Venice, the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, is built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. It has no roads, just canals – including the Grand Canal thoroughfare – lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces. The central square, Piazza San Marco, contains St. Mark’s Basilica, which is tiled with Byzantine mosaics, and the Campanile bell tower offering views of the city’s red roofs.
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 palace and every person is reflected in its teal-coloured 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.
Never was a thoroughfare so aptly named as the Grand Canal, reflecting the glories of Venetian architecture lining its banks. At the end of Venice’s signature waterway, the Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco add double exclamation points. But wait until you see what’s hiding in the narrow backstreets: neighbourhood churches lined with Veroneses and priceless marbles, Tiepolo’s glimpses of heaven on homeless-shelter ceilings, and a single Titian painting that mysteriously lights up an entire basilica.
Florence, capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, is home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture. One of its most iconic sights is the Duomo, a cathedral with a terracotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi and a bell tower by Giotto. The Galleria dell'Accademia displays Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture. The Uffizi Gallery exhibits Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and da Vinci’s “Annunciation.”
Italy's fashion industry was born and bred here. Homegrown designers Guccio Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo opened haute-couture boutiques in Florence in the 1920s and shopping in the Tuscan capital has been stylish ever since. A-lister fashion houses lace Via de' Tornabuoni and a Pandora's box of specialist boutiques selling all manner of beautiful objects parade alongside family-run botteghe (workshops) in a glorious tangle of medieval backstreets. Watch fourth-generation Florentine goldsmiths and shoemakers at work, buy artisan scents evocative of the Florentine countryside and Tuscan sea breeze, and know the tag 'Fiorentina' is one of the finest international labels going.
Florence is made for walking, which suits me perfectly, but what never ceases to amaze me is its overwhelming beauty. It's impossible not to be completely and utterly seduced by the sheer size and grandeur of Brunelleschi's red cathedral dome on Piazza del Duomo; by the sensual beauty of a stash of lesser-known Michelangelo sculptures that no one really talks about (forget David – Dawn and Dusk sends shivers down my spine); by the hopelessly romantic city light that turns the Arno and its bridges into a portfolio of Turner canvases during my early-morning runs. Swoon.
Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, is bisected by the Vltava River. Nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires,” it's known for its Old Town Square, the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock, which gives an animated hourly show. Completed in pedestrian Charles Bridge is lined with statues of Catholic saints.
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 equalled, 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.
How can you not love a city that has a pub with vinyl cushions on the wall above the gents' urinal, so you can rest your head while you 'go'? Where you can order a beer without speaking, simply by placing a beer mat on the table? And where that beer is probably the best in the world? But it's not just exquisite ale and a wonderfully relaxed drinking culture that keep bringing me back to Prague. There's also wit and weirdness in equal measure: a public fountain where two figures pee in a puddle, spelling out literary quotations; a 1950s nuclear bunker hidden beneath a city centre hotel; and a cubist lamppost. Quirky doesn't even begin to describe it.
Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, sits on the coastal islands of Zealand and Amager. It’s linked to Malmo in southern Sweden by the Öresund Bridge. Indre By, the city's historic center, contains Frederiksstaden, an 18th-century rococo district, home to the royal family’s Amalienborg Palace. Nearby is Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance-era Rosenborg Castle, surrounded by gardens and home to the crown jewels.
Don't be fooled by Copenhagen's size: it might look small compared to London or Berlin, but this is a city that (politely) punches well above its weight. From its world-renowned restaurants, fashion and interior design, to its game-changing architecture, Denmark's capital leaves many larger cities in the dust. Yet what I love most about this place is that despite its creativity, intelligence and sex appeal, Copenhagen remains a modest, grounded creature. This is a city designed with thoughtfulness and humanity, and one that always leaves me feeling like a somewhat better person. 1948 - LGBT Denmark was founded by Axel Axgil as the second of its kind in the world.
1989 - DK was the first country in the world to recognise registered partnerships for same-sex couples. 2009 - Registered gay couples could adopt children.
2012 - Gays could get married in church and at city hall. 2017 - Denmark does, as the first country ever, no longer officially percieve being transgender as a mental illness. 2017 - Centralhjørnet, the world's oldest existing gay bar, celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Spain’s most popular tourist destination, Barcelona, has drawn crowds by the thousands for its’ unique charm. Fantastic architecture, interesting history, unforgettable sunsets and out-of-this-world food…. how could you go wrong!?Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Família church and other modernist landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudí dot the city. Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró feature modern art by their namesakes. City history museum MUHBA, includes several Roman archaeological sites.
Stroll Las Ramblas and enjoy Barcelona's unique blend of Catalan culture, distinctive architecture, lively nightlife and trendy, stylish hotels. You'll find Europe's best-preserved Gothic Quarter here, as well as amazing architectural works by Gaudi. La Sagrada Familia, considered Gaudi's masterpiece, is still under construction (your entrance fee helps to fund the project). Feel like a picnic? Look no further than the rambunctious La Boqueria market, where you can stock up on local delicacies.
