The world made landmark advancements regarding LGBTQ rights in 2019. Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage, India ended a colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex, and Sweden passed a law banning hate speech related to gender expression. Pride events around the globe honored the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and a reported five million people attended New York City’s parade to celebrate the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
But the year wasn’t all rainbows and glitter for queer folks. In May, Kenya upheld a law making gay sex punishable for to up to 14 years in prison. Same-sex sexual activity is still considered a crime in 70 countries and punishable by death in a dozen of those. The United States, usually a global leader in the fight for equality, rolled back progress concerning transgender rights; at least 22 transgender individuals were killed on American soil in 2019 alone.
Now it’s time to look at the future with 2020 vision. As LGBTQ travelers, knowing the level of safety and acceptance wherever you go is an essential part of planning a vacation. Traveling to places where you feel uncomfortable or face discrimination can be disheartening and dangerous. Most importantly, in a world where LGBTQ rights are still hot-button issues, deciding where to spend your vacation dollars can and should be a political act.
That’s why we’re celebrating cities in 2020 that are changing laws to reflect a culture of inclusivity or acting as global leaders in the fight for LGBTQ rights. We’re also throwing a nod to locations hosting the year’s most anticipated parties because, to be honest, YOLO.
Here are the top 10 LGBTQ destinations to visit in 2020.
1. Belfast, Northern Ireland
Get out your garter belts, girls — it’s time to ring wedding bells in Belfast. In January 2020, Northern Ireland will be the last part of the UK to legalize same-sex marriage. For all those single travelers out there, don’t get your knickers in a snit — the fun won’t stop at the wedding reception. As native drag queen Blu Hydrangea, a fan favorite on “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK,” said on Twitter, “I may be getting married, but I’m still accepting nudes.”
Postnuptial nudies aside, Northern Ireland’s capital became a tourist magnet in recent years with Game of Thrones leading the charge. The HBO megahit’s filming locations around Belfast, including the site of Winterfell, are must-sees for GoT fans. Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to retelling the history of the ill-fated luxury liner, is another huge draw. Add to that a burgeoning craft coffee scene (try Root & Branch) and a bunch of inventive new restaurants (try Buba for Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine), and you’ve got a bonafide traveler’s treat.
For queer-centric activities, don’t miss the 10-day Pride celebration from late July to early August. The event regularly attracts around 50,000 revelers. November is a prime time to visit for the Outburst Queer Arts Festival, which features performances and visual art by local and international queer artists. Popular bars Maverick, Union Street, and the Soviet-style Kremlin are all conveniently in the Cathedral Quarter’s snug gayborhood on Union Street.
2. Thessaloniki, Greece
Let’s be honest — Lindsey Lohan’s recent colonization and abrupt desertion of Mykonos is a sign that Greece’s go-to gay destination is over. Luckily, Thessaloniki is primed and ready to take its place. As host of EuroPride 2020 (June 20-28), this Northern Greek town is bound to draw large crowds this summer. The event, celebrating the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, will feature outdoor parties, concerts, art shows, and film screenings. It’s also the first Southeast European city to host the festival — a reminder of the positive social change that’s taken place in the area since the first EuroPride in 1992.
Pride isn’t the only reason to visit Thessaloniki this year. Greece’s second-largest city is famous for its eclectic architecture, including Roman ruins, Byzantine buildings, monuments built by the Ottoman Empire, and the recently constructed New Waterfront promenade that extends for two miles along the city’s coastline. With a vibrant student population and blossoming art scene, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do all year. September is a particularly inviting time for LGBTQ travelers — the Thessaloniki International LGBTIQ Film Festival takes place at the end of the month.
3. Stockholm, Sweden
When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Sweden sets the gold standard. Perhaps that’s why this Scandinavian nation was named the world’s most queer-friendly country in 2019 by the LGBTQ+ Danger Index. The country has always been at the forefront of progress. In 1944, Sweden decriminalized same-sex sexual activity, and in 2009, same-sex marriage became legal. Sweden was the first country that allowed transgender people to change their legal gender after reassignment surgery, and this past year, the country passed a law banning hate speech related to gender identity and expression. The cherry on top of this equality cake? Swedes throw more Pride festivals per capita than any other country in the world.
