Our Favourite LGBTQIA+ Places in London.

Tours of the UK Logo with Pride Background

London, like any major city, has always been a centre for the LGBTQIA+ community. London’s relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community has changed dramatically over the years, and while we have a tendency to think of a modern London which is welcoming to all, for a large portion of London’s history being LGBTQIA+ in the capital was fraught with dangers of blackmail, violence, and arrest. The London of cottaging grounds, seedy bars, and the fear of prosecution for ‘gross indecency’ is long gone, but the legacy of LGBTQIA+ oppression still remains, as LGBTQIA+ figures are underrepresented in the capital’s statues, blue plaques, and memorials. Pride in London, whatever its faults, is a beacon of hope for many LGBTQIA+ people who live and work in London. Pride’s party atmosphere brings people from all backgrounds together and the awareness and viability that pride generates has helped move the equal rights movement forward. Many of the rights that LGBTQIA+ people enjoy today, including an equal age of consent, civil partnerships, and gay marriage can all be traced back to campaigns and cases found at pride.

Sadly this year Pride in London (like on a lot of UK cities) has been cancelled this year due to Covid19. Because of this we wanted to share with you some of our favourite LGBTQIA+ spots in London, all of which will hopefully be reopening soon; offering all members of the LGBTQIA+ community safe spaces to mix and mingle in a socially distanced manner. These suggestions are just a small glimpse into our favourite places, and sadly we couldn’t list them all, as both Soho, and Vauxhall, are packed with amazing places to visit, party, and play. Missing from this list are the amazing clothes shops that litter Soho, such as Clone Zone, Prowler, and Regulation, all of which have amazingly friendly and supportive staff, as well as some of the more ‘out-there’ nightclubs that litter the ‘naughtier’, or more interesting parts, of London.

RVT aka The Royal Vauxhall Tavern

372 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5HY

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall

The RVT (or the Royal Vauxhall Tavern) is the oldest surviving gay venue south of the River Thames. Now a grade II listed building, one of only a few buildings that has been given historical protection thanks to its links to the LGBTQIA+ community, it is considered to be of national, and international importance to the LGBTQIA+ community. Famous for its performances by a range of both local and international artists, cabaret nights such as Duckie! (The RVT won the title of London’s Best Cabaret venue in both 2018 and 2019!) its Drag shows, party nights that honour gay icons from George Michael to Kylie Minogue, to Ariana Grande, and its links to both the LGBTQIA+ ‘alternative’ and Kink/Fetish scene, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is a must-visit venue for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and their allies. A favourite venue of LGBTQIA+ celebrities for years, it has seen performances by famous Drag Queens like Lilly Savage and Charlie Hides, and it is even rumoured that the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, smuggled Princess Diana into the RVT dressed as a “rather eccentrically dressed gay male model!”.

One of our favourite nights at the RVT is Duckie! a messy, irreverent, belly laugh of a night out which has been a regular at the RVT for almost 25 years! Sadly postponed (we would hate to see it cancelled) until the end of the COVID19 pandemic, it has been a staple of the RVT’s Saturday night schedule. With entry to Duckie! costing between £5 and £8 depending on what time you arrive, we have never failed to enjoy a night out at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Gays the Word Bookshop

66 Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1AB

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

We’ve mentioned Gay’s the Word Bookshop in previous posts. Located 66 Marchmont Street in the Bloomsbury area of London, Gay’s the Word is a must-visit for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+. Now the oldest surviving LGBTQIA+ bookshop in the UK, Gay’s the Word was founded in 1979 and was one of the few places where you could buy LGBTQIA+ literature, at a time when it was not widely available. Home to numerous LGBTQIA+ groups including Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) who were made famous throughout the world thanks to the film ‘Pride’. One of LGSM’s co-founders, Mark Ashton (who sadly died of pneumonia in 1987 after contracting HIV/Aids), is commemorated with a blue plaque above the shop which is still home to the weekly Wednesday Evening Lesbian Discussion Group (Wednesday evenings between 8 pm – 9 pm) as well as the monthly Translondon Group (every 3rd Tuesday of the month at 7.30 pm).

