Washington, DC LGBTQ+ travel guide: US capital makes for a welcoming queer city break

The White House lit up in rainbow colours

LGBTQ+ travellers looking for a diverse, welcoming US city to visit should put Washington, DC high on their list.

Holidaying in the US can be a mixed bag for LGBTQ+ people. The major metropolises – New York, LA, California – are straight-forward, with inclusive communities and vibrant LGBTQ+ scenes. But beyond that, the bucket list is short.

Washington, DC might not be the most obvious choice for queer tourists, but it may well be one of the best.

Is Washington, DC LGBTQ-friendly?

A crowd of people attending Pride, waving flags
Capital Pride 2023. (Washington.org)

Perhaps it’s something to do with Washington, DC having the highest queer population percentage in the US – 9.8 per cent of adults identify as LGBTQ+, a 2019 study found – or my visit coinciding with Capital Pride, but the city feels goes beyond LGBTQ-friendly.

DC’s local government has laws against discrimination and its mayor is a proud ally to the community – in 2022, she signed into law a ban on conversion therapy.

But more than that, it feels like a genuinely inclusive place – during my visit, not a single person batted an eyelid at a group of visibly queer folk wandering around the streets, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a street during Pride flying at least one rainbow flag. I’d expected some kind of visible resistance – an angry sign in a shop window, or a protest at the Pride parade – but none came.

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Where to visit

A street mural of a woman sipping coffee
Georgetown. (Washington.org)

DC’s top sights are, of course, its centres of power. In an afternoon you can take in the White House, the US Capitol and the Supreme Court, as well as the monuments and memorials. It’s a fair bit of walking – if you need a break, visit VUE rooftop at the top of Hotel Washington for drinks with a view of the White House.

Also nearby are the museums, including the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. If you’re planning a visit and want to explore any of the museums, be organised: tickets to most are free but are booked up quickly.

It’s easy to navigate the city by foot – Dupont Circle, historically the city’s main LGBTQ+ centre, is about 20 minutes from the White House, with Georgetown, DC’s oldest and most charming neighbourhood, a similar distance from there. You could feel a queer presence in pretty much every neighbourhood I visited, with plenty of queer-owned and welcoming businesses. The Mexican restaurant Mi Casa was a particular highlight, with an abundance of well-done Tex Mex classics and incredibly friendly staff. It’s part of KNEAD, a small group of restaurants across the city which also includes Gatsby, in the southeast Navy Yard, a jazz-age themed diner worthy of a special occasion.

Gay bars in Washington, DC

After dinner, there are plenty of queer clubs on U Street, north of Dupont. Bunker is one of the newest to arrive in the city – set in an underground, well, bunker, it was filled almost entirely with men when I visited, but was good vibes. Down the road, Kiki bar is spread across two floors and an outdoor area, and had immaculate energy on the danceflooor. For queer women, DC is home to one of America’s last remaining lesbian bars, A League of Her Own, which hosts singles mixers, drag king shows and parties.

Where to stay

The Lyle hotel. (Lyle)

The Lyle hotel has everything going for it: beautiful rooms, filled with mid-century furniture and tasteful artworks; a seriously good brunch offering; and within walking distance of both the White House and the gay bars of U Street. For Pride, the entire facade was illuminated with the colour of the LGBTQ+ flag.

How to get there

Norse Atlantic Airways (who provided the flights for this review) has launched a new route between Gatwick and DC (Dulles Airport), with return fares from £450 including taxes and fees.

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