Traveling the world and learning about other cultures is a rite of passage we should all get to experience if we so choose, regardless of who we are or where we’re from. Unfortunately, members of the queer community face greater obstacles when it comes to choosing LGBTQ travel destinations. They have to be more cognizant of the social climates and attitudes of the countries they want to visit, and they may have to hide their true identities for the sake of their personal safety.
Progress is being made around the world, at least, with more and more countries legalizing same-sex marriage, passing anti-discrimination laws or, at the very least, decriminalizing homosexuality. But there are still clear distinctions between places where LGBTQ people are welcomed, and where they’re not.
Here are some of the most welcoming destinations for LGBTQ travel in the world (in no particular order).
The Friendliest Places For LGBTQ Travel
Scandinavia And The Nordic Region
All five of the Scandinavian countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — are known for their progressive social and economic views, but a few of these nations are particularly friendly places to visit for LGBTQ travel. Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex partnerships (in 1989) and is home to one of the oldest gay bars in Europe, Centralhjørnet.
In 2015, Iceland was ranked number one in Planet Romeo’s Gay Happiness Index. In fact, the four highest-ranking countries in that index are in Scandinavia. Iceland also elected the world’s first openly gay head of state, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, in 2009. Five years later, the Icelandic Parliament added “gender identity” to the anti-discrimination section of the Penal Code (“sexual orientation” was added in 1996).
In additional wins for Scandinavia, Norway was ranked fifth highest in Rainbow Europe’s 2020 index, and Sweden tied with Canada and Malta for friendliest LGBTQ travel destination in the 2020 Spartacus Gay Travel Index.
This small European island nation has risen to number one in Rainbow Europe’s 2020 LGBTI equality ranking, which is based on the laws and policies within each country. Malta got a score of 89.1 percent, with 100 percent representing full equality and respect for human rights. Malta also tied with Canada and Sweden for first place in the 2020 Spartacus Gay Travel Index, which rates countries on categories including anti-discrimination legislation, LGBTQ marketing and murders of queer people. Malta was the first European country to ban conversion therapy. Changing your gender is legal there, but it requires surgery (to “prove” your commitment to transitioning). Some advocates say transgender rights haven’t progressed quite as far as gay rights in Malta. Ironically, it’s a predominantly Catholic country, where divorce only became legal in 2011 and abortion is still outlawed.
Malta’s annual Pride celebration has grown from 80 participants when it launched in 2013 to thousands. In 2019, Malta Pride included a host of events, such as drag lip-syncing, a human rights conference, a boat party and, of course, the Pride march. Year-round, there are a number of LGBTQ bars, clubs and parties, and locals say queer people are welcome pretty much anywhere in the country.
The Spanish government legalized same-sex marriage and gay adoption in 2005, which was relatively early compared to the rest of the world. In 2014, the Andalusian region of Spain passed a law allowing transgender people to legally change their name and gender without a medical diagnosis. That same year, Catalonia increased punishments for people convicted of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
In addition to its pro-LGBTQ legislation, some parts of Spain have a very active gay scene. Sitges, a beach town just southwest of Barcelona, has become a popular LGBTQ travel destination thanks to its numerous events and vibrant nightlife — not to mention the clothing-optional beaches. Other Spanish cities with lively gay nightlife include Madrid, Barcelona and Ibiza.
The United Kingdom & Ireland
The United Kingdom comes in at number nine on the Rainbow Europe country ranking. The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 allows transgender people to acquire a new birth certificate and get legal recognition of the gender with which they identify. In 2013, same-sex marriage was legalized in England and Wales, and it became the law in Scotland one year later.
London in particular has a thriving gay scene, including many gay bars and clubs and the U.K.’s only LGBTQ bookstore, Gay’s The Word. Other particularly LGBTQ-friendly cities include Manchester and Brighton in England, Scotland’s Edinburgh and Cardiff in Wales.