A trip to Gay’s the Word is always a special occasion, as while many of London’s major bookstores now carry an LGBT+ section, this was not always the case. Unlike the bigger bookstores, the staff at Gay’s the Word are always willing to chat, and offer some friendly advice. Gay’s the Word also offers a much wider selection of books (and other paraphernalia that relate to LGBTQIA+ cases and issues including t-shirts for LGSM, badges etc) than most of the bookstores in London which have dedicated LGBT+ sections within their regular stores.

According to their Facebook page, Gay’s the Word will reopen on 1st July with some amended opening times due to the COVID19 pandemic.

G-A-Y Bar

30 Old Compton St, Soho, W1D 4UR

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

G-A-Y Bar is one of the most well-known, popular, and notorious LGBTQIA+ venues in London. Open from midday, there isn’t an LGBTQIA+ person we know who hasn’t spent at least one very drunken night here. Often used to start a night out (thanks to the deals that G-A-Y offers to its sister sites G-A-Y Late, which is around the corner on 5 Goslett Yard, Soho, London WC2H 0EA and Heaven, which we will talk about a bit later) G-A-Y often has a mixed clientele of young and old. Split over several floors, which are not all open in the afternoon, or on quiet nights, the crowd at G-A-Y is usually quite diverse including students, tourists, and office workers, with a mainly male crowd on the upper levels and a mainly female crowd downstairs. Like many of London’s LGBTQIA+ nightclubs G-A-Y Bar can get very busy and you will need to queue to get a drink, the longest we have waited was 30minutes – but this was on New Year’s Eve! Like all of London’s nightclubs G-A-Y Bar operates a search policy on entry and the door staff are normally pretty good if you feel uncomfortable being searched by a member of the same or opposite sex – just ask them and they are pretty accommodating. Again like all nightclubs in London, G-A-Y Bar also operates a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and people have, in the past, been refused entry for carrying licenced medication such as autoinjectors for allergies, pain medication etc – our advice is to leave it at home (if you can) as there is nothing worse than queuing to get into a nightclub or bar, only to be refused entry for something which you could have avoided! If you can’t leave them at home try and grab a member of staff before you start to queue (better yet call them earlier in the day or drop them a message on social media!) and explain your situation to them. We also highly recommend that you make use of the cloakroom (found downstairs near one set of toilets) if you have any shopping or precious personal items with you; but be warned that the queue for this facility can get very long if G-A-Y Bar is busy.

While we highly recommend G-A-Y Bar, just so you can say that you have lived through the experience, we would advise that if you do not enjoy loud music or very busy bars that you visit earlier in the day. We quiet enjoy popping in on a Saturday afternoon just after the matinees in the nearby theatres have started when the volume (both of people and music) is lower and it is easier to find a seat and get served at the bar.

The Above the Stage Theatre

72 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, London, SE1 7TP

Nearest Tube: Vauxhall

Founded in 2008 above an LGBTQIA+ pub called The Stag (hence the name) Above the Stage Theatre is now situated underneath one of the railway arches in Vauxhall. The only theatre in the UK producing, and programming, exclusively LGBTQIA+ theatre it is a popular spot with the London based LGBTQIA+ theatre community. We’ve seen numerous productions here that have ranged from the brilliantly funny, to the poignantly moving and we always end up drinking in the theatre bar until closing time! If we are honest the bar is a great place to hang out and drink if you happen to be in Vauxhall anyway!

Although it is currently closed due to the COVID19 pandemic the Above the Stag Theatre should re-open in November for their annual adult panto, which this year is Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town, which follows on from their highly successful Pinocchio in 2019.

The Admiral Duncan Pub

54 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4UD

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road

The Admiral Duncan is one of the oldest gay bars in London and is named after the British Naval hero Admiral Adam Duncan who defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. Known throughout the United Kingdom for the Admiral Duncan terrorist attack, which was part of the 1999 London nail bombings (where the Neo-Nazi David Copeland placed three nail bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane and The Admiral Duncan over three consecutive weekends) where three people were killed, and seventy-nine people were injured. Today the pub is a popular place for all members of the LGBTQIA+ to come together and has a memorial chandelier and plaque to those who died and were injured during the 1999 bomb attack. Known for its friendly staff, cheap(ish) drinks, and Drag shows, The Admiral Duncan is certainly a favourite with many of our LGBTQIA+ guides who often pop in here after their tours.

