Oscar Wilde’s London and Paris the gay history and art of Europe’s two great cities. Europe’s two great capitals each played a central part in the rise and fall of the great gay martyr (and great author!) Oscar Wilde. They have also had an outsize role in gay history and culture, from Shakespeare and Henri III to Yves Saint Laurent and Stephen Fry. Explore Wilde’s fascinating life and the gay culture of two of the world’s greatest cities, with our nine day gay tour of Oscar Wilde’s London and Paris.
Probably the greatest wit that ever lived, possibly the most important comic playwright in English history, novelist, essayist, fashion columnist, and the hero/victim of one of the great romantic tragedies—as well as probably the best-known gay icon of history. Who could it be but Oscar Wilde? Mr. Wilde was also an important figure in the history of both London and Paris, so his story makes an excellent hook for an exploration of these two great cities—and in particular of their rich gay history, from the days of Shakespeare and Henri III to those of Yves Saint Laurent and Ian McKellen.
Come along for a daring new look at these magnificent cities. Over eight days we will introduce you to their history as you’ve never seen it before: London and Paris with a special emphasis on their usually ignored gay sides. And especially, with lots of delicious anecdotes and quotes from Oscar Wilde. With superb accommodations, ravishing meals and expert guides versed in gay history, you’re about to embark on a journey of a lifetime...
• Westminster Abbey
• The National Portrait Gallery
• The British Museum and Bloomsbury
• Bletchley Park
• The Left Bank
• Père Lachaise Cemetery
• The Loire Valley
• The Louvre Museum
Day 1 -
After checking in to the luxurious Chesterfield Mayfair hotel and resting from your international flight, you’ll meet Professor Lear and our Gay London guide for an afternoon’s walk. We start with a tour of England’s quintessential monument, Westminster Abbey, England’s coronation church since 1066. For all its official grandeur, the Abbey is rich in gay history, with memorials of gay kings, authors, and actors—including the Oscar Wilde memorial window, dedicated in 1995, 100 years after his conviction and imprisonment.
After the Abbey, we proceed to afternoon tea at one of London’s most famous tearooms—a favorite of Wilde, Virginia Woolf, and Noel Coward. With a lovely selection of teas and three courses of sandwiches, warm scones with clotted cream, and cakes, you’ll be immersed in the greatest British culinary tradition of all.
Day 2 -
We spend today on further exploration of London. The morning begins with a stroll down London’s famous shopping street, Piccadilly, where we discover many connections with “dear Oscar.”
Our stroll ends at the National Portrait Gallery, where we will enjoy Professor Lear’s special Gay Secrets tour, covering the remarkable number of gay personalities on display, from King James I and his boyfriend to David Hockney and diver Tom Daley. We have lunch at the gallery’s top-floor dining room, with one of London’s loveliest views.
After lunch, we stroll through London’s gayest neighborhood, Soho, on our way to the British Museum, where we stop to see, among other things, the Warren Cup—probably the most scandalously gay piece in any major museum and the most expensive item ever purchased by the Museum. The museum also has connections with Wilde and with Forster’s long-repressed gay novel Maurice.
Our tour concludes with a stroll around Bloomsbury’s famous residential squares, where the Bloomsbury group famously “lived in squares and loved in triangles.” Evening free.
Day 3 -
Today we take the train past Reading Gaol (as in “The Ballad of…”) to Oxford, home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world. On arrival, we start with a walking tour of its breathtaking architecture, following in the footsteps of its many famous gay graduates, such as T. E. Lawrence and W. H. Auden. We lunch in a charming 17th century pub, which you may often have seen in the Inspector Morse mysteries.
After lunch, we tour Magdalen College, the most beautiful of Oxford’s college—Wilde’s college (and also Tolkien’s!)— and then take a tour of the university museum, the Ashmolean, to see some of its curiosities (including a Renaissance majolica plate with a portrait head made up of penises!). This year, in particular, there is an exhibit from the British Museum on “Desire, Love, Identity: exploring LGBTQ histories.”
