If you’re visiting the UK to check out the queer scene, you’ll no doubt make a beeline for London. The capital is naturally packed with iconic LGBT events and historic places to visit. However, anyone who lives here knows that London is just the tip of a rainbow-coloured iceberg. The UK is packed with wildly creative queer hubs, each with a distinct identity and vibrant calendar of parties, performances and Pride festivals. Here you’ll find nine amazing cities that shouldn’t be missed if you’re looking for a real taste of UK queer scene.
All of these cities have very established gay scenes that you can read about in any number of other gay travel guides. This list is about the events, festivals and spaces that are inclusive of everyone who exists under the queer umbrella. So, if you like your LGBT events to feature drag kings, QTIPOC hosts and non-binary DJs, then here’s everything you’ll want to know about.
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Despite having only legalised same-sex marriage in January 2020, Northern Ireland’s capital has a small but very vibrant queer scene. Yes, Drag Race UK contestant Blu Hydrangea is from here but it’s also home to the very fabulous Ross Anderson-Doherty (aka Cake Daddy). Catch them performing at Cabaret Supper Club and the annual queer art and performance festival, Outburst, alongside a whole host of other local talents.
📷 Ross Anderson-Doherty at Cabaret Supper Club. CREDIT: @skeletonboyuk
The UK’s second-largest city has its very own Gay Village that is bursting with sceney bars. But scratch its surface and you’ll discover Birmingham has an amazing array of queer arts festivals. Keep an eye out for local performers like Dan Daw and the (hopefully soon to be launched) House of Bab.
📷 Kevin Le Grand, Ginny Lemon, Juno Birch and Tammy Reynolds at SHOUT Festival. CREDIT: Midlands Zone
Pride: Birmingham Pride will next take place on 29-30 May 2021.
Arguably the queerest place in the UK, Brighton‘s LGBT+ history dates back to Napoleonic Wars when garrisoned soldiers turned the seaside city into a gay hotspot. These days, Brighton is one of our most trans-friendly cities, holding Europe’s first Trans Pride march in 2013, thanks to the work of local activists including fashion historian E-J Scott and author Juno Dawson.
Tours: Piers and Queers.
Long favoured by anarchists and environmentalists, Bristol has a very radical vibe and a big queer scene. It’s also one of the most popular cities for polyamorous people outside of London. My top tip? Don’t miss the outdoor parties thrown by People Like Us during the summer. Amazing crowd, music and energy.
📷 Bristol Pride 2019. CREDIT: Sarah Klein
Exhibitions: the M Shed has an LGBT+ history audio guide.
Often overlooked by tourists who flock to neighbouring Edinburgh, Glasgow actually has the biggest queer scene and largest Pride celebration in Scotland. There’s an impressive amount to do here – including a queer walking tour, bookshop and sex shop – but the Lesbian Archive should not be missed, as it’s one of the most significant collections of LGBT+ history in the UK.
Tours: Queer Glasgow walking tour.
It could be said that this northern city encapsulates the history and the future of queerness in the UK. Not only is Leeds home to The New Penny (our oldest, continuously running gay pub) but it’s also home to Mermaids, a charity that supports trans and gender-diverse children. I also love how many DIY womxn-centric parties and creative groups there are here.
Places of interest: The New Penny.
Legendary queer club Garlands (RIP) may have only recently shuttered its doors, but there is still so much worth visiting Liverpool for. Homotopia, the UK’s longest-running LGBTQIA arts and culture festival, is a highlight of every autumn, while Liverpool Queer Collective keeps you up to date on events throughout the year. Personally, I’m obsessed with the power and style of local drag performer Tammy Reynolds (aka Midgitte Bardot).
📷 Tammy Reynolds. CREDIT: Rebecca Connolly
Festivals: international LGBT+ arts festival Homotopia (29 October-15 November 2020).
Exhibitions: Museum of Liverpool’s LGBT+ collections.
Projects of interest: Liverpool Queer Collective.
It’s been over 20 years since the original series of Queer As Folk was shown on UK TV and not a whole lot has changed on Canal Street, Manchester‘s gay village and the setting for the show. However, a whole alternative queer scene has grown up around it, holding some of the country’s most iconic vogue balls and parties. Homobloc is one not to be missed.
Festivals: arts festival Trans Vegas (summer 2021); epic electronic music festival Homobloc (2021 date TBC); LGBT+ writing and performance festival OutStageUs (2021 date TBC); BAME dance, theatre and live performance festival Black Gold Arts (2021 date TBC); queer arts festival Turn On Fest (18-31 January 2021).
Last (but definitely not least) is a true renaissance city. Left to crumble for decades, this once iconic seaside town has seen a resurgence in the past few years, with a small but vibrant queer community springing up. The perfect day trip from London, Margate holds my favourite Pride festival in the UK because it has such creative DIY energy.
📷 Margate Pride 2018. CREDIT: Minka Guides
Projects of interest: Margate Queer Writers.
Pride: the amazing Margate Pride will take place on 14 August 2021.
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