What's it really like?
You may know Paris as a city of love, a city of culture, and a city of gourmet food, but you may not know Paris as one of Europe’s most gay-friendly cities. The vibrant area of the Marais in the city center groups most of the gay bars and saunas, although more gay spots can be found throughout the city.
With so many world-famous museums and landmarks, you may have a hard time choosing what to fit into your time in Paris. If this is your first time, there are a few must-sees, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, and the Louvre. Though these sights will not fail to impress, will probably find that your best memories of gay Paris are more low-key: a walk by the Seine, getting lost in the narrow streets of the Marais, a picnic in one of the city’s many gardens, and an evening spent sipping wine on the terrace of an old-fashioned bistro.
If you have time to drag yourself away from the city, there is an abundance of things to do nearby, from the grandeur of Versailles and its gardens (or, as an alternative, the palace that inspired it at Vaux-le-Vicomte) to the good old-fashioned fun of Disneyland Paris.
Many gay travelers choose to stay near Paris’ gay nightlife which is concentrated in the trendy area of the Marais, also known for its boutique shopping, delicious food, and classically Parisian narrow streets. Larger gay dance nights tend to take place further out from the center, and gay saunas can be found spread out throughout Paris.
France as a whole is very tolerant of homosexuality, with Paris having voted its first openly gay mayor back in 2001. The French tend to be very open-minded about sexuality, and do not have a problem with public displays of affection. Visitors to gay Paris are unlikely to raise any eyebrows, and will be generally welcome.
France repealed its anti-sodomy laws during the Revolution in the 18th century, and discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender was criminalized in the 80’s. The country offered gay couples the option to enter a legally-recognized domestic partnership in 1999, and gay marriage has been legal since 2013. In a 2013 survey, France had one of the highest levels of acceptance of homosexuality in the world.
The gay nightlife of Paris is gathered around the Marais in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. There is a vibe to suit every taste, from underground dives to all-out club nights, drag and go-go performances, cruising bars with private rooms, and casual conversational cafes. All of these venues, and plenty more, are a quick walk away from each other along some of Paris’ most picturesque narrow streets.
Les Souffleurs is a trendy, modern bar that’s quiet during the day and pounding at night, while nearby Cafe Cox caters to an older crowd of leather lovers. Raidd Bar is famous for its hourly (and pretty self-explanatory) shower show, and Bear’s Den has a similarly obvious key audience. At the heart of it all, gays of all ages and types meet up at the start of the night at the Open Cafe, and often end up back there near the end as well.
If you are looking to dance the night away, the Marais also has its fair share of clubs. FreeDJ is ideal for the cash-strapped, offering a crowded dancefloor without a cover charge, while Le CUD is a gay Paris institution, keeping the party going until the early hours of the morning. Full Metal and Kush are two popular cruising bars, offering plenty of opportunities for a Parisian fling.
There are gay venues in other areas of the city, but they are few and far in between. Banana Cafe is a popular gay Paris spot in Les Halles, while E20 Sex Club in Republique offers fully nude cruising nights for the more adventurous.
Paris has a generous selection of gay saunas. Unlike the bars, these tend to be spread across the city, with few of them in the Marais gayborhood. Most of them are well put-together and quite busy, offering plenty of opportunities to meet guys. Many saunas have free condoms and lube on offer, but it is still advisable to carry your own just in case.
The former red light district surrounding Montmartre and Pigalle has a few options, such as IDM Sauna, a large gay sauna over four floors, and Sauna Mykonos, a fully nude sauna where not even towels are allowed. In the 1st arrondissement at the very heart of the city is Le Tilt, the oldest gay sauna in France, as well as Gym Louvre, which caters to the muscle crowd.
There are also some more unique offerings, such as Atlantide Sauna in the 12th arrondissement. This place is open to everyone including straight guys, gay and bisexual women, and transgender patrons. King Sauna in the 17th is one of the few gay Paris saunas that are open all night.
Getting an HIV test in Paris is not difficult, although it can be hard to find information in English. STD tests are carried out in clinics called Centre de Depistage, and there are several across the city. They are always free and fully confidential, so you won’t need to bring anything. Sexual health is not particularly taboo in French culture, so you are unlikely to encounter any awkwardness.
A good choice for visitors is the Red Cross location near the Louvre (43, Rue de Vallois). You will need an appointment, which you can make at the clinic or at +33 0142613004. This is probably the best place for English-speaking service. If you don’t have time to wait for an appointment, there is a drop-in on Wednesdays 15:00-18:00 at their second clinic in Villeneuve-la-Garenne (accessible by bus N137).
To find other free HIV testing services, you can use this online tool. You may have some difficulty finding English-speaking staff, but you should be able to communicate what you need quite easily. To make things easier, use the French acronyms: VIH instead of HIV, and SIDA instead of AIDS.
Paris is neatly divided into 18 “arrondissements” or districts, each with a distinct history and atmosphere. Though locals will often refer to areas of the city by their number, there are a few more specific neighborhoods to keep in mind.
