You're part of a tourist boom
The gay travel industry is booming - with more gay travelers booking gay cruises, tours and holidays across Europe than ever before. In this section of the site, we've compiled a number of Gay Hot Spot Guides, written by gay residents of each city or region, to help you get the most out of your trip.
Where possible, we've provided links to other websites and magazines that specialize in things such as bars, restaurants, events and hooking up - because we've found that tourist sites that try to do all of those things only end up doing them badly. So we link you through to each respective expert.
Our guides also list upcoming events in each destination and gay hotels - making it even easier to find somewhere to stay and choose when to go.
GAY TRAVEL & INFO
GETA - the Gay European Tourism Association recently estimated the size of the Gay Travel market in Europe to be over €50b. In truth, that may well be a conservative estimate, and in all likelihood, the amount is growing - and growing fast. As more people come out, thanks to increasingly liberal attitudes across the continent, the amount spent on ‘gay travel’ in Europe goes up.
Part of the huge size of this travel market in Europe is due to the fact that we are still far less likely to have children, and so have much higher disposable incomes - much of which gets spent traveling. So we travel more often, go further, and spend more on flights, hotels, food, and shopping when we do.
As homophobia recedes in most of western Europe (even as it rises in eastern Europe), mainstream tourism offices and travel companies are waking up to the fact that gay travel is a huge business in Europe - and a huge opportunity. Airlines, hotel groups, car hire companies and travel operators are all realizing that there’s money to be made from the non-straight market and that marketing specifically to them will no longer threaten their brands.
It used to be that running a travel and with two men in it was marketing suicide. Now, airlines and hotels can run gay-themed ads, even in mainstream media, and their straight customers just don’t care. So the highly profitable market for gay travel is now one that mainstream brands can tap into.
Amsterdam is famously gezellig, a Dutch quality that translates roughly as convivial or cozy. It's more easily experienced than defined. There's a sense of time stopping, an intimacy of the here-and-now that leaves your troubles behind, at least until tomorrow. The easiest place to encounter this feeling is a brown cafe (traditional Dutch pub). Named for their wood paneling and walls once stained by smoke, bruin cafés have gezelligheid (coziness) on tap, along with good beer. You can also feel gezellig lingering after dinner in snug restaurants while the candles burn low.
For me, and for countless other travelers over the centuries, Amsterdam has become a home from home. Since the earliest seafarers set out to explore the world, Amsterdammers have had an open-minded global outlook and sense of adventure that still defines them today. While Amsterdam retains its Dutch heritage in its charming canal architecture, works by Old Masters, jenever (Dutch gin) tasting houses and candlelit brown cafes (traditional Dutch pubs), I love that this free-spirited city is a multinational melting pot with an incredible diversity of cultures and cuisines in a compact, village-like setting.
Amsterdam's canal-woven core is laced by atmospheric narrow lanes. You never know what you'll find: a tiny hidden garden; a boutique selling witty, stylised Dutch-designed homewares and fashion; a jewel box-like jenever (Dutch gin) distillery; a flower stall filled with tulips in a rainbow of hues; an old monastery-turned-classical-music-venue; an ultra-niche restaurant such as an avocado or strawberry specialist or one reinventing age-old Dutch classics.
Fringing the center, post-industrial buildings in up-and-coming neighborhoods now house creative enterprises, from art galleries to craft breweries and cutting-edge tech start-ups, as well as some of Europe's hottest clubs.
Barcelona's architectural treasures span 2000-plus years. Towering temple columns, ancient city walls, and subterranean stone corridors provide a window into Roman-era Barcino. Fast forward a thousand years to the Middle Ages by taking a stroll through the shadowy lanes of the Gothic quarter, past tranquil plazas and soaring 14th-century cathedrals.
In other parts of town bloom the sculptural masterpieces of Modernism, a mix of ingenious and whimsical creations by Gaudí and his Catalan architectural contemporaries. Barcelona has also long inspired artists, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, whose works are on bold display in the city's myriad museums.
The night holds limitless possibilities in Barcelona. Start with sunset drinks from a panoramic terrace or dig your heels in the sand at a rustic beachside chiringuito. As darkness falls, live music transforms the city: the rapid-fire rhythms of flamenco, brassy jazz spilling out of basements, and hands-in-the-air indie-rock at vintage concert halls. Towards midnight the bars fill. Take your pick from old-school taverns adorned with 19th-century murals, plush lounges in lamp-lit medieval chambers or boisterous cava bars. If you're still standing at 3 am, hit the clubs and explore Barcelona's unabashed wild side.
The masters of molecular gastronomy – Albert Adrià, Carles Abellan et al – are part of the long and celebrated tradition of Catalan cooking. Simple, flavourful ingredients – seafood, jamón (cured ham), market-fresh produce – are transformed into remarkable delicacies and then served in captivating settings.
