London’s calling, are you going to pick up?
The charming capital of England is a sprawling city full of high-class businesses, regal buildings, and a gay history that goes back hundreds of years.
Spend your days exploring London’s classic sites. From Tower Bridge to Buckingham Palace to the London Eye to all the cobblestone streets and historic architecture in between, London is a city full of history to be seen and heard, as well as modern wonders to be explored. The city is also perfect for exploring queer wonders of the past and present and learning more about this lesser-known side of the city.
As early as the 1720s, London’s streets were no strangers to gay bars. In fact, in by end of the 1700s, there were more gay and lesbian bars in London than in the 1950s, and there were multiple accounts of high-profile men living openly as gay individuals, despite the fact that homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized until 1967. However, accounts of LGBT individuals go back centuries before the first gay bars arrived in the 18th century. According to many historians, there are accounts that date back all the way to the arrival of the Romans in England. In the centuries between the arrival of the Romans and the year homosexuality was decriminalized, the city saw many changes in attitudes ranging from relative openness and relaxed attitudes to strict penalties against gayness.
In the early part of the 20th century, the city was home to many queer spaces, including Admiral Duncan’s, a gay pub, and Gateways Club, a lesbian club open from 1936 to 1985. By the 1970s, London was a popular destination for LGBT travel and the city became much more open in terms of diverse identities. In 2014, England legalized marriage between same-sex couples.
Take a tour of queer history through London where you’ll get to see the various homes of queer icon Virginia Woolf who lived in London many years with her partner, stop at the little queer bookshop opened in 1979, Gays the Word, admire the statue and life works of Alan Turing, mathematician, solver of Nazi code, and an average gay man, and visit the spot of the first LGBT rights protest at Highbury Fields. The 1970 protest started in response to the arrest of Louis Eakes, arrested for simply being gay.
But of course, you can’t miss out on today’s queer highlights
One of London’s best-known gayborhoods is located in London’s West End. Soho emerged as a gay mecca in the 1990s when gay shop owners began transforming empty storefronts on Old Compton Street into gay-friendly pubs, bars, and spaces. Now, the neighborhood is always abuzz with activity. From bars to cafes to quirky shops and museums, you’ll always find something to do. Harry Potter fan? Check out House of MinaLima for an exhibit on the classic book and movie series. The Photographers’ Gallery is a top spot for anyone interested in the biggest collection solely focused on photography in all of London or go hunting for the seven noses hidden around Soho’s streets.
Soho is home to London’s LGBT Tourist Office, where you can go to get all the info you need. Need to find the best spots to party? How about the safest neighborhoods? Info on events? The LGBT Tourist Office was opened in 2009 as a way to provide info about the best LGBT places, activities, and events in the city, as well as general information about LGBT rights and organizations throughout England.
For the best LGBT nightlife, you can’t go wrong in Soho. Step into the historic Admiral Duncan’s, operating continuously since the early 19th century. The classic pub has a laid-back, relaxed attitude, and tends to be more popular amongst older gay men, but that doesn’t mean that younger queer people aren’t welcome. Admiral Duncan’s is known to put on killer drag shows, so be sure to stop by.
G-A-Y Bar is a popular spot with the younger crowds. Go for the cheap drinks and three floors of music and fun. Plus the downstairs women’s only room is a hit with the queer female crowd. When the club closes, don’t worry, G-A-Y Late will keep the party going into the early hours of the morning.
Soho’s Yard is a popular spot amongst many queer Londoners and visitors alike. While the crowd may tend to be a little older than a spot like G-A-Y, Yard is welcome to anyone and everyone who wants music, good food, and good drinks. The courtyard and loft style building give it unique spaces with tons going on, and the courtyard space becomes popular in the warm spring and summer months. Yard features a smoking balcony, not unlike many spots in Europe, but on the dancefloor, it is non-smoking.
Ladies, head to She Soho, the exclusively lesbian bar in the area. The club is very tough to get into if you aren’t a queer female or with a large group of queer female identifying people, but for the queer female community, this bar is a must-visit. With comedy events, cabaret nights, karaoke, pub quizzes and drag king contests, She’s calendar is full of events for you and your partner to enjoy.
Just south of Soho, head to what’s been described as the world’s largest gay nightclub: Heaven. Located in the basement of Charing Cross Station, Heaven is one of the city’s most popular superclubs for dancing into the early hours of the morning. Heaven’s music is largely electro-pop and house, and the club is known to put on some of the best drag shows you’ll see as the night goes on. Are you a student? Head to Heaven on a Monday night for ‘Popcorn’ — free entry for students with valid photo ID.
The area just south of the River Thames is another popular spot boasting some of the city’s best LGBT bars and clubs. Vauxhall’s queer history dates back centuries, with the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opening in the 17th century. Over the years, Vauxhall became the go-to destination in London for drag performances, and more and more queer spots were opening up. The streets of this neighborhood are lined with things to do, both during the day and after the sun sets. Cross the colorful Vauxhall Bridge, have a picnic in Vauxhall Park or wander in and out of the shops lining the neighborhood’s streets.
