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Beyond London: Four Places to Visit with Friends

Beyond London: Four Places to Visit with Friends

Manchester Couple

Britain’s capital city has plenty to occupy even the most restless LGBT travelers, but the party doesn’t have to stop there. 

London may be the lure for many LGBT visitors crossing the Atlantic, but there are warm and vibrant queer scenes all major British cities. So why not try getting out of the capital--with the U.K.'s excellent rail system it's easy--and acquaint yourself with these other top destinations. With their bars and clubs, and world class restaurants, any one would make a great location for a break with your boyfriend or a bigger celebratory bash.



"Ah, dear Brighton--piers, queers and racketeers," wrote the playwright and songsmith, Noel Coward, who had a flair for a well-turned phrase. Indeed, Brighton is so queer-friendly that it can sometimes feel that heterosexuals are in the minority. Just an hour from London by rail, and featuring Britain's most whimsical pier, Brighton has the carefree charm of all seaside towns with the added appeal of a thriving gay scene. Popularized in the 19th century by pleasure-seeking King George IV who constructed the fabulously frothy Royal Pavilion with its elaborate Mughal domes and minarets, Brighton has long vied with Manchester as Britain's second gay city. "Brighton is Dublin without priests, Brighton is tolerance by the sea," wrote the Irish writer Brendan Behan, who lived here in the 1990s until his death in 2002.

Tolerance continues to define Brighton, bringing in new waves of young travelers seeking a place to call home, and finding it in this coastal mecca with its boutique establishments, colorful historic architecture, and stimulating art scene. Drakes Hotel and Kemp Townhouse are just a couple of whimsical places to hang your hat. Both are within easy walking distance of hot spots in the city gayborhood, Kemptown, to the east of Brighton Pier. Try Regency Tavern with its ornate mirrors and piano bar. Or for some of the city's cocktails, make a beeline for The Plotting Parlour (6 Steine Street) and take up residence in one of the bar's plush armchairs. When you've had your fill of spirits, visit the new British Airways i360 observation tower for a once-in-a-lifetime view of the city from 453 feet in the air.



News earlier this year that Manchester will be the site of the UK's first LGBT retirement community is hardly surprising. The city has been a northern dynamo of Britain's queer scene for decades, and has an openly gay lord mayor, Carl Austin-Behan. It was for good reason that writer Russell T. Davies chose Manchester as the setting for his groundbreaking TV show, Queer as Folk, which launched in 1999, a year before its U.S. counterpart.

Davies returned to Manchester for his more recent LGBT series, Cucumber, about middle-aged gay man, and Banana, which follows the lives of a group of younger men and women. Although the city's famous 1990s nightclub, The Hacienda, which charted the rise of rave music, and Paradise Factory, three stories of gay dance heaven, are no more, the city still boasts a terrific club scene.

Head to the appropriately named Gay Village, and start at REM Bar (33 Sackville Street) for live entertainment, or check out Churchill's (5 Canal Street) for excellent drag shows. When you are ready to kick up your heels, head next door to Kiki (4 Canal Street). Sooner or later, everyone else will join you under the 25 disco balls spinning from the ceiling. After working up a sweat, head to G-A-Y (63 Richmond St.) to unwind. Other popular clubs include Vanilla (39-41 Richmond St.), aka the lesbian mecca of the north, and The Eagle (15 Bloom St.), which has a very relaxed dress code.

Manchester is also a hub of museums and galleries, but take time out to enjoy the architecture of the city, a combination of cutting edge design and historic icons like the Victoria Baths, with its Edwardian swimming pool and Turkish Baths, currently undergoing an extensive restoration. There are tours every Wednesday from 5 April to 25 October, and a great cafe on site. Football fans will likely not want to miss a visit to the Old Trafford Museum and Stadium, possibly the next best thing to catching a match. The restaurants and nightlife are all about ambiance, whether it's high tea and a high view at Cloud 23 (Beetham Tower, 303 Deansgate) or the rustic charm of the Oast House (The Avenue Courtyard). Try the steak and stout pie, and pair with something from the extensive ale menu.



