Israel is widely regarded as the most LGBTQ friendly country in the Middle East (which isn’t saying much, in fairness). Tel Aviv is liberal, secular, and sexy in equal measure, and is the beating heart of the country’s gay scene, which attracts LGBTQ travellers in their thousands every year. Its annual Gay Pride parade is famous for its huge numbers and wild parties, and is not to be missed. While the White City might steal all the attention, there are also places worth visiting from Haifa to Eilat, whether you’re in the mood to celebrate at Pride parades or mingle in gay bars.
Hilton Beach, Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is undoubtedly the best city for LBGTQ travellers to visit, not just in Israel or even the Middle East, but the world. Indeed, Tel Aviv beat the likes of New York and London in a 2012 poll carried out by American Airlines and GayCities.com, and was voted the most popular destination for gay travellers.
While LGBTQ visitors will feel welcome at all of Tel Aviv beaches (apart from those designated to religious beach-goers), the Hilton Beach is the city’s unofficial gay beach (ironically next to the religious beach). It’s just a stone’s throw from the Hilton Hotel. There, you are sure to find plenty of athletic men in Speedos soaking up the sun and enjoying the laid back atmosphere.
Tel Aviv Cinematheque
This cinema in central Tel Aviv is a hub for LGBTQ culture and cinema. It hosts the only LGBT film festival in the Middle East, TLVFest, which offers “a fascinating look into international and Israeli queer cinematic art”. Aside from its annual festival, TLVFest also runs a movie club with monthly screenings. In addition to TLVFest, the cinema also hosts the Lethal Lesbian film festival, which celebrates a decade of lesbian filmmaking.
The Gay Centre, Tel Aviv
Located in Meir Garden in central Tel Aviv, this is a gay community centre where the LGBTQ community can connect with each other. The centre has full-time staff, interns, and volunteers who run events throughout the city. The annual Pride parade usually begins from here.
Apolo, situated on the bustling Allenby Street in the heart of Tel Aviv’s nightlife, is the sole men-only dance bar and nightclub in Tel Aviv, known for its raunchy atmosphere. Split into two floors, this is a favourite nightspot for many gay Israelis and tourists.
Shpagat, Tel Aviv
Shpagat is a cafe with seating on a cool staircase that turns into a busy gay bar at night. Located on Nahalat Binyamin towards the city’s south, Shpagat is one of Tel Aviv’s most popular gay establishments and is well worth checking out. Relax with a coffee, sip a delicious cocktail and mingle, or dance until the early hours.
Ga’ash Beach, Herzliya
Thirty minutes north of Tel Aviv lies Ga’ash Beach, which has unofficially become the home for gay nudists. It’s a bit of a walk from the car park to its sandy shores, but it will be worth it once you get there.
Scorching heat, stunning coral reefs, dolphins, and gay-friendly beaches, Eilat in Israel’s far south is a great spot for LBGTQ travellers. For over a decade, the city has also hosted an annual “Eilat in Pride” festival.
Syncopa Bar, Haifa
Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, was labelled the “queer capital” of Israel’s north by Haaretz newspaper. Known as the City of Coexistence, it is tolerant by nature and is home to a relatively large student population and a vibrant and liberal nightlife.
Syncopa Bar comes recommended, offering live music and regular gay parties. In addition, Haifa has a gorgeous Mediterranean coastline, amazing shawarma, and an annual Pride parade that attracts over 2,000 people.
The Video, Jerusalem
Israel’s capital city is overwhelmingly conservative and religious, and thus homosexuality is strongly taboo here. Having said this, once you delve beneath the surface you will find spaces where LGBTQ travellers will be welcomed. Jerusalem is home to a relatively large student population, a dynamic art and music scene, and a lively nightlife.
The Video, an ’80s themed bar popular with Israelis, Palestinians and tourists, is Jerusalem’s only official gay bar.
Lev Smadar, Jerusalem
This is a well known cinema and cafe located in Jerusalem’s German Colony, and has operated for over 80 years. A popular spot for the LGBTQ crowd, this is a great place to sip on a coffee and catch a film.
Adraba bookstore, Jerusalem
This bookstore is another spot worth visiting in Jerusalem, with its impressive and niche collection of works relating to LGBTQ subcultures.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is a must for anyone visiting Israel. Don your smallest Speedos, lather yourself up in skin-smoothing mud, and float in its mineral-rich water for a fun and natural spa treatment. Head there on a “Gay Bus” with Outstanding Travel, a tour agency specialising in gay Israel. You’ll have a blast.