. In 2015, Reykjavik will host its 17th Gay Pride march (one of Europe’s oldest LGBTQ parades), and the 11th Bears on Ice event. Iceland also has some of the world’s most progressive laws. In 2006, same-sex couples were granted equal rights with their heterosexual counterparts without limitation. Wander behind waterfalls, descend into dormant volcanoes, or while away a day in one of the many geothermal lagoons—this is an adventurer’s paradise.To attend the Bears on Ice event, you’ll need to register.
10. Montevideo, Uruguay
This is a controversial inclusion on the list given the conservativeness of many Central and South American nations. But Uruguay, the smallest of the South American nations, is the most progressive. In 2013, Uruguay was the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, and homosexuality has been decriminalized since 1934. The relaxed attitude present in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo provides a brilliant juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle of the likes of Buenos Aires.
Although progressive in protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, excessive public displays of affection are not advised in Montevideo.