As we see events like Sydney WorldPride light up some of our favorite destinations, it’s easy to forget that some destinations are still more complicated than others for LGBTQ+ travelers. This is particularly true if your group includes children with same-sex parents or non-cisgender identities. So, when it’s time to weigh one destination against another, we might well swing (no pun intended) toward one that’s a bit more relaxed about who and how we love.
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The Spartacus Gay Travel Index annually scores each country on how safe and welcoming it is to LGBTQ+ travelers based on visibility, equality, local laws, media access and censorship, activism, Pride celebrations, and more. Their latest index dropped in March 2023. One country leads the list with an out-and-proud 13 points, while Chechnya, Iran, and Saudi Arabia sadly but unsurprisingly came in last with an alarming score of minus 19.
Still, LGBTQ+ travelers looking for a safe, hassle-free vacation have plenty of options, with these eight countries leading the way in 2023.
Malta (13 points)
This tiny island crossroads between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East tops the Spartacus list for LGBTQ+ travel in 2023. Surrounded by a fusion of cultures unlike any other, wander ancient ruins, snorkel mysterious wrecks, take in ocean views from mighty historic forts, and relax in small but friendly local LGBTQ+ cafes, restaurants, and bars dotted around the island, particularly in the old city, Valletta. Malta is also ideal for a long stay or snowbird escape and has been a favorite of British holidaymakers for some time.
Canada (12 points)
Friendly Canada’s LGBTQ+ activists have long played an active role in the worldwide push for equality. The only question is, which part of Canada is for you? For mountain landscapes in the mighty Rockies, Alberta is calling. For the beauty of the Pacific Coast and Haida culture, make a beeline for British Columbia. Toronto and Montreal are both famous for their extensive LGBTQ+ life and massive Pride celebrations, while both being great city escapes in their own right. Head up to Quebec City for an authentic slice of Europe in Canada, or beyond, to the small but friendly cities and gorgeous coastlines of the Maritimes, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
Switzerland (12 points)
Think Switzerland is all chocolate, mountains, and cuckoo clocks? You’re forgetting cheese! And banks. But seriously, this beautiful European crossroads has come ahead in leaps and bounds on LGBTQ+ equality, finally legalizing same-sex marriage in 2022. Wander its beautiful capital, Bern, board scenic trains such as the Bernier Express, the Glacier Express, or the Jungfrau, and of course, eat fondue and raclette until you burst. The biggest LGBTQ+ communities are in cities like Zurich and Geneva, both great places to bookend your Switzerland vacation in the Berner Oberland and other scenic areas.
Australia (11 points)
Australia finally enacted marriage equality in 2017 and hasn’t slowed down since… except for the pandemic. That said, Sydney bounced back in a big way in 2023, hosting WorldPride in true Aussie style. The Sydney Mardi Gras is a world-famous celebration uniquely known for its night-time parade and legendary after-party. The festival however transforms Sydney for several weeks in February leading up to the parade. Before that, Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival kicks off the party in January, while smaller festivities take place in cities around the country throughout the year. No matter which part of the land of Priscilla you want to explore, there’s a Pride celebration to pair your trip with if you feel so inclined. We don’t recommend climbing King’s Canyon in heels though (sorry Felicia!).
Denmark (11 points)
Scandinavia’s smallest country has been near the top of the LGBTQ+ pack for some years now, with an active local scene in Copenhagen, and a friendly but seriously chill local attitude that emphasizes respect, privacy, and good, sustainable living. Explore the palace trio of Rosenborg, Christiansborg, and Amalienborg. Lose yourself amid incredible art at Louisiana museum just north of Copenhagen, then go on to Kronborg, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Visit the birthplace of LEGO, explore the world’s oldest amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, climb a unique early skyscraper, and recharge with some smørrebrød, an open-faced sandwich that is Denmark’s simple yet delicious gift to world cuisine.
New Zealand (11 points)
“Oh, hey Australia. Nice of you to catch up with us.” New Zealand stays near the top of the Spartacus list with its unpretentious manaakitanga welcome. Cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin are certainly fun, each supporting a lively LGBTQ+ community. But New Zealand is all about getting out and exploring the countryside! Sip world-class wine, take in incredible sights like Abel Tasman National Park, the Bay of Islands, and Milford Sound, or pop down for a special event like Queenstown’s annual Winter Pride Festival in late August. If you’re in the region during February, you can even squeeze Auckland Pride in between Melbourne’s Midsumma and Sydney’s Mardi Gras.
Portugal (11 points)
Spain is so last decade! Nah, just kidding. Spain is still a fabulous destination (see below) with something for every kind of globetrotter, but Portugal just keeps going from strength to strength as Europe’s current ‘it’ spot. Its delights go far beyond Lisbon and the palaces of Sintra. Book a long stay on the beautiful Algarve for year-round idyllic weather, or taste the spoils of the magnificent Douro Valley in Porto. Lisbon and Porto’s LGBTQ+ scenes keep things low-key with friendly bars that welcome a diverse crowd, including a steady flow of tourists as Portugal grows ever more popular.