The main gay area of Paris is the Marais, a trendy yet classically charming central neighborhood. While the vast majority of establishments are here, there are a few exceptions around the city. Paris is, as a whole, an exceptionally gay-friendly city, meaning you are likely to find mixed gay/straight crowds across the board.
Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissement) – This small neighborhood in the center of the city is a mix of cool vintage shops and cafes, traditional Jewish delis, classic Parisian architecture, and of course most of the city’s gay life. Gay bars, clubs, dance parties, saunas, restaurants, and even a gay bakery can be found in this area, grouped quite close together. If you are looking to explore gay Paris, you’ll inevitably end up here at night, but take some time to visit during the day for some great food and pleasant strolling.
Les Halles (1st arrondissement) – A busy commercial area based around a large modern shopping center, formerly a traditional marketplace. Though it can be very full of tourists and shoppers, there are still some popular local spots, such as the Banana Cafe, a gay bar frequented by young Parisians. The city’s striking modern art museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, is at the heart of the area, and the Louvre is a short walk away within the 1st arrondissement.
Montmartre and Pigalle (9th and 18th arrondissement) – The northern neighborhood of Montmartre is best known for the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur, situated at the top of Montmartre hill. The surrounding streets, including the adjacent area of Pigalle, were a famous bohemian haunt for many legendary artists, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Van Gogh. Nowadays, it is famous for its galleries, cafes, and nightlife. Catch a show at the iconic Moulin Rouge or hit up one of the many neon-lit bars and clubs, including some gay options such as Cabaret Michou. If you’re feeling risque, Boulevard de Clichy is famous for its cluster of sex shops and peep shows.
Champs Elysees (8th arrondissement) – Iconic avenue lined with luxury brand shops, home to the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Climb the Arc for some exceptional views of the city, but avoid the cafes and restaurants along the boulevard as they tend to be overpriced.
Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement) – Paris’ classic student quarter, which is still home to the Sorbonne University. Though it has lost some of its character through tourism and gentrification, you can still spend a pleasant afternoon here sitting in cafes and browsing second-hand bookshops. At night, the student population fills up the area’s bars on any day of the week.
Trocadero (16th arrondissement) – This area surrounding the Eiffel Tower is one of the wealthiest and most exclusive in Paris. Most tourists stop by for the excellent view of the tower from the esplanade, but it’s worth having a walk around for some classic grand Parisian architecture.
Canal St-Martin (10th arrondissement) – Another student-centric area with a lively local commerce. It is particularly pleasant on a sunny day, when young Parisians can be seen eating, drinking, and chatting along the banks of the canal.
Paris is well-connected, with an effective yet occasionally outdated public transport network. The city was made to be walked, so do not hesitate to hit the ground for shorter distances if the weather allows. The metro and overground RER will get you to most places further away.
From The Airport – Charles de Gaulle Airport is connected to the city center by the RER B line (€11.40, 50 minutes). There are also several bus services linking the airport with key landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Place de l’Opera, as well as the city’s main train stations. Taxis are standardized at €50 for the right (north) bank and €55 for the left (south) bank. For Orly Airport, there is a direct bus from Arc de Triomphe and the Orlybus service runs to place Denfert Rochereau in the 14th (€8.70). For Beauvais, the airport serving European budget airlines, there is a bus shuttle service (€15.90) to Porte Maillot.
Metro – Far-reaching and quite well connected, you are rarely more than a 15-minute walk from a metro station. A ticket to anywhere within the city limits (Zone 1) is €1.90, and you can buy packs of multiple tickets to save some money. Some stations are deceptively close together, so check whether you would be better off walking before using a ticket. On key celebration nights such as New Year, the metro tends to be free and open all night. The rest of the year, it opens until 1:15 on weeknights and 2:15 on weekends.
RER – The RER intersects with the metro at several points, but is mostly overground. The three RER lines stretch into the suburbs, including key attractions such as Versailles (RER C) and Disneyland Paris (RER A).
Bus – City buses can be more practical than the metro depending on your destination, but can easily get stuck in gridlocked city traffic. Night buses (Noctilien) run from 12:30 to 5:30 from key locations throughout the city. Use the RATP (Parisian transport authority) planning tool to find your best itinerary.
Bike – Paris boasts a good network of cycle paths, and is not excessively tricky to navigate on two wheels. City rental bikes called Velib’ are easy to find, rent, and pay for. Just pay with your card at the terminal: your first half-hour is free, and then it’s €1 per extra half-hour.
Taxi – Quite expensive and rarely necessary, although you may have to resort to one if you are coming back to your hotel late at night.
Car Rental – With expensive parking fees and almost constant traffic, it is not worth renting a car for your time in Paris. Most out-of-town attractions can be reached by public transport. If your trip to France is going to take you elsewhere, you are better off getting a car when you leave Paris.
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