Vibrant LGBTQ neighbourhoods, colourful drag shows and even more colourful characters – here's how to see the best of London exciting queer scene this Pride

Vibrant LGBTQ+ neighbourhoods, colourful drag shows and even more colourful characters – London has one of the oldest and most exciting queer scenes in the world. Start in historic Soho but make time for the rest of the city – especially LGBTQ+ hub Vauxhall and East London, with its progressive feel and brilliant venues. From dawn till dusk and neighbourhood to neighbourhood, you’ll find a rich scene in London, ranging from big clubs to sober safe spaces and hotels that celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. London's Pride parade, meanwhile, is legend. This year taking place on Saturday June 29, it promises celebration, togetherness and lots of fun.

Discover London's best LGBTQ+ venues

Dancing in a gay LGBTQ club

You won't run out of LGBTQ+ friendly nightlife to enjoy when visiting London, especially if you head to Soho, Vauxhall or the east of the city (Photo: Getty Images)

You could spend months exploring London’s venues. In Soho, where London’s scene originated, a must-visit is the Admiral Duncan, which hosts traditional drag shows – the type with big wigs and lots of singing along. Over the road, don’t miss Comptons, which is another old-school venue with a classic 'boozer' atmosphere.

Later, head down to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in Vauxhall, where Princess Diana visited – dressed in a disguise as a man – with Freddie Mercury, back in the 1980s. Lily Savage, the drag act from much-loved TV show host Paul O’Grady, famously performed here when she was getting her start in entertainment. You can feel the authenticity in all aspects of this venue, from the friendly staff through to the architecture: the Tavern opened back in 1862 as a Victorian music hall and many of the original parts of the building remain. It attracts a mixed crowd, too, and its late weekend openings makes it a good spot to party. More relaxed shows during the week run at around 7pm and comprise drag of all forms, from comedy to theatre, and there are non-drag performances too.

Over in East London you’ll find the trendier bars. The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is technically still a working men’s club, so not strictly an LGBTQ+ venue, but it attracts a strongly LGBTQ+ crowd for all sorts of fun themed evenings, from Drag Race viewing parties to cabaret nights and club nights. Ian McKellen has even been photographed here, letting his hair down over a few drinks.

Another great East London spot is Dalston Superstore, which is particularly good for drag brunches and quiz nights.

Understand London's rich LGBTQ+ heritage

Gay men in Soho London

There's a strong sense of LGBTQ+ community in London, with the city's heritage celebrated in venues ranging from pubs to community centres and museums (Photo: Getty Images)

There are plenty of ways to enjoy London’s scene without needing to go to an alcohol-fuelled environment. There's a LGBTQ+ Community Centre on the South Bank that has workshops, talks and events, many of which are free of charge. You can also just turn up and read your book or meet with friends, and it’s a sober venue, too.

You might also drop into the LGBTQ+ museum in King’s Cross, Queer Britain, which has a permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits featuring photography and objects that speak to queer activism, culture and social history. It’s well worth a visit.

Many of London’s most famous museums, such as the Science Museum and the British Museum, also run ad-hoc tours where you can see the exhibitions through an LGBTQ+ lens. Historic England runs the Queer Soho Walking Tour, for example.

Experience the scene in Soho, Vauxhall and East London

Dalston, London

Nestled in the east of London, Dalston is one of the city's undoubted LGBTQ+ hubs (Photo: Getty Images)

If you want to understand LGBTQ+ London, you need to spend at least an afternoon walking around Soho, where you’ll find an incredible wealth of heritage. Many of the first gay bars were in Soho and, while most of them have now gone, some of the buildings that formerly housed them can still be seen. 

In the 1980s, windows of buildings were typically smaller, so the gay bars felt more discreet. One venue that looks the same now as it did then is The Coach and Horses pub. Pop by there to imagine what Soho was like in a different era. Old Compton Street is the main vein of the district, where, as the sun sets on a Friday night, you’ll feel a buzz in the air. Balans, the all-night restaurant, is a favourite, but just walking up and down this street and seeing where you end up is the best way. There’s everything from cafés to cocktail bars and shops selling underwear aimed at an LGBTQ+ crowd! 

