- Rainbow Travel
The LGBTIQ+ guide to London, from clubs and festivals to holistic safe spaces
As the UK’s most famed sprawling metropolis, London’s queer scene has long been characterized by the LGBTIQ+ clubs and bars that line Soho’s streets and Vauxhall’s historic presence as a gay haven. However, the last decade has seen the capital’s nightlife undergo a dramatic makeover as London’s queer communities have carved out more and more of their own spaces catering to specific needs.
Whether you’re after somewhere to shake a leg, holistic community spaces, or the latest literature from queer authors, London is an iconic destination for LGBTIQ+ travelers.
Best gay bars, clubs & parties
Perhaps the best thing about queer nightlife in London is that all manner of events can be found right across the city. Sure, barhopping across the capital becomes more of an extreme sport but the varied range of clubs, bars and parties more than makes up for it.
One road you can waltz up and down, chasing an eclectic night out, is Kingsland High Street. The bustling East London road is host to all manner of queer alcoves. The Glory, an LGBTIQ+ pub, performance space and self-proclaimed "drag hothouse", beckons revelers every Friday and Saturday with its weekend discos and basement club – a spot that breakout Drag Race UK star Bimini Bon Boulash describes as having “an all-round incredible vibe…it’s all over the place. It’s for everyone.”
Just down the road sits The Karaoke Hole – or, more simply, "The K Hole" to the initiated, which does what it says on the tin. It’s very much a “come for the karaoke, leave with a bunch of new-found queer friends and a minor obsession with the drag stars hosting the queer variety shows” kind of place.
It’s The Karaoke Hole’s ostentatious big sister just a few doors away, however, that has my heart. Describing itself as “East London’s premiere queer pleasure palace”, Dalston Superstore is a club, cabaret spot, gallery and community space, among many other things. My baby queer years are marked by nights spent within the colorful, gaudy walls of this venue, pulsing dance music reverberating off sweaty, glamorously dressed bodies. You’ll find nights like "Transvision" – a trans-centered club night – and "Fast & Bi-Furious" – a hardcore bisexual rave – alongside the space’s famed Drag Brunch; you’ll never be short of options for your next intensely camp rendezvous.
While there are certainly a number of queer venues, including the illustrious Royal Vauxhall Tavern in south London, which have had their rainbow-touting doors open for decades, rotating regular parties from queer collectives around the city have become the norm.
Take Pxssy Palace, for example. A club night for queer women, non-binary and trans folks of color, many of their parties take place in and around East London, but can also be found producing and DJ-ing special events, like Skate Lates at the decadent winter skate nights at Somerset House. Their playful themed club nights range from latex-clad Kink to suited Girlboss soirees.
Queer Black-led Rêveur Collective delivers up spaces for unadulterated enjoyment, from their rum punch-infused brunches near London Bridge to their traffic light parties further along the river, in south-east London’s Greenwich. If you’re chasing a dance party that brings the energy of Carnival all year round, Queer Bruk ticks those boxes as “London’s duttiest Black queer night”. You’ll find their afrobeats, soca and dancehall-laden nights at East London venue The Colour Factory, as well as across the Thames in Brixton.
LGBTIQ+ spaces beyond the clubs
Not everyone finds solace in the club and, thankfully, queer spaces in London extend far beyond the dancefloor. The London LGBTQ+ Community Centre is one such valued space. A sober, intergenerational center, it managed to raise £100,000 from individual community donations back in 2018. You’d be forgiven for thinking the center’s physical home has been open much longer than its mere one year thanks to the sheer volume of events they host.
From language exchange groups for LGBTIQ+ learners and fluent speakers of French, Spanish, Dutch and more, film screenings, open mics and craft workshops, to dedicated meet-ups for autistic, neurodiverse, trans, 50+, and racialized queer communities – there will undoubtedly be an event where you can meet kindred spirits.