Variously dubbed Auld Reekie for the soot-filled smoke that once dominated its skyline (long banished thanks to clean air legislation), and as the Athens of the North for the hills on which it sits, Edinburgh is the kind of city that stops you in your tracks. Its beauty is breathtaking, throwing up wonderful juxtapositions between architecture and nature, such as the Salisbury Crags, a dramatic backdrop to the domes and spires of this classical city.

In the upcoming T2, the sequel to Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's visceral movie masterpiece, Ewan McGregor's Mark Renton surveys the city from atop the aptly-named Arthur's Seat, which rises more than 800 feet above Edinburgh, and is said to be a possible location for the court of Camelot.

Today's visitors have to use their imagination to summon the spirit of King Arthur, but a more contemporary seat of power needs no such effort. Scotland's parliament, designed by the Spanish architect Enric Miralles Moya, sits just below Arthur's Seat, a shining example of contemporary architecture, described by Britain's The Guardian newspaper as resembling "a cluster of boats, a sweeping of leaves, a collection of seaside shells, a Pandora's box of architectural motifs laced together ingeniously, this side of pandemonium."

Choose your lunch in Leith, and then return for dinner. Edinburgh's restored dockside neighborhood is a foodie haven, and includes the Michelin-starred Martin Wishart, and Fishers Bistro, a standout seafood restaurant housed in a 17th century tower. Dance it all off on in Edinburgh's "Pink Triangle" - a small section of pubs and bars at the top end of Leith Walk including the long-standing and unpretentious CC Blooms (23-24 Greenside Ln), named for Bette Midler's character in Beaches, as well as The Street (2b Picardy Pl.), and The Regent Bar (2 Montrose Terrace), which bills itself as "the best real ale gay pub in Edinburgh."

Culture vultures will not want to miss the festivities this August to mark the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festivals, a feast of theater, comedy, cinema, science, and literature that has provided a platform for LGBT actors such as Alan Cumming, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Sir Ian McKellen. The annual extravaganza closes with a spectacular fireworks display beneath the ramparts of the city's majestic castle. Mind how you go!



Let's start with the obvious reason to visit the Welsh capital: rugby players. The city is home to the national team, and on Sundays, men across the city will gather for rugby matches, where you'll find them mellifluously contributing to Wales's other national pastime: singing. This is, after all, the country of Tom Jones, who was born just outside of Cardiff in the mining town of Pontypridd. Catch some of today's best local bands at Clwb Ifor Bach (11 Womanby St), or go for the terrific Saturday night's party, Dirty Pop: three floors of music for every taste--electronic pop, disco, and soul and funk. Or check out the city's small but super friendly gay scene at Wow Bar (4 Churchill Way), Mary's (89 St Mary S.), The Kings (54 Timothy Rees Close) or The Eagle (39 Charles St).

Fans of the cult UK time-travelling show, Doctor Who, can take control of the Tardis at Doctor Who Experience (Discovery Quay). For dishes prepared with local and seasonal ingredients, try Ffresh inside the the Wales Millennium Centre (Bute Pl), an an ambitious arts hub that encompasses theater, music, dance, and literature. History buffs should check out the historic Cardiff Castle and the National Museum of Art (Cathays Park), which through January 31, 2018 is showing one of the UKs most important private collections of modern British art, with work by noted gay artists David Hockney and Francis Bacon, among others.

Enter for a Chance to Go #OUTInBritain. The UK is calling!

We've teamed up with VisitBritain to give away a six-night trip for two to Great Britain, and the winner could be you. The grand prize includes a three-night stay at The Rosebery in London, a three-night stay at Midland Hotel in Manchester, plus roundtrip airfare from the U.S. All you have to do to enter? Submit your information via this form, and let us know why someone you LOVE is GREAT.

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