When it comes to gay cities, New York is one of the greatest to visit with its thriving gay scene, a deep-rooted gay history and some of the most iconic sights and buildings in the world.
Each of our visits to New York has been a truly magical experience.
We have always been wowed by its grandeur and palpable buzz, kept incredibly busy and each time left wanting more – it really is the city that never sleeps.
New York should be on everyone’s gay travel bucket list without a doubt.
In our ‘New York Gay Travel Guide’ we will cover everything from where to find the gay areas in New York, to the best gay bars, gay hotels, the top things to do and many other helpful travel tips.
- 1 Why is New York so Gay Friendly?
- 2 Where is the Gay Area in New York?
- 3 Gay Bars in New York
- 4 Gay Club Nights in New York
- 5 Gay Friendly Hotels in New York
- 6 Gay Pride and Events in New York
- 7 Gay Shops in New York
- 8 Gay Area of Central Park
- 9 Gay Tours of New York
- 10 Gay Saunas and Bathhouses in New York
- 11 Top things to do in New York
- 12 How to get to and around New York
Why is New York so Gay Friendly?
We found New York to be very gay friendly and it should come as no surprise.
New York is considered to have one of the most well established, largest, out and proud LGBTQ communities in the world and home to one of the biggest pride celebrations.
This is likely to stem from the fact that New York is well known for being the birthplace of the gay rights movement – aka the Stonewall Riots.
The Stonewall riots are considered to be one of the most important events leading to today’s gay liberation movements and for many of the rights we now have (albeit there is still a way to go).
The riots were a series of demonstrations in response to police raids on gay and lesbian bars and in particular kicked off with a raid on the (now iconic) Stonewall Inn in 1969.
We highly recommend reading up on Marsha P Johnson or watching the documentary of the same name on Netflix to learn more about this crucial point in time.
In setting the scene for this gay guide to New York, this is a city that will welcome you with open arms and one that we should all learn more about.
Where is the Gay Area in New York?
New York City is huge and like many large cities there are certain areas that have become popular with the gay population including:
Hells Kitchen – number one (or at least joint number one with Chelsea) is Hells Kitchen. Home to plenty of gay bars (including a favourite of ours, Flaming Saddles) and gay owned businesses and none other than Broadway itself. Head down 9th Avenue for the highest density of gay bars/places.
Chelsea – here you will find many gay bars, one of the highest densities of gay couples and the high line which is a lovely walk. Many of the gay places here can be found specifically on 8th Avenue.
West Village – This is where you will find the aforementioned Stonewall Inn, Christopher Street and where the annual pride parade centres around. Make sure to visit here to learn about the LGBTQ history of New York and like the other areas, visit one of the many gay bars.
East Village – For the more artsy, theatre types check out what’s going on in the East Village.
Park Slope – Head across the water to Brooklyn for what is considered to be one of the best gay areas in New York. Home to Brooklyn Pride, a high density of same sex households, Prospect Park and plenty of cute shops, it’s worth a day to explore.
Gay Bars in New York
To say that you are spoilt for choice would be an understatement, there are countless gay bars in New York and the gay scene is booming!
There are too many to list so we have taken a selection of ones we have been to or are the most popular and listed them by area below:
Gay Bars in Hells Kitchen, New York
Flaming Saddles – one that keeps us coming back, imagine the film Coyote Ugly but GAY. Sexy bartenders dancing along the bar, pouring shots from the bottle into your mouth (black out warning!), no cover charge and very reasonable drinks prices make this a sure fire bet.
Industry Bar – Dubbed ‘New Yorks Best Gay bar’’, this was more akin to a bar/club being relatively large and with some of the best music we found (to our own personal taste, i.e a lot of Ariana). This had a very trendy and attractive crowd and was packed on both our visits. Expect nightly happy hours, drag shows and dancing into the early hours.
Ritz Bar and Lounge – We went here on our first visit and loved it. Ritz is over two floors, with a diverse fun crowd, incredible vibe and great music to dance the night away to – the drinks were very generous here!
Posh – Posh Bar & Lounge is the first and original gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. Each day of the week is a special theme and the bar is open 3pm to 4am every day guaranteed (plus no cover charge!)
Gay Bars in Chelsea, New York
The Eagle NYC – Head to any gay city and you are highly likely to find an Eagle Bar – this is where it all started. Self-described as a dark playground, the dark and sleazy mood exudes Tom of Finland vibes and is popular with the leather cruising crowd. Head here for some fun…
Barracuda Bar – If you enjoy a chilled dive bar where you can sit, drink, enjoy a drag show and admire the hot bartenders then this might be for you!
REBAR Chelsea – not just a gay bar, REBAR is a community space where you can meet for happy hour drinks, enjoy a cabaret or drag show, as well as live jazz and pop music any day of the week. REBAR is “the place” to drink, dance and play on the weekends.
Gay Bars in the West Village, New York
The Stonewall Inn – where Pride began and therefore an absolute must for any LGBTQ+ traveller coming to New York. Come to dance, drink, catch up with friends and enjoy the many events and goings on at the Stonewall Inn.
