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 filled 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 the 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 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.
Despite only legalising 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.
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 a fantastic array of queer arts festivals. Keep an eye out for local performers such as the (hopefully soon to be launched) House of Bab.
Festivals: queer art and culture festival Shout (November 2021 dates TBC); international theatre and performance festival Fierce (10-16 October 2022); QTIPOC film festival CineQ (November 2021 dates TBC).
Arguably the queerest place in the UK, Brighton’s LGBTQ+ 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 local activists, including fashion historian E-J Scott and author Juno Dawson.
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 – fantastic crowd, music and energy.
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.
It could be said that this northern city encapsulates both 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 women-centric parties and creative groups there are here.
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).
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 show’s setting. However, an 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 (6 November 2021); 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 (2022 date TBC).
Last (but definitely not least) is a proper 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.
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