First time in London? Then our essential travel guide for gay visitors is for you.
More than 150 years ago, in 1861, the death penalty for a homosexual act was removed but it remained a criminal offence. It was not until 1967 that homosexual acts in private between consenting adults over the age of 21 was decriminalised. The age of consent was then reduced to the age of 18 and then, in 2001, to 16.
Laws were passed in 2002 permitting the adoption of children by same-sex couples. In 2003 all previous laws relating to sexual acts were replace with a new law that had no regard to sexual orientation.
Civil Partnerships, a union that grants same sex couples the same rights as a with marriage, came into effect in 2004. Immigration rules were amended to grant equal rights to same sex couples.
In 2007 new laws prohibited the discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. These laws have been extended to provide equal employment rights as well as in the provision of private and public services.
Hotels are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. By law, hotels and guest houses have to welcome gay travellers in exactly the same way as straight travellers. This rule works in reverse – it is illegal for a hotel to limit itself to only accepting gay guests. In reality, hotels across the UK have warmly welcomed gay travellers for many years.
Recently, ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes’ based on sexual orientation have been criminalised giving additional protection to the LGBT community.
London has a very open, vibrant and diverse gay scene with something for everyone. There are a huge number of lively gay bars, extraordinary night clubs, steamy saunas, well-stocked gay shops and proud gay organisations. London has two main ‘gay villages’ located in Soho and Vauxhall.
The Soho gay area is located in the center of the city, close to the Piccadilly Circus. Many of the venues are on or close to Rupert Street and Old Compton Street. You will find an excellent choice of gay bars and restaurants.
The Vauxhall gay area is located south of the Thames River near Vauxhall Bridge. It is particularly well-known for it late-night bars and dance clubs.
However, there are many fabulous gay venues across the city – not just in these two areas.
London has 4 international airports. The two main airports are Heathrow and Gatwick.
Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. It has 4 terminals (numbered 1, 3, 4 and 5 – Terminal 2 is being rebuilt).
Heathrow is connected to the city by a fast rail link called the Heathrow Express. The journey takes 15 minutes non stop to Paddington Station – located to the west of the London’s city center. From Paddington it is easy to catch a Taxi or continue on the Underground to your destination. There is an alternative rail service to Paddington, called Heathrow Connect, that stops at a number of stations. It is cheaper but the journey time is 25 minutes.
The Piccadilly Underground Line runs from Heathrow through central London. It is cheaper but slower than the Heathrow Express (it can take more than 1 hour to reach central London). During peak hours (7:30 – 9:30 and 17:00 – 19:00), it can be very difficult to travel with luggage on the Underground through central London.
Buses and ‘Black Cab’ taxis are available at Heathrow. Expect to pay £50 or more for a taxi to central London.
Gatwick has two terminals (North and South) and is used by a mix of European and long haul airlines. Gatwick is connected to the city by a rail link called the Gatwick Express. This is a 30-minute non-stop service to Victoria Station located in the South West of London’s city center. From Victoria you can catch a taxi, bus or underground line to your destination.
Taxis and bus services are also available at Gatwick. Expect to pay £60 or more for a taxi to central London.
In recent years, the UK has tightened its immigration procedures and introduced the use of biometrics. Full details can be found here.
Most visitors from Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan do not require a Visa – check here to see if this applies to you.
Most other visitors from Asia need to obtain a visa before travelling to the UK. You will normally be required to attend an interview at your local British Embassy.
Entry is normally permitted for a period of 6 months, and you are free to travel anywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A British visa is not valid for travel to other European countries.
The UK has four seasons – Winter (November to March / cold and wet), Spring (April – June / mild), Summer (July – September / hot and dry) and Autumn (October – November / cool / wet). Generally speaking the best time, from a weather perspective, to visit the UK is from April until the end of September.
London has an extensive underground metro system. It is the fastest way to travel around the city. The underground network is made up of different ‘lines’. Each line has its own name such as ‘Victoria Line’, ‘Piccidilly Line’, ‘Jubilee Line’. Trains operate from around 6am to 1am.
The underground network is zoned. Ticket prices are based on the zone from which you start your journey and the zone that you finish – regardless of how many lines or stations that you use.
Tickets are available for individual journeys but using an Oyster Card or Travelcard is much cheaper (see below).
