When planning a vacation, travelers read, research, and process lots of information before making a final decision on a destination. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender travelers have to consider an additional layer: acceptance. In a world where it’s still illegal in many countries to be gay, LGBTQI persons consider safety factors at a whole different level than their straight counterparts.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best LGBTQI destinations for travelers to consider, and what sets them apart.
Best LGBTQI-Friendly Destinations
Factors for inclusion on this list include consideration for places that have an active gay community, destination marketing organizations that work to appeal to LGBTQI travelers, and, finally, countries that have passed marriage equality laws. While someone might not be traveling for a destination wedding, having a law on the books that recognizes a foundational human right of marriage is a telling sign that gay travelers are more likely to find acceptance.
Sydney is home to one of the one of the world’s best—if not the best—Pride events, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, held annually in February. Even better, Australia finally passed marriage equality legislation in recent years (November 15, 2017), defeating a well-orchestrated and decades-long campaign to deny LGBTQI citizens their rights. Well done, Australia. Well done.
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West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Southern California’s gay culture has an HQ in queer-friendly West Hollywood, a neighborhood known for posh boutiques, high-energy clubs, and its world famous gay bar and restaurant, The Abbey. LA Pride is anchored here, and WeHo makes a great spot for travelers to brunch while keeping one eye open for celebrity sightings.
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Dublin is the gay heart of Ireland. The Irish celebrated the recognition of marriage equality in late 2015, due to a concerted effort of LGBTQI folks and their allies, especially Rory O’Neill, who fiercely rallied supporters as her drag alter ego, Panti Bliss. True to Irish tradition, the stage holds a place of importance, so consider visiting during May when the annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival takes place.
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The Netherlands was the first country in the world to pass a marriage equality law, in 2000, and the Dutch have a long record of tolerance to the disenfranchised. More than half a million people turn out for one of Europe’s largest pride events, where the parade takes place on the Prinsengracht (one Amsterdam’s main canals) in late July and early August.
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Spain’s vibrant Catalonia region spearheaded the movement for greater LGBTQI rights as early as 1978, when homosexuality between consenting adults was made legal. Barcelona’s Gaixample (a neologism combining “gay” and “E’ixample”) neighborhood is the place to be. The city is also close (about 22 miles) to the oceanside town of Sitges, where gay travelers can enjoy a beachy Mediterranean getaway.
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Cape Town, South Africa
As the most openly gay city on the entire African continent, Cape Town provides a safe enclave in a region that isn’t exactly known for gay tolerance. South Africa’s constitution, adopted in 1996, afforded civil rights protections to LGBTQI citizens. Marriage equality came a decade later, making South Africa only the fifth country at the time to recognize same-sex unions. For those reasons alone, Cape Town has remained one of the top LGBTQI destinations in the world.
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Canada’s second-largest city is home to a famed Gay Village. How’s that for being LGBTQI-friendly? Spend time along the main drag, Rue Sainte-Catherine, chockablock with antique shops, boutiques, cafes, and gay bars. Montreal’s Pride gained international attention in 2017 when gay-ally Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined the parade alongside openly-gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkhar.
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In largely Catholic South America, Uruguay stands out as the most secular of nations: Only 60 percent of citizens consider themselves religious. It might not be a surprise, then, that capital city Montevideo is also a popular gay travel spot—homosexuality was decriminalized in 1934, allowing acceptance to flourish for decades. In addition to a spate of LGBTQI bars, restaurants, and hotels, travelers might want to consider taking queer tango lessons while in the country.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s no surprise that NOLA makes this list, as it’s home to a series of gay and gay-adjacent celebrations throughout the year. The city holds a unique place in American history as a melting pot of freed slaves, French, Caribbean, and Spanish people—it’s less a Southern city than a place wholly its own, accepting of all. Everyone knows Mardi Gras is rife with gay sensibilities, but for a more cerebral time, consider exploring the Saints and Sinners, a gay literary festival that takes place each May.
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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Nestled on the Bay of Banderas in western Mexico, Puerto Vallarta has been gay-friendly since the early 1980s when expat Americans and Canadians began resettling in the Old Town district. Today there are gay restaurants, bars, hotels (especially the famous Blue Chairs), and even an officially designated gay beach, Playa de los Muertos. The seaside village also hosts the annual Pink and Proud Women’s Party, and nearby Sayulita is gaining a reputation as a popular surfing spot for lesbians.
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Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most up to date information. Original research and reporting is by David Lytle.