This Valentine’s Day let romance know no borders. Check out these LGBTQ-friendly destinations with your partner that welcome tourists from across the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation. By Shikha Pushpan & Rashima Nagpal
1.Gran Canaria, Spain
One of Spain’s Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is often called the playground for the LGBTQ+ community. Fine weather through the year, coupled with welcoming locals, makes the island a huge draw for queer tourists from around the world. The Yumbo Shopping Centre is at the forefront of the scene. During the day, some of the shops here sell adult toys and elaborate costumes; as night falls, it transforms into one of the biggest gay-nightlife spots on the continent. Visit between February and March—when the city hosts the Maspalomas Gay Pride; the drag queen galas too are a major draw for tourists across the spectrum. Los Almendros and Villas Blancas are properties exclusively open to the LGBTQ+ community.
2. East Village, New York, USA
The city of New York is known for its avant-garde, cosmopolitan culture, and it’s the last place you’d associate with a heteronormative narrative. But there are certain neighbourhoods in NYC where the rainbow flag flies higher than others. The East Village is one such area. Known for its youthful vibe, the nabe is home to a vibrant community of LGBTQ+ students, artists, and professionals, and lined with dozens of quirky hangouts and performance spaces, including La MaMa—the experimental theatre that began the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the 1960s that regularly stages LGBTQ+ shows. While the area is abuzz with events through the year, The Wild Project’s East Village Queer Film Festival —held in August— is worth attending.
3. Sydney, Australia
Sydney is considered one of the best cities for queer tourists. For starters, it hosts the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, one of Australia’s biggest annual events that attracts thousands of travellers. The two week carnival features a mix of queer parties, cultural events, academic talks, etc. that celebrate diversity; it culminates in a massive parade and party on the first Saturday of March. Then, there’s Sydney’s thriving art scene; cinephiles must watch out for Queer Screen’s line-up of LGBTQ+ stories at their film festival in September and at Mardi Gras. Although equality and tolerance have long been parts of Australia’s social fabric, it took them a while to show up in the law. The country passed the same-sex marriage bill in December 2017. The 3,000-odd same-sex couples who tied the knot in the following six months were a testament to the country’s progressive lifestyle.
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of the first countries to decriminalise homosexuality (1811), and the first to legalise same-sex marriage (2001), Netherlands has been the flagbearer for equal love. Its capital, Amsterdam, is one of the most queer-friendly cities in the world. The city’s biggest draw is a unique pride show that includes a Canal Parade—think decorated barges, DJs, and dancing locals. There’s also the Homomonument, a memorial that pays homage to the LGBTQ+ people who were persecuted in the past. Contributing to the city’s vibe are spots like Café ’t Mandje, a landmark gay bar since 1927, and Zeedijk and Warmoesstraat— home to countless shops and restaurants run by people across the gender spectrum.
5. New Delhi
An unexpected entrant in this list, the Indian capital is opening up to change after gay sex was decriminalised last year. A number of luxury hotels are embracing the move by welcoming LGBTQ+ guests—the list includes Andaz Delhi, The Lalit New Delhi , etc. There’s also a rise in centres like Mister & Arthouse, India’s first boutique guesthouse and art gallery exclusively for gay guests. While LGBTQ+ parties were hush-hush events until recently, groups are now openly promoting these get-togethers on social media. For instance, C U Next Thursday nights is an event series organised for the community at The Lalit New Delhi. Then, there are hangouts such as PDA and Depot48, which have recently started hosting events for their LGBTQ+ patrons.
6. Montreal’s Gay Village, Canada
One of the largest queer-centric areas in North America, Montreal’s Gay Village spans nearly a kilometre of east downtown. The Village, as it is popularly known, stretches mainly along St. Catherine Street and Amherst Street in the Ville-Marie borough. In summer, the pedestrian-only St. Catherine Street is decorated in bright colours, with ample bars and diners on the street as well as on terraces. By some popular accounts, the city’s queer history dates back to 1869, when one Moïse Tellier ran a cake and apples shop that became a hangout for gay men. Gradually, many gay businesses migrated to the area, and today, the government promotes the village as a tourism attraction for its inclusive vibe. Be a part of the 11-day Montreal Pride Parade (August 8-18, 2019; ) to soak in the joys of the Gay Village.
7. Berlin, Germany
The LGBTQ+ scene in Berlin extends well beyond flashy bars and nightclubs. The city has a long history of activism—one of the world’s first gay pride events took place in 1919 near Nollendorfplatz Square here. While the place is still popular among members of the queer community, more neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg and Motzstraße are joining the bandwagon. Travellers looking for an insight into the city’s queer past can visit the Schwules Museum (also called the Gay Museum) in Schöneberg district. Or pay tribute at the memorial for LGBTQ victims of the Nazis just across the street from the Holocaust Memorial. QueerBerlin Map organises walking tours that highlight the city’s gay-friendly attractions— from museums and galleries to nightclubs and bars.
Aruba is a Dutch-Caribbean island, which takes pride in its people’s cosmopolitan worldview—something the locals credit their Dutch roots for. Having voted for the LGBT Civil Union—a civil law amendment that grants civil partnerships to same-sex couples—in 2016, the island nation promotes LGBTQ+ vacations on its official website. A popular honeymooning destination, Aruba boasts miles of glorious white-sand beaches and plenty of outdoor activities like snorkelling, diving, windsurfing, kiteboarding, etc. Many of the hotels are Travel Alternatives Group (TAG)-approved, which means their staff is well trained in welcoming diversity. The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino and Renaissance Aruba Resort & Spa are among the properties that employ members of the LGBTQ+ community. The capital, Oranjestad, has several gay bars and nightclubs, including 7 Club Lounge and Gusto Night Club Aruba, which plays host to drag shows, bingo nights, and other events.
9. Tel Aviv, Israel
The Middle Eastern melting pot of Tel Aviv has come a long way in just over a century—since its foundation in 1909. The city is regularly listed among the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in the world, including being rated the Best Gay City in the World by GayCities in 2011. It is hardly surprising given Israel’s modern outlook towards the matter—the country recognises cohabitation and adoption by same-sex couples. The support lent by Tel Aviv municipality and a dedicated centre for the community has made the city a refuge for homosexuals of some neighbouring countries, which continue to hold more conservative views. From gyms to beaches, the city has bountiful spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to express themselves. A single day isn’t enough celebration for this city’s residents. Instead, a whole week is set aside in June as the Tel Aviv Pride Week, which culminates with a grand Pride Parade. In a city where one out of every four people is gay, the Pride Parade and parties are an enormous affair.
10. Havana, Cuba
Cuba was once notoriously homophobic, but in 1979, the tide changed and homosexuality
was decriminalised. Now, a new constitution seeks to allow same-sex marriages. The capital, Havana, is at the epicentre of the rainbow movement in the country; the coastal
stretch of Mi Cayito, wedged between the popular beaches of Santa Maria del Mar and Boca Ciega, being one of the hotspots for the city’s LGBTQ+ community. Stay close to the neighbourhoods of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, and Vedado—which are home to many LGBTQ-friendly hotels and homestays. Hotel Nacional de Cuba and Hotel Club Atlantico offer comfortable accommodation close to the gay-nightlife hangouts in the city. Cabaret Las Vegas (Calzada de Infante, 104, Vedado) has long been a favourite for its late-night drag shows.