Travel
4 min

Ten great lesbian-friendly destinations

‘Gay-friendly’ often means a good men's scene, but what about the sisters?

Enjoy the romantic street cafés in Berlin. Credit: Aefa Mulholland

Where are the best vacation spots for gay women? Does gay-friendly also mean lesbian-friendly — or will women find themselves the sole sisters in a sea of men? Read on for the top destinations where women will not only find a warm welcome, but will also discover a wealth of places to meet and mingle with other women, from bars to bookstores to cafés to clubs.

1. San Francisco
San Francisco is still the number-one getaway for girls. Explore the lesbian-popular Mission, Castro and Bernal Heights neighbourhoods to get a feel for the city’s feminine charms. By day, visit lesbian-loved coffeehouse Dolores Park Cafe. Scene stalwart the Lexington is the city’s only exclusively lesbian bar. With a jukebox, pool table and friendly regulars, it’s a good first stop. End your night at the hip Phoenix Hotel in the gritty Tenderloin district. Crammed with creative types and visiting rock gods and goddesses, the poolside scene is one to watch.

2. New York
You’ll find vibrant scenes in both Manhattan and in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighbourhood, plus lots more in between. Grab coffee and maybe some admiring glances at the East Village’s Mudspot Café, or linger over literature in Bluestockings feminist bookstore/café on the Lower East Side. In Manhattan, meet locals at legendary bar Henrietta Hudson, or make new friends at a backyard barbecue at Ginger’s in Park Slope. In Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Metropolitan is the main drinking and dancing address. Spend the night at 70 Park Avenue, a chic Murray Hill hotel with a daily free-wine hour.

3. Portland
The alternative, lesbian-adored Hawthorne neighbourhood is home to women-owned businesses, bars and abodes, but you’ll find family all over the city, particularly around the Mississippi, Alberta and Burnside areas. Portland’s longstanding lesbian bar the Egyptian Club has closed, but edgier options still exist, such as Babe Cave at the hip Holocene. Savour cocktails at lesbian-owned Mint. Be sure to check out the stunningly designed The Nines hotel, right on Pioneer Square and the MAX light rail.

4. Provincetown
It’s hard not to love laidback P-town, the LGBT-adored town at the tip of Cape Cod. Streets fill with vacationing folks, and you’ll find particularly high concentrations of community at Spiritus Pizza on Commercial and the lesbian-owned Lobster Pot. The section to the left of the parking lot at Herring Cove beach is where you’ll find the women. Let big names from the women’s comedy scene entertain you at the Crown & Anchor. There are gargantuan women’s events at the Pied, May through mid-October. Choose accommodation from the array on offer from the Women Innkeepers of Provincetown.

5. Tokyo
Things seem pretty strait-laced in Tokyo. Well, until you encounter the Shinjuku Ni-chōme district, that is. Sometimes called Ni-chō, it’s the LGBT epicentre of Japan, with its flashing neon, streets awash with people, and hundreds of bars crammed into unlikely spaces, many in what look like office towers. Bars are often no bigger than a spare bedroom. For a flirty, friendly, femme crowd, try corner café/bar Advocates, popular with a mixed local and international set. Miniscule but welcoming Kinswomyn is the dowager dyke den here, having lasted longer than all others. Be sure to seek out Gossip, an LGBT café/bookstore in Omotesandō; it’s a good place to get online or find information about events. In the heart of the Shinjuku action, straightforward Lonestar has small rooms that are clean and convenient.

6. Sydney
Although the shinier village scene is in Darlinghurst and adjacent Surry Hills, and the settled ladies love Leichhardt, Newtown is the neighbourhood to head for if you just want to see girls go by. Grab coffee at lesbian-run Corelli’s, eat at the women-adored Bank Hotel and drink at Sapphic-central Sly Fox. Just around the corner, revisit scenes from Priscilla: Queen of the Desert at Tuesday’s LGBT bingo or try lesbian speed-dating at the iconic Imperial in Erskineville. After a leisurely dip in the outdoor Coogee Women’s Pool and a quick pick-me-up at LOTL Espresso Bar, run by Sydney’s lesbian magazine publisher, lay down your head at Darlinghurst’s stylish Altamount.

7. London
A thrilling array of bars and clubs cater to London’s boisterous women. A bold, bright scene centres on Soho, home to the Candy Bar, but head north to the Stoke Newington neighbourhood to see where many London ladies live. Places to play include Blush, the site of Sunday roasts and rambunctious parties in a secret garden, and mixed LGBT local The Oak. If the weather’s good, go north to the Hampstead Heath women’s pond. Outlet offers short — and long-term — apartment lets and shares with LGBT folks.

8. Paris
A sultry scene spills over the streets around the Seine. Women flock to hip Le Sofa for lunch and dinner. Former boulangerie Le Nix is an ideal place to start your soirée before continuing to Gertrude Stein’s old haunt, Le Rive Gauche dance bar. Spend an afternoon at bookstore/gallery Violette & Co. Hotel Beaubourg markets to the LGBT community and provides a perfect launch pad for saunters along the Seine and for exploring the city.

9. Berlin
Sometimes it seems that everyone with even the slightest artistic bent is moving to Berlin. It makes for a hectic city, where something new is always starting and there’s always someone who speaks English. The lesbian scene stays fresh with a seemingly constant supply of new nights and new faces. At the other end of things, old-school women’s bar Begine has been around since the old days. More up-to-date antics can be encountered at the weekly Mondo Klit Rock Club, at Roadrunner’s Paradise, or at women’s parties at the eclectic Sudblock, near the grimy Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station. To relax after all the excitement, sink into the steam at the women-only Turkish baths Schokofabrik, part of a women’s centre in a converted chocolate factory. Book into one of the bright, airy rooms at women-only hotel Artemisia Frauenhotel.

10. Madrid
A seriously sexy city to start with, Madrid is an amazing mecca for mujeres. The bars and clubs of LGBT neighbourhood Chueca overflow into the streets from early evening, but things don’t really get going until midnight or later. Head for Plaza de Chueca and find yourself surrounded by women carousing over cocktails and tapas. Truco is one of the busiest bars, with an under-30 crowd and great people-watching tables on the plaza. Escape is the most popular dancing destination. Daytime distractions include the well-stocked bookstore Libreria Berkana and the slew of incredible tapas options at Mercado San Miguel; vermouth on tap and gargantuan portions of olives are particular standouts. Stay at chic boutique bargain Praktik Metropol, just a few minutes’ walk from the action. The hotel’s two-level roof terrace is perfect for sunning, reading or sipping an apéritif.