Cities like San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin have historically been the Swiss army knives of LGBTQ life: They’re considered the best places to live, work, and play if you’re young, single, and gay.
Today, queer birds of a feather still flock blindly to these popular metropoles, but living in a city is like living with a lover. Staying tethered to a town just because of its queer history is like staying in a relationship just because it’s safe.
For single queer folx unburdened by work or family, heed the immortal words of Mama Ru: “If you can’t love someone else, at least love where you live.” Okay, maybe she never said that — but the sentiment is still valid. Whether you’re in search of a strong queer community, a culture of acceptance, a less expensive lifestyle, or a vibrant cultural hub, life in one of these underrated cities for LGBTQ singles may help you find happiness with the most important love of your life — yourself.
1. Cologne, Germany
Queer folx in a monogamous relationship with Berlin need to break up and expand their horizons. Cologne is like the other LGBTQ white meat, and it’s time to taste the rainbow. Located on the River Rhine, this cultural hub for film, fine art, and crisp Kolsch beer might not be the most architecturally pleasing (okay, it’s a complete eyesore), but what it lacks in outward aesthetics it makes up for in queer chutzpah.
Cologne is so gay it couldn’t contain itself to one gayborhood. Twinks, twunks, and the wolves who love them lose themselves in the city’s “Bermuda Triangle” — a nickname for the bars around Rudolfplatz on Schaafenstrasse. Leather daddies and papa bears will find their crew in Altstadt near Heumarkt. Throughout the year, events like the well-attended Christopher Street Day Pride parade (June), Carnival (February), and the Heavenue Gay Christmas Market (December) transform the entire city into an international meat rack ideal for singles scoping the field.
But the real reason Cologne is excellent for singles is its proximity to Western Europe’s sexiest cities. Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris are only a few hours away by train. German destinations like Bonn, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt are all easy day trips. Even Berlin is only a five-hour ride eastward on the ever-punctual Deutsche Bahn, which means you’re only half-a-day away from having an open relationship with Europe’s queerest locale.
2. Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City might be synonymous with conservative Mormon culture, but the LDS church is just a red herring — SL, UT is the LGBTQ community’s best-kept secret. Sure, the angel Moroni sits atop the mighty temple overlooking town, but dancing below him is a city filled with queer folx. Roughly 4.7 percent of the population identifies as LGBT, which means there are more gays per capita in the Mormon promised land than in either New York or Los Angeles. On top of that, it’s cheaper: Living expenses in SLC are over 30 percent cheaper than in LA.
Local gay life centers around a smattering of gay bars near the Marmalade District and Sugar House, but queerness permeates the entire city. Between its tattoo-clad hipsters, a surprisingly vibrant theater scene, and the wealthy snow bunnies who hop around Park City for ski season, the LGBTQ community has plenty of places to find local friends.
The dating pool might be smaller than it is in major cities, but who cares? Once you’re tired of the local trade, treat yourself to a solo hike in the glorious Wasatch Mountains. If bears tickle your fancy, you’ll find plenty hiding in the woods. For those with a bear bias, you can always hop on a plane to go elsewhere. With a lifestyle that’s 30 percent cheaper, it’s easy to afford airfare to nearby cities like Denver, LA, Seattle, or Austin — all of which are only a couple of hours away.
3. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s queer population might seem minuscule compared to spots in the US and Europe, but it’s not the size that matters — it’s what you do with it. That’s why Iceland has topped the Williams Institute’s LGBTQ Global Acceptance Index for nearly 20 years. It’s also why Reykjavik was awarded first place on PlanetRomeo’s Gay Happiness Monitor. LGBTQ folx rarely face discrimination in Iceland’s capital. The city’s dating apps might recycle the same faces over and over like any small city, but this destination offers queer singles something more critical than a one-night stand — it provides camaraderie.
