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Travel: Gay guide to Lisbon

Portugal may be a predominantly Roman Catholic country, with this religion infamous for its views on homosexuality, but these days modern Portugal is one of the world’s most liberal and advanced countries when it comes to gay rights. Same-sex marriage is recognised, gays and lesbians (but not yet couples) can adopt children, gays can serve in the military and it was recently made easier for trans people to officially change their name and gender. Its capital city, Lisbon, has established itself as a popular gay travel destination over recent years – even if it isn’t as prominent as other European hotspots such as Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin – with a number of flourishing gay areas and an increasing gay population throughout the city. But what makes it a place you should visit for a ‘gaycation’, and where should you go to enjoy it?

Lisbon’s main gay areas are situated towards the south of the city near its waterfront, where there are several beaches (some nudist ones too), including ones that are popular with local gays and tourists during the warmer months (April to August), such as the well-known Praia (‘Beach’) 19. Principle Real, Bairro Alto and Largo de Camões are where the majority of gay-owned bars, pubs, clubs, cafés, restaurants, shops, saunas, hotels and B&Bs are, nestled within the narrow, steep, hilly and cobbled streets and alleyways that characterise their areas, which are known for their historical construction and architecture from the Roman, Baroque and Gothic periods, and have still been maintained to this day. Although it was reported a few years ago that only a third of Portugal’s population were in favour of same-sex marriage and despite the country’s strong religious stance, it is not uncommon to see gays and lesbians in Lisbon’s gay areas walking arm in arm or holding hands in public without so much as a blink of an eye.

Grilled octopus, a popular dish in Portugal.

Grilled octopus, a popular dish in Portugal.

Just as in many European cities, nightlife in Lisbon begins late – most places will probably be dead before midnight or even 1am – and as expected, Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest; during the week, some places buy cialis may be shut due to too few or no customers. A good tip is to wine and dine at one of the many local restaurants, of which there a quite a few gay-owned ones, before heading out and when in Portugal, why not try Portuguese cuisine? Mediterranean-style dishes, fish and seafood are extremely popular here – and if you’re feeling really adventurous, how about sampling some octopus? They even sell them in supermarkets and butchers. Vinho Verde, or ‘green wine’ (so-called because it is ‘young’ or year-old wine, not because it is green) is a common drink served and consumed in Portugal, and will either be red, rose or white and is typically a lot lighter, fresher and sweeter than mature wine. Sangria is also a favourite, mixed with fresh fruit and served in a huge jug. Oh, and it’s cheap too, usually between €12 and €20 – enough to serve up to six glasses.

Lux, one of Lisbon's best clubs.

Lux, one of Lisbon’s best clubs.

When it comes to partying, you’re spoilt for choice in Lisbon. Most of the bars and clubs are not far from each other within each of the main gay areas, but the areas themselves are located within a short distance from one another too so are but just a short taxi ride away. A lot of bars have a very mixed clientele of all genders, ages and sexualities but some places are aimed at particular groups, such as Primas, an almost exclusive lesbian hangout, Tattoo (for older men, although not necessarily tattooed ones), and Bar Tr3s for bears (hence the big paw sign outside).

The clubs don’t usually get busy until after 2 or 3 o’clock, with most people preferring to drink in bars and pubs beforehand. If you like drag shows and small, tacky bars, then you’ll probably love Finalmente, known as home to some of the best drag queens and shows in the city (in fact, probably the only place with any). Club Kremlin is apparently one of the best in Europe and perhaps the long queue outside and large crowd inside is testimonial to that. If you’re hip, young and trendy, then this is the place to be and to meet similar people. Lux and Trumps are the two other main clubs that are worth checking out; the former is late starter and early (morning) closer, usually not closing until well after sunrise, while the latter is a large club with two rooms – one playing the usual chart and modern music, and the other blasting house and dance. Entrance into clubs is usually not too bad (around €10, sometimes with a free drink on entry) and drinks prices vary depending on the place. although many bars have a happy hour, offering half price drinks. Oh, and if you butter up the owners and bartenders enough, you may get free drinks just for being friendly (read ‘foreign’).

Jerónimos Monastery.

Jerónimos Monastery.

During the day, Lisbon has a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing. With a rich history, a lot of the city’s buildings and streets have an interesting past and story to them, and there is an array of galleries and museums to check out. Some of Lisbon’s top things to see are official World Heritage Sites and monuments, such as Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower. Note that it is worth getting a Lisboa Card, which gives you access to all public transportation – buses, trams, metro, and even some trains – and free entrance to or discounts on most attractions.

Lisbon may not be as popular as a gay travel destination compared to cities in Portugal’s neighbouring country Spain or the rest of Europe, but it should eventually get there. Its eclectic nightlife and liberal attitude towards the LGBT community and LGBT rights make it a must-visit place if you’re looking for somewhere new to travel to and check out. The best times to visit are of course, the summer, when everywhere is at its busiest, particularly in June when Lisbon Pride (known as Arraial Pride) takes place.



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