What makes a beach 'gay'? It's unlikely to be a rainbow fence erected by the local council. Most of Europe's gay beaches became LGBTQ+ hotspots gradually and organically over time, often because they're secluded and allow nude sandbathing. Here are ten of the best, with tips on how to get there and what, if anything, to wear.
Barcelona: Bassa Rodona Beach, Sitges
Half an hour by train from Barcelona, airport, Sitges is a beach resort with a vibrant LGBTQ+ scene. If you don't see a drag queen in Sitges, you're not doing it right. Situated in the town centre, Playa De La Bassa Rodona is the most popular (and accessible) of the town's gay beaches. There are loungers for hire, beach bars serving drinks, and calm clear waters for swimming… or skinny dipping if you're feeling bold.
Passeig Marítim, 6, 08870 Sitges, Barcelona, Spain
Mykonos: Elia Beach
Elia Beach is situated around 10km south of Mykonos Town; if you don't have a car, you can catch a bus from Old Port bus station. Because it's one of the largest and loveliest sandy beaches on the island, it attracts straight and LGBTQ+ sun-worshippers alike. To find the gay area, keep heading right and look out for the rainbow flag. And if you keep on walking over the rocky outcrop, you'll reach a secluded spot where clothing is very much optional.
Ελιά 846 00, Mykonos, Greece
Lisbon: Praia de Bela Vista / Beach 19, Costa da Caparica
Located around 15km southwest of Lisbon, this is one of Europe's most famous gay beaches. Its unassuming name comes from the stop you alight at – paragem 19 – when you take the mini-train connecting the Costa da Caparica resort town to the beaches down the coast. Flanked by a nature reserve and designated an official nude beach in 1995, Beach 19 has become a gay haven because it's vast and slightly off the beaten track. There's no competition for sunbeds here, because there aren't any sunbeds.
Costa da Caparica, Portugal
Gran Canaria: Playa de Maspalomas
Surrounded by sand dunes and accessible only on foot, the gay zone of Gran Canaria's Maspalomas beach is private and unspoiled. It's often referred to as 'Kiosk no 7' because of the small beach bar that serves it. There are several ways to get there, including crossing the dunes from the Hotel Riu Palace Maspalomas, but each involves a trek of around 25-30 minutes. So, if you're visiting in summer, you might want to set off early to avoid the midday sun.
35100 Maspalomas, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain
Ibiza: Playa Es Cavallet
If you prize creature comforts over privacy, Ibiza's leading gay beach is for you. Located a short bus ride from Ibiza Town, Playa Es Cavallet is a nude beach with a gay zone at one end. Once you see the rainbow flag of Chiringay, a beach bar that doubles as an LGBTQ+ hotspot, you'll know you've found it. Chiringay has everything you need to unwind – table service, sunbeds, even showers – but expect to pay pretty handsomely for it.
Playa des Cavallet, 07818, Ibiza, Spain
Lokrum is actually a small island in Dubrovnik bay; you get there by ferry from the old city port. Once you arrive – it only takes 10 minutes – head to the east of the island and follow the signs to the FKK (or nude) beach. It's a discreet spot with pine trees offering plenty of shade. Just be aware that you'll have to cross some rocky patches to get there, so it's probably best not to wear flip-flops.
Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Marseille: Mont Rose Beach
One of France's oldest and most iconic gay beaches is easy to get to. Just take the 19 bus southbound from Marseille and get off just right after Montredon: it's about 15km from the city centre. From there, it's a short walk to this secluded nude beach that's more rock than sand. For this reason, you might want to bring something comfortable to lounge on (whether you plan on staying clothed or not).
232 Av. de la Madrague de Montredon, Marseille, France
Zandvoort is a popular beach resort 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. Once you're there, walk for 20-25 minutes along the boulevard and you'll find the unofficial gay zone: Beachclub Eldorado is a helpful marker. If you carry on a little further, you'll hit a stretch of sand popular with gay nudists. If you're visiting in summer, remember to bring some SPF 50 as this beach is pretty exposed.
Zandvoort Beach, Netherlands
Tel Aviv: Hilton Beach
This gay beach gets its name because it's located right in front of the Tel Aviv Hilton hotel. Paris Hilton, a certified gay icon and ally, would certainly approve. As you'd expect from its central location, the beach benefits from plenty of amenities including a watersports club that offers kayaking classes. But don't worry if you're not feeling active; there's plenty of room to relax beneath rainbow parasols.
HaYarkon St 205, Tel Aviv, Israel