Burned to the ground in 61 AD by Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni Celts, Londinium was soon rebuilt by it's Roman founders. The prosperous city became the capital of their province of Britannia. Anglo-Saxons and Vikings vied for control after Rome left around 410, but by the time William of Normandy was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1066, London was again the largest and richest city within what are now the British Isles.
The next millennium would see the city become the center of an empire, with the wealth of a quarter of the world flowing into its coffers. The widespread use of English around the globe is a legacy of that period. So, too, is the interesting diversity of the city's population. A third of Londoners were not born in Britain.
In the past few decades, the improvements in the lives of gay people have been truly astounding, and today's gay scene rivals that of anywhere. There's a vast array of gay bars, clubs, restaurants and saunas, meaning that no matter what time of day or night there's fun to be had.
Samuel Johnson famously said: "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Two centuries later, 25 million tourists each year might agree that a trip to London will never be forgotten.
London is now a little less hectic with the Olympic Games and the WorldPride Festival & Parade of 2012 in the past, but there's always plenty going on in this city, with one of the largest and most diverse LGBT communities on the planet.
Gatwick and Heathrow airports get most international arrivals. Express trains from Heathrow to Paddington Station take 15 minutes. The Gatwick Express takes 30 minute to Victoria Station. Tickets can be bought online or on the train. A return ticket is good for up to 30 days.
Stansted Airport has an express train to Liverpool Street Station or buses to Victoria Station.
Getting around London is a snap. Taxis are everywhere, buses are frequent, and the Underground (better known as 'the Tube') goes most everywhere. An Oyster card, available at customer service counters, will save about half the price of single Underground tickets. For information on all public transport options, see Tfl.gov.uk. If you drive here, or rent ("hire" they say here) a car, be aware of the Congestion Charge Zone for which you must pay a daily surcharge. It covers most of central London. See our CCZ link, or ask your car rental company.
Media & resources
BOYZ Magazine, GayTimes, and QX Magazine have gay news, reviews, club and party updates, photos listings. Boyz has great maps and day-by-day club event listings in print and online, and the GayTimes website has listings for cities all around the UK.
For wallet-friendly lodgings options, see Outlet, with lists of gay-owned/gay-friendly apartments and rooms, including long-term rentals.
KCTV is an online guide and media site for new arts, fashion, music and culture events of a colorful variety.
The Off-West End website can keep you updated on all the independent theater productions in London. Visit Britain and Visit London are two useful general public tourism websites covering the popular cultural events, sights and attractions.
The Southbank Centre complex (the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery), is Europe’s largest center for the arts. Nearly a thousand paid performances of music, dance and literature are staged here, as well as over 300 free foyer events. The BFI (British Film Institute) Film Festival takes place here each October, also the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in spring.
With so many visitors arriving in Britain each year, Stonewall has published a guide on gay rights in Britain, in six languages on how the law protects gay people in Britain, and where to go in case of any problems.
English language courses of a week or more for gay students, at levels from elementary to advanced, are offered by fully qualified and experienced teachers (majority gay), at the Rainbow School of English. "English for gay online dating" sessions, and help with finding gay-friendly accommodations are additional services here.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below click the name. See our London gay map & listings pages for more businesses, and our events listings page for a sample of what's going on in gay London.
For the most part London is very safe, but for your own peace of mind keep your wallet in your front pocket. Leave your passport at your hotel (keep a photocopy with you), and use common sense when cruising.
Ace Hotel Shoreditch (100 Shoreditch High St; 207-613-9800), American gay-owned hotel chain, modern rooms, various sizes, Hoi Polloi brasserie dining/cocktails.
Central Station (37 Wharfdale Rd; 207-278-3294) three rooms above popular gay bar in King's Cross, breakfast at the restaurant.
FitzBB (Fitzovia; (207-834-372-866) gay B&B townhouse, quiet street, not far from Soho.
