In this post we aim to help you discover the historical gay London. Below you will find a handpicked selection of our favourite places that are steeped in gay history, with explanations about what makes them special to us. So why not plot out a route through London’s historical spots? Be ready for many pub stops!

The club

Heaven was London’s first large, out-and-proud gay club, opened in 1979. It’s camp, over-the-top and packed with people of all sorts (heterosexuals and tourists, alongside all your standard gay clientele), but remains a classic. Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Cher have all performed here, so you are guaranteed a thoroughly great time.

Heaven, Under the Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NG

The pub

exterior of Royal Vauxhall Tavern at night

Royal Vauxhall Tavern at night. Image by Tom Morris [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As befits the capital of Great Britain, we have too many historical gay pubs to be able to single out one. Therefore we chose a small handful of the truly beloved classics, which hopefully will not get developed into luxury flats anytime soon.

Admiral Duncan survived a neo-nazi bombing in 1999, but its history dates back to the XIX century. Nowadays it’s a lively pub, with rowdy drag shows, chatty bar staff and an overall good feel. Welcoming to tourists and locals alike.

Admiral Duncan, 54 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4UB

Comptons of Soho has been nicknamed “The Grand Dame” of Compton Street, and it’s one of the friendliest pubs around. Although it only achieved its current form in the 1980s, gentlemen called the venue “not entirely straight” way back in the 50s.

Comptons, 51-53 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 6HN

Royal Vauxhall Tavern is South London’s oldest gay venue, a pub by day and a club by night. It held drag shows as early as after WW2. Perhaps the most famous story about this pub is about the time when Princess Diana visited the Tavern disguised as a man and in the company of Freddie Mercury. Try the long-running (since the 90s) club night Duckie.

Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London, SE11 5HY

The museum

Leighton House was built in the 1860s for a gay artist Frederic Leighton, and he filled it with treasures that he had collected worldwide. Expect to be blown away by the intricate design and the decorative paintwork. Arab Hall is a must-see.

Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London W14 8LZ

The bookshop

Exterior of Gay's the Word bookshop

Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury. Image by Bob Walker from London, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gay’s the Word is an independent bookshop in London. Founded in 1979, it was the first gay bookshop in the U.K., and currently is the only one. Therefore you have all the more reason to support this great institution. They have a very wide range of books, suited for all tastes, and a cosy environment reminiscent of old libraries.

Gay’s the Word, 66 Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AB

The swimming ponds

Hampstead Men’s Ponds have been a prominent gay cruising spot for a long time, but they also are a pleasant place to people watch, tan and hang out with your friends. There is an area for naked tanning and occasionally we enjoy a sneaky late night dip after the opening hours. Shh!

Hampstead Heath Men’s Ponds (or Highgate Men’s Ponds) Millfield Lane, Hampstead Heath, London, N6

Gay London online – useful resources

This blog post on historical gay London is not meant as a complete guide to the capital. Now that you have learned something about the local gay history, why not see what else the capital has to offer? We can recommend the resources below.

  • Patroc London Gay Guide – an excellent resource containing listings, advice, current events and even specialised gay maps to London. They also have guides to different European cities.
  • Gayweekends – another useful site, covering locations worldwide. It’s got a cute ‘gay amity level’ measure to help you pick the most gay-friendly places around.
  • London Gay Tours – various gay-friendly tours of the capital to choose from, should you prefer to explore London in the company of a professional tour guide.
  • Relaxing London: top tips for a calmer experience in the capital – if sightseeing gets too much, check out our guide on winding down in London.