Grab a drink at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. This once-upon-a-time Victorian theater was turned into one of London’s most iconic gay bars. The bar began as a place where men flocked after World War II to see drag shows, and remains today a popular bar with the best drag performances in the city. The building was designated a place of LGBTQ historical importance and you can go any night of the week for drinks, shows, and all around fun.
Check out Eagle London, one of the city’s other top clubs. The Vauxhall staple is popular with young crowds and more popular with men than women, but Eagle is open to anyone and everyone. Summer is home to the club’s private beer garden and summer barbecue parties. The Horse Meat Disco is another popular event every Sunday night.
If you’re looking to go to the biggest parties, check out Vauxhall’s Fire Club, a mega club with three floors and a patio. The club plays a mix of music ranging from house and electronic to all the classics. The patio features a food stand for you to visit and curb your hunger as the night goes on, and the bar offers up a large selection of go-to drinks.
London’s hipster central, Shoreditch, is becoming a growing gay paradise in the city. Filled with unique things to do and cheaper options than some of London’s older gay neighborhoods, Shoreditch is perfect for the young queer traveler looking to get out of Soho or Vauxhall. Head to the Brick Lane Sunday Market to find the best street food from every corner of the earth, admire the art at the Whitechapel Gallery, or gaze upon the colors and bouquets at the Columbia Road Flower Market.
The Glory is bound to give you a good night out with your partner or friends. While small, The Glory is famous for its drag shows, live DJs, and great events. All parties and events at The Glory are free until midnight. Try out Joiners Arms for a late night party. This bar also offers free entrance before midnight and gets more popular the later it gets in the night. Joiners Arms is even full on weeknights, making it guaranteed fun any night of the week.
For a more relaxed vibe, head to Dalston Superstore. The eclectic cafe-slash-bar is located on Kingsland High Street and while the spot is officially a gay bar, it is open and welcoming to everyone. With a menu full of good food and better cocktails, draught beers, ciders, and more, plus coffees to wake you up in the morning, Dalston Superstore has everything you need. Dalston turns into a popular club with DJs performing Wednesday’s through Sunday’s, featuring every and any type of music, ranging from electronic to pop to rap to classics and more. The club is also known to put on Lesbian nights, turning the club into an exclusive women’s space.
For the budget-conscious queer traveler, Astors Hotel is a dream come true. The hotel tends to offer prices more towards the lower end of the scale than many of the other hotels in the area, but that’s not to say it’s necessarily cheap, either. Located in Belgravia, Astors is just walking distance from Hyde Park and St James Park, and just a short distance away from Soho or Covent Gardens. The hotel features free wifi, 24-hour reception, continental breakfast, and suite-style rooms available for you to enjoy.
The trendiest spot in town is perfect for your getaway across the pond. The Soho Hotel is a gay-friendly boutique hotel in the heart of London’s gayest spots. Opened in 2004, The Soho Hotel has become a high-end place to stay close to everything you need. The stylish and eclectic rooms are lit up bright by the floor-to-ceiling windows, and guests can enjoy great food at the hotel restaurant, plus close proximity to the best bars and clubs in town.
Soho’s Z Hotel is as sleek and modern as they come. Z Hotel is known for its great customer service and friendly staff, often described as going out of their way to help their guests have the best stay. The small, yet cozy rooms have everything you need for a good night’s sleep, and the hotel features a bar with high-end cocktails during happy hour. Plus with its location right in the heart of Soho, Z Hotel gives you the easiest access to all the best gay nightlife London has to offer.
Book a stay at the boutique Haymarket Hotel, located just walking distance from Trafalgar Square, St. James’ Park, and all the fun of Soho. Haymarket is the perfect spot to be, between its luxury rooms, prime location, and of course, the welcoming and open attitudes that make it a gay-friendly getaway. The bright and vibrant rooms provide you and your partner with everything you need during your stay in London. Each room was individually styled with guests in mind, making it feel just that much more like a home away from home. Plus with a fully-stocked bar, a pool, free wifi, library and office space, and much, much more, what more could you ask for?
Pride and Events
Don’t miss out on Pride. London’s Pride is a 100% volunteer lead event that happens each year in July. The whole thing consists of various events, including a talent contest, Pride’s Got Talent, a month-long Pride Festival, and the final Pride Parade. Pride’s Got Talent actually starts months in advance, giving LGBTQ people from throughout England a chance to compete for a spot on the main performance stages during London Pride. Pride Festival 2018 will take place June 9th through July 7th, the day of the Pride Parade, which will happen in the streets of London’s West End. During the festival, you can expect movie screenings, theater performances, shows, museum events, workshops and speaker series, and more.
BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, held every spring, is Europe’s biggest LGBT film festival. Since 1986, London’s 10 day LGBT Film Festival showcases works to highlight works by queer artists or about queer people, as a way to bring the community together and celebrate queerness in media. Each March, the weeks-long festival allows audience members to come to screenings and even meet filmmakers.
Catch a show by “Britain’s Biggest Boy Band”, the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Formed in 1991, the group began as a group of friends performing in local venues as a way to raise money for charities. The group now has over 200 members from all over England who perform throughout the country. The London Gay Men’s Chorus is the biggest such group in all of Europe and performs two main concerts a year, plus many other events including education and outreach types of events.