A similar dedication to sober, holistic spaces runs through Misery, a mental health hub prioritizing queer and trans-Black people and people of color. Alongside hosting sober club nights, the last few years have seen the Misery community put on summer fayres – with performances, grief rituals, tattoos, massages and crafts in tow – as well as their most recent free monthly plant-focused event series.
"Misery Medicine: Plant Magic" sees attendees take a herb walk in different green spaces around the capital every first Saturday of the month, while they’re given tips by facilitators for self-soothing through plant medicine. Taking in the lush green spaces in the midst of London’s infamous concrete jungle, events like these are perfect for travelers hankering for an alternative exploration of the city.
If learning about the longstanding presence of queer people in Britain aligns more with your idea of a good time, look no further than Queer Britain. The country’s first dedicated LGBTQ+ museum, Queer Britain opened the doors of its first physical home in North London’s King’s Cross at the beginning of 2022. The museum lays claim to voices, objects and images spanning 100 years of queer life – all free to explore. Peruse the insights and complicated histories of London’s communities before ending your visit with a trip to the gift shop for your Queer Britain merch. The book section is curated by top queer bookshop, Gay’s The Word, with all profits funneled back into the museum and adjoining charity.
If you’d prefer to see a wider array of queer literature, pop over to the Gay’s The Word bookshop nestled between King’s Cross and Russell Square. The oldest LGBTIQ+ bookshop in the country, you’ll find all manner of queer fiction and non-fiction works, from the classics through to the latest published titles, in this cozy alcove. Time your visit just right and you could meet some of your favorite queer authors at book launches, readings, panel discussions and signings.
Dates for your diary
While London’s queer scenes are abuzz all year round, it is naturally the call of Pride events that beckons both LGBTQ+ travelers and locals. Annual summer events like UK Black Pride and Pride in London see thousands of queer folks flock to the capital for performances, day parties, after parties...you name it. However, the latter has courted huge controversy over the years for its poor engagement with trans, Black and brown LGBTIQ+ communities. As a result, since 2019, a new trans-centered pride march has emerged in the form of London Trans+ Pride, offering both a celebration of trans existence and a protest against archaic legislation and hollowed-out trans healthcare provisions.
BFI Flare, the biggest queer film fest in Europe, takes place every spring at the BFI Southbank, just south of the river near Waterloo. Established back in 1986, the festival showcases the very best in new LGBTIQ+ cinema from around the globe, alongside special presentations, galas and the opportunity to hear from exciting and upcoming new stars in the biz.
Resources and need-to-know
While the UK positions itself as a progressive beacon when it comes queer inclusivity, hostility towards trans folks from mainstream media, pundits and celebrities continues to grow at an alarming rate. Many of the spaces listed above have emerged and evolved to resist queerphobic and transphobic policies and systems ingrained in the country’s institutions.
As queer and trans people know, there is no such thing as a safe city, let alone a safe country for us – to suggest otherwise would be dishonest. Legislative protections do not equate to "progressive" or changed cultural attitudes, especially when many of those who form London’s queer communities are not correctly recognized (or recognized at all) by those legislations. However, the above spaces and events exemplify a commitment to queer people keeping other queer people as safe as possible when we come together. For example, Pxssy Palace offers a taxi system that helps trans and disabled partygoers get home safely after their club nights. Unfortunately, getting home safely by cab – especially to avoid drunken revelers on public transport – is often a major consideration after big nights out.
Overall, London is incredibly well connected, with the Tube, trains and other forms of public transport quickly whizzing you from one corner of the city to another. Bikes-for-hire can be found all over the city if that’s more your speed.
Meetup is a treasure trove for traveling queers – and locals – looking to make new connections, with queer events listed daily across the city and online, including film nights, speed dating, winter markets, queer history walks and more. Moonlight Experiences also offers up listings of exciting new queer events, vogue balls, workshops and the like. The aforementioned London LGBT+ Community Centre is also an invaluable resource for finding access to sexual health testing and mental health support.