After some free time to enjoy Oxford’s bookstores and cafés, we return to London for a free evening.
Day 4 -
Another excursion occupies our morning: we go by train to visit Bletchley Park, the top-secret research center where the great mathema-tician Alan Turing (subject of The Imitation Game) invented the computer and broke Nazi Germany’s military codes. After having helped save the Western world, Turing was repaid by being convicted for cruising in 1952—though he was pardoned in 2009 and inspired the UK’s 2017 Alan Turing’s Law that pardoned all men convicted for homosexual acts under earlier laws.
We then return to London for a free afternoon and evening—your time to explore other museums, the city’s great shopping, and London’s many famous restaurants. Note that an entire season of Wilde plays is being put on in the West End (London’s version of Broadway) this year; we will keep you informed.
Day 5 -
Today we take the famous Channel train to Paris and begin our explorations of Europe’s other great capital. After lunch in one of Paris’ most charming street markets, we explore our hotel’s neighborhood, the Left Bank, from Montparnasse to the Seine. This is Paris’ great bohemian neighborhood, where poets, artists, and exiles spent their days at the cafés in the 19th and 20th centuries. As we meander, we see sites from literary, artistic, and gay history, from Gertrude Stein’s studio, to the café where James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room, and finally to the hotel where after his sad last years as an alcoholic pauper, Mr. Wilde died.
The evening is free, and with our hotel in the middle of the Left Bank, you won’t have any trouble finding places to eat...
Day 6 -
We start our morning by crossing the Seine to visit the other half of Paris. We begin in the world’s great monumental cemetery, Père Lachaise, famous for the graves of Wilde and Jim Morrison. In fact, we see the graves of many famous people, some gay (Proust, Gertrude Stein), and some not (Abélard and Héloïse, Chopin, Maria Callas).
After a typical French lunch, we tour the Marais, one of Paris’ most interesting neighborhoods, including everything from the city’s best collection of 17th century palaces to its traditional Jewish ghetto and the city’s main gayborhood, where we end our afternoon with a drink. Evening free.
Day 7 -
The Valley of the Loire, south of Paris, beckons today: one of the most beautiful parts of the country, where the kings of France built during the Renaissance the world’s most fantastic collection of castles. We visit two castles with gay connections: Clos Lucé, where the great gay genius Leonardo Da Vinci spent his last three years, and Chenonceau, a favorite of France’s gayest king, Henri III—and well-loved by a line-up of other fascinating people as well, including Catherine de Médicis, her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitiers, and her daughter-in-law Mary Queen of Scots.
We will have lunch at the castle’s superb restaurant (with wines from the estate!) before our tour, and then return to Paris for another free evening for exploring the city’s magnificent restaurants and nightlife.
Day 8 -
Back in Paris, we spend the morning visiting one of the world’s greatest art museums, the Musée du Louvre. We view its famous masterpieces, with a special concentration on the Museum’s astonishingly rich collection of gay-themed works—from its four statues of the Roman emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend Antinous, to portraits of all of France’s gay kings, to a rich collection of homoerotic works from the Napoleonic period. The tour is a true eye-opener, covering thousands of years of gay history in one place.
As in London, we leave your last afternoon free for your own explorations—of the city’s wonderful museums, architecture, bistros and boutiques.
Our evening is rounded out with a farewell dinner at one of Paris’ great bistros—where Barack and Michelle Obama had dinner on their trip to Paris. It’s a great place to toast the two great cities we have visited and the new friendships you have made on the tour!
Day 9 -
Our tour ends this morning with breakfast in Paris, but we are happy to arrange your other travel plans, to Amsterdam (for our 4 day Gay Amsterdam extension) or elsewhere. But please let us know about your return home, especially if you are leaving today.
Extend your trip with a four day (three night) stay in Amsterdam, the world’s most open-minded city, where the first legal gay marriages were performed in 2001. Amsterdam is the city where liberalism was invented, from free trade to social tolerance: already in the 17th century, it developed its policy of ‘gedogen’—letting things happen, even (shocking for the time) Catholicism and Judaism.
