Within the past decade, LGBT+ acceptance and same-sex marriage have gained momentum around the world and there are now 28 countries with full marriage equality. For LGBT+ travelers, safety and comfort are important considerations when choosing a destination. Sadly, there are still some 70+ countries worldwide where LGBT+ people face legal obstacles as visitors – some more severe than others.
For those looking for a gay-friendly option in a European destination, ILGA-Europe has just published its annual report revealing the top 10 European countries that afford their citizens and visitors with the most extensive LGBT+ rights and protections. The report also notes that once-leading countries in Europe are falling behind in their commitments to equality for LGBT+ people. For example, Poland has now dropped to the bottom of the EU ranking, causing it to actually go backward on the Index compared to previous years.
Although this metric isn’t the only reason to choose a destination, it’s certainly one of the considerations many LGBT+ travelers use. These places are some of the most beautiful countries in Europe, plus they all have amazing things to discover and you’ll have a much greater opportunity to be yourself and not fear harassment or discrimination because of your sexual orientation.
Curious where a country ranks on the list? Click here to view the 2020 index.
On June 30, 2005, same-sex marriage was legalized in Spain – 3rd in line after The Netherlands and Belgium. If you’re planning a visit, destinations like Barcelona and Madrid have fantastic nightlife scenes. For a beachy atmosphere, The Canary Islands provides an array of activities, resorts, unique events and an incredibly accepting culture. Events like Maspalomas Gay Pride in May or the Winter Pride in November have attracted many gay and lesbian tourists, and the islands’ LGBT+ support has created a lucrative, accommodating culture for both single and couple travelers. Year-round, subtropical climates are a Canary Island cornerstone, and the charming towns exemplify the area’s comfortable and relaxing atmosphere.
Many people visit the UK each year for its fascinating history, its old-world customs and culture, and to enjoy things like shopping, dining and nightlife. This is particularly true with LGBT+ popular destinations like London, Manchester and Brighton. Influential gay men and lesbians have long played a role in British history, including notable names like Oscar Wilde, Virginia Wolfe and cryptanalyst Alan Turing. Many world-famous pop icons have also left their mark like Elton John, George Michael and Boy George. Some members of the royal family have also publicly positioned themselves as LGBT+ allies. Although the UK is no longer part of the European Union, they are still a European country at heart (and by geography) and their strides towards LGBT+ equality are noteworthy.
Finland is an exceptional travel destination and is one of the world’s best countries to witness the Northern Lights. During the day, the endless countryside is blanketed in snow and peppered with frozen lakes. At night the sky is an eruption of light and color as the Aurora Borealis enthralls. Chances are that if you’re visiting Finland, you’ll also be spending some time in Helsinki, the capital city. One interesting activity in Helsinki is the Tom of Finland walking tour. The experience begins with an audio-visual introduction to Touko Valio Laaksonen, aka the famed erotic artist better known as Tom of Finland. After the introduction, a local guide leads you through the streets of Helsinki discovering everything from Tom’s local watering hole to his preferred cruising park.
Located on the western edge of southern Europe, Portugal sits along the Atlantic Ocean and offers amazing landscapes, architecture, culture, beaches and more. The weather is mild year-round, and Portugal is one of the least expensive countries to visit in western Europe so your money will go far during a visit. It may not be as well-known or popular of a destination as its Spanish neighbor, but Portugal still has plenty to offer. In fact, Porto (Portugal’s second-largest city) has been named one of the Top 10 European Destinations by Lonely Planet, European Consumer’s Choice and TripAdvisor. The gay scene is a bit smaller in Portugal’s major cities compared to other large European cities, however, it’s still very developed and has a lot to offer for any LGBT+ traveler.
Norway has some of the most epic and varied natural landscapes found in Europe. The country is known for its stunning and majestic fjords, which are towering cliffs overlooking the ocean, cut from retreating glaciers tens of thousands of years ago. Spectacular waterfalls, breath-taking viewpoints, amazing hiking opportunities and picturesque fjord cities are just a few of the experiences you can expect when visiting these geological wonders. Those who choose to visit Norway will be blown away by the natural beauty of this country, along with quaint and picturesque towns, farmsteads and churches. However, while it tops the list as being LGBT+ friendly along with offering stunning landscapes and nature, it’s also one of the most expensive countries in Europe to visit.