Iceland’s government is a world leader for LGBTQ rights, and almost everyone in Reykjavik celebrates the annual Pride festival. In 2019, President Guðni Jóhannesson even trolled Mike Pence, America’s anti-gay former Vice President, by greeting him with rainbow flags and donning a rainbow bracelet. Acceptance and equality aren’t dreams in Iceland — they’re mandates.
Although there’s only one bar in Reykjavik — Kiki Queer Bar — the city hosts several big festivals throughout the year that attract sizeable crowds. In March, Rainbow Reykjavik throws a three-day celebration with events in and around the city, and in September, Bears on Ice turns the Blue Lagoon into a boy bath. For social butterflies and dance hall divas, this might not be enough queer activity, but single life in Reykjavik is less about wild soirees and more about solitude. Being in a relationship with Iceland is wild enough. With active volcanoes and explosive geysers aplenty, adventurous types will find stimulation simply by exploring the landscape.
4. Montreal, Quebec
Montreal is the best destination for queer singles with commitment issues because it’s like multiple cities rolled into one. Old-world Paris blends with hipster Brooklyn and Canada’s culture of kindness to make a town more tempting than a heaping plate of poutine.
The queer community will find their kin along St. Catherine Street — the center of le Village Gai — where 180,000 colorful plastic balls hang overhead to mark the territory. As one of North America’s largest gayborhoods, this area is basically one neverending party in summertime: LGBTQ-centric restaurants, clubs, saunas, and boutiques stretch out for nearly a mile. Although the buzzing sidewalks slow down as locals brace themselves for winter, the emergence of spring makes the LGBTQ community friskier than a patron doling out loonies and toonies at Stock Bar (one of Montreal’s famous all-male strip clubs).
Toronto is usually Canada’s top pick for all things LGBTQ, but Montreal is less expensive, more cultured, and secretly sexier. Gastronomes will salivate over French-style patisseries and classic Jewish delis. Cozy cafes dot Old Montreal’s cobblestone streets, and trendy bars line the graffiti-strewn sidewalks of St. Laurent Boulevard. Between its world-class museums (check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) and hundreds of performing arts companies, Montreal doesn’t give you the option to get bored. And, of course, the locals speak Quebecois — which is like the naughty version of French. Who doesn’t love wrapping their tongues around a foreign word? As the locals say in Franglish — “C’est le fun.”
5. Brussels, Belgium
Nearby Paris is known as the City of Love, but being single and queer is sweeter — and cheaper — in Brussels. Between the Belgian waffles, Belgian frites, Belgian chocolate, and Belgian beer, who has room for lovers?
Brussels’ small-but-mighty LGBTQ scene centers around Rue du Marché au Charbon in Saint Jacques. Here, you’ll find a bevy of gay bars and cafes that come alive on the weekend. Regular events — like Pride, the film festival Pink Screens, and La Demence — a monthly circuit-queen magnet — draws an international array of LGBTQ folx.
The city has plenty to offer outside of queer life, too. If you want art, you can study Magritte at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. If you want architecture, you can stroll from ornate 19th-century mansions to modern masterpieces like the Atomium. If you’re searching for green space, the city’s 8,000 hectares of trails, fields, and forests eclipses anything you’ll find in nearby cities like London or Amsterdam.
Still, Brussels gets a bad rap for being boring. As the European Union’s unofficial capital, work-obsessed politicos and stuffy heads of state seem to run the show, but underneath the prim and polish of Parliament lies a bohemian crowd characteristic of the blithe Bruxellois spirit.
And, for the record, even the politicians in Brussels know how to get down. Just ask former European Parliament member József Szájer, a conservative from Hungary who authorities caught at a gay sex party in December. Nothing boring about that, is there?
6. Montevideo, Uruguay
Argentina and Brazil might take the cake when it comes to popular queer travel in South America, but often-overlooked Uruguay is like the dessert you wish you picked instead. Not only is Uruguay a progressive bellwether for gay rights in South America, but it’s also an international trendsetter for trans rights. Gender confirmation surgery is free for all residents, and as of 2018, trans residents can change their name without seeking approval from a judge.
