Here's our top ten list of gay and lesbian cities in the world.
1. San Francisco, USA
Rainbow flags adorn apartment windows and bar entrances in many San Francisco neighbourhoods, with nearly every bar and business in the Castro catering to gays and lesbians. Pride Week is capped by the often-outrageous ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Pride Parade’ – where half a million people party in the street on the last Sunday in June. Also in June is the long-running queer film festival.
2. Sydney, Australia
Hey, in Sydney gay is the new straight. Gay and lesbian culture forms a vocal, vital, well-organised and colourful part of Sydney’s social fabric. Host of the 2002 Gay Games, Sydney also plays host to Australia’s biggest annual tourist event – the Mardi Gras. The joy-filled hedonism-meets-political-protest parade is attended by more than half a million people. Beach life also reigns here, so boys should buff up before hitting the sand.
3. Brighton, England
Perhaps it’s Brighton’s long-time association with the theatre, but for more than 100 years the city has been a gay haven. The vibrant queer community is made-up of 40,000 residents – almost a quarter of the total population. Kemptown (aka Camptown) is where it’s all at, with a rank of gay-owned bars, hotels, cafés, bookshops and saunas. There’s even a ‘Gay’s the Word’ walking tour.
4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Touted as the gay and lesbian capital of Europe, partisan estimates put the proportion of gay and lesbian people in Amsterdam at 20% to 30%. Though the figures are probably exaggerated, there’s no underestimating the number of venues for gays and lesbians. There are more than 100 bars and nightclubs, gay hotels, bookshops, sport clubs, choirs and support services. Amsterdam hosts the only water-borne gay-pride parade in the world, held on the canals on the first Saturday in August.
5. Berlin, Germany
Berlin’s legendary liberalism has spawned one of the world’s biggest gay and lesbian scenes. Openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit outed himself with the now-popular words: ‘I’m gay, and that’s a good thing’. As befits Berlin’s decentralised nature, the city has no dedicated gay ghetto although it contains a number of established scenes. Huge crowds turn out in early June for Schwul-Lesbisches Strassenfest (Gay-Lesbian Street Fair), which is basically a warm-up for Christopher Street Day later that month.
6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Do as the Love Boat used to, and dock in the world famous resort town of Puerto Vallarta. The gay scene here is pumping, with accommodations, tours, cruises and a variety of venues all catering to the gay market. Meet amigos in town (with cobblestone streets and red-roofed adobe-style buildings) at one of the many martini bars, strip clubs or drag shows. And strut or sloth on one of the glorious white-sand beaches.
7. New York City, USA
New York’s Chelsea and Greenwich Village are synonymous with gay life, possessing a thriving out-there scene. A number of quieter clubs and bars continue to flourish further uptown in Chelsea as well. Every scene, from art to fashion, is hot in New York – and the gay scene is no exception, with great galleries, bars and clubs. June sees the obligatory Gay Pride parade attracting revellers from around the world.
8. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
During Carnaval (February or March), thousands of expatriate Brazilian and gringo gays fly in to take part in the fun, with transvestites stealing the show at most balls. Outside Carnaval the gay scene is active, though less visible than in cities such as San Francisco and Sydney. The gay capital of Latin America is a mostly integrated scene, with the Entertainment sections of local newspapers and magazines branding establishments ‘GLS’: Gays, Lesbians and Sympathisers.
9. Prague, Czech Republic
The beguiling bohemian city of Prague inspired Kafka to warn visitors: ‘this little mother has claws’. Its maze of medieval lanes keeps a bevy of bars catering to all fancies: from leather through to rent boy. The cradle of Czech culture, Prague also stages a gay and lesbian film festival annually in November. Despite the city’s wholesale acceptance of same-sex partnerships, there’s a segregated gay scene, and public displays of affection are generally ill advised.
10. Bangkok, Thailand
There’s no ‘gay movement’ as such in Bangkok, as there’s no antigay establishment to move against. Thai culture is generally accepting of male and female homosexuality; however, public displays of affection per se are mostly frowned upon. The fairly prominent scene centres on the proliferation of bars, often enlivened by high camp cabaret.
Lonely Planet guides are also gay-friendly, containing information on the gay and lesbian establishments you can visit on your trips. Buy our guides here.