Julius – another bar that holds an important place in LGBTQ+ history in Julius. It is considered to be the oldest gay bar in New York. It’s a chilled place for beer, burgers and catching up with friends.
Maries Crisis Café – if you are a fan of the shows on Broadway then this one might tickle your fancy, self-described as a dive bar that epitomizes a deep love for show tune music, grab a drink and sing your heart out!
Cubby Hole – one for everyone and particularly popular with lesbians.
Gay Bars in the East Village, New York
The Phoenix – originally established as The Bar in 1999 has a strong tradition of catering to a diverse and trendy crowd, and has become a gay institution in the east village. The bar has transformed from “go-to dive” to “be seen at destination”.
Nowhere – queer dive that has been serving the east village since 2003. Low-ceilinged gay bar with a subterranean feel, diverse beer menu and jukebox.
Gay Club Nights in New York
If you are looking for huge gay club night events in New York check out the following gay club nights. For all of these we suggest following them on Facebook to keep up to date with when their next event will be held:
MEAT NYC Underground Party – Unleash your deepest, dirtiest desires… Get ready to sweat at NYC’s hottest underground playground.
Alegria – Alegria has dominated New York LGBT nightlife with its marathon events that are equal parts theatrical production, dance music summits and family reunions, all fortified with a serious dose of incomparable male beauty.
Masterbeat – It’s ALL About the Music
Horse Meat Disco – New York – bringing Europe’s top disco collective to New York.
Gay Friendly Hotels in New York
With New York being so gay friendly, you won’t find any exclusively gay hotels or hotels that specifically frame themselves as a ‘gay hotel’. There was one a few years back however this did not last…
However, rest assured that you will be welcomed as a gay traveller here.
When we look for hotels in New York, for us we think location is the most important and typically work from Times Square outward.
Here are our recommendations based on where we have stayed plus some extras to consider:
Moxy Times Square
We stayed in Moxy Times square when it was brand new and loved it.
The rooms are all boutique style, very trendy and there are loads of cool, playful touches around the hotel.
It also has a great bar and as the name suggests is a great location. There are two more Moxy Hotels in New York, one in Chelsea and one in the East Village.
YOTEL New York
This was a really cool, modern and somewhat futuristic hotel, almost like you were boarding a spaceship.
The rooms were very trendy and we loved that the bed raised up so you sit back and relax after a day exploring the city.
Based minutes from Hell’s Kitchen this was a perfect location for a big gay night out.
Element by Westin Times Square
This was the hotel we stayed at on our first visit.
Slightly older than those we have mentioned above and therefore great on a budget, we loved the location (a few blocks from Times Square), the rooftop terrace for some great views and we found the service great (they helped Ben plan his proposal to me on their rooftop!).
Riu Plaza Times Square
The Hotel Riu Plaza New York Times Square is located in the heart of Manhattan, in the renowned “Restaurant Row”, surrounded by Broadway’s most famous theaters, and a few steps from the iconic Times Square.
We have always had great experiences with Riu.
Gay Pride and Events in New York
Being such a gay mecca, New York is host to many gay events throughout the year including:
NYC Pride – expect one of the biggest and best MONTH long pride celebrations during June each year culminating with the parade itself normally on the final weekend in June.
Folsom Street East (June) – Since 1997, the Folsom Street East festival has been an annual highlight of the global f*tish calendar — an in-your-face, s*x- and body-positive shared space on the streets of New York City for all to enjoy!
HOT (July – August) – HOT began in 1992 as the first month-long comprehensive LGBTQ+ festival of theater, dance, music, literature and homoeroticism for the whole family. It remains the longest running festival of its kind in the world.
DragCon NYC – RuPaul’s DragCon is a multi-day convention where fans of pop culture and Drag Race can meet their favorite queens and celebrities, see insightful panels, and watch epic performances.
Gay Shops in New York
If you are looking for shops catering to the (predominantly) gay male market, check out:
- Chelsea Exclusive – for clothing, fetishwear and underwear.
- The Leather Man – the clue is in the name, if anything naughty comes to mind you will find it here.
- Parke and Ronen – focusing on clothing, apparel, swim and accessories.
- Rainbow Station – for a little bit of everything, clothing, toys, DVDs and much more (use your imagination).
Gay Area of Central Park
No visit to New York is complete without spending time in Central Park.
Like any major park in a gay hotspot, when the sun comes out the gays come out and more often than not, set up camp in the same spot to sunbathe.
Head to Sheep’s Meadow during summer and you’ll be sure to find that this is where all the gays hang out in their speedos, drinking the day away (even though there is no pool!). Easiest found via the 67th Street entrance of Central Park.
For those looking for the cruising scene in Central Park ‘the Ramble’ area is a well-known cruising area.
Gay Tours of New York
With so much important gay history in New York, it’s a great idea to go on a gay tour and see the city whilst learning about its rich history.
