LGBT travel is a booming business. Travel Gay Canada estimates that Canada’s LGBT travel market is worth $8.5 billion annually, with gay and lesbian travellers spending an average of $4,200 on travel in 2013.
Warm weather and diverse communities make destinations such as Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Florida and Provincetown hot spots for gay bars and big-ticket parties, and draw gay clientele time and time again. But what about the rest of the globe?
Here, in the spirit of Pride season, we present our list of not-so-obvious gay destinations found off-the-beaten-path (but still equally fabulous).
1) Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler’s annual pride and ski week. (Photo: Tourism Whistler)
High up in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia lies the coolest gay pride festival Canada, if not the world. Whistler’s annual pride and ski week, which celebrates 25 years next year, draws thousands of gay and lesbian skiers and snowboarders into 8,176 acres of picturesque mountain bliss every year. Quaint Whistler Village is easy to navigate by foot, and the festival is packed with drag comedy shows and sweaty dance parties, such as WhiteOUT and Snowball (open to all) and Purrlesque and Snow Belles (open to ladies). The next Whistler Pride and Ski Festival takes place Jan. 22-29, 2017. gaywhistler.com.
2) Columbus, Ohio
From left: Columbus' Short North district; Columbus-based drag performer Nina West. (Photos: Michael Pihach)
When you think of gay-friendly destinations, Columbus, Ohio, doesn’t immediately come to mind. So be prepared to be mind-blown when you discover its ballooning LGBT arts and culture scene. With one of the largest Pride parades in the Midwest, Columbus, or “Cbus,” as locals call it, is full of rainbow surprises. Home to Ohio State University, in addition to big-name brands, such as Victoria’s Secret and Hollister, the city is constantly in flux with new and diverse people.
German Village is an eclectic neighbourhood of restored cottages that was revitalized by a well-known gay couple, the late Fred Holdridge and Howard Burns, in the 1960s and ’70s, and it is where many gay people live today. Bust a move alongside local drag queen Nina West at Axis, a glittering, multi-level dance club, or dine at The Kitchen, a lesbian-owned restaurant where guests don aprons and make their own meals.
But whatever you do, don’t miss HighBall, the city’s annual Halloween bash in the artsy Short North District, an event Fox News once called "one of the country's coolest and most fashionable costume parties." Click here for more info.
3) Dallas, Texas
(Photo: Dallas Tavern Guild)
Dallas, surprisingly, is a high-ranking hot spot for gay and lesbian visitors. According to the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city boasts the sixth largest LGBT population in the U.S. and more than 33 LGBT-related conventions and events have taken place there in the past four years. The Cathedral of Hope, the world's largest gay and lesbian church with 30,000 national members, is located in Dallas, and the city’s gay village, Oak Lawn neighborhood, has been the epicenter of gay life for nearly 30 years. Mark your calendar for this year’s upcoming Dallas Pride festival on Sept. 18, 2016. Yew haw! Click here for more info.
4) Reykjavik, Iceland
The geothermal waters at Blue Lagoon spa (Photo: Gayice.is, Pall Gudjonsson)
Iceland’s gay-friendly attitude is no secret: same-sex marriage was legalized there in June 2010, and the country’s former Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, is a legally-married lesbian. LBGT festivals take place year-round in Reykjavik, a hub for friendly people, colourful buildings and quirky design. Rainbow Reykjavik is a four-day festival in February hosted by Pink Iceland, an Iceland-based tour operator for LGBT clientele. It features gay-friendly dance events and excursions to Iceland’s prized waterfalls, erupting geysers and turquoise geothermal waters at the world-famous Blue Lagoon spa. In September, there’s the Bears on Ice festival, a popular weekend for men, followed by Pink December, an LGBT travel program that revolves around the magic of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and the holiday season. gayice.is.
5) Vienna, Austria
Pop singer Adam Lambert (left) walks the magenta carpet at the Vienna Life Ball (Photos: Michael Pihach)
Prominent gay people have played an important role in Vienna’s history, notably Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), a general who freed Vienna from Turkish siege and forced the Ottomans back to the Balkans. Today the Austrian capital is a desired destination for gay and lesbian travellers wanting to explore the city’s historical architecture, museums and gay-friendly cafes and bars. Many of Vienna’s gay clubs are near the Villa in the district along Linke Wienzeile and Rechte Wienzeile. But true to local tradition, Vienna’s classical and disco balls every season are a must, from January’s Rainbow Ball to May’s Life Ball, an opulent, celebrity-studded masquerade at Vienna City Hall that raises funds for HIV/AIDS research. Click here for more info.
6) Hong Kong, China
Pride revellers celebrate in the streets at Hong Kong's Pride parade (Photo: Michael Pihach)
Hong Kong’s changing attitudes towards LGBT people combined with grassroots initiatives brought on by locals has helped pave the way for LGBT travel. A former British colony that operates under a different political system than mainland China, Hong Kong plays an important role in giving LGBT people space to celebrate diversity, from the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (September) to Les Peches, a monthly party series for women/trans people. Hong Kong’s November Pride parade, though small and seldom, has grown significantly since its humble beginnings in 2008 (the last one in 2015 drew 9,000 people). For Saturday night partying, visit Zoo Bar, and arrive early (by 10pm, it’s a zoo). discoverhongkong.com.