Based on our personal–and professional–experience.
Helmed by Robert Sharp, Out Adventures has been serving up a world of gay holidays for a dozen years (Rob alone has travelled to 60+ countries). We’ve experienced acceptance in conspicuously conservative countries and not-so-warm welcomes in liberal lands. But at the end of the day, as a gay traveller, where will you have the most fun? Why? And what’s the national stance on LGBTQ+ issues? Let the countdown begin.
Argentina is *the* place to visit in South America if you’re queer. In the early 80s, they made a significant transition to democracy. That newfound ‘people first’ approach to politics meant Argentina would swiftly usher in constitutional protection for queer people. By making it a human rights issue, advocates won over politically-minded citizens, and today, the fruits of their advocacy are reflected in public opinion: over three-quarters of Argentines accept homosexuality—the highest rate for any Latin American country.
In 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Indeed historic. But their most prominent claim to LGBTQ-fame was their enactment of trans rights. Since the Gender Identity Law was passed in 2012, Argentines can change their gender without surgery, hormone therapy or even psychiatric evaluation. Everything, including reassignment surgery, is covered between public and private health care plans. Argentina has even opened Latin America’s first trans community centre.
Buenos Aires is the undisputed LGBTQ capital of South America. There’s a bounty of bars and clubs around the Palermo neighbourhood. And Marcha del Orgullo, Buenos Aires’ Gay Pride, is a revelrous annual frolic held every November.
Outside Buenos Aires, Rosario and Mendoza offer vibrant scenes. Mendoza has become popular with LGBTQ jet setters. It’s famous for the Vendimia para Todxs festival, a campy overshadowing of the actual Vendimia grape harvest festival it follows and ends with a massive drag pageant.
The Land of Smiles exudes a welcoming aura, with a ‘no request too large, no person too small’ approach to hospitality. It’s why LGBTQ travellers feel so comfortable here. Thailand also has one of Asia’s bawdiest LGBTQ scenes, with Bangkok named Asia’s second most gay-friendly city (after Tel Aviv, Israel).
Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between how Thailand treats LGBTQ visitors and locals. The country is famous for fabulous gay destination weddings…but local same-sex couples still can’t get married or even enjoy the legal rights of partnership. Still, Thailand is Asia’s trailblazer. People enjoy an impressive list of anti-discrimination laws concerning employment and housing. Public opinion of lesbian, gay and bisexual people is outstanding. And 89% of Thai people said they’d accept a homosexual colleague, while 80% would accept a homosexual family member.
Bangkok is wild. Silom 2 is the audacious LGBTQ strip where locals and foreigners wind up and get down. For a raucous, wet and wild experience, visit during Thai New Year, known as Songkran, when the entire country erupts in a giant water fight. If you haven’t hung up your dancing shoes, G Circuit takes place during Songkran and is recognized as Asia’s wildest circuit party. Beyond Bangkok, travellers will feel welcomed and celebrated in Chiang Mai (stop by the Chiang Mai Cabaret for an audacious drag show) and also the party island Phuket.
Australia is like the sexy love child of the United Kingdom and North America, with bonus marsupials and killer arachnids. It’s the biggest island and the smallest continent in one, where Aboriginal Australian culture is amongst the oldest on earth. While some early immigrants were felons bound for penal colonies—which may explain the country’s rowdy rural reputation—it’s also home to some of the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth. Australia has also made some renowned contributions to gay and lesbian culture, including her Royal Highness Kylie Minogue.
The new millennium brought a wave of gay and lesbian rights and acceptance to Australia. Today, 79% of people agree society should accept homosexuality, making it the fifth most gay-accepting country in the world. Transgender rights vary a bit more, with some places still requiring reassignment surgery before you can legally change your gender.
Three words: Sydney Mardi Gras. It’s one of the biggest pride parties in the world in one of the most welcoming cities on Earth. There is widespread acceptance of homosexuality, though you’re bound to find rural closed-minded pockets (just like in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). There are great scenes to devour in Melbourne and Brisbane, and Sydney is considered one of the greatest lesbian cities on Earth, with friendly neighbourhoods throughout Inner West. To tap into current events around the country, check out Australia’s Lesbians On The Loose at lotl.com.
Break out your sunscreen and swimsuits for our Australia: Summer Down Under tour in February.
