Europe is a sought-after destination for many travelers. It’s also a place where those of us in the LGBTQ+ community have many choices to explore safely.
While researching places to travel, many people in the LGBTQ+ community look for sources to explore their options for safe, welcoming, and interesting destinations. One source providing great information is the IGLTA website, the world’s leading network of LGBTQ+ welcoming tourism businesses. They worked with Destination Pride to develop a database that makes it easy to see how countries rank for LGBTQ+ travelers based on thousands of data points that include marriage equality laws, LGBTQ+ laws, census data, and real-time social media sentiment.
When searching the database, users may find it surprising that many European countries and cities rank higher than many states and cities in the United States.
“There’s a misconception that LGBTQ+ travel is one size fits all, but in fact, our community of travelers has the entire range of interests, from culture, nature, and gastronomy to history, great architecture, and nightlife – the same as any other traveler,” said IGLTA President/CEO John Tanzella. “What unites us is the desire to find destinations that both complement our interests and feel safe and welcoming. That’s why Europe has so much to offer LGBTQ+ travelers: it has all of the culture, sights, and natural beauty combined with some of the most well-established and far-reaching LGBTQ+ rights in the world.”
Armed with this important data, those of us in the LGBTQ+ community can safely choose places to explore in Europe and around the world.
Keeping all that in mind, here are just some of the most gay-friendly countries in Europe where LGBTQ+ travelers can enjoy a safe visit.
We must put our adopted country on top of the list. Portugal was one of the first European countries to approve gay marriage in 2010, and the Portuguese constitution bans discrimination of LGBTQ people. The 2019 Eurobarometer public opinion poll said that 74 percent of the Portuguese people supported same-sex marriage.
Both of the largest cities, Lisbon and Porto, have a good-sized LGBTQ+ community. For gay-friendly neighborhoods, check out the Principe Real and the Barrio Alto areas in Lisbon. Lisbon also has a very popular and well attended Gay Pride Festival and parade and the international Queer Lisboa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival every year, too.
Portugal, the oldest nation-state on the Iberian Peninsula, is a country rich in culture and history. Its people are friendly and welcoming, and it has 1,100 miles of coastline, gorgeous views, great wine, and abundant seafood too.
Belgium was the second European country to legalize gay marriage and the second to decriminalize same-gender relationships all the way back in 1795. They were also the first European country to pass transgender and anti-discrimination laws.
Events like Belgian Pride Brussels and the Unicorn Festival in Antwerp are fun reasons to visit this land of tasty chocolate, mussels, and beer. The vibrant city of Brussels offers lots of nightlife and restaurants to enjoy.
Spain is at the top of many must-visit lists, and we need to include it on this list as well. The Spaniards are friendly, open-minded, and incredibly welcoming. Spain legalized homosexuality in 1979 and legalized gay marriage in 2005, becoming the third nation in Europe to do so.
Night owls will want to check out the “Movida” which happens between midnight and four in the morning in most of Spain’s big cities. That’s when the party really gets started especially Thursdays through Saturdays.
In Madrid, the gay scene is busy in the Chueca area, and MADO, the Madrid Pride celebration, is one of the biggest in Europe. Barcelona has the Gaixample, a hot spot for the LBGT+ community. Ibiza, Valencia, Sitges, and Benidorm also have gay-friendly areas too.
Spain offers great beaches, art museums, wonderful Spanish food, and a lot more.
It may come as no surprise that France has long supported gay relationships. Homosexuality was legalized in 1791. In 2013, Gay marriage was legalized, and LGBT persons were allowed to serve openly in the French armed forces.
Check out the Marais arrondissement for its popular gay scene. There are many wonderful, welcoming LGBTQ+ restaurants, bars, and cafes to meet up with tourists and locals alike.
Many people have travel to Italy high on their wish list. The art, culture, architecture, design, and amazing food make it attractive to LGBTQ+ travelers as well.
LGBTQ+ rights in Italy have made some inroads. A civil union law was passed in 2016 that provides many of the same rights as marriage.
The “Gay Street” in Rome may be small, but it’s ideally located near the fascinating Colosseum. Here you’ll find a festive scene with bustling restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Milan, famous for its design and fashion labels, is also home to a large LGBTQ+ community. Florence, Venice, Turin, and, of course, the Amalfi coast all have wonders worth exploring as well.
Ireland may seem like a rather conservative country, but it became the first European nation to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote in 2015.
Walk in Oscar Wilde’s footsteps in Dublin and explore the Irish Queer Archive at the National Library of Ireland with its collection of LGBTQ+ materials and literature. Dublin, Cork, and Galway plan annual Pride Events and have many bars and nightclubs to visit. Like all the locals we met in Ireland, the Irish LGBTQ+ community happily share their stories.
We think Ireland is an underestimated destination with much to offer LGBTQ+ travelers and everyone else. Its beautiful countryside and friendly people, historic architecture, delicious food, and world-famous beverages will delight and surprise visitors looking for a special place.
It may be the smallest country in the European Union by population, but the tiny country of Luxembourg is a charming place to visit. It’s also one of just a few countries to have an elected leader that is an openly LGBT+ person. Xavier Bettel was elected as prime minister in 2013 and re-elected in 2018. He was the first European Union leader to have a same-sex marriage. LGBTQ+ people enjoy the same rights as non-LGBT couples. A poll done in 2019 said the 87 percent of Luxembourgers believed gay, lesbian, and transgender people should have the same rights as heterosexuals.
We visited Luxembourg during our honeymoon road trip through Europe and loved it. Packed with delicious restaurants, bars, and shops, it’s the perfect size to wander freely and have fun. It’s also a good spot to include while exploring other European countries like Germany, Belgium, and France.
The cosmopolitan city of Vienna welcomes the LGBTQ+ community with the Vienna Pride and Rainbow Parade. Themes like “Stay safe, stay proud” and annual events like Queering the Belvedere and Queer History Tour highlight the significance of LGBTQ+ people to this great and creative place.
Vienna’s fabulous coffee houses are an important part of Viennese culture. Their delightful elegance and delicious pastries beckon visitors to relax, refresh, and enjoy the local scenery. Along with the stunning architecture and art scene, Vienna’s musical heritage is a draw for many LGBTQ+ travelers and others who enjoy its diverse cultural pleasures.
While it may not be as familiar to many, Malta is a small archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea that’s also an extremely popular LGBTQ+ destination. It’s known for a dynamic gay community that is happy to connect with travelers to ensure their stay is fun and trouble-free.
Malta has consistently received high marks for LGBTQ+ rights and is considered by many to be the most progressive country in Europe.
The sun and beach life are big draws. But there are many historical and cultural interests as well. Malta has over 7,000 years of history to explore, including temples, museums, forts, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
They even have a website for the LGBTQ+ community and special gay guide to Malta website to help visitors plan a trip to Malta. Pretty exciting for a country of just about 500,000 people. Perhaps that’s why they receive over two million overnight visitors a year.
Pro Tip: Time a visit to arrive during Pride celebrations or special events to take advantage of all the local happenings and have a much more memorable experience.
Unfortunately, there are still countries around the world where LGBTQ+ people are persecuted. Many of those places have gay communities that also need support. For LGBTQ+ travelers and allies who choose to travel to any of these countries, please reach out to the local queer community for information, advice, and guidance before traveling.
As we mentioned, these are just a few of the most gay-friendly countries in Europe. Be sure to check the IGLTA website for more ideas and recommendations for additional destinations in Europe and the rest of the world.