Feast on hearty, rich paella at an outdoor table overlooking the sea or step back to the 1920s in an elegant art nouveau dining room. Barcelona's wide-ranging palate adds further complexity: Basque-style tapas bars, Galician seafood taverns, avant-garde Japanese restaurants and sinful chocolate shops are all essential parts of the culinary landscape.
The all-night raver, the boho-cool hippie chick, the sexiest babe on the beach – Ibiza is all this and more to those who have a soft spot for the party-loving sister of the Balearics. The cream of Europe's DJs (David Guetta, Luciano, Sven Väth et al) makes the island holy ground for clubbers. And nowhere does sunset chilling like Sant Antoni de Portmany's strip of mellow cafes.
Ibiza's modest population of 132,637 is swallowed whole by the six-million-odd tourists that descend on it each year. But there's more to this sun-kissed, beach-bejeweled, pine-clad island than meets the bleary eye. Step off the beaten track for a spell in a rural hotel, a hilltop hamlet or on a secluded north-coast cove to discover Ibiza's surprisingly peaceful side. Or roam the ramparts of Ibiza Town's Unesco-listed Dalt Vila to immerse yourself in the island's rich heritage.
Mykonos is the great glamour island of Greece and happily flaunts its sizzling St-Tropez-meets-Ibiza style and party-hard reputation.The high-season mix of hedonistic holidaymakers, cruise ship crowds and posturing fashionistas throngs Mykonos Town (aka Hora), a traditional whitewashed Cycladic maze, delighting in its authentic cubist charms and its chichi cafe-bar-boutique scene.
The number of tourists (and cashed-up A-listers) visiting Mykonos is booming and hip new hotels, beach bars, and restaurants are mushrooming. In July and August, come only if you are prepared to pay and intent on joining the jostling street crowds, the oiled-up lounger lifestyle at the packed main beaches and the relentless party. Out of season, devoid of gloss and preening celebrities, find more subdued local life, the occasional pelican wandering the empty streets and beaches that you will have largely to yourself. Mykonos is also the jumping-off point for the archaeological site of the nearby island of Delos.
Berlin is a big multicultural metropolis but deep down it maintains the unpretentious charm of an international village. Locals follow the credo 'live and let live' and put greater emphasis on personal freedom and a creative lifestyle than on material wealth and status symbols. Cafes are jammed at all hours, drinking is a religious rite and clubs keep going until the wee hours or beyond. Size-wise, Berlin is pretty big but its key areas are wonderfully compact and easily navigated on foot, by bike or by using public transport.
Bismarck and Marx, Einstein and Hitler, JFK and Bowie, they’ve all shaped – and been shaped by – Berlin, whose richly textured history stares you in the face at every turn. This is a city that staged a revolution, was headquartered by Nazis, bombed to bits, divided in two and finally reunited – and that was just in the 20th century! Walk along remnants of the Berlin Wall, marvel at the splendour of a Prussian palace, visit Checkpoint Charlie or stand in the very room where the Holocaust was planned. Berlin is like an endlessly fascinating 3D textbook where the past is very much present wherever you go
When it comes to creativity, the sky’s the limit in Berlin, Europe's newest start-up capital. In the last 20 years, the city has become a giant lab of cultural experimentation thanks to an abundance of space, cheap rent and a free-wheeling spirit that nurtures and encourages new ideas. Top international performers grace its theatre, concert and opera stages; international art-world stars like Olafur Eliasson and Jonathan Meese make their home here; and Clooney and Hanks shoot blockbusters in the German capital. High-brow, low-brow and everything in between – there’s plenty of room for the full arc of cultural expression.
This city is deeply multicultural, with one in three Londoners foreign-born, representing 270 nationalities and 300 tongues. Britain may have voted for Brexit (although the majority of Londoners didn't), but for now, London remains one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, and diversity infuses daily life, food, music, and fashion. It even penetrates intrinsically British institutions; the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum have collections as varied as they are magnificent, while the flavors at centuries-old Borough Market run the full global gourmet spectrum.
A tireless innovator of art and culture, London is a city of ideas and the imagination. Londoners have always been fiercely independent thinkers (and critics), but until not so long ago people were suspicious of anything they considered avant-garde. That’s in the past now, and the city’s creative milieu is streaked with left-field attitude, whether it's theatrical innovation, contemporary art, pioneering music, writing, poetry, architecture or design. Food is another creative arena that has become a tireless obsession in certain circles.
Immersed in history, London's rich seams of eye-opening antiquity are everywhere. The city's buildings are striking milestones in a unique and beguiling biography, and a great many of them – the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben – are instantly recognizable landmarks. There’s more than enough innovation (the Shard, the Tate Modern extension, the planned Garden Bridge) to put a crackle in the air, but it never drowns out London’s seasoned, centuries-old narrative. Architectural grandeur rises up all around you in the West End, ancient remains dot the City and charming pubs punctuate the historic quarters, leafy suburbs and river banks. Take your pick.
