Travel writer Dave O. Dodge finds an LGBT scene at the top of the world.
By Dave O. Dodge
The Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland beckons with natural beauty and welcoming culture at the top of the world
Iceland is not only located almost at the top of the world, but it topped a recent Travel & Leisure list of the 101 Places every traveler should know. Known as the land of fire and ice, it is also a nature lover's paradise, a foodie haven and a photographer's dream location for its natural wonders.
Gay rights are also top of mind with the locals and have been celebrated in this tiny nation for decades.
Iceland was one of the first countries to legalize same sex marriage in 2010, less than a year after Johanna Siguroardottir assumed power to become the world's first gay head of government.
The LGBT community is woven into the fabric of the Icelandic culture, with the scene centered around Reykjavik, the capital city.
Reykjavik is by far the largest city and most populated area in Iceland with about 200,000 residents, a far cry from capital cities in other countries. It is the smallest city with a big town vibe in the North Atlantic, making it very hip.
Thingvellir National Park is a
UNESCO World Heritage site.
Downtown Reykjavik is alive with a street life that supports thriving cafes, high energy clubs and fusion restaurants that blend the Nordic cuisine with the rest of the world.
Obsessed with anything new, Icelanders have combined the brightly colored buildings of the past with more a modern contemporary architecture landscape to create a diverse city.
Diversity is everywhere here. With only a handful of gay clubs, the local LGBT community is free to party where they like. Everyone is friendly and welcoming.
It's an easy place to visit. While Iceland has its own language, English is heard everywhere. The city is very walkable and getting lost is almost impossible.
Some must-see attractions:
The Hallgrimskirkja, a giant iconic church looming at the top of the hill that can be seen from anywhere in Reykjavik. Built in the style of Danish expressionism, it's about 250 feet tall and took 38 years to complete.
The Blue Lagoon, naturally heated waters of a geothermal natural formation. The water originates some 6,000 feet below the earth's surface and can be as hot as 464 degrees. Better for soaking and recharging your soul is a dip into 104-degree mineral rich seawater. Try the silica mud from one of the many buckets located in the lagoon as a mask on your face.
Gullfoss, the most popular waterfall in all of Iceland located a couple of hours outside the city. For a breathtaking view, take the high path from the car park, then watch for rainbows in spray.
Reynisfjara, a black volcanic beach on the south side of the island. Take a stroll among the basalt columns and look for puffins.
Thingvellir National Park, a natural wonder that is a rift in the earth where the North American and European continental plates separated, displaying the power of Mother Nature. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, it's a short drive from the city. It is also the site of the first parliament, created in 930 A.D. between Norse and Celtic tribes creating a democracy with human rights top of mind.
Human rights are second to nature in Iceland. Samtokin 78 was founded as the National Queer Organization in 1978, during a time when discrimination forced many gays and lesbians to move abroad. Today, it operates as an advocate for the LGBT community with a community center in downtown Reykjavik.
Other LGBT activities and social clubs include Bears on Ice, a multiday international gathering of the bears and their admirers complete with a group soak in the Blue Lagoon.
In January, the second annual Rainbow Reykjavik is a four-day LGBT winter festival that attracts many European travelers. Gay Pride returns in August, a perfect time for a block party when daylight is about 18 hours long. -E
Dave O. Dodge is a freelance travel writer based in Phoenix.
www.gayice.is: A gay traveler's resource site for all things Iceland, specializing in the LGBT community, including social organizations, bars and events.
www.samtokin78.is/english: The National Queer Organization is an activist group for the LGBT community to promote equal rights and status within Iceland.
www.visitreykjavik.is: The official tourism website for the capital city and surrounding areas.
Where to stay
Reykjavik has no shortage on places to stay. With its rich history of acceptance, all places seem gay friendly with a handful gay owned. Standards are high and the prices can be as well; expect to pay a little more on this island.
Blu: Radisson's code for contemporary and upscale, this establishment has U.S. standards with a twist. The central location comes with a state of the art gym, high speed Internet and cocktail bar. www.radissonblu/1919hotel-reykjavik
House of Spirits: Reasonably priced apartment style hotel located in the downtown area with elegant studios proudly decorated with all things IKEA. Very practical with small kitchens, perfect for longer stays. www.houseofspirits101.com
Hotel Borg: Old time elegance with four stars, this hotel is a grand one. Built in 1930 and refurbished over the years, this landmark is the heart and soul of old town Reykjavik with 56 rooms and suites tastefully appointed. www.en.hotelborg.is
Room With a View: A luxury apartment hotel in the city center that is ultra contemporary and convenient, complete with sauna, high speed Internet and an all-night grocer in the neighborhood. www.roomwithaview.is
An snack bar in Reykjavik.
Where to eat
Eating out in Iceland can be an adventure on your palette along with your pocketbook. Cheap eats are few, but great fresh interesting food seems to be everywhere.
Vox: Located in the heart of town and within walking distance to all the shops and hotels, this is an upscale eatery that specialty is the New Nordic Cuisine. It's popular with locals along with international foodies, but it can be a bit pricey. www.vox.is
Deli: If you are in the mood for a little Mediterranean and don't want to break the bank, the Deli has lighter fare food and local beer perfect for lunch. The panini is as good as the pizza. www.deli.is