In 2015, the Republic of Ireland (not Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom) legalized same-sex marriage in a nationwide referendum, becoming the first country to do so in that manner. It passed with a large majority: 62 percent in favor to 38 percent against. Two months later, Ireland became the fifth country in the world to allow transgender people to change their legal gender based solely on how they self-identify.
Germany, Belgium & The Netherlands
Though same-sex marriage and adoption weren’t legalized there until 2017, Germany is a relatively progressive country, and it’s very welcoming of LGBTQ people. The country was the second most likely (after Spain) to respond “yes” when asked whether homosexuality should be accepted by society in a Pew Research Center survey of 39 countries. (It should be noted that the Scandinavian countries were not included in this survey.) Germany protects citizens from employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and allows transgender people to legally change their gender without requiring surgery.
Berlin, Germany, is an extremely popular destination for members of the LGBTQ community due to an abundance of gay bars, clubs, saunas, hotels and more.
Belgium is a very LGBTQ-friendly country, ranking second on the Rainbow Europe index. It became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Both sexual orientation and gender identity are protected from discrimination by law. As of 2018, transgender people can legally change their gender, based solely on self-identification, but critics say the law doesn’t go far enough, as it still imposes a three-month mandatory waiting period and creates other obstacles.
The capital city Brussels is a hub of LGBTQ nightlife and culture, with its gay party scene attracting people from surrounding countries.
The Netherlands has some of the most progressive social attitudes in the world, and Amsterdam considers itself the birthplace of LGBTQ rights. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Amsterdam in 1811 and the first gay bar opened in 1927. Today, Amsterdam’s Pride celebration attracts nearly 500,000 visitors. In 2013, a Dutch law was passed simplifying the process for transgender people to change their legal gender.
It comes as no surprise that Canada made this list, considering its socially liberal politics. According to Lonely Planet, it’s “hands down the most advanced and progressive nation in the Americas for the gay community.” Also, Canada tied with Sweden and Malta for friendliest travel destination in the 2020 Spartacus Gay Travel Index. In 1996, sexual orientation was added to Canadian law as a class protected from discrimination. And in 2017, gender identity and expression was also added. Like the United States, Canada is broken up into different regions, some of which are more progressive than others. Laws related to changing legal gender vary from one province to another.
Toronto is probably the Canadian city with the most appeal for LGBTQ travelers. The city has a bustling gay neighborhood that’s home to numerous LGBTQ events, bars and a community center. The western city of Vancouver also has a strong LGBTQ presence.
Uruguay And Argentina
In the 2020 Spartacus Gay Travel Index, Uruguay and Argentina tied for the title of friendliest Latin American country to visit. They’re both among the top nine most gay-friendly destinations in the world.
This comes after Americas Quarterly gave Uruguay the distinction of being the most gay-friendly nation in Latin America in 2016. In 2009, it became the first Latin American country to allow same-sex adoption, and gay marriage was legalized there in 2013. Uruguayan law protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and gay conversion therapy is banned there. In 2009, the government unanimously passed a law allowing transgender people to legally change their name and gender to match their self-identity.
Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo has a vibrant cultural life and a laid-back attitude. The city has a few popular LGBTQ bars and clubs and an annual gay Pride parade, which attracts over 30,000 people.
In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. The government also made same-sex adoption and IVF treatment legal at that time. In 2012, Argentina passed a law allowing citizens to legally change their gender identity without requiring surgery. It was hailed as one of the greatest achievements for transgender people. In addition, conversion therapy has been banned in the country, and gay Argentines are allowed to donate blood.
Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, hosts a large Pride festival every year with crowds of over 100,000 people. The city is also home to a number of queer milongas, or tango halls, which are dedicated spaces for same-sex couples and other members of the LGBTQ community to learn the dance and watch live tango performances.
To learn more about how to travel the world safely, check out the Babbel Guide To Solo Female/LGBTQ Travel.