Griffin House (22 Stockwell Green; 207-096-3332) gay-run holiday apartments near Vauxhall gay village.
Outlet Holidays (Outlet4holidays.com) Soho studio apartments, multi-level units, daily or weekly rentals, walk-in Soho office.
Swinton Hotel (18 Swinton St; 207-837-1451) central location in King's Cross, relaxed vibe, modern rooms with bath/showers.
Victoria Gay Hostel (164 Victoria St; 207-630-0766) 2 six-bed dorms from 20 GBP, private lockers, lounge, gay social ambience.
See our lodgings listings for locations and websites for above hotels, and another two dozen hotel and guesthouse suggestions.
Bars, pubs, & cafes
Gay life is everywhere across this vast metropolitan area, but Central London is the best place to start. Soho's Old Compton Street is a major artery with plenty of bars and pubs here and in surrounding streets. The Vauxhall Gay Village, south of the Thames, has a cluster of popular clubs, especially of interest to leathermen and bears, and at the dance clubs set into the railway embankments the partying goes non-stop from Friday until Monday morning.
Heaven G-A-Y still pulls good crowds for their Thursday Porn Idol contests where amateurs get naked to compete for £100 cash prizes. Friday Camp Attack, and G-A-Y Saturdays are some of the biggest gay dance events in the UK. Popcorn Mondays feature top DJs playing a variety of music and they welcome everyone.
District XXX, Fridays at Area, features international takeover and sexy theme parties, hot and steamy go-go showers, and live erotic shows by a rotation of Europe's hottest porn stars; with music from top rank guest DJs.
Exilio is a monthly ongoing LGBT Latin House party of a dozen years at various venues, playing Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Reggaeton, Cumbia, and Latin House.
Club Kali @ Dome has been doing South Asian dance parties for 18 years now, playing Bollywood Indian Glitter, Bhangra, Arabic, and RnB.
Wrong at Union does gay'straight mixed Friday night/Saturday morning afterhours cutting-edge underground tech house dancing each week in Vauxhall. At the same time A:M at Fire does a two-room afterhours party 3-11am, each with a different mood.
Saturday night/ Sunday afterhours parties include Beyond at Area 3am-noon, and Lock-In at Fire, 6-11am. The party continues Sunday afternoons with the Later Summer Series at Fire, 11:30am-7pm. For events' details see the Orange Nation website.
Factory After Party, Wednesday night/ Thursday morning takes place at Club No. 65 (the former Covert). There are also regular dance nights at favorites like Dalton Superstore, the Eagle, Manbar, the RVT and Vogue Fabrics.
Leather/fetish communities have weekly and monthly events that include: HardOn, at Union with leather, rubber, sports or skin dress code, and live sex shows); and Hotwired at Ewer St with a strict leather/rubber dress code, for gay men and women.
Cruise, naked and sex nights are also frequent features at Barcode, the Hoist, Ted's, and the Vault, among others. Naked dance nights for men are ongoing affairs called Buff at Backstreet, and Nudity at Union.
At the XXX-Club twice monthly (2nd Wed, 4th Fri) Butt Naked afternoon Underground sessions they tape the fun that ensues, and make DVD copies for participants to keep. They also do Pants, Feet, Spankz (no elaboration necessary), and City Boys, an after work suit and tie club "for a big office orgy."
See local gay magazine and websites such as Boyz and DiscoDamaged with daily listings to keep up with all these ever-changing events and special club nights. For a complete list of the bars and clubs we mention, with map locations, web-links and contact information, see our listings and events tabs.
Backstreet (Wentworth Mews) serious gay fetish club, rubber, leather, Sunday and Wednesday naked dance parties, dedicated following.
The Grapes (76 Narrow St, Limehouse), Dickens wrote of it, Ian McKellen is an owner, beautiful and historic old pub, pleasant mix, good food.
Joiners Arms (116-118 Hackney Rd, Shoreditch), chic weekend post-clubbing sports pub crowd until 4am, DJs, mostly gay men.