Denmark was the first country in the world to approve same-sex civil unions in 1989 (the first couple to do so registered in Copenhagen) before later approving same-sex marriage in 2012. The capital city of Copenhagen also has one of the oldest gay bars, Centralhjørnet, which has been open since 1917 and officially became a gay bar in the 1950s. Copenhagen is also known for its large, annual Pride celebration in August. This event is filled with drag performances, discussions related to LGBT+ issues, short films, parties, and of course a pride parade that attracts over 20,000 people participants and more than 120,000 spectators. Copenhagen is an urban city with a population creeping just over a million inhabitants and is also especially gay-friendly with a small, but noteworthy collection of gay bars clustered around Rodhuspladsen, the city hall square in the center.
Luxembourg is one of the only countries in the world to have an openly LGBT+ person elected as the leader. Xavier Bettel was elected as the prime minister of Luxembourg in 2013 and in 2018 he became the first openly gay prime minister to be reelected for a second term. Luxembourg itself is a tiny country nestled in between Germany, Belgium and France. It’s among the smallest countries in Europe by landmass and after Malta, is the smallest country by population in the European Union. Most of the population lives in the capital, Luxembourg City, which has a foreign community of nearly 70%. People from all over Europe and around the world come to live and work in Luxembourg, often taking jobs working for an international bank or the European Union. Luxembourg City actually shares the title of Capital of Europe with just Brussels and Strasbourg, as these three cities house most of the European Union administrate and political offices.
One benefit of visiting such a small country is the ease of exploring the cities and regions outside the capital. For example, you can take a day trip from Luxembourg City to Vianden to visit the most beautiful castle in Luxembourg. Vianden is just 50 km from Luxembourg City and it’s easily reached via train and bus, taking about 1 hour.
Malta is an archipelago of islands located in the center of the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily and above northern Africa. At just over 400,000 in population and 316 square km, it’s the smallest country in the European Union but is also considered one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Malta may not yet be on your travel radar but it’s quickly making a name for itself, particularly for the LGBT+ community. In just the past couple of decades, LGBT+ rights and protections in the country have been elevated and are considered some of the best in the world. In fact, since 2015, the IGLA has ranked Malta first in terms of LGBT+ rights out of 49 observed European countries. Malta Gay Pride takes place at the very end of summer each year in mid-September. The small celebration includes a parade and concert on Saturday afternoon in Valletta, followed by the official pride party, which typically takes place at Tigullio nightclub.
Sweden has a very accepting and liberal culture and LGBT+ communities have found comfort within the country’s borders within the past couple of decades. Like most countries, you’ll find big LGBT+ communities and gay-friendly venues in the largest cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. The country was ahead of the curve in marriage equality and legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.
Stockholm, in particular, offers its annual gay pride festival with more than 500,000 participants attending, the largest in Scandinavia. It’s an international destination where most everyone speaks a high level of English, and it’s one of the world’s most culturally tolerant and modern places to visit in Europe. Self-proclaimed as the capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm is a beautiful and majestic city spread across multiple islands surrounded by countless lakes and wide-spanning bridges. From the old town of Gamla Stan to the trendy and hip neighborhood of Södermalm, you can explore Stockholm’s music, food and LGBT venues in this trendy and welcoming city. Immerse yourself in everything ABBA at the ABBA Museum – a true experience in the life of the Swedish musical sensations’ career.
Renowned for its beauty and architecture, Belgium has been an LGBT hotspot since its gay marriage legalization in June of 2003. Belgium has an accepting culture making it a popular destination for LGBT+ travelers seeking security and respect during their visit. Specifically, the Belgian Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival has prospered since 1996, offering a ‘straight-friendly’ event while accommodating the country’s Rainbow Week. Similar events are common in Belgium, making it a great LGBT+ travel destination. Brussels is the capital city of Belgium and it has hosted one of the longest-running gay circuit parties in the world. La Demence has been going strong for more than 30 years and their massive parties attract crowds of up to 8,000 people.
Have you visited any of these countries during your travels? Let us know your experience in the comments below!