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An LGBTQ Visitor’s Guide to London, England

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London is a vibrant hub of LGBTQ+ history, culture and nightlife, making it an essential destination for anyone looking to explore Britain’s queer heritage—after a mandatory stop in Brighton, of course! From historic sites to modern hotspots, London offers a diverse range of experiences that celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s dive into some of the must-see places and events that paint the city rainbow.

A brief history of LGBTQ+ in London

London’s LGBTQ+ history is one of resilience and triumph. The city has been a beacon for queer communities for centuries, dating back to the clandestine Molly Houses of the 18th century where men gathered to socialize and express their identities away from societal scrutiny. The 1960s saw significant progress with the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, following years of activism and courage by individuals such as Peter Tatchell and organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front. In recent years, London has become a world leader in LGBTQ+ rights, hosting its first same-sex weddings in 2014.

The city’s LGBTQ+ history is a powerful testament to the transformative power of standing up for equality and the importance of continuing this legacy.

Queer Tour of Soho

On this 75-minute walking tour of Soho, discover the hidden queer history of the area’s night-time spaces; the bars and clubs that operated in the years before decriminalisation, often right under the nose of the police.

Learn about Soho’s leading lesbian power couple, the ‘cult of the clitoris’, police entrapment and raids, Polari (the secret gay code) and incredible stories of queer people standing up to oppression. Between Oxford Street and Chinatown, Soho is the geographical and spiritual centre of LGBTQ+ London. With more gay bars per square mile than any other area, Soho is buzzing every night of the week.

Gay’s The Word Bookshop

Opened in January 1979, Gay’s The Word is the UK’s oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop. It serves as a cornerstone of queer literature and culture, offering a welcoming space for everyone. Whether you’re looking for the latest LGBTQ+ novels or historical texts, this bookshop is a treasure trove of knowledge and community spirit.

Heaven: iconic London gay club

Established in 1979 in the arches beneath Charing Cross Station, Heaven is undoubtedly the biggest and most famous gay club in central London. It’s a legendary nightlife destination known for its electrifying atmosphere and incredible events. Whether it’s dancing the night away or enjoying world-class performances, Heaven is a must-see.

London Pride: the famous LGBTQ parade

Mark your calendars for Saturday 29 June 2024! Pride in London is one of the largest and most vibrant LGBTQ+ events in the world.

Join thousands of people from all walks of life as they march through the city in a spectacular celebration of love, diversity and equality. The parade typically starts near Hyde Park Corner, travels down Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus, then turns into Haymarket and continues towards Trafalgar Square and Whitehall.

Expect over 300 floats to make their way through the West End towards Trafalgar Square, as well as tons of free music shows, bespoke LGBTQ afternoon teas and celebrations. It’s more than a parade; it’s a powerful statement of solidarity and pride.

The Divine

Owned by the fabulous drag queen Jonny Woo, The Divine is a hub of drag culture in East London. The club hosts free drag performances most nights of the week, as well as ticketed shows, discos, improv and comedy clubs. From non-binary cabaret to alternative life drawing, The Divine is the place to be for unique and unforgettable performances including LIPSYNC1000, a famed lipsynch contest.

Queer Britain: the premier LGBTQ Museum in Britain

Founded in February 2018 by Joseph Galliano and Ian Mehrtens, Queer Britain is the first dedicated LGBTQ+ museum in the UK. Located in Kings Cross, the museum showcases British LGBTQ history and culture. With free entry and opening hours from 12pm to 6pm, it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in the stories and achievements of the community.

Cabaret at Kit Kat Club

The Playhouse Theatre has been transformed and is ready to transport you to Berlin in the early 1930s. Follow the story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw and English cabaret singer Sally Bowles as they navigate the hedonistic yet threatened world of the Weimar Republic. This production of Cabaret is an exhilarating experience, featuring iconic songs such as ‘Wilkommen’, ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ and ‘Maybe This Time’. Winner of seven Olivier Awards, this musical is not to be missed.

What’s on: more London LGBTQ places and LGBTQ-owned businesses

Where to stay: The Kensington Hotel

Situated in the heart of South Kensington, The Kensington Hotel offers luxury accommodation just minutes from the Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington Gardens and world-famous Harrods. It’s the perfect base for exploring London’s rich LGBTQ+ heritage while enjoying the comforts of a stylish, charming neighbourhood.

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