6 sizzling British cities so welcoming you will book the next flight

Distant view of group of gay men having drinks outside in Manchester. River and and tree lined street in view. Gay flag.
Manchester, UK

When travelers think of visiting Great Britain, they think of London’s fabulous gay scenes, among the most vibrant anywhere. After all, the Soho village remains one of the gayest ‘hoods in one of the world’s greatest cities.

But anyone thinking exclusively about London is sincerely missing out. London is just the starting point to explore the treasures that Britain has to offer—from Manchester Pride to the rock n’ roll legacy of Liverpool to the scenic canals of Birmingham.

With warm weather on the horizon (trust us, it’s on the way), it is now time to start mapping out those spring and summer excursions. Whether you’re seeking festivals, sweeping coastline panoramas, LGBTQ clubs, world-class theater or open-air foodie hotspots, Britain is the ideal place for your next vacation.

To get you thinking about the possibilities, here are six British cities that will take you across the country and deepen your love of all things British. You could visit all these cities on a single trip or spread them out over several visits. Either way, you’re bound to find something new and surprising each step of the way.

See what you’ve been missing, with a few handy tips to get the most out of your trip…

1. Manchester

Gay couple standing outside G-A-Y Bar in Manchester. 
G-A-Y Bar in Manchester. 

Manchester’s thriving queer scene is centered around Canal Street, where the cast of the original British series Queer as Folk danced and partied and made the bars world-famous. A lot has changed in Manchester since the show premiered 20 years ago, and queer communities have spilled out across the city, so the scene is not just about the Village anymore. Manchester has become a diverse melting pot of international cultures, but the city still maintains its welcoming and progressive attitude.

Insider Tip: Manchester’s Pride has just announced that Ariana Grande will headline the 2019 Festival, which will take on a brand-new format this year including a new home for the August Bank Holiday event’s live music experience. The Festival takes place over four days in Manchester city center on August 23–26, and will be made up of six key elements: Manchester Pride Live, the Candlelit Vigil, the Superbia Weekend, the Gay Village Gathering, Manchester Pride Parade and, new for 2019, Youth Pride. The biggest change to the format is live music element, now named Manchester Pride Live, taking place over two days–Saturday, Aug. 24 and Sunday, Aug. 25. It will host about 25 artists across two stages in and around the Mayfield Depot, part of the former Mayfield Station site.

  • Stay: To stay close to the Village, The Radisson offers traditional hotel rooms with a touch of elegance. Principal Manchester is a historic beauty, and the hotel hosts some of the best satellite Pride parties. Dakota Manchester is scheduled to open in May, just in time for Pride, and guests will fall in love with the stylish and spacious suites.
  • Eat: Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous relied on Harvey Nichols for sustenance, and the Manchester location is great for elegant meals and grabbing snacks in the market. On the subject of elegant meals, try Velvet, popular with Manchester boys who want to impress their dates. But there’s no need to spend all of your time in the Village, as there’s a whole world of cute LGBT folk serving in bars and restaurants across the city, especially in the Northern Quarter. There’s something for everyone at Mackie Mayor, a food hall with feasts for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
  • Drink: The entire village is a rowdy good time. Cruz 101 is a hot spot with two dance floors. Before dancing the night away, stop by Oscars to get started with a drink.
  • See: Take a day trip to Stoke-on-Trent, and step into the World of Wedgewood with a factory tour and a delightful afternoon tea, replete with finger sandwiches and scones served on the finest Wedgewood china. Monday-Friday only.

2. Birmingham

Custard Factory, Birmingham
Custard Factory, Birmingham

A UK favorite, Birmingham boasts more picturesque canals than Venice. Waterside restaurants are popular places to dine and sip a cocktail while watching narrowboats pass by. Birmingham is known for its gay village, located in ‘Southside’ around Hurst Street. As befits a city of its size and status, the queer scene is thriving, with its famous clubs and the enormous two-day Birmingham Pride celebration in May featuring throwbacks such as Human League and Mya on the main stage. RuPaul’s Drag Race fans should take notice that fan favorite Aja will also be performing.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss Digbeth, a creative hub where graffiti has transformed traditional red brick walls into colorful works of art.

