Reykjavik, Iceland | Outtraveler

Reykjavik, Iceland

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Once a grim fishing village, Reykjavik has reinvented itself as a boisterously cool capital ? with famous celebrities, star chefs, and sexy design. Just don't expect a gay party scene. A population of 300,000 in the country and 120,000 in the capital, means you?ll only find one men's club and a single mixed gay/lesbian hangout.

But with Europe's friendliest natives and a "so what" attitude about sexuality, socializing comes easy throughout Iceland. Take heart that Iceland's economic turmoil hasn't dampened its hospitality. The kroner, Iceland?s currency, plunged in value meaning your dollars will go that much farther.

If you?ve never visited this island, be prepared for something entirely different from anything you?ve ever seen. With a landscape more reminiscent of the moon than earth, Iceland appears starkly beautiful. Everywhere you look, especially outside the capital, you?re surrounded by visually spectacular scenery.

If you come in summer, be sure to pack a sleep mask. Iceland basks in near-total daylight come late spring and early summer. Good thing the world's northernmost metropolis offers enough distractions to fill several bright days -- and nights.

If you visit in winter, which many tourists do to experience the healing spas and the northern lights, get ready for nights that last nearly all day.

ACCOMMODATIONS
It?s a small country, so the range of options isn?t as wide as in a destination like London or New York. But you will find a few reliably gay-popular accommodations to choose from.

Ten of the 30 snazzy apartment-suites at gay-owned Room With a View offer breathtaking views of Reykjavik's modest skyline and poetic sunsets -- when the sun actually sets. Be sure to ask for one when you book. If you?re honeymooning, several suites boast private or outdoor Jacuzzis.

Cool and calm, CenterHotel Thingholt exudes subtle sexiness with Fendi lobby furniture and black-and-white bed sheets.

Drop-dead gorgeous boutique hotel Hotel Borg is an Art Deco masterpiece with well-appointed rooms.

DINING
Keep an open mind about food: During Thorrablot, an ancient midwinter festival in mid to late January, Icelanders munch on traditional h?karl (putrefied shark) and hrutspungur (pickled ram testicles). The rest of the year, a delirious food scene celebrates liberation from centuries of boiled fish and meat.

Friday night bingo at harborside molecular-gastronomy bunker Orange is a must. The "Chicken Tits" entr?e and animal sounds in the bathroom clue you in to the mischievous attitude.

Silfur serves up Icelandic-French fusion in a sci-fi-meets-Louis XIV dining room complete with black lava communal table. For fewer kroner -- and tourists -- gay locals flock to Mexican fave Santa Maria or cheap, delicious Krua Thai at the harbor. Try light renditions of traditional plokkfiskur (fish hash) and kj?ts?pa (meat soup) at Segurmo -- a restaurant whose name translates as "seal fat," according to its owner N?mi Thomasson, Bj?rk's onetime personal tour chef.

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ACTIVITIES
Iceland's petite dimensions place spectacular scenery minutes from downtown Reykjavik, including unparalleled access to dramatic fjords. On the northern side of the breathtaking Whale Fjord, once a huge whaling station, gay-friendly Glymur Resort looks like a giant barn but offers snug, upscale-country-house lodgings and market-fresh meals.

One of Iceland?s main sources of energy is geothermal power. In the land of such innovative energy sources, why not rent an eco friendly car? Hertz rents hydrogen-powered Prius hybrids for a virtuous drive there, plus Mitsubishi's electric car is on the road here, and Reykjavik's ready with charging stations and free downtown parking.

Entire families turn out for the gay pride festival in early August, which drew an estimated 80,000 participants and spectators last year ? about 25% of the total population. Gay pride brought parade floats to Iceland.

Consult IcelandTravel.is for pride packages. If you want to enjoy the festivities, book your hotel room far in advance. A good hotel option right in the thick of Pride is Room with a View.

Pride usually takes place in July or August.

Iceland is legendary for its spas. There is no better place to experience hot springs and herbal baths than at Blue Lagoon Spa. Even if it?s 10 degrees below zero outside you can comfortably soak in a hot thermal pool in your skimpiest suit and feel comfortable. Opt for a popular silicone mud mask. Since it?s located halfway between Reykjavik and the airport, many travelers opt to visit Blue Lagoon on their way back to the airport to go to home.

There are many more activities to engage in, including whale watching, visiting geysers (in fact geyser is the original Icelandic word for this natural phenomenon), glacier hiking (all year round), snowmobiling in the winter and more. Geography enthusiasts will want to visit Thingvellir, the place where North America and Europe meet at a cliff. It?s very beautiful and also the center of significant seismic activity with continents grinding against each other below your feet.

NIGHTLIFE/ENTERTAINMENT
Gay nightlife, concentrated in two venues, starts late. Friendly Q Bar draws a crowd of all ages and genders; it's more popular with lesbians on Fridays. A T-shirt and jeans uniform gains admission to the leather men's club MSC. Since Icelanders are cooped up all winter, summer is a big party time and you?ll find lots of revelers out all night enjoying the ever-present day light.

Check the invaluable Gayice.is for pop-up venues and parties. And if Bj?rk has you curious about other Icelandic singers, peruse The Reykjavik Grapevine, a free weekly -- with an online counterpart at Grapevine.is -- for music listings.

To get a sense of the interesting and rapidly changing history of gay Icelandic rights and traditions, visit the community center at Samtokin 78, an organization promoting gay and lesbian rights.

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SHOPPING/CULTURE
Laugavegur is the main strip of the capital. It?s where you?ll find most of the shopping opportunities (as well as nightlife later on). Best things to look out for are the thick cable knit sweaters and lots of crafts shops with interesting, unique items.

At Naked Ape local artists create over-the-top, one-of-a-kind tees and hoodies -- and raucous art parties erupt after-hours. Further up, loft like Bask offers hard-to-find pieces from coveted Euro labels like Surface to Air and Acne Jeans.

Just outside downtown, the domed Pearl observatory is Reykjavik's most distinctive landmark; take in its panoramic views and indoor geyser. Underneath, huge hidden water tanks power nearly every Reykjavik home and business with geothermal power.

One unusual cultural institution is the Phallus Museum containing a collection of over ?100 penises and penile parts.?

WRAP UP
Small but perfectly formed, the thousand-year-old nation of Iceland makes an ideal destination for a long weekend. A five-hour red-eye from New York or Boston drops you in a Lord of the Rings landscape of jet-black dried lava, lush fjords, and steaming hot springs. Treat your jetlag with a thermal spa, which soothes even the most travel-fatigued muscles. See whales, enjoy nearly 24 hours of sun and meet some of the most welcoming and gay friendly people on the planet.

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