This content was created by Xtra’s branded content team alongside Visit Britain, separate from Xtra’s editorial staff.
Sometimes, there’s no better way to discover new places than to get out there and be actively immersed in them, while getting your heart rate to rise to the occasion too. Whether you’re on foot, wheels or have a paddle in your hands, there are plenty of ways to dip a toe (or your whole foot) in Britain’s LGBTQ+ active side, and here are some of our favourite destinations for joining in on the fun.
Perched on the banks of the Bristol Channel, this approachable city is the perfect place to go play outside while also staying in a vibrant hub, and since Wales has named 2021 the Year of the Outdoors, there’s no time like the present to get activated. The percentage of people identifying as LGBTQ+ in Wales has steadily increased over the last decade, turning its capital of Cardiff into a welcoming place for communities of all kinds.
1. Gay Outdoors Club
Present throughout the U.K., this group brings together LGBTQ+ individuals from all walks of life to head out on hikes both urban and far-off in the wilderness. Check out their Wales-based activities, like a moderately difficult 6-mile loop walk around Cardiff Bay over the course of about four and a half hours, during which you will cross the Bay Barrage structure at the city’s docks, before ending with a group hangout at Wetherspoons Pub.
2. Karma Sea Group
When looking to take to the sea and ride its waves, this inclusive non-profit strives to bring the fun and benefits of surfing, along with beach yoga and mindfulness, to people from all sorts of backgrounds as a way of fighting the lack of diversity in sports. Whether you’re more experienced on a board or have never set foot on one, all are welcome to come on over and paddle out, because the water is fine.
3. The Wales Coast Path
For a little jaunt beyond the capital, head to the small city of Swansea where you can follow the first section of the southern part of the Wales Coast Path all the way to Port Talbot, about 15 kilometers away. Take advantage of your Swansea passage to check out the birthplace of famed poet Dylan Thomas who caused a whole lot of gossip over the years (though any homosexuality during his tumultuous marriage to his wife Caitlin is speculative).
Where to wind down
When you have your heart set on a lively evening of drag, this cabaret is a local must known for its cocktails and queens, including Cardiff favourites like disco diva Victoria Scone and the double trouble hosts of the house’s “Hey Mary” night, Nemesis and Medusa. If you want just a taste of the atmosphere, but with some fresh air, snag a table on the sidewalk patio for a breezy drink.
The Golden Cross
Take a seat at the bar of this historic building that houses one of the most popular gay haunts in town. Glazed tiles, stained glass windows and traditional signs make patrons feel like they’ve stepped through a time travelling portal. However, the pint-fuelled karaoke being belted out on a regular basis and bumping dance floor are a quick reminder of the present and its current pop hits.
LGBTQ+ culture in the U.K.’s second most populous city has a long, rich history, as Manchester has long been an active location for gay rights and was the birthplace of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 1964. Queer communities have since flourished in the Northwestern destination home to about 200,000 self-identifying members, and there are plenty of organizations that meet-up to explore its natural side together too.
1. Pride Out
Founded in 2019, this group brings together all members of LGBTQIA+ communities to head out on two-wheeled rides. Nobody is left out of the organization’s spinning meet-ups, and allies are also welcome to join in on events with a huge range designed for diverse abilities, from mellow 5-mile outings to more committed 50+ mile rides that will have you (or at least your calf muscles) remember this trip long after you’ve left the saddle.
2. Out on Sunday
This gay walking group that’s open to all has been heading out in and around Greater Manchester for over two decades, running fortnightly walks in the fall and winter, and weekly ones once the weather warms in the spring and summer. Activities range from easy to moderate five to seven-mile walks that will get your heart pumping, while also enjoying some fresh air with like-minded folks.
3. RHS Bridgewater Garden
After a spirited cycle or walk with Pride Out or Out on Sunday, set aside a few hours to check out these brand-new gardens in Salford (less than a 15-minute drive from the city centre), opening on May 11. You can wander the expansive and peaceful grounds with its fruit orchard, Ellesmere Lake and Paradise Garden that mixes Medditeranean and Asian flora of all kinds.
Where to wind down
The Goose Pub
Kick up your feet after all the pedaling or hiking at this cozy go-to pub in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Village. Dig into tasty pub grub like nachos or a double meat burger that brings together a beef pattie and pulled pork under a single bun, with a pint of cask beer to wash it down. Then, stick around as happy hour morphs into a night packed with weekly karaoke, dancing to DJ sets or drag queen quiz nights.
Located on Canal Street, this fun-loving spot serves up a side of cinema glamour and drama with its drinks. Expect clips of musicals playing in the background and show tunes galore as you sip on house cocktails like the Bernadette Peters that mixes pineapple vodka, apple juice and bitter lemonade with a twist of orange.
Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, England
Though its population of 4,500 residents makes the Yorkshire spot a small town, it holds a peculiar status for being known as the lesbian capital of the U.K. This reputation means that, though it resembles many other former mill towns in the region on the outside, it sets itself apart through its inclusive spirit, punctuated by nature explorations in the surrounding Upper Calder Valley.
1. Hebden Bridge Walking Trail
Yorkshire is called the walking capital of the world thanks to its scenic hills and valleys, so you’d be remiss to not head out on this lovely 7.5-mile trek that mixes stone paths and moorland all around the town’s perimeter. You can start down by the Rochdale Canal that was completed in 1804 and revolutionized commerce in the town, before heading into wilder pastures for striking views galore.
2. Happy Valley Pride
Founded in 2016 after a tarp with a hateful homophobic message was displayed in front of the town hall, this organization sprung up to celebrate LGBTQ+ life in the area. The group is made up of local business people, artists, entrepreneurs and writers, so there’s no better way to get a sense of their community than strolling through town and green spaces like Calder Holmes Park, where you can spot plenty of Pride and Trans flags either waving in the breeze or painted on walls.
