“Why Portugal?” more than one person has asked me when they found out I was going on holiday. Or, to be more precise, there have been two variations on this question: “Portugal? Why not Spain?” and “Oh, Portugal, you’ll be in the Algarve then?” So I’m here in Lisbon, writes OutUK correspondent Chris Stevens, because I want to find out just what those who don’t come here are missing. And it doesn’t take me long to work out that they’re missing a lot.
Say it with flowers, the ads tell us. Well, the Portuguese did. One day in 1974, in what surely must have been one of the world’s most unique revolutions, and one whose gentleness seems strangely at odds with the willful ferocity of the country’s drivers, people started putting carnations in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles.
Lisbon is situated on seven hills.
Meeting virtually no resistance, this so-called Carnation Revolution signaled the end of a little-loved dictatorial government and heralded Portugal’s re-entry into European affairs after a half-century of isolation.

“The history of Portugal is not that of Europe,” said the Nobel Prizewinning Portuguese author José Saramago, “but the history of Europe would be unimaginable without that of Portugal.” These are, after all, the people who discovered a sea route to India, who established colonies in Brazil and Macau, who were the first to circumnavigate the globe. Today, Portugal’s borders are much shrunken. It is overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Spain, while its ancient capital, Lisbon, is often neglected in favor of the southerly lure of the Algarve’s beach resorts.

Something of a connoisseur’s tip over the past couple of decades of its gradual re-emergence into the contemporary world, recent government investment and redevelopment associated with its role as European City of Culture in 1994, and events such as Expo ’98, mean that Lisbon is now attracting more attention than ever, and is poised to take its place as one of the European destinations not to be missed.

The imperial past is evident everywhere, most obviously in the countless royal statues which have outlived the actual monarchy and benignly survey the goings-on in the city’s squares and avenues. That of Dom Pedro IV is of particular note, not only for the magisterial height of its pillar which towers above the cafés of the Rossio, but because the history of this statue offers a certain insight into the survival of Portugal’s imperial heritage, and a glimpse into the psyche of its people. The statue actually portrays Maximilian of Mexico, who happened to be assassinated while his likeness was in the port of Lisbon awaiting shipment. Rather than being allowed to go to waste, the statue was renamed and installed on its column, in the belief, perhaps, that from a such great height, all kings look alike.

Today, Portugal’s imperial past translates, variously, into a mixture of races on the streets, a thriving musical scene centered around the traditional “fado”, as well as a kaleidoscopic number of international menus on offer around the city. Lisbon attracts people from all over the world many of whom attend the annual Pride Parade staged in mid-June.
Lisbon Gay Pride Parade. Photo: rfranca
Everywhere in Lisbon you can wash down your meal with very affordable and fabulously drinkable Portuguese wines which may not always travel well but which, from the crisp vinhos verdes, or “green wines”, to the rich reds of the Dão, are nothing short of inspiring in their country of origin.


While the streets of the city centre below are the domain of formidably coiffed and stilettoed matriarchs, its cafes and bars seem to be the preserve of sultry youths. It crosses my mind, briefly, that Lisbon might just be a stage set dreamed up by a drag queen. At any rate, it’s a city which welcomes gay travellers. As with their one-time kings, and despite that fact that this is still a deeply religious country, the Portuguese do not take themselves too seriously and are not averse to a little gentle self-satire, which shows up in the name of a restaurant such as Mássima Culpa.

Then there are Finalmente’s ubiquitous ads for their nightly “Travesty Shows”. Clearly, the future is free, gay and happy - if we are to accept the word of a recent Mayor of Lisbon, who, when writing the preface to the widely available Lisbon Gay & Lesbian Guide, described his city as increasingly a place of “freedom, tolerance and creative restlessness.” He adds that it’s a city that knows how to have fun – and for evidence of that you need look no further than the small but astonishingly diverse and invariably welcoming number of bars and clubs in the city.

Though a Catholic country, it has a very South American not European feel. You needn't go to a gay hang-out to meet that Portugese boy of your dreams, but there is a gay quarter found between the old Rossio station down to south of the Polytechnic in the Rato. You can also cruise openly in the gay clubs or bars in Bairro Alto or Principe Real.
Lisbon Gay Pride Parade. Photo: rfranca
Bar da Esquina is such a gay bar in the Bairro Alto, located in a corner just before the street where all the dancing is! It's a friendly place and the menu at Bar da Esquina is recommended for food lovers. Good mojitos are waiting for you at this pub & bar.