White Swan (556 Commercial Rd) pub, amateur strippers, slapstick entertainment, live DJs, drag shows, karaoke; Sunday dancing, Latin/Salsa, line and ballroom, followed by funk/house.
Soho, West End & Central London
Admiral Duncan (54 Old Compton St) famous raspberry exterior, popular, pleasant place for drinks, center of Soho scene, across from Comptons.
Balans Cafe (34 Old Compton St) open 24-hours, pre-theatre drinks, post-club snacks, great breakfasts.
Balans Soho (60 Old Compton St) stylish bar and restaurant, light fare burgers to full steak and seafood meals, Soho central, open daily from 8am, late weekends 'til 6am.
Bar Titania (75 Charing Cross Rd), new stylish gay-friendly after-work and pre-clubbing cocktail bar/lounge, live vocalists, karaoke & cabaret shows.
Candy Bar (4 Carlisle St), bar "run by girls, for girls" with lively young crowd - now part of the Ku group, with Candy Boys Tuesday club swap.
Circa (62 Frith St), new gay club in Soho, young crowd, mostly guys, diva emcee, pumped up house music, no cover.
City of Quebec (12 Old Quebec St), "non-scene" traditional pub for mature gay men, karaoke, drag host nights, DJs in The Den.
Comptons Of Soho (53 Old Compton St) no cologne male turf on two levels, always crowded by late afternoon, spills later into the street, inexpensive drinks, upstairs relaxed lounge.
Duke of Wellington (77 Wardour St, Soho) conversation video bar, DJs, mixed ages, mostly regular-guys, busy early, decent prices, short pub-crawl from Comptons.
Edge (11 Soho Sq) Euro-style bar and cafe hangout, overlooks the square, attractive crowd, dancing, go-go boys, drag shows, fills up early, open Saturdays 'til 3am.
Escape Soho (10A Brewer St, Soho) video and show bar, classics to latest releases, mixed young gay/straight crowd, Trannyoke Wednesdays.
Fabric (77a Charterhouse St, The City), gay-friendly dance club, "bodysonic" dance floor, many kinds of music.
Freedom (66 Wardour St, Soho) trendy mixed crowd early evenings cocktails bar, dance floor, Kinky Kabaret shows..
Friendly Society (79 Wardour St, Soho), Barbie-doll ceilings, friendly vibe, 18+ mixed crowd.
G-A-Y Bar (30 Old Compton St, Soho) elegant video bar on three levels, gay-favorite TV shows, performers, talent contests, cheap drinks and bagels.
G-A-Y Late (5 Goslett Yd) modern style, late-night lounge and dance club, near the Tottonham Court Rd tube station, late night Sunday drinking for members.
Green Carnation (5 Greek St), 3 stylish floors, intimate soirees, piano bar, dancing, Saturday house music, girls' nights; Popstarz summer nights until the move to a new home venue.
Halfway II Heaven (7 Duncannon St) traditional pub upstairs, karoke, intimate encounters downstairs.
Heaven G-A-Y Club (Under the Arches, off Villiers St) legendary dance club, four rooms; Thursday Porn Idol amateur strippers show their all.
Kings Arms (23 Poland St), well-loved cozy Soho pub, cruise & chill-out favorite of local bears, never a cover charge.
Ku Bar (30 Lisle St) young lads, three floors, cheap drinks, comedy club, Saturday topless barboys; Ruby Tuesdays girls (Candy Bar swap night).
Ku Bar (25 Frith St) "Baby Ku" second location, fine coffees, teas and sweets afternoons, three floors of music evenings.
Madame JoJo's (8-10 Brewer St, Soho) live bands, classic burlesque and cabaret, famous Tranny Shack Wednesday.
Manbar (79 Charing Cross Rd) West End, shoulder-to-shoulder party bar, no fuss cruising, karaoke, WiFi, open front for street gazing; the former 79 CXR site.