Uruguay (11 points)
Pulling just ahead of its better-known South American neighbors, Uruguay has long been an LGBTQ+-friendly destination and a popular spot for ex-pats who fall in love with the region. Montevideo is the hub of queer life here, but beach regions such as Punta del Este, and the beautiful town of Colonia, often reached on a day trip from Buenos Aires, deserve some love too. Make sure you spend a few days in Uruguay though. A quick day trip really can’t do it justice.
UK and EUROPE
Germany, Iceland, Spain, and the United Kingdom all score well just outside the top eight. London, Manchester, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, and Cologne are all world-famous LGBTQ+ destinations with robust nightlife and epic Pride celebrations. Meanwhile, Iceland offers a more low-key but no less visible tradition of inclusion. You can even do them all in one trip if you feel ambitious!
The land of same-sex tango, Argentina has been an LGBTQ+ travel star for quite some time now. Not far behind is Chile, where a night at Santiago's queer and alternative megaclub, Blondie, can be almost as memorable as a day in the Torres del Paine. To the surprise of some (but not those who've been) Colombia remains the continent’s fastest-rising destination. Bogota mayor Claudia López married her wife in 2019, and her city welcomes LGBTQ+ tourists year-round while boasting the largest gay club on Earth, Theatron. While it doesn’t score quite as well overall, Brazil deserves a shout for having the world’s largest Pride Festival in Sao Paulo, and of course, Carnaval always brings Brazil’s LGBTQ+ side out to party.
Local attitudes in most Asian countries are generally 'live and let live,' but social conventions run strong. Public displays of affection are usually frowned upon for everyone, not just LGBTQ+ folks. Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, and Taipei Pride, at the end of September, remains one of the biggest in Asia, a great centerpiece for your Taiwan vacation. India reversed its long-standing colonial law against same-sex relationships in 2018, though of course, queer life has thrived there for centuries. It’s simply allowed more outlets of expression now, with LGBTQ+ plots showing up in more and more Indian media including major Bollywood movies. Thailand has long encouraged LGBTQ+ visibility and tourism, and while some of its neighbors have caught up or even surpassed it on some fronts, it remains an amazing LGBTQ+ destination.
While Australia and New Zealand are both very welcoming, the South Pacific islands are very split when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. French Polynesia, also known as the Islands of Tahiti, is a safe bet. Using hand signals, you can even get married underwater without raising any eyebrows (it’s not legally binding, but the document you sign on dry land when you’re done will be). A small but increasingly visible queer community also exists in Fiji, concentrated in the capital, Suva.
Sadly, the map of LGBTQ+ rights in Africa and the Middle East still looks pretty bleak, mostly due to archaic colonial laws. South Africa is the exception, having been one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage. It’s an easy place to bring the family for an LGBTQ+-friendly safari vacation. Israel still leads the way on LGBTQ+ rights and tourism in the Middle East, with Tel Aviv being one of the most gay-friendly cities on Earth, and a progressive ‘bubble’ for Israelis and Arabs alike.
How LGBTQ+ Friendly is the USA?
In addition to the countries index, Spartacus ranks each US state and territory by the same criteria. An overall score of 5 puts the USA on par with Costa Rica, Greece, Mexico, and South Africa. Four states however stand out with a score of 11 putting them up among the world’s top destinations. California, Colorado, New York, and Washington state are the most LGBTQ+ friendly states in the USA, while Oklahoma lands at the bottom of the list with minus 5.
Should LGBTQ+ Travelers Avoid 'Anti-LGBTQ+' Countries?
LGBTQ+ or not, travel to a potentially hostile destination is a personal decision. Only you can say if your curiosity outweighs any possible discomfort. Should LGBTQ+ travelers miss out on seeing Egypt, Kenya, or Morocco because of local attitudes? Well, no. What’s more, most of the time, the locals will still be happy to have you. While we may be asked to be more discreet, people in these countries are often a lot more welcoming than local laws or listings in indexes like Spartacus would suggest.
Nairobi, Kenya for example has a sizable underground LGBTQ+ scene and has welcomed LGBTQ+ refugees from neighboring countries, despite gay relationships still technically being illegal. As of writing, the country's supreme court and government are locked at odds over the issue after the court ruled in favour of LGBTQ+ organizations' right of association. Dubai has an active underground scene driven mostly by expats who gather unharassed under the spectre of a theoretical death penalty (no arrests have been made since 2015). Meanwhile, Russia, where being gay is theoretically legal (and travel in general is currently ill-advised), is far more dangerous for its LGBTQ+ citizens in practice, particularly outside Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Discretion is often key in countries like these. Of course, it can still be uncomfortable if you have children in tow or are worried your gender identity may be questioned crossing a border. Bottom line? Travel where your own heart leads you, keeping yourself safe, and creating globetrotting memories as you go. As the list of LGBTQ+-friendly destinations changes each year, you never know what new memories might open up to be made in the future.
4 Apr 2023, 10:37 p.m.