Of all the Swedish cities to visit, stylish Stockholm should be at the top of your list (it is the birthplace of ABBA, after all). Although the LGBTQ scene isn’t nearly as robust as New York or Berlin, the city’s liberal attitude makes the entire town a queer-friendly playground. The most concentrated bit of gay-centric life is on the island of Södermalm, where you’ll find Sidetrack (Stockholm’s oldest gay bar), SLM (for leather-fetish lovers), and Patricia (a ship-turned-club space with a gay party every Sunday night). If you’re looking to live your best Dancing Queen life, visit in late July or early August when Stockholm’s population swells with international LGBTQ visitors for their five-day Pride festivities.
4. San José, Costa Rica
With over 500,000 species of plants and animals, Costa Rica is a veritable rainbow of biodiversity. A quarter of the land is protected as national parks and wildlife reserves, and this year, the country is finally getting on board to defend its rainbow-loving citizens as well. In May 2020, Costa Rica will be the first Central American country to legalize same-sex marriage.
Seeing the country’s capital may not be the top of your to-do list with so many natural wonders to explore, but San José has a sizeable queer nightlife scene still worth checking out. Club El Teatro caters to local drag queens, La Avispa attracts both gays and lesbians, and El 13 is ideal for an alternative queer crowd. For outdoor excursions, nearby Tapanti National Park offers access to natural hot springs, panoramic forest views, and outdoor adventures like hiking and white-water rafting. Irazú, an active volcano with views of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is another must-see site only an hour-and-a-half drive away.
5. Tel Aviv, Israel
Although Tel Aviv isn’t delivering groundbreaking LGBTQ news in 2020, it remains an important liberal bastion in a region of the world where living out and proud can be dangerous. In its four neighboring countries — Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt — LGBTQ individuals face persecution and legal retaliation. Nearby Saudi Arabia follows Sharia law, which makes same-sex activity punishable by death. But in Tel Aviv, where an estimated 25 percent of the population identifies as homosexual, the law “love who you love” reigns supreme.
Tel Aviv has a little bit of everything — the world’s biggest collection of Bauhaus architecture, nine miles of pristine Mediterranean beaches, and a nightlife scene rivaled only by the mayhem of Manhattan (the other city that never sleeps). The city is like an all-you-can-eat mezze platter of LGBTQ activities throughout the year, and the annual Pride festival (June 7-13) turns Tel Aviv into a non-stop international queer party all week long. In 2019, the festival welcomed over 250,000 participants. Pride isn’t only a celebration but a proclamation of love, understanding, and freedom. Tel Aviv — meaning “Hill of Spring” in Hebrew — is a symbol of hope for LGBTQ people both in the Middle East and around the world.
6. Taipei, Taiwan
Many people considered Taipei the queer capital of Asia long before Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in 2019, but the new bill of equality solidifies its top ranking. The city’s annual Pride celebration in October is the largest in Asia and one of the most well-attended in the world. Last year’s event attracted around 200,000 people. A diverse set of LGBTQ businesses caters to the community year-round, too. You’ll find the majority along Red House Bar Street, a bustling commercial strip with LGBTQ watering holes, book stores, cafes, and clubs.
Unlike most major cities, Taipei’s LGBTQ culture extends beyond the bar scene and into a sector where the queer community is mostly absent — religion. Every year, around 9,000 queer people make the pilgrimage to the Wei-ming Temple and pray to Tu’er Shan, the Rabbit God of homosexual love. The Taoist temple was founded in 2006 by Lu Wei-ming in the Yonghe District of New Taipei City and holds the distinction of being the only gay religious shrine in the world. Regardless of your belief in the almighty Rabbit, chances are this is a great spot to browse Grindr — where there are open hearts, there are open apps. Coincidentally, Taipei was the first Asian city to open up a headquarters for the popular online dating platform in 2018.