Molly Moggs (2 Old Compton St), small gay locals' pub/ tourist mix, performers and drag shows upstairs.
New Bloomsbury Set (76 Marchmont St, Camden), basement bar, drinks & DJs, dancing, chill-out Sunday afternoons.
Piccolo Diavolo (8 Old Compton St, Soho) good pizza and pasta, reasonably priced lunches and dinners.
Retro Bar (2 George Ct) bar and lounge off the Strand, DJs, retro sounds, punk, pop, funk, glam; gaming machines, quiz nights, comedy nights.
Shadow Lounge (5 Brewer St), glamour set & wannabees, velvet rope door dance club for members and their guests.
Star at Night (22 Great Chapel St) coffeeshop with sandwiches days, night-time cocktail lounge, women-popular.
Vault (139b-143 Whitfield St) 1pm-1am sex club, bar, cruising, dark rooms, mixed age range, underwear or naked after 7pm.
Village (81 Wardour St, Soho) split-level space, cool vibe, younger set hangout, DJs, go-go boys, half price happy hours.
Yard Bar (57 Rupert St) fashionable scene, fresh-air seating in inner courtyard; mixed, mostly young and male.
Champion (1 Wellington Terrace, Notting Hill), comfy pub, food, draft beers and lagers, real ales, fireplace, garden, WiFi.
Load of Hay (201 Pinner Rd, Watford), locals' goodtimes party pub, karaoke, quiz nights, bingo, holiday parties.
Richmond Arms (20 The Square, Richmond), gay & mixed pub, easy-going settled, early, mostly male crowd, karaoke.
Ted's Place (305a North End Rd, West Brompton) private club, very cruisy, men-only, naked/underwear and transgender nights- and karoake too.
West 5 (56 Popes Lane), lively gay bar, quiz games, film nights, piano lounge, pool table, bingo, karaoke, drag emcees, big parties.
Windsor Castle (152 Bath Rd, Hounslow) local pub with seven nights of entertainment, contests, all- hours men.
Black Cap (171 Camden High St) North London's famous drag cabaret and dance club, classic pub, outdoor patio, Mr Gay UK heats, talent shows.
Central Station (37 Wharfdale Rd, Kings Cross) cabaret and comedy shows, restaurant, roof terrace, free internet.
Club Kali @ Dome (3rd Fridays) (178 Junction Rd, Tufnell Park) only South Asian music GBLT event, each 3rd Friday, with BBC DJ Ritu.
Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland High St. Shoreditch) daytime cafe, breakfast from 10am, free Wi-Fi, later nightclub, dancing, cheap drinks, hip young crowd, guest star emcess from Europe/USA and beyond; men/women, mostly gay but straight-friendly.
East Bloc (217 City Rd, Shoreditch), 'odd glamour' decor, internet juke box, cheap drinks, quirky party-boy dance club in black; Disco Fag Fridays, GutterSlut monthly parties, big variety of theme nights, be attired to amaze.
Kaos at Electrowerkz (7 Torrens St, Angel/Islington) monthly techno-electro dance, fetish, tatoos, chic & fashionable kinky crowd, sometimes guest performers.
RUT (508 Plough Yard, Shoreditch), bi-monthly Fridays men's party, leather/rubber-only, fetish ladz.
Underground Club (37 Wharfdale Rd; under Central Station), men-only fetish, rubber, spanking, naked, and cruise parties.
Vogue Fabrics (66 Stoke Newington Rd, Stoke Newington), fashion gallery with downstairs minimalist boîte for hot & sweaty dancing, Dirtbox nights.
Vauxhall & South London
Area (67-68 Albert Embankment; Vauxhall) massive mixed club, 4 dance areas, various gay dance parties and after-hours, shirtless guys, performers and sexy dancers, Saturday/Sunday Beyond.
Barcode Vauxhall (69 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall) warm-up place for bears and dance crowd, DJs, strippers, cruising and dark room.
