LGBTQ-Friendly or Not? A Closer Look at Booking.com's 10 'Most Welcoming Cities'

Sunday February 6, 2022
Originally published on February 2, 2022

LGBTQ-Friendly or Not? A Closer Look at Booking.com's 10 'Most Welcoming Cities'
  (Source:Getty Images)

Where can the mindful LGBTQ+ traveler go to enjoy natural beauty, culture, history, and at least some measure of legal equality? When does the allure of stunning architecture and sweeping vistas outweigh a legal or social animus toward gender and sexual minorities — if ever? When it comes to crossing off an adventure of a lifetime from your bucket list versus supporting global gay rights, when and how do hostile, homophobic laws and attitudes become deal breakers?

The answers are as varied as individual travelers themselves, but here's a place to start: Booking.com has compiled a list of ten top Most Welcoming Cities. But how welcome will LGBTQ+ travelers feel? EDGE takes a look.

Matera, Italy


That sun-drenched city where James Bond shows up at the start of "No Time to Die?" Yeah, that's Matera, Italy, a longtime destination for movie directors — and now for travelers looking to enjoy Old World charm. "The city is dominated by its unique stone features and natural caves, which have been excavated and extended over the past 1,000 years," Booking.com notes.

Italy isn't quite the leading edge in LGTBQ+ equality — full marriage equality isn't yet the law of the land. An inclusive bill that would have outlawed bias crimes targeting women, disabled people and non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people was killed by right-wing politicians using the familiar canard that such protections would lead to "homosexual propaganda" in schools.

But the country does offer civil unions and recognizes the marriages of visitors (and residents) from other lands; the Italian people as a whole are warm and welcoming. Plus, as Booking.com notes, the city offers "history, great food, architecture or scenery — Matera has it all."

Bled, Slovenia


Nestled near the Julian Alps and blessed with a famously beautiful lake, the city of Bled is a natural beauty spot with tourist appeal. The town is conscious of the gifts its locale bequeaths and is an advocate of "green tourism," as the city's website says.

Slovenia has a mixed record on LGBTQ+ equality: Wikipedia notes civil unions are granted there, while marriage equality is withheld; step-parent adoption is available to same-sex families, but not single-parent adoption by LGBTQ+ prospective parents.

In other ways, the country is a model for legal equality: LGTBQ+ people have the same right to serve in the military, anti-discrimination laws apply to employment and accommodation (though not to hate speech), and there are no legal impediments to trans people confirming their gender.

Taitung City, Taiwan


Booking.com describes Taitung City as a place of superlatives, with "beautiful beaches, natural parks and rich indigenous culture," not to mention "a rich and eclectic culinary scene" that's situated in a nation with "a year-round tropical climate."

But what about Taiwan's laws and attitudes toward LGTBQ+ people? There's more good news on that front, according to Wikipedia: Taiwan is among the most accepting nations in Asia. There is no history of specifically anti-LGTBQ+ laws in this mainly Buddhist and Taoist country. For several decades, LGBTQ+ people have been making strides toward full legal equality, including marriage, non-discrimination measures, and legal access to gender confirmation. Taiwan has also been chosen to host WorldPride 2025 in neighboring Kaohsiung City.

Nafplio, Greece


Booking.com recommends the harbor city of Nafplio — a couple of hours from Athens — as a friendly destination for travelers bound for the Greek islands. Visit Greece lauds the city as being among "the most beautiful towns" of the region, "as well as one of the most romantic cities," with its "[a]ncient walls, medieval castles, monuments and statues, Ottoman fountains and Venetian or neoclassical buildings."

We now look back at Ancient Greece as a place where love between men was celebrated; modern Greece is catching up to antiquity. Wikipedia says that sexual contact between members of the same gender was decriminalized in 1951, and other equality benchmarks have been achieved more recently (hate speech, discrimination, and hate crimes were outlawed in 2014 and 2015, for instance). Though civil unions have been legal since 2015, Greece still does not extend that to marriage equality. But since 2018, it does recognize marriages granted elsewhere.