Friends Bairro Alto is an easy place to take a drink, have fun, good music, and meet people particularly midweek before midnight. The inside of the bar is small but always popping with a good mix of global and local hit music. Outside is busy and relaxed and although their prices are slightly higher than expected (€18 for two gin and tonics) they do have a system to get €1 back if you return your glass. However the queues at the bar might deter you from actually doing it.

Drama Bar has the best programming for a Queer bar in the city, with a lot of varieties, events, and they are super open to welcome more artists and ideas. Fairly priced, pet friendly and queer friendly with a great decor and DJ selections. Their Drag Barbiecha Bingo is super fun. They have dance parties with the good music downstairs on weekends!

The Side Bar has a rather gay cliché decoration, but it's a fun bar which attracts some young guys. A good choice to start the evening, if only to watch a few terrified straight boyfriends entering a gay bar with their adventurous girlfriends. Equally, Bar 106 is an easy going gay nightspot offering specialty cocktails & occasional live DJs in a snug, modern space; and Purex is a popular gay & lesbian nightspot offering drinks & dance music in a laid-back, intimate atmosphere. Their crowd is mostly 30+ and there were definitely straight folks that just walked in off the street not realising it’s a gay bar. Always good DJ's and killer espresso martinis.
In the Jardim do Principe Real, the garden in the heart of Lisbon, is a monument in honor of the victims of homophobia.
Pedro Ribeiro Simões from Lisboa, Portugal
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


The three biggest gay nightclubs get really busy towards the weekend. Trumps features house and pop DJ music in neon-lit surrounds with disco balls and a dance floor. It's one of the best-known LGBTQIA+ venues in Portugal as it's been around for more than 40 years. Trumps has been the stage for many nationally and internationally renowned artists, such as António Variações, Conchita Wurst and Miz Cracker. They see themselves at the heart of queer culture and life in Lisbon and the development of the Portuguese LGBTQIA+ market. They stage their own productions, and have signed up some of the best dancers, DJs and drag queens.

Construction Lisbon caters to a shirts-off crowd, with regular themed nights, performers and guest DJs. The music is good but the big problem here are the drinks, the prices are extremely high for what it is. The other large gay dance venue is Posh Club Lisbon with a very mixed, mainly younger, crowd. Themed dance nights on the weekends sometimes need to be booked online in advance.


Drako Club is a larger cruising club exclusively for men over 18 years old. They operate a strict dress code of being naked or in underwear only. The club has St. Andrew Cross/Cruz de St. Andre, porn videos rooms, chillout zone, gloryholes, leather beds, dark zone, sling and free condoms. They have an onsite adult shop.

Bar Cru is Lisbon's popular gay cruise club with weekly themed parties like Underwear Night, Naked Party, Dark CRUising, Fetish Night. They also have a men's clothing, fetish & sexshop selling Sex Toys, Poppers, Underwear, Fetish items & much more.

Woof x is a small gay crusing bar with limited space. The atmosphere is friendly and the location is great. Open and inclusive, the bartenders are super nice. They have a cruising area and darkroom for fun. Non-smokers may wish to avoid it though, despite the aircon, it gets smokey. They play alternative house techno and trance in there, but this crusing bar is all about the "backroom" which is a dark maze, where all the fun happens!

Bar TR3S Lisboa is Lisbon biggest gay bar serving the LGBT community since 2010. Bear owned and operated it was voted into the 10 best bear bars in the world by Bear World Magazine. Friendly cute bartenders mixing your cocktails and serving you cold beers. The outside seating area is a big attraction point. Shelter Bar in the Rua da Palmeira is a cozy and friendly Bear Bar with a relaxed atmosphere. Here you can meet your friends and make new ones too as the bar attracts both bears and their admirers.


