Reykjavík also has a strong café culture, particularly within the gay community. We head for gay-owned Café Babalú, where the café’s bright orange exterior immediately draws us in. Inside we say hi to owner Glen Barkan, who we identify by his signature mustache (we are told he has won a few mustache contests). A mixed crowd fills the cozy interior throughout the day, and we enjoy a latte, to-die-for cheesecake, and much-needed couch time. Babalú isn’t the only gay- friendly café spot. Nearby is super-hippy café Grái Kötturinn (The Grey Cat), which dishes out some of the best java in all of Iceland. I meet Manny and Páll at gay-owned Litli Bóndabærinn (the Small Farm), which is a tiny organic coffee house where a few hipsters are enjoying conversation over freshly made coffee and cookies. While in town, we also pay a visit to the Reykjavík Art Museum, an institution that comprises three different buildings. We explore Hafnarhus, the contemporary art building, where we experience the whimsical Pop Art of Erró. Over 200 pieces from the world-renowned artist are on display with some dating back to the early 1940s. Souvenir-buying time brings us to lesbian-owned Iða Book and Gift store. The shop, near City Hall, has kitschy trinkets and shirts (like my “I’m Huge in Iceland” t-shirt) for tourists and sells Icelandic books and gifts. They also sell concert tickets, so if you need info on who is playing in town while you’re visiting just ask the desk.
If you want to fall in love with Iceland like I did, make sure to get out and explore the island. Adventurous excursions run the gamut from guided Super Jeep tours and ATV rides to glacier climbing. With a few award-worthy adventures already under my belt, including a near-death self-driven Super Jeep tour, I insist we go cave exploring. We book with Ferðakompaníið, a company that provides custom, private tours. While the other tourists load into a tiny van, a massive, souped-up Super Jeep pulls up to our hotel to pick us up. Kristjan, our incredible, handsome, and charismatic driver, takes us off road on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the area west of Reykjavík. We zoom through snow-covered roads and up mountainsides catching glimpses of the orange sun rising over the choppy sea. He takes us to the beach at Selatangar where we play with smooth igneous rocks, huge kelp, and debate whether we’d survive if he left us here. (We decide Reed would be the first one to perish as he playfully wraps kelp around him like a dress.) Continuing on to Sultun in Krysuvik, we see hot spring fields where the earth bubbles and breathes. The highlight of the excursion is the lava cave exploration. Kristjan takes us to Bláfjöll (Blue Mountains) where we go caving in a lava tube called Leidarendi (End of the Journey). Donning our cave- explorer hats, we walk to the opening and discuss the horror movie The Decent. As the fear of cave monsters fills our thoughts, we cautiously enter. Once inside, the sun shines through the opening and illuminates the icicles hanging from the ceiling—a truly gorgeous site. Farther in the light disappears, and we’re left with nothing but our hats to guide our way. Water drips from icicle-shaped igneous rocks (or as we call them “lava utters”). Cave exploring here is for anyone in good health, however, it is not for the claustrophobic as at some point you’ll find yourself on all fours. Though, with an experienced guide, you have nothing to worry about. We enjoy every second of this dark wonderland.
Another must, especially for first-time visitors, is the Golden Circle Tour. There is no need to hire a private escort for this one, so go with the reasonably priced tour operator IcelandExcursions. We do the afternoon package, which begins with a tour of Þingvellir, the site of the first organized Icelandic Parliament in 930 C.E. The drive out to Þingvellir will take you through Iceland’s famous moon-like landscape. You notice quickly why this area became a meeting place. Amid the miles of frozen ground comes an expansive, green oasis. Sometimes you are able to freely roam the rock bridges and surrounding area, but on this visit most of it is roped off. The tour continues with a visit to the epic waterfall, Gullfoss. The daring enjoy risking their lives climbing out to get the best view, while the rest cling to rope guard rails. Finally, it ends with a trip to the world-famous geysers, Strokkur and Geysir.
Deciding exactly what you want to do while you’re in Iceland can be a challenge, but luckily, lesbian couple Eva María and Birna Hrönn started Pink Iceland, a company that helps tailor an unforgettable, gay-friendly escape. “Booking with us is complimentary and you are guaranteed to receive gay-friendly service through our partners and added value during your stay in Iceland,” Birna Hrönn says. Look these ladies up when you arrive, or before you go, as they know everything that is going in Iceland including events like Bears on Ice, Pride, and the upcoming IGLA competition. They have also been known to get a party moving with their DJ skills (they go by the name DJ Glimmer).
Accommodations in Reykjavík come in a wide range of options from stylish budget hotels and apartments to über-luxury design hotels. Sleek monochromatic design, local art on display, and heated oak floors are only a few of the qualities 101 Hotel offers its guests. The hotel’s elevated design brings in a polished clientele. Designed by Parson’s graduate and owner Ingibjörg Pálmadottir, the hotel’s chic lobby wins over guests as soon as they enter. The luxurious rooms are cozy, yet open. 101 Hotel offers a central restaurant and bar serving trendy happy hours (seriously head here to find a date for the night) and pan-Asian cuisine. Most importantly, 101 Hotel is located right downtown.
Remodeled from a biscuit factory, Kex Hostel maintains its industrial roots (if only in appearance). The recently opened Kex is more than just a typical hostel, with amenities like an old-school boxing gym, a heated patio, hair salon, and a gastropub. Kex offers its visitors comfort with an added kitchy, vintage feel uniquely it’s own. Kex is located in downtown, and it hosts regular events on the hostel grounds, including concert series, garage sale Sundays, and a slew of alcohol-centered social gatherings.
On our last night, Reed and I checked into gay-owned Room with a View. The apartment-style hotel, located right next to the gay bars, is a prime option for groups. We stayed in a humongous fully furnished apartment with a porch, two sitting areas, a kitchen stocked with modern appliances and kitchenware, and a hot tub upstairs. You can book a room like this for less than a regular hotel. A less impressive, but cheaper apartment-style option is Hotel Fon, which is located nearby.
Stay in the heart of downtown in the city’s most attractive and welcoming four-star hotel, Radisson SAS 1919 Hotel. Housed in the old Eimskip building, the hotel blends Scandinavian design with the building’s already brilliant, open architecture. High ceilings in the rooms (13 feet), harbor views, free Wi-Fi, a trendy bar and restaurant, a prime location, and a staff that goes out of their way to make sure you have a brilliant time are just some of the hotel’s perks.
During the day, Icelanders are all about their cafés, but by night, the city’s dining scene truly comes alive. Food in the city has come a long way just in the past ten years as chefs match the creative spirit of the city’s people with both innovative and tasteful dishes that elevate Scandinavian cuisine. Fiskmarkadurinn (Fish Market), a handsomely decorated seafood restaurant in downtown Reykjavík, serves some of the freshest fish and meat dishes that you will find in the city. Probably one of the hottest tables in town, you’re in for a treat the minute a meal begins here. From the lobster soup starter to the tender Icelandic lamb fillet, a mouth-watering journey awaits you.