Bridge (8 Voltaire Rd), wine & tapas bar, cocktails, after-work gay mix, DJs after dark.
Club Colosseum (1 Nine Elms Lane) big Indie club, serious dancing, variety of music, special party nights.
Club No. 65 (65 Albert Embankment, former Covert), gay dance parties, Wednesday/Thursday Factory after-hours, Orange Nation Onyx Underground Friday dance nights, top DJs, underground house and dirty pop.
Eagle (349 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall) big beer selection, pool games, cruisy, leather and fetish nights, Tuesday strippers, Horse Meat Disco Sundays.
Fire (South Lambeth Rd, Vauxhall) cutting-edge lighting and sound system, muscle guys mix with club kids; Sunday daytime hours Later at Lightbox entrance, Sunday night gay dance party of 14-years running, 'til 9am Monday.
George & Dragon (2 Blackheath Hill, Duptford Bridge), late night gay cabaret bar, guys of many ages and types.
Hidden (100 Tinsworth St, Vauxhall) serious dancing, latest in sound and lights, fetish parties.
Hoist (47C South Lambeth Rd, Vauxhall) raunchy dress code, boots only, leather/fetish bar, bears, skinheads, buff guys, fetish store.
Prince of Greenwich (72 Royal Hill, Greenwich), new gay pub, TV lounge; burgers, sandwiches, meals, full breakfast, veggie fare, Sunday roasts, regular cabaret entertainment, party events.
Royal Vauxhall Tavern (372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall) popular party bar with drag shows, male burlesque, wild shows, bizarre acts, diverse ages; big on Sunday afternoons after 4.
Two Brewers (114 Clapham High St) party and cabaret bar, karaoke, drag shows, house and guest DJs, bingo and karaoke nights.
Union (66 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall) cruising, glory holes, cabins, spanking, jack-off and underwear nights, naked Friday dance parties, Bodyshakers afterhours dancing Saturday 4-10am, once-a-month Sunday afternoon naked foam events.
XXL at Pulse Club (1 Invicta Plaza, Southbank), big dance venue near Southwark Tube station, Saturday and Wednesdays, men-only low-cost, circuit parties, stripped-down bears, musclemen, all kinds and ages guys.
Saunas & Gyms
England's largest chain is Chariots, and in London there are five locations, each with video rooms, internet connections and around-the-clock hours Wednesday to Monday.
Chariots Limehouse (574 Commercial Rd) big hot tub and three floors of playspace.
Chariots Shoreditch (1 Fairchild St) heated pool, hot tubs, 30-man steam rooms, full gym, massage.
Chariots Streatham (292 Streatham High Rd) three hot cabins, cinemas, video rooms, tanning bed.
Chariots Vauxhall (63-64 Albert Embankment) 20-man steam room, 30-man sauna, dark rooms.
Chariots Waterloo (101 Lower March) UK's largest sauna, 40-man steam room, huge cruising maze.
E15 Club (6 Leytonstone Rd, Stratford) small sauna and steam room, hot tub, local rough trade and regular types.
Locker Room (8 Cleaver St, Kennington) local men's sauna, cruisy dark rooms, video lounge, fully naked all week long.
Paradise Spa (17 Crouch Hill, Finsbury Park), sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, gymnasium, showers, private cabins, live webcam room, dark rooms, free internet cafe & WiFi, juice bar/restaurant.
Paris Gym (73 Goding St, Vauxhall) fully equipped gym, mixed gay/straight crowd, serious body conditioning.
Pleasuredrome (Arch 124, Cornwall at Alaska, Waterloo) "gym with everything," large men-only sauna and spa, massage, dark rooms, tanning, cafe/bar, always open.
Saunabar (29 Endell St, Covent Garden) huge whirlpool, comfy lounge bar, after-work relaxation, steam room, massage, private rooms.
Steamworks (309 New Cross Rd, New Cross) 20-man sauna, steam, sling, refreshments.
