The Gay Travel Capitals of the World

Dane Steele Green – President and CEO, Steele Luxury Travel marks the top places for gay travel in every area of the world, and Israel in the Middle East is a “no-brainer”


There is not one travel agent or destination-marketing company that has not acknowledged — even if ruefully — the financial punch wielded by the LGBTQ travel industry. When it comes down to brass tacks, they love us — so much so that they use the term “gay capital” as a lure. Sometimes they are spot-on. Other times it’s a little dubious. So here is the question: What makes a “gay capital” just that?

I’ve taken the liberty to draw up a list. In some cases, I had to do a little reaching; some regions are so generally hostile that a city there can be a gay capital simply because it has a single gay club. But I did not write off any region as a lost cause; that would be a slap in the face to the gays and lesbians working very hard for their rights and visibility.


As a “continent,” Asia is so vast and encompasses so many cultures that it would be unfair to assume that any one city is representative of all. It’s best to go by region and bear in mind to keep it relative:

1) Central Asia

Tough call, as no nation here can be called particularly “gay-friendly,” thanks to either Islamic prohibitions or an authoritarian Soviet legacy. So it comes down to what I can find out as to the presence of a scene. Two cities make the shortlist: Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan.

That being said, in March, Kyrgyz officials introduced a “gay propaganda” law even more restrictive than Russia’s, and in Kazakhstan, an official with the ruling Nur Otan party in 2013 condemned gays as “criminals against humanity.”

Let there be no doubt that this entry is putting lipstick on a pig. If I had to choose, I am leaning toward Almaty. It’s bigger, it’s more cosmopolitan, and it just might be the site of the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics. While the capital function is now in the northern city of Astana, Almaty is the undisputed cultural hub of the region. Due to its prominence, I’m giving Almaty my thumbs up, but with caution.

2) Middle East

Again, there’s not a lot of competition in this part of the world. Istanbul and Beirut are the frontrunners if we mean “Middle East” in a strictly Muslim sense, but in terms of open presence, solid rights, and simple infrastructure, Tel Aviv wins, hands-down.

On paper, Judaism is no friendlier to gays than Islam, but Israel is far more progressive in unshackling itself from dogma that might have made sense 3,000 years ago but is anachronistic today. The pride parade in Tel Aviv is the largest march in the city, the city actively promotes itself as a gay destination (it devotes a third of its marketing budget, about $100,000, to LGBTQ tourism), and the country even participates in the Eurovision contest. This one is a no-brainer.

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