  • Stay: Hotel Indigo is a short walk to the village. Request a balcony room to take in the vibrant cityscape.
  • Eat: What Mexican food is to Americans, Indian food is to the English. Birmingham has a large South Asian community, and the cuisine is cherished for its spicy, robust flavor. Try Asha’s Birmingham, co-owned by a famous Indian singer, Asha Bhosle.
  • Drink: Eden Bar features a lovely outdoor patio, perfect for a sultry evening.
  • See: Check out the year-round events produced by the Shout Festival, home to theatre, arts, comedy, music, and films.

3. Brighton

Crowd of people in front of the Royal Pavilion at dusk, lit up in a range of vivid colours, pink, green, yellow and purple, Brighton, East Sussex, England.
Crowd of people in front of the Royal Pavilion at dusk, lit up in a range of vivid colours, pink, green, yellow and purple, Brighton, East Sussex, England.

Brighton’s shoreline is punctuated by a carnival-like pier extending into the English Channel. This seaside resort town of 250,000 is a popular spot for couples who want to settle down away from the confines of big city life, and the result is the country’s highest proportion of same-sex households.

Thus it’s no surprise that Brighton attracts a plethora of visitors and locals seeking to revel in the city’s open attitude, thriving arts community, and hopping bar scene. In August, Brighton also hosts one of the largest Pride festivals in the country, welcoming visitors from across the globe. This year, Kylie Minogue will be headlining.

Insider Tip: Brighton’s gay café and bar scene are focused around St. James Street in the Kemp Town neighborhood. When standing at the pier, and facing the ocean, look to your left and head directly there.

  • Stay: Legends bills itself as the country’s finest gay hotel, offering rooms ranging from Dinky Doubles to Loft Sea View. Take advantage of one of the many guesthouses.
  • Eat: Sleep in and then enjoy a late brunch at Bill’s Produce Store. Splurge on an intimate dinner at The Gingerman.
  • Drink: The Queen’s Arms hosts regular cabaret and drag shows, and of course the beverages are delicious. The A Bar at The Amsterdam has an amazing view of the sea, and their Sunday brunch is excellent. The Camelford Arms is a great traditional pub that is well-known for their Sunday Roast.
  • See: The Lanes is a shopping hotspot, but keep this in mind: This is a gaycation town. Go antiquing! For the best antiques, North Laine is the place to go. Also, be sure to check out the Royal Pavillion (featured in the photo above)!

4. Bristol

Illuminated hot air balloons on the ground at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

Home to stylish lodging, international street art, lively nightlife, and a contemporary art scene, Bristol captures an authentic bohemian vibe. The city often tops ‘most liveable city’ lists and was recently declared the vegan capital of the world. All this combines to create the perfect city destination with the added appeal of easy day trips to the neighboring Georgian city of Bath, Stonehenge and the picture-postcard Cotswolds.

Bristol’s gay village is situated in the Old Market neighborhood (Bristol Bear Bar, To The Moon, Phoenix Pub and Old Market Tavern) but don’t miss other downtown bars (Queenshilling and OMG Bristol). The city hosts an impressive array of festivals including Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Love Saves The Day, Bristol Pride, and St. Paul’s Carnival.

The harbor is the city’s jewel in its crown. Visit Brunel’s SS Great Britain to follow in the footsteps of Victorian seamen and climb the ship’s rigging; Here, there’s even the chance to dress up as first-class passengers, and grab your boarding card as you explore the world’s first great ocean liner and adjacent museum celebrating the extraordinary life of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Stroll around the harbor and enjoy views of Brunel’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Insider Tip: Bristol is rightly praised for its wide range of theater and performing arts venues. Be sure to check out mainstays Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Hippodrome, but also smaller theaters Tobacco Factory, Redgrave Theatre, and Trinity Centre. Tobacco Factory’s artistic director Mike Tweddle recently opened his inaugural season with an on-point production of Beautiful Thing.

Insider Tip, Part II: From Brunel to Banksy, Bristol’s contemporary street art is unmissable. Many of the city’s eye-catching murals are created by international artists for Upfest – an urban art festival. Wander the streets of Southville to see dozens of huge murals along North Street or scour the whole city to find at least seven artworks by Banksy. There’s a self-guided walking trail on the Visit Bristol website or book a walking tour with Where The Wall.