5 Places Our London Guides Are Missing During The COVID19 Pandemic.

Over the COVID19 pandemic, everyone at Tours of the UK has come to miss so many of the things that we used to take for granted. From grabbing a quick coffee from one of the many food and drinks markets to enjoying a stroll through the streets of London everyone is missing what used to be boring and mundane. With this in mind, we asked our London based team the palaces that they are missing and why.

1. Gordon’s Wine Bar, Villiers Street. Nearest Tube: Embankment

Gordon’s is believed to be the oldest wine bar in London, having been founded in 1890. Called “London’s Worst Kept Secret” in The Londonist this bar is a favourite of Londoner’s and tourists alike. Serving only wine and water, and covered with old posters, newspapers, and magazine cuttings from the bar’s illustrious history it is a place to sit, people watch, and relax. Famed for its barrels behind the bar (pictured below) and the candlelit ambiance of its cellar bar CJ who works in our office said “I miss spending evenings here with my boyfriend. He’s a guide with Tours of the UK and was the first person to take me to Gordon’s. The first time we went it was freezing and we had to sit on the terrace in one of the seats without heaters. The amazing thing is that the atmosphere, and the wine, kept us both warm. I really wish we could go here and enjoy a nice bottle of wine and some of their amazing cheeses! It’s one of the few bars in London where people will still talk to each other. We went here the night before lockdown started and it was the only time, I’ve seen it quiet. I can’t wait to get back there and enjoy a bottle (or two) in the sun!”

Gordon's Wine Bar, Cellar Bar, Tours Of The UK
Gordon's Wine Bar, Cellar Bar, Tours Of The UK

2. The Southbank, Southbank. Nearest Tube: Embankment OR Waterloo

The Southbank is home to several of the major cultural organizations in London, including the Royal Festival Hall, The Queen Elizabeth Rooms, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI and the National Theatre. In the summer you will see throngs of people walking along the river Thames stopping wherever they can to enjoy a cold drink – usually a glass of Pimms. Outside the Royal Festival Hall is an art installation called Fountain: Appearing Rooms by the artist Jeppe Hein which is hugely popular with kids (both young and old). Our Head Guide Dewi said “One of my favourite things to do at any time of year is to walk from Waterloo, along the Southbank, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Borough Market and over London Bridge to Fenchurch Street Station where I get my train home. In the winter it can be pretty cold, but there are plenty of places to stop and warm up such as the Founder’s Arms or The Anchor. Both are great pubs and are great places to drink at any time of year. In the summer I tend to walk all the way without stopping and treat myself to a G&T on the train home. Or if I am with friends, we will pop into one of the bars at Gabriel’s Wharf or have a drink outside the National Theatre. I’m awful for getting distracted by the National’s Bookshop whenever I walk past it and usually end up buying something. I also tend to loiter under the south side of Waterloo Bridge if the Southbank book Market is open as you can always find a book there that you didn’t know you wanted, but definitely needed to add to your collection! I’m really missing the walk, not so much for the exercise, but for the chance to stop and look at the books, people watch and just enjoy the view of the City of London from the south side of the river. It’s a walk I’ve done thousands of times when I want to be alone with my thoughts and I miss it”

3. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside. Nearest Tube: London Bridge

This was a popular choice with several of our guides who come from a theatrical background. Opened in 1997 this replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a popular destination for theatre lovers, students, school groups and tourists. Offering a wide range of productions, including new writing and special commissions, the Globe is a must-see for anyone who has a love of theatre. Dewi, Jan and Henry all agree that standing as a groundling is the best way to see a production as you are often involved with the action, with the actors walking and performing amongst the audience. However, if you cannot stand for the duration of the play (and it’s a struggle for Dewi, Jan and Henry when they go) then we suggest you take or hire, a pillow as some of the seats can be very uncomfortable. Henry said “I’m not a Shakespeare expert, but I love the Globe! I usually go at least once a year, sometimes with Dewi who has been studying and teaching Shakespeare for years, and sometimes on my own or with my girlfriend. I remember seeing Titus Andronicus with Dewi a few years back and being shocked how gory it was! That said I have never seen something at the Globe that I didn’t enjoy. I think this year will be the first year since I moved to London from Aberystwyth where I won’t have been to see a performance here.” If you are planning to visit the Globe Dewi recommends the guided tour which is provided by the Globe Theatre. It gives you a deeper understanding of the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare, and the context in which his plays were written.