If you want to get steamed up check out SaunApolo 56 which is mainly for the gay crowd, but it's also open for lesbian, transgender, bisexual and hetero swingers. It's clean and has pleasant ambient decors throughout. Alternatively, Trombeta Bath is a stylish sauna exclusively for gay men located in the heart of the gay district. Again it's very clean throughout and attracts a young crowd. It offers STD tests for free on Tue, Wed & Fri afternoons, and there are occasional after parties with Dj's. Massage is also on offer and they have a darkroom, slings and glory holes.

3Sauna in the Rua Teresa Leitão Barrosis just the place for a pedicure or relaxing massage. They have a Dry Sauna, Large Steam Bath, Spacious Relax Cabins, Video Room, Jacuzzi/Hot Tub for about 12 bears or 20 twinks - or of course a mixture! There's a Heated Swimming Pool, Full Bar with Snacks, Indoor and Outdoor Loungers and a sunbed in their garden area. Please bring your own slippers, use is mandatory or you can buy them at 3Sauna for €6.

Olissipo Sauna in the Rua do Telhal is another venue where you can enjoy a relaxation massage. It's a small gay sauna with clean and modern facilities. The first floor has a bar, massage space, locker room, dry sauna and a small pool with two shower rooms. On the second floor are their dark rooms, TV space, steam room and showers.

Finally, Villa 3 Caparica is something completely different. It's a beautiful 3 star hotel catering mainly for gay men but open for all members of the LGBTI+ community and their supporters. They are located between Lisbon and the very famous Lisbon gay Beach, Praia 19 or Beach 19. Villa 3 is about 15 minutes from the Gay Center of Lisbon - Principe Real. It's a complete gay resort experience and as well as beautiful rooms, a sizeable swimming pool and good food, they have a dry sauna, steam bath and whirlpool hot tub.


Photo: Jorge Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Whatever you do, believe the guide books when they tell you nothing starts till late. I turn up at half past one on a Tuesday morning at Finalmente, only to be advised by the matronly woman at the door: “You’re very early.” Sure enough, the tiny club is empty except for three lanky teenagers practicing all of their best dance moves.
You can be sure that by three in the morning, all the clubs are packed wall-to-wall for the stylish drag homages to English, Spanish and Greek pop stars which constitute the “Travesty Shows”. When you do finally slump into your bed as the sun is rising, you can always take comfort from the fact that the morning starts late as well: no need to think about breakfast in a café before at least eleven, when many stores will just be opening their doors.

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3Sauna (de Barros 4, R. Teresa Leitão Barros; T: +351 964 983 333; Website)
Bar 106 (Rua de São Marçal 106 108; T: +351 21 609 9895; Instagram)
Bar Cru (Rua de São Marçal 170; T: +351 938 306 078; Website)
Bar da Esquina (Rua do Norte 53; T: +351 919 832 832)
Bar TR3S Lisboa (Rua Ruben A. Leitão 2A; T: +351 21 346 3012; Website)
Construction Lisbon (Rua Cecílio de Sousa de 70; T: +351 21 342 8971; Instagram)
Drako Club (Rua Nogueira e Sousa 11; T: +351 21 191 1680; Website)
Drama Bar (Rua Damasceno Monteiro 75B; Instagram)
Finalmente Club (Rua da Palmeira 38 R/C; T: +351 21 347 9923; Website)
Friends Bairro Alto (Travessa da Água da Flor 17; T: +351 925 108 022; Instagram)
Olissipo Sauna (Rua do Telhal 5; T: +351 21 583 2159; Instagram)
Posh Club Lisbon (Rua de São Bento 157; T: +351 932 265 395; Website)
Purex (1200 241, Rua das Salgadeiras 28; Instagram)
SaunApolo 56 (Rua Luciano Cordeiro 56 A, T: +351 926 136 808; facebook)
Shelter Bar (Rua da Palmeira 43A; T: +351 924 092 862; Website)
Side Bar (Rua da Barroca 33; Instagram)
Trombeta Bath (Rua do Trombeta 1c; T: +351 216 095 626; Website)
Trumps (Rua da Imprensa Nacional 104B; T: +351 915 938 266; Website)
Villa 3 Caparica (R. Teresa Leitao Barros 4, Charneca de Caparica; T: +351 964 983 333; Website)
Woof x (Rua Manuel Bernardes 2b; Website)

Revised January 2024.


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