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A beginner's guide to gay travel in Europe

Paris, city of lightsEurope is the world’s most popular tourist destination and it’s easy to see why.  Nowhere in the world has such a rich mix of history, culture, cities, beaches and countryside.  Or such a vibrant and diverse gay culture.


So it’s no wonder that millions of gay people from around the world flock to Europe for their holidays every year.


Gay hotels, EuropeBut because Europe is so large and diverse you need some expert guidance from people who know it well to make sure you get the best from your holiday.  That’s why GETA, The Gay European Tourism Association, launched its consumer website, www.gaywelcome.com, to help you plan your next holiday in Europe.


It lists over 4,200 gay and gay friendly hotels across Europe, has guides to the top gay destinations, contains the web’s most comprehensive European gay events guide and lists all the main gay tours and cruises in Europe. 


Carlos Kytka, Gay European Tourism AssociationCarlos Kytka, GETA’s Executive Director, has been leading gay tourism in Europe for many years.  We asked him for his advice on how to have the best holiday in Europe.


Where do you start?

My advice for IGBT travellers is to start your trip in the UK.  There are two reasons for this.  First, Britain should be at the top of any gay person’s holiday list.  London has an amazing mix of history, culture, shopping and theatre.  It has a huge and vibrant gay scene with bars, clubs and saunas.  And Britain is very gay friendly.  Last year it passed a law to allow same sex marriage and its tourism body, VisitBritain recently launched a campaign to promote Britain to LGBT travellers.   But Britain is more than just London.  Try Brighton as a very gay friendly beach resort, Edinburgh as the historical capital of Scotland, Manchester’s gay centre is where “Queer as Folk” was filmed and the Lake District for magnificent countryside.


Gay LondonBut the second reason for visiting the UK first is that it’s the home of the main low-cost airlines which are a cheap and easy way to visiting the rest of Europe.  Check out Ryanair and Easyjet.  Remember that you have to pay for all the extras, such as baggage, which adds to the ticket price although they still work out much cheaper than other airlines.  Also, check exactly where the airports are in Europe.  Some of them are a long way from the city you are trying to get to.


You can also take the Eurostar train from London under the English Channel direct to Paris or Brussels.


What if you want a beach holiday

Gay beach in Mykonos, GreeceYou are spoilt for choice in Europe.  There are some great places that are very popular with LGBT travellers.  My favourite is Sitges, a beautiful little Spanish village just half an hour from the amazing city of Barcelona.  Stay in Sitges with its gay bars and beaches and do day trips to Barcelona.


Also on the Mediterranean, Ibiza is the party island and Mykonos is the place to relax and party in style.  Gran Canaria, the Spanish island just off Africa is a great gay sunbathing and party island all year round.


What about Cities?

Gay pride, BarcelonaThere are so many to choose from and so much variety in the culture, architecture and vibe across Europe.  So it’s difficult to chose, but here are my favourite.  You can see more about them on gaywelcome’s destination guides:

  • Paris – stunning beautiful and elegant
  • Madrid – hot weather, hot boys and the best Pride ever.  And they all speak Spanish.
  • Berlin – Germany’s  booming capital city with a very hot gay scene
  • Vienna – a stunningly beautiful former imperial capital and actively promoting itself as a gay destination
  • Brussels, Amsterdam and Antwerp – three small and charming cities close to each other in Belgium and the Netherlands  with some good party nights
  • Stockholm – Sweden’s elegant capital city built on thousands of islands and very welcoming to LGBT visitors
  • Reykjavik – the cool capital of Iceland lets you combine a city holiday with volcanoes, glaciers, whales and geysers


What if you want to travel with other gay people?

Gay cruisesGayWelcome  lists masses of gay tours and cruises.  Gay European cruises have become particularly popular in recent years with the big Atlantis party cruises around the Mediterranean and local European cruises such as la Demence, from the huge Brussels gay club night.  Europe also have some great gay ski weeks and all these are listed on Gay Welcome’s events pages.


How do I find out what’s going on in Europe when I am planning my trip?

There is so much going on in Europe, not just gay activities but also sporting and cultural events that you can build into your holiday plans.


Gay Circuit PartyGayWelcome’s events guide lists all the main European events in a wide range of categories.  Al the main European Prides are listed along with music, sport, dance, exhibitions and festivals which we think you will love.


But also, if you check on our gay destination guides there are links through to the key local websites which give you detailed, up to date gay and other event listings when you are there.


Where do I stay?

Gay Hotels in EuropeGayWelcome lists over 4200 gay and gay friendly hotels all over Europe.  You can check-out gay only hotels in every country.  Or, for a wider choice, we have gay friendly hotels.  These have been recommended to us by gay travellers either because they are particularly gay friendly or because they are close to the main gay areas in a particular town or city.


You can also search for hotels that allow nude sunbathing and for what we call “cool hotels”.  There’s even a section on hotels making special offers for GETA’s LGBT travellers.


Where do I look to find out more about Europe generally?

Every European country and major destination has its tourism promotion body which you can find on the web.  But a good first start is www.visiteurope.com, the site of The European Travel Commission which promotes all of Europe.


Give us some practical tips

Gay-friendliness in EuropeEurope is a visa free destination for many countries in the world.  But if you do need a visa then remember that most European countries (26 of them) are part of the Schengen area which means that one visa will allow entry into them all.  The notable exception is the UK which is not part of Schengen, so you will need an extra visa.
Most of Europe is safe and welcoming for LGBT tourists but do follow some simple advice to keep yourself safe.  GETA has recently partnered with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give travel advice to LGBT travellers as part of the FCO’s “Know before you go” campaign.  You can see more about this on gaywelcome.com


Most of Europe use Euros so one currency does almost everywhere.  The big exception is the UK where they still use the pound.  But credit and charge cards are used everywhere and there are loads of ATMs.


And, finally, what’s your top recommendation for LGBT tourists?

The gay beach in Sitges, SpainI travel all over Europe but there is just one place I visit every year.  And that’s Sitges, the seaside resort just next to Barcelona.  It’s small enough to be able to walk everywhere.  It has masses of gay bars and clubs.  It has two gay beaches, one of which is nude.  It’s really friendly and welcoming to LGBT visitors.  And everyone speaks Spanish.  Every June it holds a great pride festival over a long weekend. Everybody makes a huge effort to make it one of the best and friendliest Prides in Europe.  You can relax on the beach but also see the culture of nearby Barcelona or visit the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and hilltop Montserrat just a short trip away.  Sitges is gay paradise for me.

 

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