What's it really like?
London is a global hub of culture, fashion, nightlife, and entertainment, the city is big, vibrant, exciting, and filled with more activities than you could realistically fit into a holiday. London is the capital of the UK, the second-most visited city in the world, and home to Europe’s largest LGBT population
In London, you can spend your days visiting some of the world’s best museums and most iconic landmarks before diving deep into one of Europe’s most lively gay scenes.
Soho has long been known as the heart of gay London, and the grouping of gay bars and clubs on Old Compton Street – including popular venues like G-A-Y and The Duke of Wellington – is still going strong. However, the district once known for its seedy red light district has been mostly overtaken by trendy upmarket restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. You’ll still find plenty of sex shops and quite a few saunas, but you’ll have to look further for London’s modern gay scene.
In particular, East London has recently emerged as a gay area, especially the neighborhoods of Shoreditch and Dalston. As new clubs, bars, and shows open, several long-standing institutions also continue to shut down in these areas and gay London as a whole, pushed out by increasing gentrification. Nevertheless, the London LGBT community continues to be large, vocal, and well-established. You will not be lacking in choice when planning your gay nights out in London, and in fact you will probably start planning your next visit before you even leave.
London’s gay scene is one of the most exciting and diverse in Europe – whether you’re into old-fashioned pubs, swanky cocktail lounges, sweaty dance clubs, after-hours parties that keep going until 10 AM, London has a gay bar for you.
Although a night (or a few) in Soho is an absolute must-do for any gay visitor, you’ll need to venture beyond the West End to get a real feel for the variety on offer. Vauxhall has some of the best late-night venues, while the East End areas of Dalston, Hoxton, and Shoreditch offer the latest in edgy, anything-goes queer nightlife.
London’s sauna scene is not as varied and active as it is in other cities worldwide, but there is plenty to play with if you know where to look. Premium saunas with large areas and state-of-the-art facilities include Pleasuredrome and Sweatbox, while smaller, local saunas include Sailors and E15.
The gay cruise scene in London is quite focused on the fetish, leather, and rubber niche, and there are some amazing cruise clubs and parties to check out if that’s your thing. Otherwise, naked parties like those held at UNION are your best option for some non-fetish fun.
All accommodation in London is gay-friendly, and you will not encounter any issues booking rooms as a gay couple or with gay friends. The main problem most travelers face when looking for accommodation in London is that it can get very expensive. Soho is the best place to stay if you want to be at the heart of the gay nightlife, but it is also a trendy upmarket area in central London, so prices are high.
Other areas with good gay nightlife include Shoreditch and Vauxhall. These are spread around less central areas of London, so are likely to be slightly cheaper, but don’t expect budget prices either. Your best bet if you are on a budget is to look for hostels (either in a dorm or private room).
If you are willing to splash out, London is also home to some of the glitziest and most fashionable hotels in the world. Expect stunning traditional rooms, excellent skyline views over the river, and maybe even some celebrity-spotting in the lobby if you are lucky. You will be paying upwards of £350 ($460 USD) a night for an upmarket hotel.
The UK is a progressive and tolerant country, and London has the world’s largest LGBT population. Gay travelers should encounter no issues in the city, and public displays of affection like holding hands and quick kisses will barely attract attention. Homophobia can of course be found anywhere, but gay people in the UK are protected by law from discrimination.
Gay London’s nightlife is extremely varied, from long-standing megaclubs to small, independent bars and quirky gay-themed nights. Whatever your preferred vibe is, whether it’s seedy and sexy or low-key and relaxed, there is an ideal gay night out for you.
No visit to gay London is complete without a trip to Soho, the city’s most famous gayborhood. Though the area has changed in the past years, with longstanding gay bars being lost to trendy gentrified establishments, it remains distinctly gay and extremely fun. Most of the gay bars and clubs are grouped around Old Compton Street. These include G-A-Y, one of the area’s most famous clubs (expect a young crowd dancing to Top 40 pop songs and gay anthems), and Compton’s, one of Soho’s oldest institutions.
The East London area of Dalston has recently started giving Soho a run for its money in terms of its gay scene, with Dalston Superstore club becoming one of the city’s most popular gay nights. Nearby, several bars offer top-notch drag acts and entertainment, including the UK’s first drag queen karaoke bar. Shoreditch, London’s most infamous hipster and creative hub, is another popular spot for gay nightlife, as is nearby Hackney, which is slightly less gentrified.
London’s excellent transport system makes it possible to bar-hop relatively easily, with a reliable night bus system and a reduced night tube (underground) service recently being rolled in. However, traveling around the huge city can take some time, so you may be better off focusing on a specific area each night to make the most of it.
London has a wide selection of gay saunas to suit every taste, mostly grouped around Soho. These include Sweatbox, a sleek and sexy modern sauna featuring state-of-the-art facilities and massages, and The Stable in Covent Garden, one of the city’s oldest and most established saunas. These are conveniently located near popular gay bars and clubs, meaning you can easily hit them up after a night out.
