I recently honeymooned in Iceland — and it surprised me that the country was cold and rainy with howling wind in late August; it shouldn’t have, but it did. Walking out of the airport and driving down the narrow roads, I was hit with the smell of sulfur. I quickly found myself regretting the trip, and I hadn’t even reached my hotel.
Luckily, that snap judgment rapidly proved wrong.
Once you become accustomed to the scent of sulfur, an overwhelming feeling of peace envelops the senses. Iceland is beautiful, and the people are kind, thoughtful, genuine, and LGBTQ-embracing. Iceland’s first female prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, who was elected in 2009, was also the first out gay prime minister in the world. Queer marriage was legalized during her term, in 2010, with a unanimous parliamentary vote.
Iceland celebrates both a summer Pride festival and a winter rainbow festival. Only 366,425 people live on the sparsely populated island, but the annual Pride festival in Reykjavik sees nearly 100,000 attendees.
Iceland is made for romantic adventures, especially queer honeymoons.
There is nothing quite as delicious as wading into a geothermal spa on a chilly morning, as a cold mist covers your face and shoulders. Entering the Sky Lagoon is like entering a little peaceful slice of paradise. The lights are dim and gentle music plays in the background
The Sky Lagoon
The Sky Lagoon (www.skylagoon.com) pays tribute to Icelandic bathing traditions with a seven-step process they call “The Ritual.” You start off in the lagoon, which is filled with geothermal water. You can lounge on benches carved into the lava rock or there’s a bar in the middle, where you can enjoy juices, nonalcoholic wines, and some alcoholic beverages like prosecco. The lagoon overlooks Kàrsnes Harbour and the waters of the lagoon appear to pour right into it.
The next step involves dunking into a cold pool before heading inside a building constructed from lava rocks. There, a steam sauna awaits, with a magnificent view of the ocean through a wall-sized window. The sauna is followed by a cold mist room, a full-body scrub, and another steam. Finally, you’ll rinse off the scrub and return to the lagoon.
If geothermal spas make your heart sing, then consider also making a reservation with the retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon (www.bluelagoon.com), and treat yourself to an in-water body massage. It is a pricey luxury spa experience, but worth every penny.
Your Friend in Reykjavik’s (yourfriendinreykjavik.com) food tour also lived up to my highest expectations. The local guide expertly led us from restaurant to restaurant, sharing history, the backgrounds on foods we were to try, and making the cold rainy day exciting.
The tour starts with a warm comforting bowl of plokkfiskur, a traditional Icelandic fish stew made from cod, potato, and a velvety bechamel base — a combination I never expected to like, but I finished the entire bowl. It was followed by lamb soup and flatbread with smoked lamb.
The author at her favorite Icelandic hot dog stand
Of course, we also stood outside in the rain and enjoyed the famous Icelandic hot dogs, called a pylsa, with our choice of toppings from Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand (@baejarinsbeztupylsur), which Bill Clinton raved about following a trip to the country in 2004. If local cuisine is what you are after, this food tour is the best way to dive right in and get a taste of it all.
Although not part of the tour, you absolutely must try Apotek restaurante (apotekrestaurant.is), particularly the duck and waffle dish. The food was simply divine, surprising me since I stumbled into the restaurant on my last day in Iceland, completely by mistake. The atmosphere is lively, the music streaming out from speakers, and folks were genuinely engaging and enjoying their evenings.
Iceland might be a small country, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get around without a car. So unless you want to rent a car and explore on your own, a driving tour is a great option. I booked a guided tour through Airbnb Experiences, which had a set route, hitting all the main attractions including absolutely breathtaking hot springs and black sand beaches with blue water stretching to endless horizons.
The happy newlyweds share a steamy moment together
If you like being on the ocean, rather than driving past it, you should absolutely check out one of the local whale-watching tours, including a special nighttime version.
You won’t leave Iceland without making countless lifetime memories. Bundle up and enjoy.
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine. The Winter 2022 issue is now available on newsstands.