What's it really like?
While Berlin might seem like the undisputed king of gay Germany, Cologne is a very serious contender for the title. This western city is home to a huge gay population – over 10% of residents describe themselves as LGBTQI, well above the national average – and, as a result, has a vibrant, sexy, diverse gay scene that easily rivals the capital.
To be precise, Cologne is home to two gay scenes. The first, around Heumarkt-Mathiasstrasse in the Old Town (Altstadt), is the city’s original gayborhood. It is frequented by older gays and has more of a leather vibe, with a good handful of low-key, friendly bars filled with long-running patrons thrown in. The city’s cruise clubs – Deck 5, Pullerman’s, and Station 2B – are in this area.
The second part of gay Cologne can be found in the west of town, and it is where the city’s trendier, younger gay crowd congregates. There’s a whole bunch of gay bars around Rudolfpltaz-Schaafenstrasse, which makes for some top-notch bar hopping: this is affectionately known as the “Bermuda Triangle” among locals. Babylon and Phoenix, two of the best saunas in town, are a short walk away.
Gay Cologne is enough to keep you busy for a while, but don’t worry: the city at large also has its charms. From its iconic Cathedral to the fairytale-like old town, Cologne is romantic and intoxicating, and you can spend your days here just walking around and taking in the atmosphere. Culture vultures will fall in love with the city’s selection of Museums, ranging from art to Roman history to chocolate and fragrances (this is, after all, the birthplace of cologne).
Combine all this with friendly, open-minded people, a youthful student buzz, and an unparalleled calendar of cultural events (including an impressive range of LGBT celebrations), and you have yourself one of the best cities in Europe for a gay getaway.
Cologne has the distinct advantage of being home to not one, but two gayborhoods. One is located in the heart of the Old Town (Altstadt), around Heumarkt-Mathiasstrasse. This area is most popular with older gays and bears, although you will spot some young crowds here as well. All of the city’s cruise bars are in this part of town. As well as being particularly picturesque, Altstaft is near the Rhine, the cathedral, and several museums, meaning it is a great area to stay for sightseeing.
The other gay Cologne neighborhood is a bit further west, concentrating around Rudolfplatz. The grouping of gay bars in this area is sometimes referred to as the “Bermuda Triangle”, and is mostly made up of spots popular with a young, trendy crowd. Two of the city’s gay saunas are in this area.
If you’re in town to party, we suggest looking at the hotels located in the middle of the action – several of the options below are under 5-minutes from the nearest gay bar or sauna.
Germany has generally progressive LGBT laws in place. Gay marriage and adoption have been legal since 2017, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender is illegal (as is hate speech). Attitudes throughout the country are mostly liberal: in a 2013 poll, 87% of Germans believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, the second-largest score of the countries polled.
Cologne is one of Germany’s most liberal and open-minded cities, essentially equal to Berlin in this respect. It is also home to a significant LGBT population, a thriving and vast gay scene, and a large chunk of the country’s pink tourism. In short, gay couples have nothing in particular to worry about here and can hold hands and kiss without attracting attention.
You can come to Cologne anytime and be guaranteed a night of all-out gay fun. However, the city’s packed calendar of LGBT events keeps things extra interesting throughout the year. Carnival and Cologne Pride are the biggest attractions, but there are plenty of smaller, niche events that are well worth checking out.
Cologne Carnival Festival (Feb/March)
While not a gay event per se, there’s something about the over-the-top extravagance (and the skimpy costumes) of Cologne Carnival that have made it a queer-favorite event. Expect LGBT performances among the street parades and celebrations, and fabulous costume parties in gay bars and clubs across the city. You will want to book your Cologne hotel way in advance, as rates go up fast.
Come Together Cup (May)
Aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance within football, Come Together Cup runs a yearly tournament in cities across Germany. The games are fun, laid-back, family-friendly affairs and are well worth checking out for gay football fans.
Cologne Fetish Pride (June/July)
This 5-day event is one of Europe’s top celebrations of all things leather, rubber, and fetish. Most of the events are concentrated in the Altstadt gayborhood, home to Cologne’s older gay community, but there are also a handful of events with a younger focus.
Christopher Street Day / Cologne Pride (July)
Cologne Pride takes place over two weeks in the summer and culminates in Christopher Street Day on the first weekend of July. This is one of the largest Pride celebrations in Europe, and second only to Berlin in Germany. As well as being an incredible day of partying, there is always a political theme to the year’s celebrations. Events take place across the city but are concentrated around the Bermuda Triangle.
If you’re planning to attend Pride, make sure to book accommodation well in advance, especially if you want to stay near the gay action.
Run of Colours (September)
An annual 5K charity run with proceeds going to HIV and AIDS organizations. Open to everyone, but you need to register in advance to participate.
The gayest Halloween party you’ve ever been to. Held every year at Wall 7 in Altstadt (free shuttle service to/from Schaafenstraße near Rudolfplatz available).
Bear Pride Cologne (November)
Bear Pride Cologne takes place over 5 days, culminating in the election of the year’s Mr.Bear Germany. It’s hosted by Bartmänner Köln, the oldest bear association the world, and is filled with sauna parties, club nights, and other events.
Heavenue Cologne (December)
Germany is one of the best places in the world to be during the festive season: across the country, magical Christmas markets pop up in every city, and Cologne has some of the most magical of them all. Heavenue is one of a handful of gay Christmas markets in Germany, and it is the best place for a romantic date or an evening drink with friends when you’re in the mood to get Christmassy. Expect specialty mulled wines, artisan crafts, and LGBT performances, all done with just the right amount of kitsch.
Checkpoint, run by Aidshilfe Köln, is the easiest place to get an HIV test in town. Tests are available Monday to Friday evenings (6:30 PM to 9:30 PM) with a prior appointment – call the clinic to book. Rapid HIV tests are 26€ and the clinic offers a package for MSM that includes an HIV rapid test and smears for gonorrhea and chlamydia for 35€. People in Germany tend to speak pretty good English, so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.
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