The World Pride 2012 festival (23 June-8 July) is drumming up the Olympics fervour in London, just weeks before the Games begin. Pride London is already the biggest un-ticketed event in Europe, but, with over one million visitors expected for World Pride plus the Olympics, the festival is not only a chance for travellers to party with London’s LGBT community but the world’s. The theme is a call for the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, especially within the Commonwealth.

Colour on Carnaby St. Photo by Wayne Walton (Lonely Planet Images).

Pride fun

The festival calendar is constantly being updated with new events across central London, such as the open-air Jazz and Wine evening (28 June) and Pride Pooch (23 June), a canine show looking for the ‘Dandiest Dog’ and ‘Prettiest Bitch’. Meanwhile human talent will be booed or woo-hooed at the SoHottie Final (29 June), Soho’s singing competition. Travellers can also see what British designers are creating at the Pride fashion show.

World Pride 2012 also showcases gay theatre across London, such as The Fantastical Adventures of (not) Being with You at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell. This original piece is a love story between two men, told through games and make-believe, using just a suitcase of props.

Everyone loves a parade

The main parade on 7 July turns iconic London roads such as Baker and Regent streets into a Mardi Gras-flurry of feathers and flesh, set to an electro beat. Get there early for a front-line view as cheering onlookers number in the thousands. Then head to Trafalgar Square (where the Olympics countdown clock should read 20 days) for outdoor music, or to London’s main gay area of Soho, which sprawls between Chinatown, West End theatres and the shops of Carnaby Street.

The mishmash of visitors from around the world bumping and air kissing in Soho encapsulates the focus of World Pride 2012 – the cultural diversity of the global LGBT community. Soho’s streets of multi-flavoured clubs, bars and even supermarkets spill over with people eating, drinking and striking up conversations with other visitors, gay and straight.

Features - London Gay Pride parade.

Out, proud and very British. Photo by Simon Greenwood (Lonely Planet Images).

Local flavour

For a mixed crowd and something more (literally) underground, keep your eyes down or you’ll miss the entrance to the Friendly Society – flaunting the 90s with dolls-and-fishtank décor and crowd-pleasing playlists.  Off the Strand is a hidden gem for those who prefer to head bop to The Cure than to Katy Perry. The intimate English-pub atmosphere and music memorabilia of Retro Bar attracts a mixed gay crowd from hipsters to once-were rockers.

Trannyoke attracts a small crowd of trans (and non-trans) vocalists, belting out karaoke hits. Singing is taken seriously; this is definitely not a drag show. To feel like a local, venture to east London. Shoreditch’s post-gays and lesbians love street-fashion and meet at the George and Dragon, a pub with a vintage-store vibe. For a dance with the arty crowd, wander further to Dalston for the name-droppable cool of Vogue Fabrics or Moustache Bar.

For a home-grown lesbian flavour, the friendly Blush Bar in Stoke Newington serves up Sunday roast in the beer garden – a contrast to the pulsing lights of the Candy Bar in Soho, made famous with a TV show. The Vauxhall area of south London harbours a strong community of hairier-than-thou men, who have chosen ‘Voho’ as a beefier alternative to Soho. But visitors do tiptoe in from Soho for the all-night throbbing bass at Fire. By Monday, the locals have cleared their heads and gather to listen out for two fat ladies at bingo and sing-alongs at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Yet to hear those Oliver Twist accents? Hear men shouting out the prices of orchids in TV English accents by braving the tourists at Columbia Road Flower Market on Sunday, where you’ll find many gay couples picking up new blooms or antiques.

Out of the city

For a breather from London, or as a post-Olympics pick me up, take a one-hour train to Brighton, home to a large gay population. The Brighton & Hove Pride parade (1 September) to the huge park differs from London with its fun fair, community stalls and proximity to the beach.

Or escape London within London on a warm day with a trip to Hampstead Heath’s men-only and women-only ponds. The forest setting is decorated with ducks and small wooden jetties, and makes an easy way to experience the English countryside within London. The vast, cool ponds attract both gay and straight locals, paddling in the pool and lounging on the grass.

This article was originally published in May 2012. This article was updated in October 2012. 

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