Barcelona is one of the most popular gay destinations in Europe. Visit famous Gaudi places like Parque Guell, climb the Segrada Familia. Or just enjoy the gay beach or one of the many shops during the day. At night you find many cool bars in the Gayxeimple or go to the hot clubs like Metro. In August, Barcelona will host Circuit Festival which is one of the most popular gay circuit events in Europe.Visit our Barcelona hotel page for information on where to stay. You can also try our online Barcelona hotel map to see and book hotels near the gay venues. Please book via the links on this website thanks!
Vienna, Austria’s capital, lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. Its artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. The city is also known for its Imperial palaces, including Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence. In the MuseumsQuartier district, historic and contemporary buildings display works by Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and other artists.
With its rambling palaces, winding cobbled lanes, elegant Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) and cosy wood-panelled 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.
The Viennese appreciation of the finer things in life extends to its opulent coffee-house 'living rooms' serving spectacular cakes; its beloved pub-like Beisln dishing up hearty portions of Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) and goulash; elegant restaurants; and its fine Austrian wines served in vaulted Vinothek (wine bar) cellars, and in rustic vine-draped Heurigen (wine taverns) in the vineyards fringing the city. Local and international delicacies fill the heady Naschmarkt stalls, and creative chefs are experimenting with local produce and fresh new flavour combinations in innovative, often repurposed venues.
Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views.
The city is blessed with an abundance of hot springs. As a result, ‘taking the waters’ has been a Budapest experience since the time of the Romans. The choice of bathhouses is generous – you can choose among Turkish-era, art nouveau and modern establishments. Some people come seeking a cure for whatever ails them, but the majority are there for fun and relaxation – though we still maintain it’s the world’s best cure for what Hungarians call a macskajaj (cat’s wail) – hangover.
I love Budapest for all the right reasons – architecture (especially art nouveau), romance (particularly the views from the bridges) and sticky apricot jam – and some of the wrong ones, too – killer pálinka (fruit brandy), rickety trolleybuses, and spending way too much time in the Turkish baths. When I first came to Budapest, I was bowled over by an often sad but confident city whose history seemed too complex to comprehend, by a beautiful but impenetrable language, and by a people I thought I’d never know. I stayed on to learn more about all three.
Paris, France's capital, is a major European city and a global center for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture. Its 19th-century cityscape is crisscrossed by wide boulevards and the River Seine. Beyond such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower and the 12th-century, Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral, the city is known for its cafe culture and designer boutiques along the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Parisians are synonymous with style, and fashion shopping is the city’s forte. Paris remains at the forefront of international trends, and browsing emerging and established designer boutiques and flagship haute couture houses is a quintessential part of any visit. You’ll also find uberhip concept stores, quirky homeware shops, and resplendent art nouveau department stores, along with a trove of vintage shops and flea markets, atmospheric bookshops (including the dark-green bouquiniste stalls – secondhand bookshop – lining the riverbanks), adorable children’s wear and toy shops, art and antique dealers, venerable shops selling state-of-the-art professional cookware, and, of course, gourmet food and wine shops galore.
Last but not least, Santorini. Favoured by many as the crowning jewel of romance in Europe – we think we’ve saved the best ’til last! For the most enjoyable experience, head to Greece just outside of peak season for more favourable rates and less crowds.Santorini is one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, forever shaping its rugged landscape. The whitewashed, cubiform houses of its 2 principal towns, Fira and Oia, cling to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater). They overlook the sea, small islands to the west and beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles.
It’s not just the geological make-up of the island that turns heads, though. With its whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and never-ending vineyards, Santorini is Greece at its traditional best. Thira, the capital, is a popular place to stay – it’s perched on top of the caldera rim overlooking the Aegean. And the northern town of Oia, which also has a spot on the caldera, is the best place to see the island’s famous sunsets. The beach scen
If you don’t mind your sand in a darker shade of grey – a legacy of the island’s volcanic past – there are some great beaches in towns like Kamari and Perissa. Framed by jagged cliffs, Kamari’s dark sandy sweep has been given Blue Flag status. As for Perissa, the 7-kilometre stretch here comes with a good helping of watersports.
Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ capital, known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses with gabled facades, legacies of the city’s 17th-century Golden Age. Its Museum District houses the Van Gogh Museum, works by Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum, and modern art at the Stedelijk. Cycling is key to the city’s character, and there are numerous bike paths.
Amsterdam is truly a biker’s city, although pedaling along the labyrinthine streets can get a little chaotic. Stick to walking and you won’t be disappointed. The gentle canals make a perfect backdrop for exploring the Jordaan and Rembrandtplein square. Pop into the Red Light District if you must—if only so you can say you’ve been there. The Anne Frank House is one of the most moving experiences a traveller can have, and the Van Gogh Museum boasts a sensational collection of works.