When planning a trip to one of this year’s hottest travel destinations, the United Kingdom, it’s easy to get swept away in London’s culture, Manchester’s vibrant LGBTQ community or the rustic, romantic stretches of Scotland.
However, there’s one can’t-miss destination that offers rugged adventure, romantic castles, nightlife, dining and even a growing LGBTQ community: Wales.
The small country in southwest Great Britain may be best known for its picturesque coastline, tongue-twisting language and, let’s be honest, beefy rugby hunks, but there’s so many more reasons for gay travelers to clear their calendars for a trip to Wales.
Like most of the United Kingdom, Wales is a welcoming destination for LGBTQ travelers. Pride celebrations can be found in the capital, Cardiff, of course, but they have also been held in Swansea (scheduled for May 4 this year), Aberystwyth, Bangor and more. Even the small community Llantwit Major (with less than 10,000 residents) hosted its first Pride last year.
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Pride in Cardiff, known as Pride Cymru, is the country’s largest. Thousands flock to the city for a parade, market and performances. Last year’s event included an appearance from RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Courtney Act. This year’s celebration is scheduled for Aug. 23-25.
When it comes to Cardiff’s LGBTQ bar scene, a trip to the Golden Cross alone is worth the price of airfare. The historic pub (a Grade II landmark) was built in 1903 and sports a traditional glazed tile exterior. Locals walk up from Cardiff Bay (call it Tiger Bay to impress the natives) to grab a pint and enjoy karaoke and cabaret. Now’s the perfect time to plan a trip for the summertime when the boys soak up the sun in the beer garden.
Miss Tina Sparkle, DJ Opal Fruits, Dr. Bev Ballcrusher and other queens are waiting to greet you at Minsky’s Showbar, Cardiff’s original showbar. The bar is open Friday and Saturday nights, and their Stage Door Café is open Thursday through Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. Expect a rowdy night, perfect if you’re celebrating a bachelor, bachelorette or just looking to cut loose.
If you’re thirsty for some luxury, swing by the stylish cocktail and cabaret lounge, Mary’s. Fans of gin in particular should take a gander at their extensive premium gin selection, but even if that’s not your taste, there are plenty of other libations to keep you good and loose.
Start your night somewhere far more friendly than fussy at the Kings. There’s karaoke three nights a week, but it’s the daily happy hour from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. that makes this a great place to get the party going. For just a couple pounds, you can grab select beer, cider, wine and all house spirits (plus mixer).
After you’ve wet your whistle at the Kings, dance those liquid calories off at Pulse. In addition to the EDM, house and pop hits spinning, there’s also the weekly performance from the Dreamboys, which is like Magic Mike with Welsh accents. You can also dance the night away with a young, hip crowd at WOW Bar where dancing, drag and drinks are on the menu.
For the more adventurous, the rough and tumble brand of bars, Eagle, has a Cardiff outpost. Be advised the club is “private” on weekends, which means you’ll need a membership. It’s only 3 pounds for the year, and it’s free entry at the door.
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There’s more to the gay scene than just the bars and clubs, though. The award-winning South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus is music to the ears. Lesbian, bi and trans women join with non-binary performers in the Songbirds, another queer choir. You can see both, along with the Cardiff Trans Singers this summer at the Hand In Hand Festival this summer.
Getting active isn’t difficult either. The Gay Outdoor Club welcomes folks from all ability levels to turn off the telly, get off the couch and put down the iPhone. (Grindr will still be there when you get back.) The group organizes regular walks around Wales’ stunning countryside, taking in the castles, hillsides and coasts with excellent company. Of course, no trip to the UK is complete without a little rugby. There are even gay rugby teams, including the Swansea Vikings and Cardiff Lions. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet the next Gareth Thomas.
See the world through Welsh LGBTQ eyes at the Iris Prize, a popular queer film festival, in October. One of the top 50 film festivals in the world according to MovieMaker Magazine, the LGBTQ filmmaking festival has seen its winning filmmakers produce 9 short films with a 10th currently in post-production. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 8-13 in Cardiff.
Besides all of the LGBTQ-specific ways to spend your time, there is tons to see in Wales. The castles and architecture are breathtaking. Whether you’re spotting the high-camp interiors of Cardiff Castle or feeling the power of the medieval Conwy Castle, you’ll enjoy views fit for a king. St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire is a sight to behold all on its own; it sits in a bowl, giving viewers the opportunity to take it all in from above.
Hit the beach and catch some waves at the Gower, Wale’s greatest surfing spot. Or let it all hang out at the popular nude beach, Morfa Dyffryn. About 1 mile of the beach is used by “naturists,” with the gay area concentrated in the northern part by the dunes.
You will have to put on clothes at some point, though. Luckily, Wales has plenty of world-class shopping. In Cardiff, you can peruse the racks of familiar names and labels at St. David’s Shopping Center. It’s boutiques aplenty at the Victorian arcades, but the real antiques and unique finds are at Jacobs Market, where they promise “treasures, trinkets and a collective of eccentric sellers to tickle your funny bones.” Outside Cardiff, Swansea’s traditional market is the largest covered market in Wales, but it’s Conwy that has some impressive numbers. Nearly ninety-three percent of shops are run by local traders.
All that shopping is sure to work up an appetite, and Wales doesn’t disappoint in the culinary department. There are tons of traditional pubs and exciting modern spots serving up uniquely Welsh dining experiences. Wales’ Caerphilly cheese is such an institution, it is protected by European Protected Geographical Indication. The cheese is so beloved, in fact, it has its own festival, The Big Cheese, July 26-28.
But man can’t live on cheese alone. The grass-fed lamb at Hare & Hounds is locally sourced from the nearby Torgelly farm and served with a mint sauce. If you get homesick, stop in for some good ol’, American St. Louis-style ribs at the Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, where barbecue, southern flavors and steaks fired over a custom-built Argentinian Parilla grill.
Don’t just sit there with your mouth watering: Book your next trip for Wales today.