South of the river, Waterloo has a few good options, including Pleasuredome, a large industrial-themed sauna, and the even larger Chariots, which has the largest sauna room in the UK (it fits up to 50 guys) and 35 dark rooms. Chariots has a second location in Vauxhall, which is also near some nightlife hotspots and is the largest gay sauna in the UK.
The size of many of London’s top saunas does present a problem: on busy nights (mostly weekends) they will be packed with more naked men than you’ve likely ever seen in one place, but on quiet ones you may struggle to find action, with patrons spread across a huge variety of rooms. For this reason, it is a good idea to hit up smaller, local saunas on weeknights and go for the big names on weekends and special event nights.
Getting tested in London is quite straightforward. Post Brexit, EU Nationals are currently entitled to free healthcare under the National Health Service (NHS) as long as they can present their European Health Insurance Card. It is still unknown how this will change over the next few years. Other visitors will have to pay a fee in NHS locations or use a private service.
The NHS has an online tool that you can use to find HIV testing services in any area of the country. Just type in your hotel postcode and you will find every clinic that offers the service near you. For central London, 56 Dean St in Soho is one the largest sexual health clinics for the specializing LGBTQI+ community in the UK. AIDSMap has a similar tool, in which you can refine your search further by type of service.
Many of London’s gay saunas give out free condoms and lube, and these are also freely available on the NHS at multiple clinics and pharmacies. Use the NHS tool to find places near where you are staying that have them to save yourself the cost.
Soho – The original heart of gay London. Soho has always been London’s iconic gay area, and home to plenty of gay bars, clubs, and saunas, as well as several sex shops. You will also find plenty of cool and unique places to eat and shop.
West End – The West End encompasses several areas (including Soho), and is most famous as the home to London’s theatres, which put on world-famous plays and musicals. The West End has some of the city’s best shopping, including Covent Garden, Oxford Street, and Bond Street, as well as key attractions such as Picadilly Circus. It is the most expensive area in the city to stay in, with some of the best hotels.
South Kensington – An area that concentrates some of London’s best and most famous museums, including the Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and Science Museum. It is also home to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, one of the city’s royal residences.
Westminster – This is the area surrounding London’s most iconic landmark, the Big Ben. Other attractions nearby include the Palace of Westminster, which is the seat of the country’s parliaments, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace.
Shoreditch – One of the most famous hipster hubs in the UK, let alone the world, Shoreditch is trendy, quirky, and expensive. It does however have a few good gay hotspots, such as The Joiner’s Arms and The Glory, and some saunas.
Camden – Camden is home to Camden Market, one of the city’s most famous shopping districts. People flock here for shops celebrating all kinds of alternative subcultures, as well as for cool craft breweries, buzzing nightlife, and great street food from all over the world.
Hackney – An up-and-coming neighborhood in North East London, Hackney is a culturally diverse area that still has quite a bit of local charm. It is however undergoing rapid gentrification. Depending on who you ask, this means either a great selection of cool bars, cafes, and restaurants (including some gay options), or the loss of a vibrant neighborhood.
London’s transport network is extensive and quite reliable, although delays and closures do happen on the underground. Both the buses and underground are relatively simple to navigate for a tourist, although some connections can be a bit tricky and poorly signaled. Avoid taking the underground during rush hour (07:30 – 9:30 and 17:00 – 19:00) as it tends to be very packed and uncomfortable.
From the Airports – London is served by five airports: London City, Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, and Luton. London City is the closest to the center, but tends to be for domestic flights; most international flights arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick. All of the airports are connected to the city centre by dedicated train lines (about £10-25), which stop at major intersections in the city. From there, you can take an underground to any destination. There are also plenty of bus services (£5-15) available. If you have a lot of suitcases, you may prefer to get a taxi, but this will cost you at least £100 from the larger airports.
Underground – London’s underground covers the city extremely well with several well-connected lines. To save time and money, you should buy an Oyster card, which you can top up and also use on the buses. There is a maximum daily spend on the Oyster card (£8 for travel within the central zones), so you know how much money you will be spending at most. A lot of stations are quite close to each other, so check whether you are better off walking rather than switching lines at a station.
Bus – London’s famous red buses are abundant and cheap (£1.50 fare). You can’t pay by cash, so you will need your Oyster card to use them. Use Transport for London’s online planner tool to see what bus you should take for your journey, and whether you would be better off being the underground.
Taxi – Many visitors to London look forward to riding in one of the city’s distinctive black cabs, so it can be worth taking a trip or two for the novelty of it. However, the public transport system should get you to most places, and the taxis are quite expensive, so it is best not to rely on them too much.
Bicycle – London has a vast network of cycle paths and many commuters choose to bike around the city. It is a good way to get around, but only for confident cyclists who are used to traveling within cities – other cyclists and cars will not always give you much room. The main bike rental scheme is for the red Santander Bikes, which you can rent using a credit card. There is a £2 access fee for every 24 hour period, then the first 30 minutes are free and any other 30-minute periods are an additional £2.
Car Rental – London is a huge city with heavy traffic, so there is no benefit to renting a car on the ground.
Remember that UK roads run on the left, so be careful when crossing streets.
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