Queer singles should head straight to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. September attracts a global community for Marcha por la Diversidad, Montevideo’s Pride celebration, while spots like Chains Pub and Il Tempo welcome queer clientele year-round. There isn’t a central gayborhood, but there isn’t any need. Whether you’re crammed into a tiny tango bar or getting down at a beachfront disco, LGBTQ visitors are welcome nearly everywhere.
Between the abundance of theater, music, and fine art you’ll find weaving through the city’s Art Deco facades and highrises, there’s a little something for all anyone flying solo in Montevideo. And, of course, marijuana is legal, which means you can spend an entire day strolling the city’s 14-mile beach while smoking a doobie. With a glittering bay before you and shining skyscrapers at your back, you’ll understand why Montevideo regularly beats Buenos Aires as South America’s city with the highest quality of living.
7. Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei is undisputably East Asia’s queer capital. After Taiwan made headlines in 2019 by legalizing same-sex marriage, Taipei became the first prominent Asian metropolis to join Rainbow Cities Network — an international alliance committed to protecting and supporting LGBTQ communities.
The epicenter of LGBTQ life is in Ximen, the gayborhood, and its crowning jewel is Red House — a multi-level cultural center where you’ll find gay bars, clubs, restaurants, and queer specialty shops for things like sex and clothing. But the thing that makes Taipei worthy of singledom is the overwhelming cultural smorgasbord found outside of Ximen.
The heart can be a lonely hunter when dining alone, but in Taipei, the city is your de facto dinner date while sampling street eats at one of the city’s many night markets (try Rahoe for starters). Whether you’re in the mood for stinky tofu or bubble tea, these markets provide inexpensive ways to eat well without stressing about who’s picking up the check.
The rest of the city is just as accessible. Taipei’s easy-to-use public transit system ensures you never have to worry about getting yourself home after a boozy brunch, an epic hike up Elephant Mountain, or a sun-soaked Saturday at Shalun Beach, a cruisy gay spot.
For lovesick singles pining for a Designated Date, the Wei-ming Temple in New Taipei City provides the cure. In 2006, this Taoist sanctuary became the first religious shrine in the world dedicated to gay romance. Each year, nearly 9,000 visitors come in the hopes that Tu’er Shan, the Rabbit God of homosexual love, will help them find their mate. But be careful what you wish for — nothing ruins singledom in Taipei like a significant other.
8. Melbourne, Australia
Every year, the Time Out Index surveys an international set of city slickers to see what urban areas are the most livable. In 2020, Melbourne took second place. Not only are the residents some of the world’s happiest, but they’re also considered some of the most creative. This creativity shows up in the city’s multicultural food scene, its proliferation of colorful street art, and in a mighty theater community that gave birth to performers like Cate Blanchett. Only New York City ranks higher on Time Out’s list, but when it comes to the cost of living, Melbourne comes out on top. Life in this wonder down under is nearly 50 percent less expensive than life in the Big Apple, making it an ideal spot for singles pinching pennies.
When ranking queer life in Australia, Melbourne usually takes second place again — this time to Sydney. Melbourne’s decentralized gayborhood, split between Collingswood and South Yarra, makes LGBTQ life more difficult to find than in the capital of Oz — unless it’s festival season. For two months every year, the city drapes itself in rainbows to celebrate their queer residents during two prominent festivals. Midsumma, the most popular, hosts parades, performances, and parties from mid-January to mid-February; the second, Midwinta, occurs in late July. Both are akin to Sydney’s Mardi Gras, bringing thousands of LGBTQ folx and their allies together to participate.
But Melbourne doesn’t need a festival to show how LGBTQ-friendly it is. Unlike cities where the LGBTQ community is segregated to a gayborhood, all of Melbourne’s coffee shops, beer gardens, sports arenas, and nightlife haunts are equally welcoming. With that sort of radical inclusivity, it’s time to stop rating Melbourne as second place and call it what it is — the best.