Ian McCurrach selects 20 great European retreats, where liberal attitudes make for a welcome stay

1 Bologna

Bologna (above) is full of beautiful people. Puffed and buffed, sporting the latest designer gear they cruise the gorgeous porticoed arcades looking like hot Latino catwalk models. For years, this liberal city has been home to Italy's national gay movement and has a positive and welcoming attitude to all things queer. There are gay venues and clubs, but some of the hippest nightlife in Bologna is mixed, which adds an interesting "is he or isn't he?" confusion.

Further information: www.cassero.it

2 Paris

Gay Paree's gay 'hood, Le Marais (below), is a warren of narrow avenues in the third and fourth arrondisements, laden with homo-specific boutiques, bars and restaurants. Don't make the mistake of heading to Le Queen, the legendary club on the Champs Elysees, which is now a tourist hell-hole. The cool boys hang out at the Sunday tea dance, Plaisir at La Scene Bastille in the 11th, where Paris's gay and lesbian centre is based. Further information: www.ParisForGay.com

3 Lesbos

For girls, girls, girls, think the third largest Greek island of Lesbos, off the Turkish coast. The birthplace of Sappho has been attracting lesbians since the Fifties. Lesbian culture rules at Eressos, the pretty town where life revolves around the beach and its bars.

Further information: www.greekisland.co.uk/lesbos

4 Barcelona

Barcelona's gay scene is booming with pundits saying it's the new gay capital of Europe since laws tightened in Amsterdam. There are stylish places to stay in the gay district L'Eixample (known as Gayxample) such as the heterofriendly Hotel Axel (www.hotelaxel.com) (below) and cool clubs such as Salvation.

Further information: www.gaybarcelona.com

5 Zurich

Zurich has recently reinvented itself as one of the most hip and happening cities out, so pack your best designer gear and prepare to party. It's the Swiss hub of all things homo, full of muscle boys who like nothing better on a weekend than baring all on the banks of the River Limmat (below) at nearby Tuffenwiess, which is only 25 minutes from the centre on tram 4. After dark, clubbers head for Labyrinth.

Further information: www.zuerich.com

6 Sitges

This small coastal resort an hour from Barcelona by train is packed with brilliantly white buildings and narrow winding lanes, leading down to a palm-fringed promenade. Sleepy by day, Sitges ignites around midnight with something for everyone from leather bars such as XXL to disco bars such as Mediterraneo. Pick up a gay map at Parrots Pub and follow the crowd as they hop from bar to bar.

Further information: www.gayinsitges.com

7 Lisbon

The Portuguese capital (below) may not be a gay Mecca like Barcelona or Madrid, but it does have a pretty good club scene if you can stay awake long enough. After dinner, everyone heads for the docks area of Santa Apolonia, where trendy industrial bars such as the Lux and Alcantra, draw chic crowds.

Further information: www.gayportugal.com

8 Manchester

Canal Street overrun by straights? It's certainly queer up north, but the scene has proved so stylishly popular that you are likely to find yourself being viewed by tourists. For clubbing think Essential on Saturday nights. Manchester Pride runs 18-28 August.

Further information: www.visitgaymanchester.com

9 Munich

Munich's sizeable and highly integrated gay population guarantees high style and a buzzing scene when it comes to nightlife. Don't miss visiting the legendary Deutsche Eiche (www.deutsche-eiche.com), a restaurant-cum-sauna-cum hotel. Further information: www.justgermany.org

10 Brighton

The bohemian beach atmosphere is hard to beat so perhaps that's why Brighton has such a famously large gay population and scene. Second only to London, there's everything you'd ever want from gay beach, bars, clubs, hotels, shops, saunas et al. Basically, if it's gay, Brighton's got it. Brighton Pride runs 29 July- 6 August (above).

Further information: www.gay.brighton.co.uk

11 Stockholm

The lively gay scene here is all about integration. Torget in the old town has differently themed nights and for stunning views from the sun deck of a boat (and we're not just talking about tall blondes with blue eyes) make for the legendary Sunday tea dance on the old steam ship, Patricia. Stockholm Pride runs 31 July-6 August.

Further information: www.stockholmtown.com

12 Amsterdam

Mix 100 gay bars, discos, shops and cafes, and some of the world's best and kinkiest museums, classic architecture, and 350 coffeeshops, and you have Amsterdam (below). From leather to vanilla and a host of infamous hangouts, take your pick from some of Europe's finest gay establishments.

Further information: guide.gayamsterdam.com

13 Ibiza

The White Isle oozes boho hippy chic and every gorgeous gay rents a house here during the first week of September in search of the best clubbing in Europe. Lounge in the sun by day on Es Cavellet beach then nap till midnight. Head for the medieval walled old town for dinner, have a drink on Calle de Virgen and watch the disco parades. The best gay clubs are Matinee (Space on Saturday daytime) and La Troya Asesina (Space on Wednesday night).

Further information: www.gayibiza.net

14 London

Many will argue that London now leads the gay world. The epicentre is Soho (below) (where the coffee bars, bars and clubs are crammed with cute boys and sassy girls) and Vauxhall (a riot of superclubs such as Club Coliseum, Crash and Fire). Head up to Hampstead Heath and soak up the rays around the Men's or Women's Pond.

Further information: www.gaylondon.co.uk

15 Berlin

Life is still a cabaret here, ever since Sally Bowles first strutted her stuff around the Kit Kat Club. Today, boomtown Berlin and its glittering skyline is a creative, pulsating place with an anything goes attitude. So, whatever floats your boat Berlin is bound to have it.

Further information: berlin-tourist-information.de

16 Mykonos

In and out of fashion since the Seventies, Mykonos (above) is firmly back on the map and has metamorphosed into one of the most glamorous of all the Greek Islands with its beaches such as Elia and Super Paradise, bars such as Pierros and clubs such as Cavo Paradiso.

Further information: www.mykonos.net

17 Gran Canaria

When is a shopping mall the centre of the gay universe? When it's the Yumbo Centre in Gran Canaria, chock-a-block with disco bars and the like. Gran Canaria guarantees year round desert sunshine.

Further information: www.gaygrancanaria.com

18 Madrid

Madrid's gay scene is centred around the old quarter of Chueca. Don't even think of going out for dinner before 11pm, hit the bars around 1am and go clubbing around 3am at places such as Ohm. Sleep all day so you are fresh for the night when the city comes to life. Further information: www.gaymadrid.com

19 Brussels

Brussels has shaken off its grey image of being just the administrative heart of the EU and now leads the way on the European party scene. Boys and girls flock here to party from London, Amsterdam and Paris for the main events such as La Demence.

Further information: www.gaymap.info/bruxelles

20 Prague

The perfect long weekend break combining history, sightseeing, culture and partying. The gay scene has really taken off in recent years with hot bars and clubs such as the gay and lesbian mixed Termix, Friends and Escape.

Further information: www.praguegaycity.com