Toledo, Spain


Booking.com points out that diverse cultures have thrived in Toledo for centuries, and the city's tourism site agrees, calling the city "an outstanding museum city whose rich heritage owes almost everything to the Jews, Muslims and Christians who lived there, working and observing their religion side by side."

Toledo has enjoyed UNESCO World Heritage status since 1986. Marriage equality has been a reality in Spain since 2005; same-sex families enjoy the same rights and protections as their heterosexual counterparts. In most other ways, LGBTQ+ people have parity with straight and cisgender Spaniards. Only in the arena of anti-discrimination laws and so-called "conversion therapy" does Spain still lack national protections, with those practices banned in some places and not others.

Monte Verde, Brazil


With a virulently homophobic president in office and an anti-LGBTQ+ murder rate that is reportedly the highest in the world, Brazil may not be everyone's first choice. That said, it's a country where LGBTQ+ people have made significant strides toward equality, with marriage equality and other family rights being on par with those of heterosexuals, and discrimination and hate speech being outlawed.

Booking.com suggests a trip to Monte Verde, a village in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains. Travel website livemoretravelmore gushes over the region's natural beauty and the city's appeal to outdoorsy travelers, with walking, hiking, climbing, and even zip lines as attractions. There's also plenty there for foodies to enjoy.

Bruges, Belgium


More than the setting for the 2008 crime comedy by Martin McDonagh, the medieval city of Bruges — where the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site — truly offers Old World charm.

Belgium offers distinctly modern acceptance and legal parity for LGTBQ+ people and their families — so much so that in 2021, ILGA-Europe ranked Belgium second out of 49 countries (Malta took the number one spot) on its Rainbow Map and Index to "to illustrate the legal and policy situation of LGBTI people in Europe."

Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia


While being gay isn't illegal in Indonesia (except for the province of Aceh, where under Sharia law, gay people are subject to floggings and prison time), homophobic attitudes hold sway, and there are few legal protections for LGBTQ+ people. Marriage and other rights and protections are denied to gay and lesbian families, who are not even recognized as such. Wikipedia points to a growing hostility toward LGBTQ+ people with the increasing influence of "sharia-supporting fundamentalist Muslim groups" in Indonesia.

With those caveats in place, Booking.com has singled out Nusa Lembongan as a place to visit, praising the seaside city's "amazing waves and laid back pace of life," as well as its proximity to Bali and its "idyllic picture-perfect beaches, exotic cuisine and a rich local culture."

Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal


In contrast, there's the Portuguese city of Ponta Delgada, in the Azores, which offers natural beauty, historical wonders, and the fact that the nation of Portugal has become one of "the best in the world" when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, with marriage equality in place for a dozen years, family rights secured, anti-discrimination and hate speech laws in place and near-total parity with heterosexual and cisgender people.

The city's official tourism site says that Ponta Delgada offers architectural wonders and first-rate dining, while Booking.com highlights its "hot springs and its beautiful lush surroundings."

Hoi An, Vietnam


It's not a crime to be gay in Vietnam, but Vietnamese law offers only a few protections, mostly for trans people. Same-sex families are not legally recognized or protected.

Still, Booking.com asserts that the seaside city of Hoi An — an ancient trading port and another UNESCO World Heritage site — is an attractive place for visitors, with "miles of beautiful white sandy beaches nearby, as well as a bustling and thriving old town" where "Chinese and French influences can be seen" — including when it comes to the city's dining options. Meanwhile, the city's tourism site points to local charms such as how "the Thu Bon River meanders past crumbling shop houses and weathered pagodas, while sampans come and go from the old ferry quay."

Sometimes it's not possible to have stunning natural beauty, historic architecture, fine dining, and rich culture while also being in a truly LGBTQ+-welcoming environment. Weighing the pros and cons of any given destination is up to the individual traveler. So venture proudly — but also travel safely.