There are a few companies specialising in gay tours around New York including:
Gay Saunas and Bathhouses in New York
After bathhouses were shut down in 1985, the gay sauna scene has remained pretty quiet with the main places being the West Side Club and the East Side Club (which is now closed):
West Side Club
Dubbed as New York’s Premier Social Relaxation Club for Gay and Bisexual men. The West Side Club is large, long running gay sauna in Chelsea with sauna, gym and cabins.
Prices vary depending on whether you are a member or not.
East Side Club
This was a popular place but is now listed as permanently closed.
Top things to do in New York
Without a doubt, NYC is up there as one of the best cities in the world for sightseeing.
Its incredible seeing all the iconic landmarks, buildings and monuments with your own eyes after years of seeing them on TV and in movies.
We have split this section into ‘paid’ and ‘free’ activities to do in New York:
Must do Activities in New York (Paid)
First things first, get yourself a New York City Explorer Pass in advance.
You can choose the number of activities you want your pass to cover and choose from 85+ activities as you go.
We chose a 5-activity pass and opted to go up the Empire State, Top of the Rock, Central Park Bike Hire, 9/11 Museum and the Hop on/off Sightseeing bus – normally you can save up to 54% compared to doing these individually.
Empire State Building
Perhaps one of the most iconic building in New York – a visit and trip to the top of the Empire State Building is a must.
We suggest doing this one at night time to see the whole city lit up (and then do the Rockefeller during the day).
Top of The Rock – Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center itself is full of shops to check out but the main attraction here is going to the Top of The Rock.
The views from the top are incredible, we suggest this one for the daytime as it overlooks Central Park and you can get great views of the Empire State building here.
Rockefeller Center Ice rink
One for the winter, head to the Rockefeller Ice Rink for an hour or so of skating at the base of the tower – if this does not put you in the holiday spirit nothing will!
We suggest going for a combo of dinner and skating at the on-site restaurant.
Devastating but incredibly important and pertinent during a trip to New York – learn about the events of 9/11 in detail at the 9/11 Museum and see the memorial of where the twin towers once stood.
Watch a show on Broadway!
Another absolute must during a visit to New York is to book a show on Broadway.
We have seen Wicked and The Lion King, both of which were excellent!
Must do Activities in New York (Free)
Explore Central Park
Central Park is huge spanning 4km between 59th and 110th Street.
It is one of the most well-known Urban Parks in the world and hosts free concerts, two ice skating rinks, a zoo, a large art gallery, lakes, rivers, cafes and even a castle!
Magical in the winter when covered deep in snow, perfect for a picnic and sunbathing in summer, you can easily spend hours getting lost here.
Statue of Liberty using the Staten Island ferry
This is a free commuter ferry departing from the Southern tip of Manhattan.
The journey takes about 25 minutes each way. We took the ferry there, got off, got on the next one and came back.
The ferry goes directly past the Statue of Liberty. Granted, not as close as actual excursions would, but close enough to see and get some good shots.
Walk the High Line
Since you will head to the gay area of Chelsea make sure to check out and walk the High Line.
The High Line is NYCs only elevated park, and is built along old rail tracks. It’s just short of a 2-mile walk, taking you through areas of greenery and lots of outside modern art. And as it’s elevated, it offers some awesome views.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
We would definitely recommend doing this at sunset.
If you don’t want to walk back and forth on the bridge, then pay $2.75 to use the subway to the nearest station in Brooklyn, and then walk back across the bridge towards Manhattan.
Views of Brooklyn aren’t overly impressive, but walking towards the NYC skyline at sunset, the views are just breath-taking.
How to get to and around New York
New York is pretty big and while we are all for walking, sometimes we take the easy option and use public transport.
JFK Airport to New York City:
- Yellow cabs: These are the most expensive option. All yellow cabs have a set rate depending on the airport. We landed into JFK, the rate is $52 plus tolls and any applicable surcharges, such as rush hour surcharges. This would probably have been $60+, and we would have needed 2.
- Uber: Great if there was one available. We were a group of 6 and we found an Uber XL for $90, $15 each. Great price but the Uber was miles away at the time we needed!
- Shuttle bus: The prices of these vary, depending on the company. We asked quite a few upon arrival at the arrival, but the cheapest we found was $20.
So in the end, we chose to use the Air Train and the Subway! This came to a grand total of $8 per person, each way.
The air train is really well signposted upon clearing customs in JFK airport. Take the train to Jamaica Station, this is $5. Then, a subway from JFK to most of Manhattans major stations is just under $3.
Getting around New York
For getting from A – B on an average day, New Yorks subway system is easy to use.
You can purchase a Metrocard for unlimited journeys over a 7 day period, this is just $32.
We much preferred to walk, and so knew that in 4 days we would only take a few journeys. Therefore, we opted to just pay as we went, which was only $2.75 for a single journey.
If you have the time (and energy) just WALK! We really love to walk wherever possible; for no other reason than you see so much more!
NYC is such a bustling, vibrant city, with highlights and attractions on every corner. It’s a gay mecca and somewhere we highly recommend everyone visit at least once in their lifetime!
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