Spring has sprung, which means it’s the perfect time to start planning for two things: summer bodies and summer travel. You’re on your own for the former, but when it comes to picking a vacation destination, set your sights on the shores of the United Kingdom.
Brighton is something like the Provincetown of Europe. The seaside resort town has long attracted visitors from the cosmopolitan London scene (it’s just a quick — less than an hour — train ride away), and the resulting population is one of the most progressive in the United Kingdom. Queer literary greats like Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde were frequent visitors to the area to soak up the sun.
Today, Brighton is considered home to the highest proportion of same-sex households in Britain, with some estimates claiming as many as 11-15 percent of the city’s population over the age of 16 identifies as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
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This summer in particular is a good one to take a holiday to Brighton. The city’s Pride celebration is the largest in the United Kingdom, and this year’s line-up is a doozy, boasting performances from Clean Bandit, Grace Jones and Kylie Minogue. The festivities will run from Aug. 2-4.
If you’re looking to get an earlier jump on your summer celebrations, skip the waxing appointment and fly in for Brighton Bear Weekend June 13-16. It’s four days of fur, fun and frolic with proceeds benefitting local HIV/AIDS grant-giving organization, the Rainbow Fund. Most events are free and include quiz nights, discussion groups, cabaret, bear-a-oke and more.
Of course, there’s plenty for gay travelers to enjoy in Brighton throughout the whole year. While the entire city is overwhelmingly accepting of LGBTQ people, most consider Kemptown to be the local gayborhood, flush with LGBT bars and clubs. For a pint with friends, Brighton’s longest-running gay bar, The Bulldog, is a perfect pub. Bears, cubs, wolves, otters and the men who love them often gather at The Camelford Arms, a favorite for the hirsute.
Club Revenge has been drawing huge crowds to its three floors since 1991. Pack an extra set of dance shoes to bump and grind the night away at the Basement Club (downstairs from the lovely terrace bar Legends).
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For a more theatrical evening, swing by The Marlborough Pub & Theatre for work elevating LGBTQ performers and themes with particular attention to trans and queer artists. Or you can sing along with your favorites at Bar Broadway, where show tunes are always on the menu and the beach is just a short walk away.
Brighton’s love for the LGBTQ doesn’t stop at the bar scene. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s LGBTQ trail is a guide to some of the collection with queer connections. Curated by Robert White and Kelly Boddington, the objects include Glyn Philpot’s Acrobats Waiting to Rehearse, The Devil’s Altar by Gluck and more. Visitors can pick up a guide at the museum entrance or download it from the website here.
A permanent AIDS memorial sculpture is on display at New Steine Gardens. The bronze piece was created by Brighton-based artist Romany Mark Bruce, and its two intertwined figures project the shadow of an AIDS Ribbon. The landmark has become one of the most iconic sights in Brighton.
The best way to see all the LGBTQ sights is on the Piers & Queers tour. The 90-minute walking tour covers 200 years of history, including tales of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Dusty Springfield and more. Some highlights include the tale of Brighton’s first same-sex wedding in 1923 and the story of a pioneering doctor who hid her gender back when women weren’t allowed to practice medicine.
LGBTQ history is everywhere you look in Brighton. Even the Royal Pavillion — one of the most visited sites in Brighton — has a stake in queer history. The extravagant former royal residence, with its striking Indian-inspired exterior and lavish Chinese and Indian decor, hosted some of the earliest legal same-sex marriages in England.
Gay sunbathers tend to flock to the official nudist portion of Brighton Beach. Keep in mind, these are not the soft, white sand beaches of the Caribbean. Brighton beach is rocky, comprised of more than 614 MILLION individual pebbles. It doesn’t make it any less beautiful, but it does mean you should bring a sturdy flip-flop or water shoe.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite on the sea and shore, stroll on over to Brighton Palace Pier for some fish and chips. The Victorian pier boasts two arcades, concessions and fairground attractions to give you an English spin on the classic boardwalk experience.
Further West, the British Airways i360 has quickly become one of Brighton’s most must-see attractions. Opened in 2016, the stunning glass viewing pod rises 450 feet into the air and provides 360-degree views of Brighton. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Isle of Wight. The best part? You can do it all with a cocktail from the Nyetimber Sky Bar, named for their award-winning sparkling wine.
After all these incredible experiences, you’ll inevitably want to bring a little bit of Brighton home with you. No visit to Brighton is complete without a trip to the maze of alleyways known as The Lanes. Independent shops offer everything from funky finds to high-end designer fashion. Nestled among the bespoke, antique and vintage shops are some of the most charming restaurants and cafés in the world. Set aside an afternoon to leisurely explore the Lanes, allowing plenty of time for discovery and delight.
For a little extra edge, spend some cash at Brighton’s North Laine where more than 300 boho, retro, exotic and unique retailers can be found in an area less than half a square mile. The hipster shopping mecca is also home to artists’ studios where you can chat up the creators of one-of-a-kind sculpture, jewelry, glasswork and more.
Once you’ve shopped until you’re ready to drop, there are plenty of places to rest your head. If you want to stay in the thick of the gay scene, Legends Hotel is one of the city’s most popular gay-friendly spots. Just upstairs from the Legends Bar and Basement Club, you’ll have the shortest commute after a night of drinking and dancing.
For a more relaxing retreat, Queens Hotel and Spa offers beautiful beach views and a variety of spa treatments. Guest can also indulge in their sauna or a dip in Brighton’s largest hotel pool. Spa treatments are also available at Nineteen, a Victorian townhouse converted into a seven-room bed and breakfast.
Enjoy a stylish stay at the chic boutique hotel My Brighton. Design nerds will go gaga for the sleek design, flush with organic curves, crystal and handmade furniture. Even if you opt to stay elsewhere, both their gorgeous bar, Merkaba, and delicious modern Indian restaurant, the Chili Pickle, are worth the visit.