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New York gay travel guide: What to see and where to go for LGBTQ+

Callum McSwiggan

London-based LGBT+ lifestyle author and content creator

When it comes to trans, lesbian and gay travel, New York is one of the best places in the world. I’ve been to the city a half dozen times but will keep coming back because no two trips are ever the same. I never leave without making a new friend, either, and that’s why it’s always one of my top recommendations for a lastminute LGBT+ getaway. 

Greenwich Village is considered to be the main gay area in New York, but with Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Park Slope, Astoria, and The Lower East Side, there’s so many queer focussed places to choose from. Whether visiting for New York pride, for a romantic getaway, or for a solo adventure, here’s my tips for getting the most out of the city.  

What to Do in NYC for LGBTQ+

Ditch the sit-down show - Everyone comes to NYC to see a Broadway Show but there’s one show in particular that stands out from all the rest. Sleep No More is an incredible piece of immersive theatre that is wonderfully queer and exclusive to New York. Forget sitting down for three hours, this is promenade theatre at its best. I challenge anyone to enter this expansive immersive world and not come away with their mind well and truly blown. 

Take a queer walking tour – I’m not usually a fan of guided tours, but if you’re new to the city, this is an incredible way to get to know the area while learning about its fascinating queer history. It’s a brilliant way to get an understanding of the gay neighbourhood, and to meet fellow LGBT+ people too.  There’s a few different tours available, but I can personally vouch for Oscar Wilde Tours as being a great way to spend a few hours.   

Get out of the subway - New York is beautiful, and it’s my personal opinion that you miss it if you spend all your time down in the subway. Take a long walk through Brooklyn to enjoy the picturesque brownstone buildings; walk the High Line for incredible views and sunsets; see the twinkling Christmas lights that fill Manhattan in the winter; or go leaf peeping in Central Park in the autumn. (Yes, that’s actually what it’s called.) 

Cycle The Islands – The ferry over to the Statue of Liberty is constantly packed with tourists, so why not escape the crowds and try something a little different? Governor’s Island is 172 acres of gardens and nature, it has incredible views of Manhattan, and you can still see the Statue of Liberty from here too. (Trust me, it’s prettier from a distance). If you want to skip the statue altogether, try Roosevelt Island with its charming lighthouse and fragrant cherry blossoms in the spring. Grab a bike and explore either or both – on a quiet day, you’ll feel like you have the islands completely to yourself. 

Go Shopping – New York is home to some of the best shopping in the world, and there’s a few LGBT+ owned gems that are absolutely worth tracking down. Try Lockwood or Delphinium Home for gift shops full of queer bric-à-brac, or try Blue Stockings for a queer activist lead book shop. 

Where to Eat

Queer Ice Cream – The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop may be touristy, but it’s perfectly situated in the heart of the gay district. Grab a waffle cone to take on your queer walking tour in the warmer months, or treat yourself to a hot fudge sundae when things get a little colder. 

Gay Street Food – Smorgasburg is an LGBT+ inclusive open air food market with many queer owned stalls that pops up throughout the city during the summer months. My advice is to try a little something from several different vendors, but if you’ve only got room for one thing, I recommend the brisket tacos or pork belly empanadas from Carlitos. 

Rainbow Bagels? Sadly not. The famous rainbow bagel shop you’ve probably seen on Instagram and Tiktok has now closed. Luckily, BITE has stepped in to bring you the next best thing: mini rainbow doughnuts. They don’t have a brick and mortar store just yet but can be delivered to your hotel or anywhere in the city. They sometimes make an appearance at Smorgasburg too. 

Island Seafood: If you take my recommendation and head out to Governor’s Island then you have to try Island Oyster while you’re there. It’s a beautiful restaurant serving incredible cocktails and seafood right on the water. Try the lobster roll, and if you’re down to spend a little extra, the oysters are some of the best I’ve ever had. Don’t like seafood? Their burgers are exceptional too. 

Queer Owned: If you want to support LGBT+ owned businesses, then check out Via Carota, a lesbian owned Italian in the heart of Greenwich Village. You can’t leave without trying their highly instagrammable chocolate mousse. If Italian isn’t your thing then check out Bogota Latin Bistro or Miti Miti for some of the best food from Latin America.  

Where to Go Out?

Drink - For LGBT+ history enthusiasts, The Stonewall Inn and Julius’ are two absolute must-visit gay bars in New York. Ginger’s Bar and Cubbyhole are popular with the lesbian community, and The Boiler Room and Eagle NYC are popular with gay men. If you’re looking to dance then there’s no shortage of New York gay clubs. Check out Rebar  The Monster Bar, or The Q. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe then go for Uncle Charlie’s Piano Lounge. 

Entertainment – Check out Flaming Saddles for dancing cowboys; Industry, Pieces Bar or Icon Astoria for Drag; or The Trans Voices Cabaret for some jaw-dropping talent.  

Cruise – Admittedly New York isn’t the best place in the world for gay saunas. East Side Club is probably your best option, but if cruising is your vibe, I’d recommend the local circuit parties instead. The city is a thriving queer hot spot year round, so there’s always something happening. If in doubt, always ask a local.  

Where to stay

There’s no shortage of hotels that are both safe and welcoming for LGBT+ people.  A couple of favourites amongst queer guests include:

For romantics: The Knickerbocker hotel is a stunning luxury hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Perfect for couples looking for something that extra bit special, there’s a reason that The Knickerbocker is popular as a destination for gay couples looking to tie the knot. 

For singles: As well as Pride events, Riu Plaza in Times Square has queer inclusive events year round, and with their singles and dating nights, it’s the perfect place to meet fellow queer people without even having to leave the hotel. 

For the solo traveller: The Westhouse and Distrikt hotels are perfectly situated for solo travellers looking to be in the centre of the action. Both within easy walking distance of Times Square and the gay area of Hell’s Kitchen, The Westhouse Hotel is right on Central Park, whereas The Distrikt Hotel is much closer to Chelsea. 

Every single time I visit NYC, I’m reminded why I’m proud to be LGBT+. I love being gay, and I love being gay in New York. Inspired? Start planning your Big Apple adventure today.

Written by Calum McSwiggan is a London based LGBT+ lifestyle author and content creator

Calum McSwiggan discusses queer culture, issues that affect these communities, mental health, and relationships in his work. He has published two books, contributed travel stories to the Metro and the Independent, and can be found documenting his adventures around the globe on his Instagram page @calummcswiggan.

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