Athens is a city that may feel a bit outdated and unkept on the surface. But don't let your eyes fool you. It may not have the elegance and architectural appeal of other European capital cities, but what Athens lacks on the outside is made up for inside the vibrant scene found in its bars, clubs, restaurants, and cafes. Athens has a developed gay scene but it's not one you'll stumble upon, so you'll need to know where to look.
As a member of the European Union, Greece has in place many anti-discrimination laws against sexual orientation and generally speaking, LGBT people are safe to be out and live their lives. However, Greece is still a highly religious society influenced by the conservative Greek Orthodox Church, and this has exerted a tremendous amount of pressure on LGBT people to maintain a life behind closed doors rather than the out-and-proud approach seen by communities in neighboring European countries. Many people still live partially in the closet in Greece, but Athens is definitely the progressive center of the country, and this is where the LGBT community is at its strongest.
Gazi is the most popular neighborhood these days and many of the LGBT establishments can be found nearby. Some locals might suggest that the neighborhood is becoming less gay-focused as they prefer more mixed crowd or underground venues, but for a first-time tourist, this is definitely the place to go. There are a variety of bars, clubs, cafes, and restaurants in this trendy neighborhood also popular among tourists, young Greeks, hipsters, and cool kids.
Popular gay-friendly cafes include Rooster and Caf del Sol, while the bar scene is good with establishments like Kouckles Club where you can find Greek-style drag shows. Starting very late are two popular gay clubs, Sodade 2 and Fou Club, which offer a mix of international pop music as well as Greek hits. Another highlight is a place called TAF or the Art Foundation. Though not specifically gay, it's gay-friendly and has a relaxed scene offering art, drinks, and a vibrant alternative and hipster crowd that is welcoming to anyone. It's important to note that the gay scene is Athens is less public compared to gay hotspots like Mykonos. But equally so, the scene here is much more regular and local as opposed to seasonal and tourist-driven like you'll find in the islands.
The Athens Gay Pride celebration takes place each summer and has been growing ever since it first started in 2005. Though the local LGBT community is active in organizing the parade and various events, it can't be compared in size or impressiveness to its cousins in other European capitals like Amsterdam, Madrid, or Stockholm. Like most pride events, the highlight is the pride parade which takes place in the evening on Saturday of pride weekend in early June. In addition, there are a number of morning activities followed by a large show and party after the parade finishes.
You shouldn't forget that Greece is well-known for having a history of same-sex relationships in ancient times. Infamous relationships like that of Alexander the Great as well as characters from Platos' Greek tragedies are part of the rich history and are an alternative area of focus for an LGBT traveler. Explore the history on your own at the museums of Athens or better yet, check out a local gay-oriented tour from either Big Olive Walks or Dopios, which both offer tours highlighting the past and present gay culture of Athens.
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Auston grew up in Phoenix before escaping to Chicago in 2008. After 4 years working as an engineer, he sold his belongings and embarked on a round-the-world trip. After traveling non-stop for a year, he finally settled in Spain with his husband where he now calls home. When he's not traveling or writing guides about events, festivals or the best LGBT destinations, he enjoys the long sunny days and nightlife of Madrid. Read Auston's blog at Two Bad Tourists, or follow him on Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram.
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