The Globe Theatre, Tours of the UK
The Globe Theatre Stage, Tours of the UK

4. Borough Market, London Bridge. Nearest Tube: London Bridge

Borough Market is the oldest market in London dating back over 1000 years to the 10th Century. Situated on the south side of London Bridge, and next to London Bridge Underground Station’s Borough High Street exit the market is a Mecca for local office workers, NHS Staff who walk from the nearby Guy’s Hospital, Londoners who are looking for a taste of home, the exotic, or to try something new, and tourists looking to explore this foodie paradise. Often you will find Harry Potter Tours traipsing through the Market as the Mexican restaurant El Pastor on Stoney Street was the filming location of the Leaky Cauldron in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” while the Globe Pub (where it is said the Great Train Robbery was planned) is a filming location for the Bridget Jones films. Every tour guide in London adores Borough Market as you can always find something to eat here, even if you aren’t hungry! Kate loves the perfect pasta from La Tua which is tucked away in the Borough Market Kitchen area, while Dewi highly recommends the Ethiopian curry from Ethiopian Flavours (located in the Green Market, close to the railings of Southwark Cathedral), and Henry loves the chocolate from Rabot 1745 (who have their shop on Bedale Steet). Kate said that “I love walking through Borough Market, the smells are always amazing! It’s usually packed but I think that’s part of its charm, that everyone in London comes here to eat and drink. I love that in the summer you can get glasses of Pimms or Sangria. In the winter there is always the most amazing smell of mulled wine – I usually come here with my partner who always gets carried away buying gifts for people. This year we are going to treat ourselves and buy a turkey from one of the butchers and pretend we’re Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy! I miss being able to treat myself to something tasty and worry that some of my favourite places won’t reopen after the pandemic”

TOP TIP: If you are planning to visit Borough Market after the lock-down we suggest you visit on Thursday as this tends to be the quieter day and so social distancing should be easier. Also, if you are planning to eat here, take a good stroll first and look at all of the options that are available to you. Often people buy the first thing that looks delicious (and it all looks delicious) and are disappointed to later find out that their favourite food was just around the corner. We suggest a good look around first and then if you are in a group you can split up and meet back at the seating area in the Borough Market Kitchen area of the market, go and get what you really fancy. Of course, if you are feeling hungry you could just eat everything you see, but even those of us with massive appetites might struggle to manage this!

5. The Harp, Chandos Place. Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

“I hate it when guides tell tourists about The Harp!” exclaimed Henry when we told him that his favourite pub was going to be included in this list. He went on to moan that “it’s difficult enough to get in there at the best of times, but if we all keep telling tourists to visit there, we’ll never be able to get in, let alone to the bar!” sadly too many of our guides mentioned that they were missing this beautiful boozer and its impressive selection of beers, ciders, wines, and spirits for us to miss it off this list. Often packed with locals (who would also rather we didn’t tell you about this impressive hidden gem), the best time to visit The Harp can be earlier in the afternoon before the ‘locals’ finish work, or on Sunday evenings when the bar has a much more relaxed and calm atmosphere. The first thing you will notice when visiting the pub is the huge number of Pump Clips (pictured below) hanging from above the bar and how small the bar area is. We suggest that you grab a drink and, if the weather is nice, head out the back of the pub into Brydges Place where crowds of people stand clutching their pints. Due to the UK’s smoking laws, this is usually where smokers and their friends hang out, but if you can stand the smell of cigarette smoke it is an excellent place to people watch and spot the odd actor and celeb from the nearby theatres. If drinking al fresco isn’t your thing head up (the very steep steps) to the rooms above and relax in one of the armchairs – the only problem with this is carrying your pints past people coming down the stairs from the pub’s loos.

The Harp, Pump Clips Above The Bar. Tours of the UK
The Harp, Pump Clips Above The Bar. Tours of the UK