As a tourist, few countries are as nonchalant about same-sex PDAs as Portugal. Europe’s westernmost country is famously liberal on everything from gay marriage to gender identity (surgery is not required). Even in the barely-populated Azores Islands–flung in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean–we felt comfortable in our skin.
Same-sex marriage was allowed in 2010, making Portugal the 8th country to do so and one of the best countries on Earth for queer people to call home. By 2019’s Eurobarometer, 80% of Portuguese people said they believed lesbian, gay and bisexual people should have the same rights as straight people.
Lisbon and Porto offer the two largest LGBTQ scenes in the country. In Lisbon, head to Rua Barroca for a swath of bars, but establishments are scattered throughout the city. Likewise, Porto’s gay bars, clubs and parties pepper the town. Drinking outdoors is legal, and clubs don’t shutter their doors at any specific time—two reasons Portugal is popular with partiers. Lisbon and Porto celebrate Pride in June and July, respectively. And Queer Lisboa is considered one of the most important alternative film festivals in Europe.
It’s no wonder France has been dubbed the world’s most popular tourist destination. Chic women sip café au lait with a menthol dangling from their fingers. Buskers peddle near popular attractions like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. In the south, locals and visitors alike bask in the sun-soaked Mediterranean from shady terraces while sipping Soixante-Quinze cocktails (aka The French 75). If we had to sum up this timeless destination, it just has that je ne sais quoi.
France has always been intrigued by unconventional lifestyles. When it came time to recognize LGBTQ+ people, the country was leagues ahead of its European neighbours. Paris has been a queer mecca since the 70s. And smaller scenes exist in major cities, including Lyon and Marseille. Overall, the country is LGBTQ+ welcoming with strong anti-discrimination laws. Same-sex marriage and adoption are legal while changing your gender doesn’t require surgery.
Paris claims to have one of the most robust queer scenes throughout Europe, rivalled only by Madrid and London. And while we adore Paris’ Le Marais district, Marseille and Lyon both have excellent LGBTQ+ scenes worth indulging in. Nice—the country’s famous summer escape—has not one, not two, but FOUR GAY BEACHES to choose from. Plenty of Pride parades, bars and clubs, a sex-positive culture, and even lesbian-centric institutions. All reasons why France is one of our favourite queer destinations in the world.
In 2020, Malta scored 89%–the undisputed top spot– on the Rainbow Europe IGLA index. For context, the runner-up was Belgium, with a score of 73%. Malta may not be the biggest gay hotspot in Europe, but the tiny spot is hot.
Malta’s Queer Politics
The most impressive part of Malta’s embrace of LGBTQ rights is how quickly and recently the country came around. This island is staunchly Roman Catholic. Divorce only became legal in 2011, and abortion is still a crime. But in 2014, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was elected president and ushered in powerful pro-LGBTQ legislation. She went so far as to criminalize conversion therapy. Her Civil Liberties Minister, Helena Dalli, oversaw the country’s progressive trans-rights bills. And the Maltese people embraced it all. Local queers describe the transition as an overnight awakening. While the 2006 Eurobarometer poll found just 18% of the population agreed with same-sex marriage, it was 67% by 2019—the sharpest increase by any country.
The national population barely scrapes 400,000. Paired with its tiny remote setting, the queer scene is small. Gay bars do exist in Valletta and other touristy destinations. Malta Pride in September is actually one of the best late-summer Pride in Europe.
It’s easy to add a stopover to Malta on any of our European gay adventures.
From ancient Olympia to modern Mykonos, Greece has always been a country where the food is as rich as the history, and the locals as hot as the weather. Thankfully, travellers can cool off in the balmy Aegean Sea, which laps the country’s beloved beaches. If you’re planning a big gay Greek adventure, we highly recommend packing stretchy party pants…and maybe a toga for good measure.
Greece has a long and storied history with homosexuality (‘Greek style’ is even a euphemism for gay anal sex). Their mythology is particularly homoerotic—looking at you, Apollo—and some of history’s most known gay figures were of Greek descent (notably Alexander The Great). Today, Greece remains an LGBTQ+ welcoming destination, especially in major cities and throughout the laid-back islands. However, the openly homophobic Greek Orthodox Church maintains a firm grasp on day-to-day life. Like many European countries, rural Greece remains devoutly religious.