Saunabar Portsea (2 Portsea Place, Marble Arch), sauna, steam room, sports or Swedish massage, bar.
Sweatbox (1-2 Ramillies St, Soho) 24-hour sauna, Jacuzzi, maze, full gym, massage, house DJs, drinks and snacks, Saturday foam parties.
Shopping & Services
BFI Filmstore (Belvedere Rd, South Bank, Waterloo) classic screenplays, limited edition DVDs.
Clone Zone - Earls Court (266 Old Brompton Rd) gay chain, fashion and fetish wear.
Clone Zone - Soho (35 Old Compton St) CDs videos, books, magazines, ticket sales, staff knows the local scene.
Expectations (75 Great Eastern St, off Old St) leather, rubber, fetish, toys, undies, guides, erotic books and comics.
Fetish Freak (S Lambeth Rd, next to Hoist) everything for your leather/fetish/bondage needs.
Gay's the Word (66 Marchmont St) London's leading gay and lesbian bookshop, near King's Cross.
ICA (The Mall) best of new art and film from Britain and around the world, bookstore and cafe.
Master U (330 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall) custom-crafted leather, bondage gear, toys accessories.
Prowler- Soho (5-7 Brewer St) books, videos, large enclosed porn section, fashion wear, variety of poppers.
Regulation (17a St. Albans Pl, Islington Green) bondage accoutrements, leather, rubber, underwear, accessories.
Rob London (Arches 47c, South Lambeth Rd, Vauxhall) leather/rubber emporium, quality clothing, toys, accessories at the Hoist.
Urban Wellbeing (7 Silver Pl, Soho) salon, laser hair removal, acupuncture, tanning.
Above the Stag Theatre (Arch 17, Miles St), year-round theater program of comedy, drama and musicals, original gay-themed plays, cabaret, and a Christmas pantomime -- now in a new Vauxhall home after original space above old gay bar The Stag in Victoria, was demolished. Also with full bar.
The Barbican is Europe's largest music, theater, dance, and film center, home to the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Bears Movie Club bears meet to go to movies each month, visitors welcome.
The Jermyn Street Theatre (16-B Jermyn St) has new talent showcased at a studio venue.
Southbank Centre is three buildings full of music, dance, and visual arts, plus the London Philharmonic and Sinfonietta Orchestras perform here too. The complex is also one of the venues for the annual Lesbian Gay Film Festival in mid-March.
The British Museum has a vast collection of world art and artifacts, free to visitors.
Kew Gardens has extensive gardens and botanical greenhouses, an attraction that draws two million visitors each year.
The London Eye, also known as the 'Millennium Wheel,' has views of the city from 443 feet.
The life and earth science specimens at the National History Museum include famous dinosaurs.
The Tate Britain, the oldest gallery in the network (since 1897), houses a substantial collection of the works of J. M. W. Turner, plus a permanent collection of historic British and contemporary art with whole rooms dedicated to works by one artist.
The Tate Boat ferries you to the Tate Modern with it's contemporary collections at Bankside. Boats depart every 40 minutes.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Rd) has the world's greatest collection of decorative arts and design.
See more by scrolling down on our pics, events and experiences page.
George Michael was reported to have said 'Fuck off! This is my culture,' when caught with his pants down in Hampstead Heath. As Mark Turner of King's College writes in the Guardian newspaper: 'queer encounters in parks, on embankments, in toilets, streets and back alleys are an integral part of the way our cities, and sexualities, express themselves.'
Turner, who wrote Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London, recommends Hampstead Heath, extolling the crowd of 'leather queens, randy teenagers, local husbands, young and old, black and white.' He complains, however, at the distance one must walk. 'Have you ever tried getting a taxi at Jack Straw's Castle at 4am?'
Hyde Park is noted as runner-up, as well as the more international option. Russell Square and Bloomsbury Square, once cruisy with students, office workers and pickpockets, are both now locked up at night.