Chris Olwage looks at the best LGBTQI+ destinations and enjoys some queer experiences around the world
Adventure requires a certain amount of willingness paired with a safe amount of abandon, add just a splash of enthusiasm more and you are set for a whirlwind of experience. For the intrepid LGBTQI+ among us, there are many places that now offer great queer experiences, all you have to do is go and be immersed. If you are searching for global feelings of community, eye-opening culture, delicious food, mind-bending arts, unending parties, or just some sun, sand and blue skies then here are my top six picks for you.
BERLIN — GERMANY
When you're in the German capital, "The Place to be" is the location tag you'll find when you post any picture on Instagram, and it really is. Jumping from train to Platz, avenue to sidewalk, and exploring the remnants of queer pre and post-war history in the gay neighbourhood of Schoneberg, the Schwules Museum or the poignant Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism in the Tiergarten, you are never far from history.
It is exactly this history, though, that makes Berlin such a crazy place, the people here are hardworking but exhibit a ferocity with their partying like no other. There is a level of excess and abandon I have not seen or experienced anywhere else in the world. It truly is a marvel! Which is why Berlin is on this list as my top queer destination for dancing.
Best spot for dance: If remnants of risque Weimar excess and modern dance-club culture are your thing then check out the KitKatKlub (Koepenicker Str. 76, Berlin). Just make sure you know the theme for the night so you know what you are getting yourself into!
CAPE TOWN — SOUTH AFRICA
Imagine the vast blue African sky, crystal blue seas, shores of purest white sand and the unmistakable silhouette of Table Mountain. Welcome to Cape Town, the gay capital of Africa. Having a constitution that was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, this picturesque city has since boasted a thriving LGBTQI+ community. It has all the finery of an international city including an array of queer bars, clubs, hotels and tours (at exceptionally affordable prices) but it is the city's natural landmarks that steal the show. Towering Table Mountain offers some of the best hikes, scents and panoramic views of the bustling city and nature reserves the Cape has to offer.
But as every visitor will agree it is the nostalgia of whiling away time with wine and local food on one of its many pristine beaches that really sells CT as a favourite queer destination.
Best spot for a tan: Clifton Beach is one of the most recognisable and favourable of said beaches. It has large boulder type rocks that frame the sandy shore and is close to local eateries.
BARCELONA — SPAIN
Spanish wines, sun, sand and surf, Barcelona has it all! A big city hustle vibe paired with a Mediterranean beachfront makes this the perfect summer getaway. You can be lost for hours (and days) exploring this city's many treasures including the Gaudi architecture, but the feature that impressed me most was its gastronomy. True Catalan cuisine was a revelation. Tables flood the streets as the day cools down and crowds return after their late afternoon siestas. Find a spot, try a wine or beer, strike up a conversation with a local and ask for a recommendation for tapas. Who knows, you may even receive a bespoke dinner from a local.
Best spot for food: A 40-minute train ride out of the city will take you to Sitges, a quaint seaside town with cobbled streets, beautiful beaches, a church and old Catalan charm. The town is almost entirely gay in the summer months and becomes a complete escape into a summer queer fantasy. Apart from the immersive communal vibe, the seaside town has some of the best Catalan tapas around; all you need to do is stroll to one of many vendors and the choice of delicious treats is yours.
ROME — ITALY
La Dolce Vita! I am obsessed with Italy, even more so with Rome. There's something about the smell of pine, flashes of marble and its fiery inhabitants that really leave me pining to return! While exploring the Eternal City it is hard not be overwhelmed by the history and beauty of the place. Moreover, in a city that has so many gelato vendors it's difficult resisting the pursuit of an enduring crusade to find the best gelateria in between visits to the Vatican, the Colosseum, and Trevi Fountain. Strangely though, the conservative Catholic church somehow co-exists with this surprisingly queer-friendly hub. I witnessed many same-sex couples, embracing, holding hands and romanticising without even a raised brow from onlookers. Rome truly is an amazing place.
Best spot for gelato: Gelateria Della Palma (Via della Maddalena 19/23, Roma). This is one of the most incredible gelaterias around — it had more than 150 flavours on offer! Impress your friends, family or other half by ending or starting your journey around Rome from here, it is within strolling distance of some of the city's most iconic spots and well worth the visit.
There is nothing quite like that moment when you first see Times Square, glimpse Lady Liberty on her island or traipse across Manhattan Bridge to remind you that you are in New York City baby! This is a city that truly does not sleep. As the birthplace of the Gay Rights Movement, New York has one of the strongest and most enduring queer communities around. In such it has a constant plethora of queer activities, shows, venues and nightlife on offer. Broadway is without question a must-do, but it is the avant garde drag scene in Brooklyn, Manhattan and East Village that is a sight to behold! An art form that challenges cis-gender and societal norms is already a plus for me, but to see it done at a level that becomes pure performance art inspires me.
These Queens came to slay!
Best spot for nightlife: Haus of Yes (2 Wyckoff Ave Brooklyn, NYC). Both a nightclub and events Space, Haus of Yes is designed as a complete immersive experience that floods the senses with music and awe. It is all the rage right now.
PARIS — FRANCE
Paris is the city of lovers by reputation and by experience. There is no place like it, Parisians are a proud people and rightly so; there is an expansive history that permeates through the city, every person who walks the avenues and roads will know its truth.
Furthermore, in 1751, France became one of the first countries to legalise same sex activity thus creating one of the most progressive and liberal queer centres in Europe in its time. Due to this it has been a hot spot for many a poet, writer, dancer, actor, artist and the like since. The innumerable romantic tales that stem from these creatives add an air to this city that is entirely justified. So, if you're feeling like a romantic getaway, grab your partner and wonder through the gaybourhood of Le Marais, find a cosy cafe and watch the hustle and bustle of the world move by. Take their hand and, if the moment permits, share a warm smile. Write your own story.
Best spot for a sneaky kiss: Hotel de Sully (48 Rue Saint-Antoine, Paris). After exploring the gothic marvels of Le Marais and the Place des Vosges, jump through the beautiful entrance archway of the Hotel de Sully and into the picturesque orangerie courtyard. If you are lucky no one else will have claimed this beautiful spot to steal some sneaky kisses.
• Contemporary dancer and former Mr Gay World Chris Olwage is an ambassador for the Auckland Pride Festival, February 2-18.