No Need to Wait for 2026 Gay Games for the Ultimate LGBTQ Trip to Valencia

by Billy McEntee

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 1, 2022

Valencia, Spain
Valencia, Spain  (Source:Getty Images)

The Winter Olympics may have just ended, but there's already another international sporting event to look forward to — and one that's certifiably queer. Valencia will host the 2026 Gay Games, the twelfth edition of this worldwide sports and cultural event that celebrates LGBTQ+ inclusion in athletics.

Founded in San Francisco in 1982, the competition is now hosted every four years, coming to Hong Kong in 2023 (rescheduled from 2022 due to COVID) before heading to Valencia in 2026. And as the world's queer eye turns to that Spanish coastal city, a visit might be in order before the Gay Games begin.

"Valencia is thrilled to be the official host city of the Gay Games 2026," says Máximo Caletrío, Market Manager for Visit Valencia. "We pride ourselves in our diversity and inclusion efforts and our ample mix of gay and gay-friendly bars, clubs, hotels, cafes, and more — with over 300 days of sunshine a year, Valencia is a great outdoors destination where travelers can explore while feeling welcomed."

Beyond Spain's bigger metropolises like Madrid and Barcelona, there's lots to see and do in this hyper-gay-friendly hub, the country's third-largest city whose size offers intimacy without sacrificing cultural wonders, beachy activities, and LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

Where to Stay

Caro Hotel
Caro Hotel  (Source: Fernando Alda)

Spain's western port city sits right on the Balearic Sea, so the supermajority of its days are sunny and balmy. This means there's never a wrong time to visit Valencia, and when you go, there is a multitude of gay-friendly hotels to stay in. If you're looking for chic-meets-historical, The Caro Hotel provides the best of both worlds. A more luxurious hotel, Caro has 26 custom rooms housed in a 19th century, remodeled palace right in the heart of Valencia, not too far from shopping, and not too far from the beaches. Most conveniently, this five-star hotel is a 15-minute walk from a cluster of nearby gay bars.

If you want to be right in the thick of the gayborhood and pay a little less, Jardín Botánico Hotel Boutique may be right for you. Situated in the queer Carmen district, the Jardín Botánico is essentially an all-gay resort with parquet floors, whirlpool tubs, and contemporary designs inspired by the city's famed Botanical Garden, which, speaking of, is absolutely a must-see.

Culture and Creativity

Valencia's noted Botanical Garden draws tourists worldwide and has one of the largest collections of palms in Europe. The premises' aviary, multiple greenhouses, and collection of shade trees mean you can stay cool and spend hours roaming the verdant gardens.

Also high on any visitor's list is the City of Arts and Sciences. The white, dome-shaped architecture is an iconic part of Valencia's skyline, and the museum is also one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. Come for the spellbinding planetarium, stay for the open-air oceanographic park — also known as the largest aquarium in Europe, with 42 million liters of water.

And if the aquarium gets you in the mood for swimming, Playa de l'Arbre del Gos is one of the city's most gay-friendly beaches, complete with promenades, a cafe, shops, and beachgoers who provide a feast for the eyes.

Dining and Dancing

After taking in the city's downtown and outdoor delights, cap your nights off with some fine dining and dancing at one of Valencia's many restaurants and nightlife attractions. For more casual fare, the historic Mercado Colón houses multiple restaurants, cafeterias, and cafes in this large public market built in the Valencian Art Nouveau style. The century-old building, completed in 1916, features lavish decor and is a national monument.

Visitors must have some paella while in Spain, especially in a coastal city. Navarro, Alquería del Pou, and Restaurante Flor are just three affordable restaurants celebrated for this seafood rice dish. For more fine dining, try one of the city's many Michelin star restaurants: El Poblet offers a blend of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine, and Restaurante Riff's menu offers wine pairings, a vegetarian section, and small plates spotlighting local seafood and produce. For an extra special night out, head to Ricard Camarena, a two-Michelin star restaurant located in the heart of the city that features some of Valencia's boldest contemporary Spanish cuisine.

After dinner, mosey on over to one of the city's many gay bars. Pub BUBU attracts bears, otters, and their fans, offering affordable drinks and throwback music, while tete-a-tete is known for cruising. The Muse is a larger bar with great cocktails in walking distance to clubby scenes like ones at Deseo 54. That gay bar boasts international DJs, a VIP lounge, and a sprawling dance floor. Finally, no trip to Valencia is complete without some flamenco: A stop at La Bulería Flamenco Show offers hot dances in an intimate venue, all set to the throbbing beat of potent, visceral music.

Whether you're traveling to Spain for the first time or planning a return visit, the allure of Valencia and its emerging LGBTQ+ presence make it a fantastic addition to your itinerary. And for sports-minded travelers, be sure to put Gay Games 2026 on your calendars!