Gays love Greece. It’s one of the oldest and best-known LGBTQ+ destinations. Specifically, Mykonos is the epicentre of gay Grecian nightlife, where local and international Queens perform for bears, boys, and the occasional lesbian. Countless beaches are overridden with queer people in and out of designer speedos. Circuit parties thump out Top 40 beats throughout high season, with the largest and most famous being XLSIOR hitting the island every August. Finally, Athens Gay Pride is a celebration of local queer culture. It tends to put activism and social equality at the forefront of the festival.
If you want to get Greek with us, join our Aegean Sea Cruise.
Iceland, more than any country on this list, has long loved lesbians and women in general. In 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first openly-LGBTQ head of state in the world. You’ll find feminist breweries, the incomparable Björk, and the lovely women who run Pink Iceland. The capital Reykjavik even hosts “the biggest little Pride in the world.” The celebration is attended by more than 100k people—striking when you consider the national population of this remote land is just 350k.
Iceland repealed their law criminalizing homosexual acts in 1940. Since that day, they have steadily enacted anti-discrimination, fair adoption, and equal age of consent laws. Icelandic Parliament even amended the law to define marriage as between two “individuals” rather than “a man and a woman.” Unanimously.
The city may host the biggest little Pride in the world, but Kiki Bar has been Reykjavik’s only LGBTQ bar forever. Luckily LGBTQ events and activities are gaining prominence. Pink Iceland has invested heavily in Rainbow Reykjavik, a winter counterpart to Pride. Lady Brewery is the only women-owned craft brewery in the country. and there’s even a Culture Walk app with a Queer Literature feature perfect for a self-guided LGBTQ walking tour.
2. New Zealand
Back in 1998, New Zealand was the first country to offer gay-friendly travel certification for B&Bs, hotels, and restaurants. Today, even most rural Kiwis are famously accepting of all sexual orientations and gender expressions. This welcome mat has been out forever.
New Zealand’s Politics
Gay Marriage? Employment and housing protections? The right to serve openly in the military, change gender and/or adopt as a queer couple? Check, check, check. New Zealand celebrates progressive LGBTQ legislation. In 2018, Jacinda Ardern—an outspoken ally—became New Zealand’s first prime minister to march in a Pride parade. She was voted in at only 37, becoming the world’s youngest female leader. Gay finance minister Grant Robertson and lesbian MP Louisa Wall joined her. Raised Mormon and revoking her religion, Arden asked, “How could I subscribe to a religion that just didn’t account for my gay friends?!”
New Zealand hosts three high-profile annual LGBTQ events: Auckland Pride Festival, Big Gay Out and Queenstown’s Gay Ski Week. Pocket-sized Pride events also exist in medium-sized cities throughout the country. You can also join us on our own North Island Cultural Adventure or Active South Island Expedition.
Out Adventures’ home and native land aren’t just at the top of this list because we’re biased. Our government made an impressive investment in LGBTQ tourism, we’ve enacted progressive LGBTQ legislation, and we enjoy widespread public acceptance. Plus, we have *several* cities with great gay scenes.
Canada’s Queer Politics
The Great White North has been celebrating its queerness for decades as one of the first countries to have strong anti-discrimination legislation and transgender rights. Canada is one of the few countries an individual can change gender without gender-affirming surgery. Gay people are also loved. A 2019 poll by the Government of Canada noted 91.8% of Canadians responded they’d be comfortable with a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual neighbour(!), and 87.6% said they’d be comfortable with a Transgender neighbour.
Canada’s LGBTQ scene is out and proud. Most queer residents live in the three largest cities of Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver. While Toronto is home to the largest Pride in North America, rural regions like Ontario’s Prince Edward County have growing queer communities worth checking out.
In terms of Pride festivals and major LGBTQ events, the largest include Toronto Pride, Fierté Montréal and Vancouver Pride. During Canada’s snowy season, a rising number of winter Pride are gaining prominence, including Whistler Pride & Ski Festival, Tremblant Gay Ski Week and Blue Mountain Rainbow Weekend. There are also queer cultural events like Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival, and mainstream celebrations like the Calgary Stampede – the most cowboy thing in Canada – even have queer-focused programming today.
Why hunker down through winter when you can spend a few days anywhere but at home? Fortunately for LGBTQ+ travelers, we have a world of destinations that range from lazy and luxurious to aggressively adventurous. You can even celebrate the New Year in Cuba or Thailand. Read More