Summer of Love: Beyond London
Whether celebrating your honeymoon or a sexy singles weekend, Britain has a dazzling array of choices for LGBT travelers. From city stays to lovely countryside escapes, Pride parades galore, a big night out or a romantic hotel night in, here's where to eat, stay, party and play in each Pride destination:
This once industrial city in the north of England is now a glitter-dusted modern metropolis for gay men and lesbians. Focused around Canal Street, Manchester's gay village is one of the best known in Britain. Its cobbled streets play host to one of the biggest dates in the British LGBT calendar, the annual Manchester Pride.
Over the years artists such as Kelis, Human League, MKS, Chicane, Alexandra Burke, The Gossip, The Feeling and many more have all strutted their stuff. This year's Pride theme is yet to be announced, but judging by previous years it will be outrageously fabulous as ever, and the big weekend kicks off Aug. 22 for 72 hours of fun.
Dating from 1853, the Free Trade Hall is a grand colonnaded building that was once Manchester's premiere concert venue. Following a £45million reinvention, it re-launched in 2004 as the 5-star Radisson Blu Edwardian. The hotel's four penthouse suites are named Bassey, Dylan, Fitzgerald and Valentino in recognition of the world-renowned performers who once played there. Famous guests now include the likes of Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé and Simon Cowell. There are 263 rooms and suites, two restaurants, a champagne bar, a destination spa, and oodles of contemporary glamour.
One of the most popular honeymoon choices listed on British-based LGBT travel website FurtherAfield.com is - an eco-retreat in the Lake District, 90 miles north of Manchester and set in secluded woodland with stunning views over Lake Windermere. The owners will even deliver succulent homemade meals like game pie and monkfish ravioli to your door.
The capital of Wales offers much for its visitors with a blend of attractions including a medieval castle, beautiful bay, coastline and even a picturesque countryside on its doorstep. Like the city itself, Cardiff’s gay scene is small and compact - but with something for everyone. The main venues are focused around Charles Street and Churchill Way in the city center - all within walking distance of each other.
Welsh men are 100% beef, reared on a diet of rugby, choral singing and dragon-chasing: Wales is birthplace of gay rugby player Gareth Thomas, legendary singer Tom Jones, and film stars Richard Burton, Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys. Shirley Bassey and Catherine Zeta-Jones are also Welsh, proving the women are just as fiery. So what better place for an unforgettable gay holiday, wedding or honeymoon?
Cardiff Mardi Gras, or Pride Cymru, has always garnered strong local and internal support and have managed to attract big British celebrities such as Beverly Knight and Russell T. Davies (of Doctor Who fame). In 2012, the first ever Pride parade through the city center attracted up to 45,000 people! So whatever the Welsh have planned on Saturday, Aug. 16, it will be sure to have you dancing through the stunning streets of Cardiff.
The annual Iris Prize Festival (Oct. 8-12) is Cardiff’s queer alternative to Cannes. During four days of international film screenings, panel sessions and parties, 30 short films by or about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people compete to win the top accolade valued at £25,000.
As for whom to spend the night with, FurtherAfield.com recommends The Grove in Pembrokeshire, one of Wales’ finest restaurants and leading small luxury hotel known for taking self-catering accommodation to a sumptuous level.
Surrounded by manicured lawns, flower borders and meadows, The Grove uses Welsh natural materials to create "cwtchy" (that means cozy in Welsh) gay-friendly places to stay that also have a wow factor. With 20 intimate guest rooms and suites, together with four traditional cottages full of character, each room is individually designed to the highest standards.
Birmingham’s gay village is in the Southside area around Hurst Street, south of Birmingham Hippodrome theater and the plethora of restaurants in the city’s Chinese Quarter. As well as pagodas and oriental-influenced architecture, look out for a gay piece of street art: a sparkly, rhinestone-encrusted rhinoceros on the roof of Wynner House.
Key gay venues include The Loft Lounge, with plush velvet couches, chandeliers and exposed brickwork attracting a stylish 30-something crowd. Contemporary gay café bar Equator is ideal for coffees, snacks or cocktails. A former car showroom, Sidewalk Bar and Restaurant retains its huge plate-glass windows and warehouse-style décor, and is popular with a predominantly younger mixed crowd. Lesbian bar, The Fox, has DJs, karaoke and theme nights. Known locally as "the Gale", Nightingale Club has been a Birmingham gay scene stalwart since 1969 - it’s spread across 3 floors, well-known pop stars grace its stage, and more than 1,000 queer clubbers party here on weekends.
The UK’s largest two-day LGBT festival, Birmingham Pride (May 24-25) is generally held over the May Spring Bank Holiday weekend, so it’s the perfect precursor to Pride season. The streets of Birmingham’s gay village pulsate with a carnival parade, live music, cabaret stage, women’s arena and a community village attracting upwards of 70,000 people each year.
Staying Cool’s Rotunda Apartments are 26 serviced apartments on the top four floors of a Birmingham landmark: the Rotunda, a 20-storey glass tube built in the 1960s as part of the first Bullring Centre offers four configurations, from studios to two-bed penthouses.
Often referred to as ’London by the Sea’, Brighton has long been the preferred weekend getaway for London’s LGBT community. Boasting a vibrant gay scene in the seafront Kemp Town neighborhood, a year-round calendar of LGBT events, an official nudist beach with a gay-favored area and a prevailing laid-back attitude, you can see why it’s so appealing.
This year Brighton Pride returns in spectacular style with an expected 160,000 participants and spectators this August! The theme will be ’Freedom to Live’ highlighting the plight of LGBT people facing discrimination around the world. The actual Pride parade will be titled ’The World’s a Disco’ which perfectly encapsulates the fabulous-ness of Brighton, celebrating diversity and difference from around the globe.
Consider staying at myhotel Brighton - a sexy design hotel with 80 curvaceous guestrooms by renowned New York interior architect Karim Rashid. The choice rooms include "Heaven," "Jade" and "Bamboo," with huge circular beds and individual décor by local artists - or try the "Carousel" penthouse suite where in-room amenities include a sleek four-poster bed, free-standing bathtub, luxurious tiled steam room, and a 300-year-old vintage carousel horse. It’s perfect for fantastical gay honeymoons.
The city is not merely a saucy seaside escapade for Londoners and other visitors too - it’s said to have Britain’s highest proportion of same-sex households.