Prague's maze of cobbled lanes and hidden courtyards is a paradise for the aimless wanderer, always beckoning you to explore a little further. Just a few blocks away from the Old Town Square you can stumble across ancient chapels, unexpected gardens, cute cafes and old-fashioned bars with hardly a tourist in sight. One of the great joys of the city is its potential for exploration – neighborhoods such as Vinohrady and Bubeneč can reward the urban adventurer with countless memorable cameos, from the setting sun glinting off church domes to the strains of Dvořák wafting from an open window.
The best beer in the world just got better. Since the invention of Pilsner Urquell in 1842, the Czechs have been famous for producing some of the world's finest brews. But the internationally famous brand names – Urquell, Staropramen, and Budvar – have been equaled, and even surpassed, by a bunch of regional Czech beers and microbreweries that are catering to a renewed interest in traditional brewing. Never before have Prague's pubs offered such a wide range of ales – names you'll now have to get your head around include Kout na Šumavě, Svijanský Rytíř and Velkopopovický Kozel.
The 1989 Velvet Revolution that freed the Czechs from communism bequeathed to Europe a gem of a city to stand beside stalwarts such as Rome, Amsterdam, and London. Not surprisingly, visitors from around the world have come in droves, and on a hot summer's day, it can feel like you’re sharing Charles Bridge with half of humanity. But even the crowds can’t take away from the spectacle of a 14th-century stone bridge, a hilltop castle and a lovely, lazy river – the Vltava – that inspired one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of 19th-century classical music, Smetana’s Moldau symphony.
The wrought-iron spire of the Eiffel Tower piercing the clouds, the broad Arc de Triomphe guarding Paris’ most glamorous avenue, the Champs-Élysées, the gargoyled Notre Dame cathedral, lamplit bridges spanning the Seine and art nouveau cafes spilling onto wicker-chair-lined terraces are indelibly etched in the minds of anyone who’s visited the city – and the imaginations of anyone who hasn’t (yet). But despite initial appearances, Paris’ cityscape isn’t static: there are some stunning modern and contemporary icons too, from the inside-out, industrial-style Centre Pompidou to the Mur végétal (vertical garden) gracing the striking Musée du Quai Branly.
With an illustrious artistic pedigree – Renoir, Rodin, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Dalí and Van Gogh are but a few of the masters who lived and worked here over the years – Paris is one of the great art repositories of the world, harboring treasures from antiquity onward. In addition to big hitters like the incomparable Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay’s exceptional impressionist collection, and the Centre Pompidou’s cache of modern and contemporary art, there are scores of smaller museums housing collections in every imaginable genre, and a diverse range of venues mounting major exhibitions through to off-beat installations.
Paris’ dining is iconic: France’s reputation for its cuisine (the French word for ‘kitchen’) precedes it, and whether you seek a cozy neighborhood bistro or a triple-Michelin-starred temple to gastronomy, you'll find every establishment prides itself on exquisite preparation and presentation of quality produce, invariably served with wine. Enticing patisseries, boulangeries (bakeries), fromageries (cheese shops) and crowded, colorful street markets are perfect for packing a picnic to take to the city’s parks and gardens. A host of culinary courses – from home kitchens through to the world’s most prestigious cookery schools – offers instruction for all schedules, abilities, and budgets.
More than a decade after I fell for Madrid and decided to call it home, the life that courses relentlessly through the streets here still excites me. Here is a place where the passions of Europe’s most passionate country are the fabric of daily life, a city with music in its soul and an unshakeable spring in its step. But Madrid is also one of the most open cities on earth and it doesn’t matter where you’re from for the oft-heard phrase to ring true: ‘If you’re in Madrid, you’re from Madrid’.
Few cities boast an artistic pedigree quite as pure as Madrid’s: many art lovers return here again and again. For centuries, Spanish royals showered praise and riches upon the finest artists of the day, from home-grown talents such as Goya and Velázquez to Flemish and Italian greats. Masterpieces by these and other Spanish painters such as Picasso, Dalí, and Miró now adorn the walls of the city’s world-class galleries. Three, in particular, are giants – the Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – but in Madrid, these are merely good places to start.
Madrid nights are the stuff of legend and the perfect complement to the more sedate charms of fine arts and fine dining. The city may have more bars than any other city on earth – a collection of storied cocktail bars and nightclubs that combine a hint of glamour with non-stop march (action). But that only goes some way to explaining the appeal of after-dark Madrid. Step out into the night-time streets of many Madrid neighborhoods and you’ll find yourself swept along on a tide of people, accompanied by a happy crowd intent on dancing until dawn.