3. Hardcastle Crags
Just 10 minutes out of the village lies this beautiful wooded valley where you can roam the 15 miles of criss-crossing footpaths along which you’ll find plenty of moss-covered rocks, waterfalls and scenic vistas. While you’re there, tour the 19th-century stone structure at the centre of the site: a former cotton mill opened in 1800 that has since been converted into a self-sufficient model of sustainable development.
Where to wind down
It may primarily be a wine bar, but this gay-owned haunt wears many hats. You can stop in to check out the latest art exhibit gracing the walls, order some tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes like a cauliflower rarebit or their spin on the Yorkshire pudding, or take in the sounds of a Northern Soul open mic night, all accompanied by glasses of natural wine, of course.
The Trades Club
Built in the location of the former trades union, and punching far above its weight in such a small locale, this music venue puts on shows of all kinds, including plenty of LGBTQ+ acts and the occasional all-female line-ups to create safe spaces for lesbian, bi and trans women. Come hungry too if you want to order some of their ever-changing food from pop-ups, including a recurring Indonesian kitchen.
Known for its history that dates back over 1,400 years, the county in southeastern England has underground crypts and plenty of medieval structures, but the area’s great outdoors are worth writing home about too. Proximity to London also makes this region the perfect location for a breath of fresh air outside the big city.
1. Women Walking in Kent
With walks throughout the rural region that happens to have some of country’s warmest temperatures, this lesbian walking group is a great way to make new friends and take in beautiful weather. Twice a month, the WWIK heads out to places like the 588-hectare peaceful King Woods conifer and broadleaf woodland or the hamlet of Plucks Gutter for walks ranging from gentle 5 to 6-mile jaunts to more moderate outings and strenuous hikes of over 8 miles.
2. England Coast Path
Designed to stay as close to the coast as possible all around the country, the England Coast Path is finally opening in sections, moving towards its ultimate goal of being the world’s longest continuous path. A section of the path is now located in Kent, stretching from Camber to Folkstone, which will take you past the Dungeness National Nature Reserve with its shingle beaches made up of smooth stones. This stunning seaside landscape is home to a third of the types of plants in the U.K., so keep an eye open to its biodiversity.
3. Gay Outdoors Club
The U.K.-wide group has a chapter in East Kent, a region unique for hiking since it is surrounded by rugged seaside on three sides. Because of the area’s rocky terrain, some of the Club’s monthly walks involve a bit of tougher hiking, so consider bringing along your hiking boots, not to mention a lunch and plenty of water, for the group’s local jaunts that tend to be day-long hikes of 8 to 10 miles.
Where to wind down
For heart-pumping energy that’s completely different from exploring the expansive wilderness, where blisters will be caused by high heels rather than hiking shoes, head over to this camp-loving bar that hosts regular drag nights with queens who make the trip over from London. Take in the show or the sweeping views of the Margate Sands while comfortably seated on the rooftop patio, cocktail in hand.
The Ship Inn, Rochester
This is where the LGBTQ+ party’s at in the historic city, and it’s a rowdy one. The traditional pub serves up meaty meals with deep-fried options galore, along with a weekly Sunday roast, while their expansive back patio is a good spot if you’re looking for a laid-back pint rather than the spirited karaoke, quiz nights or DJ sets that take over indoors.
Scotland coast and Edinburgh
From its breathtaking coasts jutting out into the sea to the myriad of isles that surround the mainland, and even in its capital of Edinburgh, Scotland is a destination where it’s easy to both hear the call of the great outdoors or get a move on in a city centre.
1. Outdoor Lads
From cycling to running, climbing and canoeing, this group of gay, bisexual and trans men does a bit of everything all across the U.K., the only guiding principle being to get participants outside. It being Scotland’s official year of coasts and waters, their off-the-grid multi day camping excursions in the Scottish wilderness truly fit the bill, whether you explore the rough bounds of Knoydart on the west coast or roam around the isle of Rùm, there will be ocean views at every turn.
2. Auld Reekie Roller Derby
If you’re more into spectating than actual sporting, roller derby is one of the most fun events that’s all about equality and inclusion, and this league is a signatory of the Scottish LGBT Sports Charter. Join in with the rest of the noisy crowd to cheer on teams bearing often pun-packed names to go faster during an already fast-paced game, as participants skate their way around a flat track.
3. Edinburgh Kayak Club
Paddlers unite in this group that will take you out to explore the rivers, lochs, beaches and even the odd swimming pool, if you’re a beginner, in and around Edinburgh. The organization’s equality policy bakes LGBTQ+ friendliness right into its guidelines, so you can sign up for one of their weekly summertime pond sessions or, if you’re no slouch with a paddle, go the whole nine yards with a more involved river trip that will set you gliding through white waters.
Where to wind down
Regent Ale Pub
Find your seat in a comfy booth beneath the rainbow flag hanging from the ceiling of this laid-back hangout where people gather for pints of cask beer, beef mince pie, toasties and sweet puddings. Groups of friends play board games or gather for meet-ups of local LGBTQ+ groups, like the Bear Scots or the Ruby Fruits. If you’re jonesing to try the local specialty, they have classic haggis, as well as a vegetarian version, on the menu.
The Swedish owners have brought a taste of their homeland to Scotland at this inclusive resto bar that attracts a hip LGBTQ+ crowd looking to feast on the favourite Scandivian specialty: Swedish meatballs available as a carnivorous classic or vegetarian option. They have many outposts, so you can also go the more bar-centric route at their Joseph Pearce’s location for some sidewalk patio wine cheersing.
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