7. Montevideo, Uruguay
In 2019, Montevideo was ranked the city with the highest quality of living in South America. For LGBTQ folks, it’s easy to see why. Uruguay is the most progressive country on the continent. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2013. In 2018, the government gave trans people the right to change their name without seeking approval from a judge. Gender confirmation surgery is free for residents, as are necessary hormone treatments. The country’s liberal laws don’t end with LGBTQ rights, either — Uruguay was the first city in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.
With an abundance of Art Deco architecture, neoclassical facades, and modern skyscrapers overlooking the city’s glittering coastline, Montevideo is a mix of Miami glitz and Meditteranean glam. There’s no better way to mingle with the laid-back locals than by strolling along the 14-mile Rambla, a beachside promenade with expansive city views. For a taste of queer culture, visit the city’s Pride festival, known as “Marcha por la Diversidad,” which takes place the last Friday of September and regularly attracts around 30,000 people. You can wet your whistle year-round at gay-favorites Chains Pub, Il Tempo, and Cain Club.
8. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is commonly known for its imperial architecture, cozy coffee houses, classical music offerings — and most recently — same-sex pedestrian traffic lights. Authorities installed red and green lights featuring couples holding hands to celebrate hosting the 2015 Eurovision contest. Their overwhelming popularity swayed local officials to keep the lights as they were long after Eurovision ended. It took the rest of Austria a little longer to get on board with such a show of equality. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2019, making 2020 a particularly enticing time to visit the country’s capital.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the annual Rainbow Parade, which will make its way around the city’s Ringstrasse on June 13th. If Vienna Pride (June 1-14) isn’t in the cards, immerse yourself in local Viennese culture by attending one of the city’s iconic balls. Think less Pose and more Mozart: Vienna’s ball culture dates back to the 17th century when the local elite would get dolled up in their most extravagant clothes to waltz the night away. Today, the city throws around 400 parties throughout the ball season, with three queer events you shouldn’t miss. Rainbow Ball (January 25), KreativBall (January 31), and Diversity ball (May) all invite the LGBTQ community to get decked out in their formal attire and party like it’s 1699.
9. Toronto, Canada
According to 2019’s World Happiness Report, Canada is the ninth happiest nation in the world, and there’s no doubt this is partially thanks to the country’s inclusive lawmaking. In 2005, Canada became the first country outside Europe to legalize same-sex marriage. More recently, Justin Trudeau directed the Canadian government to ban conversion therapy. The law will hopefully pass later this year, making Canada the first North American country to criminalize the practice.
Regularly referred to as the most multicultural city in the world, Toronto’s attitude of acceptance caters to the country’s mightiest queer community. The city isn’t unlike New York — there’s world-class theater, high-end shopping, impeccable street art, and a food scene to please any palette. The only difference is that Toronto’s streets are cleaner and the locals friendlier. No wonder Canuckleheads are so darn happy. The Gay Village at Church and Wellesley is the center of LGBTQ life (check out popular bars like Woody’s and fetish-friendly Black Eagle) though you’ll find the community all over town. In summer, queer crowds converge at Trinity Bellwoods Park in the artsy-alternative Queen West neighborhood; Hanlan’s Point, a clothing-optional beach on Toronto Island, gets packed with LGBTQ folks, as well. Pride celebrations take place throughout June, with an official festival from June 26-28.
10. Milan, Italy
IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, will descend on Italy’s second-largest city this year from May 6-9 for their 37th annual global convention. The event brings together members of the LGBTQ travel industry to network and educate themselves on new travel trends. One of the most critical takeaways this year? Milan is quickly becoming Italy’s top destination for queer travelers.
Milan’s LGBTQ nightlife is mostly located on Via Lecco, lovingly known as “gay street,” but that’s not the only place you’ll find queer culture. From Renaissance art to fashion runways, the city has a little LGBTQ flavor sprinkled around every gothic cathedral and modern edifice. Check out Da Vinci’s OG gay dinner party painting, “The Last Supper,” or the work of local gay clothing designers Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana for proof. For fans of the book-turned-blockbuster Call Me By Your Name, nearby Bergamo, Crema, and Moscazzano were all used as shooting locations in the 2017 film. There’s no place more romantic to read André Aciman’s 2019 sequel, Find Me, than on a short train ride to the idyllic spots where Elio and Oliver first fell in love.
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