My love of Venice begins with the lagoon in which it stands. Although often overlooked, this 550-sq-km shallow bowl is as great a marvel of engineering as San Marco’s golden domes. Every place and every person is reflected in its teal-colored waters creating the mirage-like double image that lends the city its magical quality. Not only has it inspired the extraordinary physical fabric of the city and countless creative and technological inventions, but it also shapes the unconventional and creative spirit of all who reside here. Therein lie possibilities barely imagined in other cities.
Eyeglasses, platform shoes and uncorseted dresses are outlandish Venetian fashions that critics sniffed would never be worn by respectable Europeans. Venetians are used to setting trends, whether it be with controversial artwork in the Punta della Dogana, racy operas at La Fenice or radical new art at the Biennale. On a smaller scale, this unconventional creative streak finds vibrant expression in the showrooms of local artisans where you can find custom-made red-carpet shoes, purses fashioned from silk-screened velvet and glass jewels brighter than semi-precious stones. In a world of cookie-cutter culture, Venice’s originality still stands out.
Garden islands and lagoon aquaculture yield specialty produce and seafood you won’t find elsewhere – all highlighted in inventive Venetian cuisine, with tantalizing traces of ancient spice routes. The city knows how to put on a royal spread, as France’s King Henry III once found out when faced with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons. Today such feasts are available in miniature at happy hour, when bars mount lavish spreads of cicheti (Venetian tapas). Save room and time for a proper sit-down Venetian meal, with lagoon seafood to match views at canalside bistros and toasts with Veneto’s signature bubbly, prosecco.
With its rambling palaces, winding cobbled lanes, elegant Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) and cozy wood-paneled Beisln, Vienna is steeped in history. Yet it's also at the cutting edge of design, architecture, contemporary art, and new directions in drinking and dining. What I love most about the city is that not only does it hold on to its traditions, it incorporates them in everything from high-fashion Dirndls (women's traditional dress) with pop-art motifs or punk conical studs to handmade Sacher Torte–flavoured doughnuts and inspired neo-retro cafes. Vienna's past is alive in its present, and, by extension, its future.
With a musical heritage that includes composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Josef Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss (father and son), Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler, among countless others, Vienna is known as the City of Music. Its cache of incredible venues where you can catch performances today includes the acoustically renowned Musikverein, used by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the gold-and-crystal main opera house, the Staatsoper, and the multistage Konzerthaus, as well as the dedicated home of the Vienna Boys' Choir, Muth. Music comes to life through interactive exhibits at the captivating Haus der Musik museum.
One of the Habsburgs' most dazzling Ringstrasse palaces, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, houses the imperial art collection. It's packed with priceless works by Old Masters and treasures including one of the world's richest coin collections. Behind the Hofburg, the former imperial stables have been transformed into the innovative MuseumsQuartier, with a diverse ensemble of museums, showcasing 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art at the Leopold Museum to often-shocking avant-garde works at the contemporary MUMOK. Meteorites, fossils and prehistoric finds fill the Naturhistorisches Museum, while exquisite furnishings at the applied-arts Museum für Angewandte Kunst are also among the artistic feasts in store.
Travellers will quickly discover that Stockholm is a city of food obsessives – no surprise given the bounty of ingredients it draws from the surrounding sea and farmlands. If a food trend appears anywhere in the world, Stockholm is on it: from raw food and açai breakfast bowls to truffle cheeseburgers and wood-fired pizza, all of which are executed with faithful attention to detail. As for traditional Swedish cooking, it's still going strong – fried herring, meatballs, toast Skagen and sill with hard bread are all menu standards, although these days many chefs enjoy taking inventive new approaches to the classics.
Stockholm's old town, Gamla Stan, is a saffron-and-spice vision from the storybooks: one of Europe’s most arresting historic hubs, with an imposing palace, looming cathedrals, and razor-thin cobblestone streets. The name Stockholm was first recorded in a letter in 1252, written by Birger Jarl, one of the original founders (and whose name you'll see everywhere). Wandering the area today, it's easy to appreciate the old city's origins as a strategically placed fort designed to control the waterway between Lake Mälaren and the sea: Gamla Stan is surrounded by water and is ideally situated to encourage further exploration.
Stockholm’s beauty and fashion sense are legendary. Good design is simply a given – even the humblest coffee shop invests in attractive furniture, strategically placed greenery, sophisticated lighting and richly textured wall coverings. Hardcore fans of industrial design can choose from several museums that cover the subject, but it can be equally rewarding to hit the shops: whether you're looking for fashion trends, interior design or clever packaging, you're in luck, be it at the supermarket or the mall. Keep an eye out for no-fuss functionality, minimalism, natural-looking fabrics and big, bold prints.
Photos by Pixabay.com