by David Cohen

MANCHESTER
Britain's second city is also one of its most dynamic and cosmopolitan. Once a heavily industrial city, Manchester is now at the forefront of modern British life. 
The city has a vibrant gay community, probably the largest and certainly the most visible outside London. The familiar atmosphere of Manchester is where "Queer As Folk" was born. With a diverse range of bars, pubs and clubs, Manchester's gay community leads the country.
The Gay Village, radiating from Canal Street, offers a great sense of community and belonging, while the fantastic architecture and open-minded attitudes of the city reveal the cutting-edge spirit that makes Manchester a must-see gay destination. For Manchester, a city packed with LGBT inhabitants and clubbing opportunities, there really is something for everyone. 
Via Fossa, a large, multi-level bar with an eclectic interior, is one of the most popular clubs on the Canal. Try Essential, replete with three floors of contemporary urban clubbing, with go-go boys, a hi-tech sound system, and the best dance music in town. Vanilla is a hot club for lesbians. Nightlife takes place not only in the bars, but outside by the Canal, where people congregate on the streets. 
Every August, Gay Pride in Manchester is a three-day festival, featuring one of the best Pride Parades in Europe – Ian McKellen was last year’s Grand Marshall. Visitors from all over Britain and Europe enjoy the entertainment, artists, and the abundant party life. The festivities go on all evening, then after midnight the circuit crowd goes dancing at the Manchester Arena. 
Culturally, Manchester has a lot to offer. The Manchester Art Gallery houses one of the UK's finest art collections in spectacular surroundings. Over 1,300 artworks are displayed, including ceramics, glass, metalwork, furniture, textiles, and armor.
Manchester is the shopping capital of the Northwest, and with its unique mix of chain stores, exclusive fashion shops and individual boutiques, locals claim that Manchester offers the best shopping experience in the UK. 
But luxury doesn’t end there. We stayed at the 5-star Lowry Hotel, on the banks of the River Irwell. The main commercial, business, shopping and entertainment areas can be reached within a few minutes by the landmark Trinity footbridge. The Lowry’s rooms are amply sized and boast floor-to-ceiling windows, with pared down modern furnishings. The River Room Restaurant features sumptuous cuisine, and provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Manchester offers the most exciting gay nightlife in the U.K., outside London. Direct flights from Chicago are available from BMI, which offers an upgraded economy class with many of the conveniences of business class at a lower rate.

NEWCASTLE
Mention "Newcastle" to most people and they’ll either give you a blank look or identify it as a coal town. "Carrying coals to Newcastle" long stood as a common expression for a redundant activity. In reality, coal mining has been gone from this region for over ten years. In the wake of its smoke-stack industrial past, this small city in northeast England has been reborn as an avant-garde culture and arts center and as another vibrant point on the UK’s "pink triangle." 
Must-sees include: the towering Angel of the North sculpture, a northern hemisphere echo of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer; the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the world’s first tilting bridge; and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, one of the largest and most ambitious museums of its kind in Europe. 
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge has won many awards, including the UK’s top architecture award. The BALTIC is more than a museum; it’s an "Art Factory" where artists come to work. Exhibits include striking visual, audio, and video creations.
Visitors can walk the bustling city center within a day, or take a relaxing stroll along the quayside and drop into a café. The manageable size of the city rewards even short visits, leaving lots of time for the lively gay bar scene. 
The gay village is located in the western part of the city, a short walk from the main rail station. While gays outnumber lesbians by a fair margin, the two groups form a single social community. Even Sunday and Monday nights find a crush of partygoers in local favorites The Baron and Baronet or nearby The Yard and Twist.

GLASGOW
Glasgow is one of the liveliest destinations in Europe. A center of style and vitality set against a backdrop of outstanding Victorian architecture, Glasgow boasts world famous art collections and the most vibrant nightlife in Scotland. From mind-blowing shopping to funky bars, restaurants and cafés, Glasgow is a perfect weekend getaway.
Gay Glasgow centers around the elegant Merchant City quarter, where you’ll find not only the majority of the scene bars, clubs and shops, but also some of the best of the designer stores, top restaurants, trendy bars, plus stunning architecture from the 17th to 21st centuries.
Art and culture are important in Glasgow life where galleries and museums are in abundance; the choice includes: the world's first Museum of Religion, the renowned Burrell Collection, and the contemporary Gallery of Modern Art. The City of Glasgow owns one of the richest collections in Europe, displayed in 13 museums across the city. 
Glasgow’s nighttime calendar is teeming with music and theatre festivals year-round. Each November, the city is also home to Britain’s largest multi-art gay and lesbian festival, Glasgay.
Don’t miss the Art Nouveau splendor of Scotland's best known architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose inimitable style adorns attractions such as The Lighthouse, House for an Art Lover, and the Glasgow School of Art.
The Glasgow School of Art was one of the leading art academies in Europe, and its reputation in architecture and the decorative arts reached an all time high in the late 1800s. In 1896, Mackintosh designed a new addition to the School of Art building, now world famous for its unique and innovative style. 
In addition to the Glasgow School of Art building, Mackintosh designed a series of Glasgow tearoom interiors. Some of his greatest designs include large private houses in Scotland. 
A century on, Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art is seen as an important architectural monument. With an ever-increasing interest being shown in the work of Mackintosh himself and Glasgow in general, the building has become a favorite destination for a growing number of cultural tourists.
Stylish, upbeat and cultural, Glasgow has reinvented itself in the 21st century as one of Europe’s top arts and party capitals, with traditional Scotland right on its doorstep.


For more information, call 877-UK-RAINBOW, or visit www.gaybritain.org. For air and rail travel, visit flybmi.com or britrail.com.
Photos courtesy of Marketing Manchester, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley Tourist Board, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative and David Cohen.