Not so long ago when it was time to plan a trip, the fact that I’m a lesbian was never a crucial part of setting things up. It might sound strange at first, because why would a lesbian’s vacation be different than anyone else’s?
It’s a widely accepted habit even for openly gay couples to act the safe “straight” way when they know that the environment they are getting into is not accepting. We don’t hold hands, we don’t look at each other lovingly, we don’t use nicknames, all together we try to avoid looking like a couple. It seems like an easy solution when it comes to a trip, right? That’s what I thought until a recent chat at my workplace, where everyone was telling about their next planned vacations.
While sipping coffee with my colleagues, we were discussing the details of our next planned trips, when one of them suggested that I should travel to their homeland, Iran. They told me about the scenic landscapes, the sights, the famously cheap transportation, the residents’ hospitality. We discussed the highlights of the unused turistic charm and cultural attributes. That’s when the question occured to me: how safe is it to travel to Iran as a same-sex couple? For example, I have heard a lot of positive things about Israel (thanks to Kristóf Steiner), but all that comes to mind about Iran is oil, american sanctions and buying a 1000 of the Ikarus, which is possibly because of my irregular news-reading habits. After I got home from work, I started my research on what is waiting for a same-sex couple in Iran. In a nutshell: not many good things.
While doing some digging on the internet, I became sure of two things: we will not travel to Iran since same-sex relationships are illegal there, and that while choosing your destination you should definitely look up its LGBTQ+ situation. Finding information about travelling as a lesbian is not as simple as you think it would be, since most of the articles are directed towards gay men. But the question is: where can lesbians go on vacation that is both safe and enjoyable? This article was written mainly to recommend destinations for those who’d like to travel within Europe, but because of its importance, it has a not-recommended section as well. Let’s begin with the latter, countries where a rainbow lifestyle is illegal.
Where are lesbians not welcome?
If you have the dreamy seaside, sunset-y romantic scenario on your bucket list, you might have Egypt, Tunisia, Marocco, perhaps Maldive Islands or Jamaica among your possible destinations. The previously mentioned method, “acting the straight way” and the approach which says “it’s not written on our foreheads, what could go wrong” could work. But if any problem occurs, there are very few legal options, because these countries also consider lesbian relationships a criminal act. India became a very popular destination, too, and lesbian relationships are not illegal there, but homosexual men could face life sentence for their “sins”. Knowing this, the African and Asian countries and even most of the Caribbean-area don’t seem so attractive anymore. ILGA’s worldwide research, “State-Sponsored Homophobia” (2017) offers a great standing-ground about the legal situation of same-sex couples. The publication mentions 72 countries where relationships between men are illegal, 45 among them consider relationships between women illegal as well.
The first advice of pages that offer travelling tips is to keep it discrete, not to make a stir if we are somewhere where homosexuality is not accepted. Looking for LGBTQ-friendly accomodation can be tricky, and it’s advised to listen to other travellers experiences and advice, because unfortunately not every gay-friendly spot is actually gay-friendly.
Three steps for lesbians to prepare for a vacation:
- Getting to know the current legal situation of gay people. Is marriage or domestic partnership allowed or are same-sex relationships illegal? The legal situation is the main thing that defines how safe or unprotected we are.
- Discovering the local gay lifestyle. Are there pride marches, are there programmes for gays and lesbians, options for entertainment, actively functioning LGBTQ organizations? The laws don’t always show the level of judgement clearly, so it’s important to be aware of the level of social acceptance.
- Looking for lesbian-friendly accomodation, so you don’t have to be afraid of getting looks from the staff or the other guests. Some booking sites such as Trivago and Hotels.com already have an LGBTQ-friendly filter, and hopefully Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor’s booking sites will improve their options as well. Hearing the bad experiences about Airbnb despite their zero tolerance against discrimination is still disappointing, so it’s best to clear that you are a lesbian couple when you’re booking. (At least, that’s what we do and we’ve only had great experiences.)
European destinations for lesbians
The overall image of Western European countries is pretty reassuring, since the number of countries to legalize same-sex marriage is increasing every year. With the recently joined Finland, Germany, Malta and Austria joining next year, the number is rising up to 16. Among the preferred summer vacation spots are Croatia, Cyprus, Italy and Greece, and these countries all allow domestic partnerships.
There are plenty of articles collecting LGBTQ-friendly destinations, but it’s important to note that most of these lists focus on gay men. Despite that, they can be useful for lesbians, couples or groups, but if you are looking for activities or parties for lesbians, it’s recommended to take a deeper look into the opportunities each city has to offer. Let’s take a look at the most lesbian-friendly places in Europe, where you don’t have to act straight:
Amsterdam - The city that is righfully called the LGBTQ+ paradise.
Holland was the first country in the world to allow same-sex marriages, and its capital is one of the biggest cities offering a buzzing gay life in Europe. Amsterdam is not only attracting lesbians because of its Pride programmes that last for 2 weeks, but the Homonument, a female only hostel, a lesbian bar that’s been open for 40 years, and all the things the local nightlife has to offer.
Coppenhagen - Rainbow Square at the heart of the city?
Yes, this is the city of tolerance. Denmark was the first country ever to allow domestic partnerships in 1989. Coppenhagen has grown into a gay-central since then. That statement is proven by the fact that WorldPride and EuroGames will be held here in 2021. Among Coppenhagen’s 16 LGBTQ nightclubs there are several for women only.
Stockholm - The northern capital of acceptance.
Sweden is not only known for IKEA, but also for its open-mindedness, which is proven by the fact that the country was the first one to ever allow legally changing genders in 1972. This year, the capital is hosting its third EuroPride. Stockholm is full of coffeeshops, restaurants and hotels decorated with rainbow flags, so it’s not just a coincidence that it’s always the first recommended location for lesbian travellers.
Berlin - The city of neverending parties.
Although Germany has only allowed same-sex marriages since 2017, Berlin still has been the Mecca of homosexuals for decades. The world’s first gay-themed museum (Schwules Museum) is mandatory for those who are interested in gay history. Everyone will find the nightclub that matches their taste perfectly, because Berlin offers great entertainment opportunities for all colors of the rainbow spectrum.
Madrid - The Southern gay paradise.
Spain has allowed same-sex marriages since 2005, and the WorldPride held in Madrid last year with its 3,5 million participants had became the world’s second largest LGBTQ event. Chueca is Madrid’s main quarter of buzzing gay life, but there are several LGBTQ-friendly nightclubs all over the city, three of them only for women.
+ 1 Malta - The hidden gem.
Malta also has only legalized same-sex marriage last year, but it still earned first place in ILGA’s European rainbow research. Although exclusively lesbian programmes or bars cannot be found in the island country, Malta is the perfect spot for those who desire a romantic seaside vacation.
Translated by Éva Csermendy