As one of the most diverse and inclusive cities in the world, London is brimming with LGBTQ+ things to do and see — far beyond its world-class pub and club scene. From museums to walking tours to a queer swimming spot, here are the places to hit.
Amazing archive: Bishopsgate Institute
Bishopsgate Institute's Special Collections and Archives is one of the largest and wide-spanning archive of LGBTQ+ history in the UK. Collected from the 19th century, the archive — curated by the inimitable Stef Dickers — brims with press cuttings, lesbian pulp fiction, 90s gay mags, necessary documentation of the HIV/AIDS crisis and Section 28 — and everything in between. Personal records (such as scrapbooks, diaries and badges) make this place extra poignant. It's an affirming experience of a rich and vibrant life, culture and history for LGBTQ+ people, and an awakening for everyone else who weren’t taught about queer life in education. Get a flavour for the place, with a tour, one of which focuses on the UK Leather and Fetish Archive.
Bookshop extraordinaire: Gay's The Word
The first of its kind, Gay's The Word in Soho opened as the UK’s first dedicated LGBTQ+ bookshop in 1979. It soon became a fierce political hub (as seen in the fantastic biopic Pride) for the community and its allies, and still stands strong as a home for many Londoners. Not that it's all been plain sailing: in 1984, Customs and Excise raided the place; a move that ultimately backfired. Shelves are packed fiction for all ages, well-loved memoirs, academic queer studies, and practical nonfiction on parenting and adoption. Book signings and talks with authors — from Shon Faye to Juno Dawson — happen regularly.
The great and the tragic: statues, plaques and memorials
Outside of exhibitions and museums, LGBTQ+ history is displayed in plain sight on London's streets. Persecuted Irish poet Oscar Wilde has a coffin-shaped cigarette-holding statue just off Trafalgar Square (and plaques around town, including one at Clapham Junction station), while gay codebreaker Alan Turing has a steel 'statue' in Paddington. The first-ever gay rights demonstration, in Highbury Fields in 1970, is commemorated with a plaque too. Over in St Anne's Churchyard, you can take a seat on the triangular Admiral Duncan Memorial bench, next to three trees planted nearby to honour the victims (three of who died) in the tragic 1999 nail bomb attack at the nearby Admiral Duncan pub.
Mini Pride parade: Dragged Around London
Described by one participant as a 'mini pride parade' Dragged Around London sees drag queens and kings lead tour groups through the streets of central London, spilling the beans on the city's queer history (and there's a lot of it) — while making a fabulous song and dance about it. At the end of the day, why go sightseeing on a normal tourist bus when you can be trailed around town with queers in six inch stilettos and eight inch wigs singing Fergie?
Safe space: London LGBTQ+ Community Centre
Described as "safe, sober, intergenerational [and] intersectional", the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre is a colourful space made by and for the community. With yoga, theatre, art workshops, a choir and language lessons on offer, the centre has quickly become a sanctuary for queers across London. Whether you just want to meet people over a coffee or take up new hobbies without worrying about the environment, it's a brilliant space to mingle and meet new family away from the pressure of nightlife.
Creative hub: Above The Stag Theatre & Bar
NOTE: As of August 2022, Above the Stag has sadly closed in its current location — although there are plans to reopen elsewhere in London — watch this space!
Above The Stag is an intimate theatre-cum-pub with a cabaret lounge, in Vauxhall. They put on brilliant LGBTQ+ fringe theatre of all genres — raunchy one-man shows, cabaret, stand-up — the works. If you find the theatre tickets are sold out (and they often are), pop to the lovely (heated!) terrace bar for a drink. Keep an eye on their socials for nights in collaboration with Gay Times or Penguin Books, too. They do it all!
Dedicated museum: Queer Britain
The UK's first dedicated queer museum, Queer Britain exclusively celebrates LGBTQ+ history, in this King's Cross space made for and run (largely) by the community. Previously limited exhibitions with Levi's and Getty Images are redisplayed, while brand new exhibitions debut. This place only opened in 2022 (50 years since the first London Pride) and we're excited for the future, but already, people have been known to cry over simply being in such a special space.
Queer swim spot: Hampstead Men's Pond
Undeniably one of the most crucial parts of London's gay history, the men's pond on Hampstead Heath is the closest Londoners get to a gay beach. Queer men have been flocking here on sunny days since the 19th century, with its woodlands surroundings becoming a popular cruising ground. Local queer hero George Michael was found cruising here many times, something he publicly celebrated. And if you don’t know what cruising is, it might be best to Google before you go…
Party of the summer: UK Black Pride
Now Europe’s biggest celebration for African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Caribbean-heritage LGBTQ+ people, UK Black Pride was created as an alternative to the primary Pride In London due to safety concerns, and has grown bigger every year. In 2019, Stonewall partnered with Black Pride for the first time, proving just how important and incredible this event is. In 2022, the party centres around a whopping stage at the Olympic Park in Stratford.
Unofficial pride fest: Mighty Hoopla
London's unofficial Pride festival is Mighty Hoopla, hosted in Brockwell Park, south London. It's rambunctious fun, for queers and their allies (including Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall who went incognito in 2022 in her best Christina Aguilera wig). Past headliners include Years & Years, Chaka Khan, Sugababes, Cheryl and Steps — you the set list is guaranteed to be fun, camp and pop-tastic.