London bus network is modern, safe and easy to use. Bus routes are numbered. Each bus displays a route number of the front so you know where the bus is going. Every bus stop has a map showing the routes that the bus will follow.
The cheapest way to pay for a bus journey is with an Oyster Card. You can pay cash but you will need the exact amount of money (£2.30 per journey). Buses typically operate from 6am to midnight. Some popular routes operate throughout the night. These are called ‘Night Buses’.
Iconic ‘Black Cabs’ can be found everywhere in London. Drivers are knowledgeable and honest. All journeys are priced using a meter. Using a taxi is an easy way to travel around London but usually the most expensive.
You can book a ‘mini-cab’ for a specific journey. ’Mini-cabs’ are licensed private cars. You should agree a price for the journey at the time you make a booking. Many late-night bars and nightclubs operate a mini-cab service to help customers get home.
Mini-cab drivers are not allowed to pick up customers on the street. If you are approached by someone offering a mini-cab service, refuse.
Many of London’s most popular attractions and shops are within easy walking distance. This can be the best way and cheapest way to explore the city, particularly during the summer months.
We strongly recommend purchasing an Oyster Card or Travelcard. These cards are easy to use and cheaper than single tickets.
An Oyster Card is pre-loaded with credit that can be used on the Underground, buses and some railway lines. You are guaranteed the cheapest fare for each journey. You can ‘top up’ your Oyster Card at all Underground stations. You can buy a Visitors Oyster card online before you travel to the UK or buy a standard Oyster Card at any Underground station.
A Travelcard is a paper ticket that is valid for 1 or 7 days unlimited travel on the Underground and buses within specific zones. Most visitors to London will only require Zones 1 and 2. You can purchase a Travelcard at any Underground Station.
Shops in London are generally open from 10:00 to at least 18:00. Large department store and shopping malls stay open a lot later. Shops are only permitted to open for 6 hours on a Sunday (most open between 11:00 – 17:00).
Banks usually open between 09:30 and 16:00, although many in larger cities or major shopping areas will stay open a lot later.
Visa & MasterCard and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners cards are widely accepted. The UK uses a ‘Chip and PIN’ system for all payments. If your card has a microchip, expect to be asked to enter your PIN number rather than sign. If you do not have a PIN, expect to be asked to show official photo ID.
Exchanging cash into British Pounds in the UK can be expensive. Most Asian travellers get a better rate by exchanging currency before travelling to the UK.
The UK mobile phone networks use the GSM system. 3G is available everywhere in London and across most of the UK. Using a foreign mobile phone in the UK can very expensive. We recommend purchasing a ‘pay-as-you-go’ SIM card. These are cheap and widely available, including micro SIM’s for a Iphone and similar device. Pay As You Go cards usually include some ‘free’ internet access.
The UK has a modern medical infrastructure. You will always receive medical assistance in an emergency. If you have a medical emergency, use any phone and dial 999.
General medical treatment can be expensive and travel insurance is highly recommended.
Pharmacies can provide a limited amount of advice and sell some drugs over the counter. Prescriptions issued by a UK doctor will be required for other drugs. There are a number of 24-hour private doctors clinics that will see people on a ‘walk in’ basis – such Medicentre.
English – British people are pretty bad at learning other languages. Some large Department Stores, such a Selfridges have teams that speak a wide range of languages.
A tip of 10% – 12.5% will be expected in a restaurant. Always check to see whether a ‘service charge’ has been added to the bill. If so, no additional tip is required.
Taxi drivers will expect a small tip of up to 10%. Pay £1 – £2 to the bell boy in a hotel. In a bar or club, leaving a small tip may help you get noticed and served faster the next time you buy drinks.
Use any phone to dial 999 for the police, fire service or in case of a serious medical emergency. You can use any mobile phone to make a 999 call free of charge. Do not use the 999 service for any other purpose.
The use of recreational drugs in the UK is illegal. In reality, many people take illegal drugs at dance parties.
We strongly advise against the use of all illegal drugs.
In particular, we strongly advise against the use of a liquid drug known as ‘G’ (GHB or GBL). There are very real risks with this drug. Because it is a liquid it is very difficult to know how much to take. You will not know how your body will react.
If you take too little, the drug will have no effect. If you take too much, then you will vomit and may pass out. There have been many deaths as a result of accidental overdosing of ‘G’.
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