Turn back the sundials to the days of Plato and Sappho, a time which may not have been the same-sex utopia once believed but where sexual freedoms certainly flourished more than in many places in the modern world. While a long history of Christian law in Greece may have tempered this LGBT paradise, it’s once again rearing its beautiful head in some of the country’s most desirable locations.

A huge rainbow flag in front of the Greek Parliament during the annual Pride parade © Kostas Koutsaftikis / Shutterstock
A huge rainbow flag in front of the Greek Parliament during the annual Pride parade © Kostas Koutsaftikis / Shutterstock

Athens Pride Week

Whether you’re into dressing up for a ball, taking in drag-show theatre or dancing all night at a street party, the annual Athens Pride Week in June offers countless ways to join in the celebration of its LGBT community. In its eighth year, this is no longer your run-of-the-mill Pride parade and boogie: think garden cocktail parties, acrobatic art installations, an interactive city mystery game and a historical city tour of same-sex love. Nevertheless, you’d be a fool to miss the parade finale, leaving from Syntagma Square and marching past the Parliament. The event’s host, Athens Pride runs smaller events and street festivals throughout the year that are well worth checking out.

Athens has a happening LGBT-friendly nightlife scene, from Gazi to Glyfada © trabantos / Shutterstock
Athens has a happening LGBT-friendly nightlife scene, from Gazi to Glyfada © trabantos / Shutterstock

Athens after dark

‘Follow your gaydar’ is the usual instruction given in Gazi, Athens’ most LGBT-friendly neighbourhood, with its ever-changing but always abundant bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels. Keep your eyes peeled for youthful S-Cape, retro Noiz Club and cosy BIG bar. While known as Athens’ Gay Village, the best part of Gazi is its diversity; this is also the trendiest nightlife scene for everyone else. From about 11pm onwards, gay and straight locals and tourists alike descend on Gazi to chill out and party.

If you feel the need to stretch your wings, head to the creative Loukoumi in Monastiraki neighbourhood, an LGBT-friendly cafe and art space with everything from daytime coffee to night-time DJs and drag queens. In the summer, you can head even further out to Glyfada on the Apollo Coast (sometimes called the Athenian Riviera), where glamorous clubs on fine-sand beaches host much of the city’s serious nightlife. Glam up to get in.

In between your forays into Athens’ nightlife, it would be almost a crime not to take in the city’s iconic ancient sights, its dynamic central market or the pulse of a traditional rembetika club.

The statue of ancient Greek poet Sappho in her birthplace, Skala Eresou on Lesvos island © iremt / Shutterstock
The statue of ancient Greek poet Sappho in her birthplace, Skala Eresou on Lesvos island © iremt / Shutterstock

Lesvos for women

It’s true that Greece’s third-largest island has some of its top sweeping beaches and a rugged interior where half of the world’s ouzo is produced. But what Lesvos is really famous for is Sappho, one of Ancient Greece’s greatest poets whose sensual, passionate verses have fuelled a modern-day following that draws lesbians from around the globe to her birthplace, the village of Skala Eresou.

The International Eressos Women’s Festival is held each September along Skala Eresou’s sandy beaches. Held for women, by women, it’s two weeks of live music, an open-air LGBT film festival, beach volleyball, yoga, meditation and partying. There’s even a nudist beach. If you’re an avid walker, the area is threaded with inland and coastal routes, and the nearby thermal spas, archaeological remains and water sports will leave you spoiled for choice.

Traditional windmills are a symbol of the LGBT and jetsetter’s paradise island of Mykonos © Lemonakis Antonis / Shutterstock
Traditional windmills are a symbol of the LGBT and jetsetter’s paradise island of Mykonos © Lemonakis Antonis / Shutterstock

Glamorous Mykonos

Mykonos is the Greek islands all glammed up, flaunting its party-hard reputation. With its sugar-cube architecture, gorgeous beaches and A-list visitors, this isn’t the place to come if you don’t like to share. Overlooked by its famous windmills, a stroll through the island’s well-preserved port and capital reveals cascading bougainvillea around every corner and narrow streets lined with chic stores, cool galleries and a catwalk cast of thousands. Nearby are brown-sugar beaches and sun-worshippers by the hundreds.

Chances are, you’ve heard all of this before. Mykonos, a jewel in the Cyclades islands and just a four-hour ferry ride from the mainland, is also a gay travel mecca, with LGBT bars and hangouts stretching along the waterfront between the old harbour and the Panagia Paraportiani church. Likely the most famous gay property on the island is Hotel Elysium, with a sunset cabaret show by the pool bar that’s considered an essential start to an evening.

For one week in August, Xlsior festival draws 30,000 partygoers and some of the biggest names on the gay music scene to outdoor venues. This is one of Europe’s biggest and most popular LGBT festivals, so booking ahead is essential. Its 10th anniversary, from 21 to 28 August 2019, promises to be nothing short of spectacular.

LGBT-friendly Skiathos is a more chilled alternative to the glamour island of Mykonos © Alexis Averbuck / Lonely Planet
LGBT-friendly Skiathos is a more chilled alternative to the glamour island of Mykonos © Alexis Averbuck / Lonely Planet

Laid-back Skiathos

Skiathos doesn’t have the glitter of Mykonos. It doesn’t have the Pride festival of Athens nor the pulsing nightlife. But as one of Greece’s top LGBT-friendly destinations, it offers a chilled alternative. Be prepared for some of the softest sand on the Greek islands (there are more than two dozen beaches), along with welcoming hotels and restaurants. The club and bar scene is more intimate than in other destinations, and you’re sure to leave behind some locals as friends. Most establishments are both gay- and straight-friendly, with De Facto Bar being the only official gay bar in town. The LGBT scene is centred on Skiathos Town, while northern European holidaymakers take over the coastal resorts.

Greece's second city, Thessaloniki has a growing LGBT scene including Thessaloniki Pride © joyfull / Shutterstock
Greece's second city, Thessaloniki has a growing LGBT scene including Thessaloniki Pride © joyfull / Shutterstock

Thessaloniki scene

Vibrant, chaotic and beautiful all at once, Thessaloniki is evolving into Greece’s newest LGBT-friendly destination. With its seaport backdrop, huge student population and heady arts and culture scene, it’s hardly surprising. Greece’s second city throws its arms open wide each June with Thessaloniki Pride, complete with a massive parade, all-day street parties and untamed art installations. The Thessaloniki International LGBTIQ Film Festival has been wowing cinema audiences for over two decades, screening dozens of films from nearly 20 countries and drawing film buffs from around the world. Held at the end of September, it’s well worth booking ahead. When you’ve had your fill of the festival, Thessaloniki is a bikini’s throw from Halkidiki with its soft-sand beaches, secluded spots, and – if you’re looking for it – carousing resorts.

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