By Chris Astrala

After nearly a year of hunkering down, many queer travelers are eager to get out on the road again and explore. 2021 promises to be a strange travel year, as some regions will become accessible more quickly than others, depending on the timing and rollout of vaccines. With vaccination campaigns underway and a continued reduction in COVID-19 cases looking promising, many travelers are itching to hit the road again. Queer people have often been travel pioneers.

Domestic travel in the U.S. still looks to be a hot option, with many LGBTQ people rediscovering cities large and small that are a short car trip away. Here are several places that you should consider spending some time in—safely—during 2021. No matter where you decide to venture to, check for all COVID-19 protocols for the particular destination you plan on visiting.

Halifax, Canada

Canada’s Atlantic Provinces are largely undiscovered by much of the LGBTQ community, given their vast distances from many of the U.S.’s major cities. But Halifax is a gem that deserves more attention. From unique museums to lighthouses, and modern cuisine to biking, you’ll find something to catch your interest. Outdoors is serious business here, with a multitude of farmer’s markets to wander through, boat and kayaking experiences and coastal hikes galore.

Portland, Oregon

The West Coast’s gorgeous stretch from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver is one you could spend months exploring. The urban vibe—in between all those mountains and coastlines—is pretty incredible, too, and Oregon’s largest city is a great place to start. There’s a vibrant gay community here that boasts unique events like Peacock in the Park each June, and the city’s food, coffee roasters and endless microbreweries will keep you coming back

Auckland, New Zealand

New Zealand has been one of the world’s most successful countries in combating COVID-19, and the South Pacific island nation currently has fewer than 100 active cases. LGBTQ visitors are itching to return to Auckland (voted the 15th queerest city in the world) and the country’s magnificent surrounding countryside. How soon in 2021 that will happen will likely depend on the rollout of vaccinations—and the ability for travelers to prove they’ve been vaccinated.

Knysna, South Africa

South Africa is eager to get tourists back from Europe and the U.S., and it has some advantages: plenty of outdoor options, from wine lands to beaches to safaris. Knysna, on the country’s fabled Garden Route, is about a six-hour drive east from Cape Town and offers magnificent views and plenty of adventure. The area is renowned for parasailing, but you can just as easily visit an elephant sanctuary, go whale watching, sample world-class cuisine, or go birding in the area’s enormous estuary.

Providence, Rhode Island

While the glimmer of nearby Boston as an LGBTQ center may cause some travelers to overlook Providence, this city is well worth a look. The capital city of Rhode Island has a charming and extremely walkable downtown and seems utterly full of queer couples walking hand in hand. Come for Rhode Island Pride, which features a fun nighttime parade with floats that glow and light up—it’s uniquely fun and attracts upwards of 100,000 revelers.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This Argentinian gem is often referred to as “The Paris of South America,” but it’s more complex than that. Parts of the city seem Parisian, but others may remind you of Amsterdam, Manhattan, Los Angeles or Berlin. Come for the food and the clubs and the museums, but don’t forget to take a queer tango class.

Toronto, Canada

Americans sometimes overlook Canada’s most populous city as a travel destination. But this cosmopolitan urban center offers a lot for the queer traveler, not least of which is an extremely gay-friendly populace. Visitors will find a vibrant queer community, interesting ethnic neighborhoods, modern architecture and infrastructure and miles of lakeshore. Details for the very popular Toronto Pride have not yet been set for 2021, but the event generally happens at the end of June.

Maui, Hawaii

Often chosen by travelers as the #1 island in the world, Maui has a little something for everyone. You can relax on its stunning beaches and spoil yourself with world-class cuisine. Explore offshore in an ocean kayak, on a snorkeling expedition to Turtle Town or on a whale-watching boat. Venture into a little town like Paia, where you can spend hours wandering through art galleries. Or spend a day upcountry, which feels like another world, complete with lavender farms, wineries and volcanic craters.

Atlanta, Georgia

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently announced that Atlanta will be designating the Atlanta Eagle building as a Landmark Building/Site. For more than three decades, the Atlanta Eagle has been an integral part of the city’s cultural and social landscape, including its role in helping to create beneficial policy changes and cultural improvements between the LGBTQ community and the city. Today, the city’s huge LGBTQ community is a popular draw for queer travelers across the South and beyond. In 2021, Atlanta will be hosting the IGLTA’s Annual Global Convention from September 8-11.

Key West, Florida

Located at the southernmost reach of U.S. 1, Key West has long been a gay mecca—and the drive there from Miami is an adventure in itself, passing over countless stunning tropical islets. There are seemingly endless nightlife options here, and even the people watching is fascinating. You can enjoy plenty of LGBTQ-owned businesses, from guesthouses to restaurants and clubs.

Nice, France

International travel in 2021 may be restricted to countries that are actively vaccinating their own populations. If France is on your list, consider Nice as a (ahem) nice alternative to Paris. Think all the culture and food of France, but with palm trees and a stunning coastline. Add in some Italian influence and some old-world architecture and you’ve arrived at a winner.


Ljubljana, the largest city in Slovenia, has often been called the “new Prague,” due to its fascinating architecture, great cuisine and ever-present culture. Like Prague, wandering around this very-walkable city can at times feel like you’re in a fairy tale or on a movie set. Beyond its capital city, visitors can visit stunning Lake Bled, hike in Triglav National Park’s craggy mountains or relax in a port city on the Adriatic like Koper.

Sydney, Australia

This Australian city’s iconic Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival is scheduled to start on February 19 and run through until March 7; the organizers say they will work closely with NSW Health to follow any COVID restrictions/guidelines. And while this early year party may not be accessible to many queer travelers, there is hope that travel to Sydney and its popular beaches may be realistic later in the year.

Puerto Rico

This U.S. territory is a longtime haven for LGBTQ visitors, given its welcoming attitude and tropical climate. It features historical sites, beaches and mountains, all in close proximity. San Juan is a fantastic urban center, but other parts of the island are wonderful as well, and you don’t have to go far to find some really unique places. Vieques and Culebra, islands located off the east coast, are wonderful spots to explore the ocean life or just sit back and relax.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Mexico, always an easy international destination for U.S. travelers, seems to be insisting on remaining open despite the pandemic. It will likely remain popular with the LGBTQ crowd. Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cabo and Mexico City are always high on lists, but San Miguel de Allende seems to be the new belle of the ball. This UNESCO World Heritage site features gorgeous examples of Mexican Baroque architecture at every turn. You’ll also find plenty of galleries, jewelry designers and colorful marketplaces.


This Nordic island is a fascinating, almost alien place—as evidenced by sci-fi films shot there such as Interstellar, Prometheus, Thor: The Dark World and Rogue One. Where else can you visit ice caves, bathe in a blue lagoon, see raging waterfalls, gaze at the northern lights, go whale watching and walk on a glacier? Plus, there’s dynamic and quirky Reykjavik, the capital and largest city, which is well worth exploring.