This side of Amsterdam had a major rebirth after the occupation in World War II. Many of us still remember the 1970s, when it was the ultimate city of free love and free drugs, and many aspects of that period are still alive, from legalized drugs and prostitution to its very active gay liberation movement. Indeed, it is a city that looks both backward and forward, with the beautifully preserved 17th century architecture and art of its charming center and an open-minded liberalism that could serve as a model for the future (if we are lucky!).
Day 1 -
This afternoon, the group gathers in our charming hotel (spread across 25 historic houses, set between 2 of the 3 grand new canals of the 17th century) for a walking tour that will show us the essentials of the city center and in particular its gay history (one of our local guide’s specialties).
For dinner, we experience the city’s best-known culinary tradition, the Dutch-Indonesian rijstaafel—and then set off for a night-time tour of the famous red light district.
Day 2 -
Our guide’s other specialty is 17th century Dutch art, and we spend this morning at the greatest museum of that period, the Rijksmuseum, where we see masterpieces of painters like Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt—with some special details about the often-ignored sexy (though straight) side of Dutch Golden Age art.
After some time to eat lunch in the cafés of the lovely Vondelpark, our afternoon ends with a tour of the city from a canal boat—probably the best way to appreciate the charms of this so-called “Venice of the North.” The evening is free for your own explorations.
Day 3 -
This morning starts with a visit to a sad monument, the secret apartment where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazi occupiers for four years, where she wrote her world-famous diary, and where ultimately they were discovered and arrested.
We follow this with a more cheerful visit, to the National Maritime Museum, where we will explore the Netherlands’ great maritime history, including its gay side!
This afternoon you are free to continue your explorations of the city and its museums. We suggest the Van Gogh Museum, with its peerless collection of the quintessential modern painter, or, if you are feeling like a break, let us explain how to get to an easily accessible nude beach!
This evening we meet for a farewell dinner with a lovely view over this effervescent city.
Day 4 -
Our tour ends this morning with breakfast in Amsterdam.
We begin with visits to Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery, and the British Museum, focused on Oscar Wilde and gay history (and also with a wonderful afternoon tea at a favorite café of Wilde, Virginia Woolf and Noel Coward). We then spend a day among the beautiful spires of Oxford and visit Wilde’s college (also Tolkien’s!) and Oxford’s stellar and quirky university museum. We also visit Bletchley Park, where the gay war hero and inventor of the modern computer Alan Turing helped save the world from Nazism.
From same-sex love in Renaissance England to the spy scandals of the 1950s, you’ll encounter Britain’s gay history hiding in plain sight—and see how that history shaped modern gay identity. And of course we’ll leave you enough time to discover the pubs, shopping and hidden corners of contemporary London, one of the most exciting cities on the planet.
Art, architecture, fashion, cuisine—the history of Paris is the history of the modern world. It is also the city that revolutionized modern attitudes to sex and sexuality. And as a result, it is where Wilde found refuge after his fall (as many others did for similar reasons before and after).
We begin our visit with a walking tour of the Left Bank, from the studio of Gertrude Stein to the café where James Baldwin wrote Giovanni’s Room, and finally to the hotel where Wilde lived his last, sad years and finally died. The next day takes us across the Seine, to Père Lachaise Cemetery—Wilde’s final resting place as well as that of countless other fascinating people, gay (such as Proust and Gertrude Stein) and not (such as Chopin and Jim Morrison). We follow this with a visit to the Marais, the heart of today’s gay Paris.
We’ll then head to the nearby countryside of the Loire Valley to visit the castles associated with France’s gayest king, Henri III, and gay genius Leonardo Da Vinci (including Chenonceau, the best preserved of all France’s royal castles). Finally, back in Paris we’ll have a “Gay Secrets” tour of the Louvre (like Oscar Wilde Tours’ well-known tour of the Metropolitan Museum), following gay themes from the ancient Greeks to Renaissance French kings to surprising homoerotic works from Napoleon’s France. Naturally we will also leave you time to explore Paris on your own, to indulge your taste for food, shopping or more art and culture!