Vauxhall, south of the River Thames, has a large number of LGBTQ+ residents. A stroll along the river or a sit in Vauxhall Park are great ideas if you’d like to experience the authentic London LGBTQ+ way of life for a few hours. And unlike Soho, Vauxhall is properly 24/7, with bars and clubs running all night long. They’re all near the station, but Fire is a good bet if you’re looking for a truly late-night experience. Be warned though, some of these bars are male-only, so check before you go. The Vauxhall Tavern around the corner is always inclusive of all genders.

East London has a proud LGBTQ+ character. Focus your explorations on Dalston, Haggerston and Bethnal Green to take in that vibe, but a relaxing walk through the area along the Regent’s Canal will introduce you to a cross-section of the community. Admire the fashions particularly, where it’s not unusual to see male-presenting people wearing fabulous colours of nail varnish and make-up. Expression is everything in east London, so when you come here, feel free to be truly and utterly yourself!

Take part in London's legendary Pride March

Gay Pride parade London

At least 30,000 participants – and even more balloons – mingle to make London's Pride Parade a joyous celebration (Photo: Getty Images)

The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in 1972 and attracted nearly two thousand participants. 1972 wasn’t long after being LGBTQ+ was decriminalised in 1967, so the mood would have been very different to how it is today. The first Pride marches anywhere in the world were held just two years earlier in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. They were held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which was a series of protests against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969.

At least 30,000 participants go to Pride in London these days, which this year takes place on Saturday June 29. Black Pride – August 11 – welcomes up to 25,000 participants at their event in Stratford, which has now become the biggest Pride event for people from African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern backgrounds in the world. Look out for the team from Marriott International who are walking this year!

Stay in a hotel that will take your Pride to the next level

W London hotel Gay Pride 2023

Marriott hotels are celebrating Pride in London this year with everything from special cocktails to fabulous brunches and parties (Photo: Marriott International)

Marriott's own W London is hosting a party with Outhaus on June 29, from 6pm to 2am, with a portion of the takings from ticket sales going towards Not A Phase, the hotel's ongoing chosen charity, dedicated to uplifting the lives of trans adults across the UK. Expect looks, live performances, live DJ sets from international artists, and a big lineup of hosts, dancers and queens.

The London EDITION, meanwhile, is putting on its annual Pride brunch again this year. Hosted by designer Henry Holland at the hotel's critically acclaimed Berners Tavern, this fabulously inclusive and entertaining brunch takes place on Sunday June 23, with proceeds going to Not A Phase. Expect headline performance from an internationally acclaimed drag superstar, surprise celeb performances and special guests and a blockbuster charity raffle – not to mention a delicious brunch menu and free-flowing cocktails.

Both W London and The London EDITION are in central London, so they're ideally placed for enjoying the Pride in London events, but if you’re heading to Black Pride in August, the Moxy London Stratford, with its seriously stylish rooms, is a great option to stay over in the area.

The St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in King’s Cross, meanwhile, is great if you’re heading to Queer Britain, the LGBTQ+ museum. One of the most impressive hotels in the area, with its original, iconic red brick facade, the property gives easy access to the train station, including Eurostar services.

If you’re visiting the LGBTQ+ Community Centre on the South Bank, you might want to check out (and into) the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. Housed in the historic County Hall building, the original wooden coffered walls still feature, and you can really feel the history. There are great Thames views, especially from Gillray's Steakhouse, and some limited edition Pride-themed cocktails will be available, too.

In the know: insider tips for a great Pride parade

Rainbow display Gay Pride parade London

London's Pride Parade is a riot of colour and celebration that fills the streets around Soho (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re watching the Parade, remember it can last around four hours, so bring plenty of water. It’s also worth avoiding the busiest areas right at Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. That way you’ll get a great view without having to push past people. If you’re going out for drinks or to an event afterwards, remember that tens of thousands of people come into central London for Pride, so it’s best to book activities ahead of time. As well as the major stages around the West End, which have free entertainment after the Parade, the celebrations will spill informally onto Old Compton Street in Soho – a good tip if you’re wondering where to go after the floats have passed by.

Published: June 12, 2023

Last Updated: May 31, 2024

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