  • Stay: The Mercure offers Victorian style and is walking distance to the gay village. Nearby Brooks Guesthouse is a boutique B&B which even boasts retro Rocket Caravans on the roof.
  • Eat: Set beside the historic harbor, Wapping Wharf is a collection of shipping containers converted into coffee houses, food stalls, restaurants, and shops. It is a must-visit for the food and the people watching. In the upmarket Clifton neighborhood, recent arrival The Ivy Clifton Brasserie is a great choice. While the city’s many vegetarian options include Flow, offering an ever-changing menu featuring local, seasonal ingredients.
  • Drink: How about sharing pints with the big, friendly blokes at BBB (Bristol Bear Bar)? Or explore four floors of one of the city’s finest historic buildings by drinking at The Milk Thistle. For panoramic views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, bag terrace seats at the White Lion Bar at Hotel Du Vin’s Avon Gorge Hotel; the hotel itself is also a smart choice as an alternative to more central digs.

5. Leeds

Trinity Leeds Mall in Leeds, England, filled with shoppers on a sunny day.

Leeds is a metropolis in the northern England county of Yorkshire. Once an industrial hub, Leeds has become one of Britain’s financial powerhouses, and in the process created a stylish mix of converted warehouse and factory buildings with a diverse social scene. For history buffs, the Royal Armouries Museum houses the national collection of armaments.

Insider Tip: The gay bars are located near Call Lane, a small street near Leeds Bridge, just north of River Aire.

  • Stay: Leeds has a plethora of nice hotels; try Novotel for convenience and comfort.
  • Eat: Trinity Leeds is the city’s shopping and dining destination, featuring dozens of shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants housed under a glass dome. The restaurants range from fast-food to fantastic. For a gastronomical treat, a visit to The Alchemist may be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Drink: The chill atmosphere of Queens Court is perfect to enjoy shows and events. Catch the show at Viaduct. Just want a cocktail? Walk down a spooky alley to quaint Blayds Bar. The overflowing crowd inevitably ends up mingling on the sidewalk.
  • See: Marks & Spencer, the storied giant of English retail, was born in Leeds, so a trek to the original is a must. On the other end of the price spectrum, check the schedule for Leeds Kirkgate Market, where dozens of merchants not only sell produce and fresh fish but an array of goods, including cool British vintage duds on Mondays.

6. Liverpool

A wax sculpture of John Lennon rests against a red sign for Cavern Pub, in Liverpool UK
Sculpture of John Lennon outside the Cavern Club, Liverpool, UK.

Liverpool’s waterfront, lined with historic dockyards and towering cathedrals, overlooks the Mersey River where it meets the Irish Sea. But people come here not just for history and the vistas. Liverpool also has one of the oldest Chinatowns in Europe. And then, of course, there is the world-class pop music scene, which gave birth to many of the great recording artists of our time. And where there is great music, there are gaggles of great gays.

Insider Tip: The main queer scene is located in the Stanley Street Quarter.

  • Stay: Soak in the view from Liverpool’s waterfront while luxuriating at the gorgeous Malmaison. For a more intimate experience, stay at Epstein’s Guest HouseThe Titanic Hotel allows you to get on your inner Kate Winslet (or Leo) and offers massively luxurious rooms and a spa experience unmatched.
  • Eat: Take Afternoon Tea at The Art School Restaurant, which has won countless awards for culinary excellence.
  • Drink: Sonic Yootha are monthly nightclub events where the music is good, the doormen are friendly, and everyone is welcome. The bar Out! hosts Drag Race trivia nights. Check out The Lisbon for the gay pub experience.
  • See: Dead or Alive. Echo & The Bunnymen. The Boo Radleys. Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A Flock of Seagulls. These are just a few of the bands that have emerged from the music clubs and recording studios. Visit the British Music Experience and revel not only in the home-grown artists, but the entire country, including David Bowie, Def Leppard, and Adele. (And even Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress!)
  • The Beatles: There is, of course, a special exhibition in the museum that celebrates the city’s most famous prodigies, The Fab Four. The Liverpool Beatles tour is a must. Check out the Cavern Club, where none other than Paul McCartney returned to the club last year for an unannounced show.

For more information check out VisitBritain’s LGBT guides

All images courtesy of VisitBritain

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