In both cities, we will stay in specially selected hotels and dine in exceptional restaurants—with all breakfasts, three lunches and three dinners included. Our farewell dinner in is in one of Paris’ most charming restaurants—a fitting end to a journey that will introduce you to a Paris and London that you never imagined even existed.
• 8 nights in Deluxe hotels in chic neighborhoods:
- 4 nights in London Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel
- 4 nights in Paris Pont Royal Hotel
• Knowledgeable gay historian accompanying the group on included activities;
• Entrance fees to sites listed in itinerary;
• Ground transportation including train between England and France;
• All breakfasts, 4 lunches, a welcome tea in London and a farewell dinner in Paris;;
• Services of escort and local guides.
• 3 nights in Deluxe hotels;
• All breakfasts, a welcome dinner, and a farewell dinner;
• Services of escort and local guides;
• Admission to all sights on the tour, and transportation to them (by taxi, minibus, and train).
• International airfare
• Transportation from your arrival point (e.g. airport, train station) to your hotel
• Transportation from your hotel to your departure point (e.g. airport, train station)
• Travel insurance
• Alcoholic beverages other than wine at welcome and farewell dinners and other times specifically mentioned in the itinerary
• Personal items, such as snacks, laundry, and telephone calls
• Optional activities
• Gratuities for bus drivers and local guides.
This tour starts in London, England and ends in Paris, France (Extension in Amsterdam, Netherlands).
This trip requires several hours of walking during daily tours in well-maintained areas, museums, and historical monuments. There may be occasional uneven footing in gardens or cobbled streets.
Singles are very welcome! Our groups generally consist of a mix of couples and singles, and there is generally a nice group ethos, so no-one will ever feel left out. Single rooms are available, with a supplement; we are also happy to try to find you a room-mate if you would prefer.
Professor Andrew Lear combines a love of travel with a passion for gay history, and he brings both of those attributes to Oscar Wilde Tours.
Professor Lear holds a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from UCLA. He has published a widely praised book on male-male love in ancient Greek art, as well as a number of important scholarly articles in this area. Indeed he is generally considered one of the foremost experts on same-sex love in the ancient world, but his interest in gay history extends to other key periods, such as fin-de-siècle England, Renaissance Italy, and medieval Japan—places and periods that we will explore at Oscar Wilde Tours.
Our hotels are chosen for excellent 4 & 5* quality, historic charm, and central location.
LONDON – The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel:
Set in the heart of London's most chic neighborhood, Mayfair, around the corner from Berkeley Square and Bond St., the Chesterfield occupies a row of townhouses with a fascinating history of aristocrats and parliamentarians. Today's hotel is a model of old-fashioned British charm and hospitality.
PARIS – Hotel Pont Royal:
In the heart of the St. Germain neighborhood, steps away from Paris' most famous cafés, the Pont Royal has a fascinating history, starting in the '20s when Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald held court in its bar. Today it is a hotel of quiet grace and elegance, and an ideal center for your visit to Paris.
Breakfast is included every day in our tours, and on most days we include either lunch or dinner, according to the itinerary. On this tour we include 8 breakfasts, 4 lunches, a welcome tea in London and a farewell dinner in Paris.
In each city, we include a free afternoon, so you can explore, shop, or visit museums not included in the tour.
We try to design our tours both for repeat and first-time visitors. We include a number of lesser-known sights, but also major sights—which we see from the perspective of their often ignored gay history.
Our tours focus on LGBT history and art and are designed for groups of LGBT people. They are however open to the LGBT-friendly as well.
All of the main sights in the tour are visited on foot, on walking or museum tours. There may be uneven ground, for instance in archaeological sites, and steps in some museums or historic houses. The amount of walking is not, however, excessive: we rarely exceed 2 miles a day. We travel from site to site by train or air conditioned bus (or at times, in major cities, in fleets of taxis or limousines).