A majority liberal country politically, Portugal has long led the way in establishing anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation, and attitudes within its society have followed suit by becoming increasingly tolerant over the past few decades. After homosexuality was decriminalized in 1982, the rights of the LGBTQI community gained further protection over time: open service in the military was guaranteed in 1999 and same-sex marriage attained lawful recognition in 2010.
This makes Portugal just the eighth state worldwide to implement these measures. More progress quickly followed with the Law of Gender Identity in 2011, which simplified the process of sex and name changes for transgender citizens. As of 2016, same-sex couples also possess the right to adoption.
Still, in a country of Portugal’s size, the most significant attractions and events for the LGBTQ community remain in urban centers. The capital city of Lisbon is the country’s epicenter of culture, and as its reputation as a popular tourist destination has grown in recent years, so have its offerings to LGBTQ travelers. This, of course, includes pride celebrations and Lisbon’s main parade is the biggest LGBTQ event in Portugal. Arraial Lisboa Pride attracted more than 60,000 visitors in 2017 to the main square of Lisbon, Terreiro de Paco. Also, in September, Queer Lisboa is set to be the first LGBTQ film festival for Portugal. Showing films made for and by the LGBTQ community, the festival has several competitive categories for full-length features, documentaries, short films, and art films.
While these events are a great way to celebrate the Portuguese LGBTQ community at large, there are also ways for LGBTQ travelers to get to know Lisbon and its history more personally. One such way is through a tour from LisbonBeach, a provider of private and group activities that include a Lisbon walking tour, a gay Lisbon-by-night tour, and day trips to the historic towns of Sintra and Cascais. These spots were not always easily accessible for LGBTQ travelers, but now made possible as times have changed. Staying true to their name, they also organize excursions to gay-friendly beaches outside of Lisbon center, such as Beach 19 and Meco, a pristine stretch of shoreline located about 24 miles south of the city. If your visit to Lisbon is commemorating a special occasion, they even organize birthday and bachelor/ette parties!
If you want to dive right into the nightlife scene, the districts of Bairro Alto and Principe Real are home to some of the city’s best bars and clubs: both gay and mixed. Travelers who enjoy an energetic crowd and a more traditional large-scale nightclub experience can’t miss Trumps. One of the most popular venues in Lisbon for any and all clubbers, it’s close to the local university and tends to have a younger clientele on its electro-house and pop dance floors. Another great option in Principe is Construction, which offers mixed crowds and themed nights. It’s a weekend-only club with a slightly more mature clientele that still knows how to have a good time. The club sponsors a lot of local and national LGBTQ events, so there is always something new (like this summer’s night time pool parties).
The fundamental night out in Bairro Alto begins at the district’s “gay corner,” located at the intersection of Tv. da Espera and R. de Barroca. This collection of streets where the drinkers spill out from small, colorful bars into the road (it’s legal to walk around with a drink in Lisbon) is perfect for a bar/club crawl, which can either start or finish at Clube da Esquina. Some of the city’s best cocktails are served up in traditional Portuguese architectural settings, which are quaint, cozy, and intimate even when the dance music starts. Throw a stone in just about any direction from here and you’ll hit a place with delicious specialty drinks: there’s tiny Side Bar with its cheap beer and famous mojitos, Maria Caxuxa with vintage furniture and perfect caipirinhas, and Bairru’s Bodega known for its wine and gin selection. Right down the street is Purex, a hole-in-the-wall club with great DJs that is especially popular with lesbian crowds.
Heading back to Principe Real from Bairro Alto, Portas Largas is the perfect spot for enjoying cheap cocktails in an uncramped setting, it also has vintage furniture that creates an old-world feeling. You’ll find DJ sets and live bands famous for their infectious energy, leading crowds in a mix of English songs and more traditional Portuguese/Brazilian samba music.
If you want to enjoy a lively LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere while truly immersing yourself in a foreign environment, there may be no better place than Lisbon. But the night isn’t over, and there’s still more to see, so carry on to Principe to visit Shelter Bar and, finally, Finalmente (which means “finally”). The former is a casual spot for craft beer mostly known for its friendly service and cleanliness. It’s the perfect place to end the night because that’s when its famous 3 a.m. drag shows are just getting started. Just be prepared to dance until the morning!
Where are your favorite cities for LGBTQ travel? Let us know in the comments!
Header photo by Elisa Michelet.