Iceland: The Land of Grandeur and Wonder
For LGBT World travelers, there are few places more welcoming than the Nordic island of Iceland.
As early as 1940, homosexuality was decriminalized in Iceland—a full 20 years earlier than in America. Since 2006, same-sex couples have had equal access to adoption and in vitro fertilization (IVF), and in June 2010, same-sex marriage became legal. What’s more, in 2009, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the world’s first openly gay head of state when she became prime minister. Iceland was also the first country in the world to have a political party formed and led entirely by women.
Here you will find yourself on a hike drinking ethical, green and the purest fine drinking water known to man straight from the earth.
These are all major accomplishments in sexual and gender equality; so traveling there to show support and solidarity may be reason enough to make the trip. However, Iceland also happens to be amazingly beautiful, with stunning landscapes found nowhere else on earth, and home to friendly people with a rich history.
This is a land with incredible opportunities for the LGBT community. YES, we can get married there! It’s the perfect family vacation, a wonderful location for a romantic proposal, a memorable honeymoon or a quick and easy getaway. This is one vacation where you can wrap your arms around an entire country in one trip.
And, please, don’t forget your eyemask, especially for the kids. It’s true, daylight is almost 24-hours long in the summer months, and you will need your rest for this journey.
First Stop Is Reykjavík
Reykjavík, pronounced (rayk-yə-veek), is located in the warmer southwestern region of the country. It is a small city by American standards (est. pop. 123,300), but the city and the surrounding areas are home to over two-thirds of the population. Combined with its close proximity to the Kefairport, this is probably the best place to begin your journey…or as Icelander’s call it, “Your Saga.”
While it may be best known internationally for its music scene (I mean, Who doesn’t love Björk?), the city has developed a reputation for its rousing nightlife. Reykjavík is home to many bars, nightclubs and restaurants; most of them are located on Laugavegur and its side streets. It has a lively gay scene, with both LGBT bars and cafés, and more mixed gay and straight crowds. On Friday and Saturday nights, the streets are often filled with people all-night long. Closing time is usually around 4:30 ᴀ.ᴍ. on the weekends, but Icelanders tend to go out late. Bars that looked rather quiet early on, become quite rowdy quickly—usually after midnight on weekends.
If nightlife is not your thing, Reykjavík is filled with wonderful architecture and cultural institutions. Here are some of the most well known:
- Hallgrimskirkja: Located in Reykjavík’s city center, this impressive church is one of the city’s best-known landmarks.
- Harpa: Home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra is an architectural wonder with its distinctive colored-glass facade inspired by the Icelandic landscape.
- The Nordic House: Designed by acclaimed Finnish Modernist architect Alvar Aaltoth, this cultural institution opened in 1968 with an aim to foster and support cultural connections between Iceland and the other Nordic countries through events and exhibitions. Major events are held here such as the Reykjavík International Film and Literary Festivals, Iceland Airwaves and The Nordic Fashion Biennale.
- The Pearl: Designed by the impressive Icelandic architect Ingimundur Sveinsson, this landmark building is surrounded by the beautiful woods of Öskjuhlíðl. A fantastic dome–shaped glass building, it is supported by six massive hot-water tanks, which supply water to the city. The dome houses an observation platform offering panoramic views of the city and its surroundings. Öskjuhlíð is located in the heart of the city and is easy to get to. Visitors can cycle or walk along the various paths that join an extensive network of well-maintained paths throughout Reykjavík.
- The National Museum of Iceland: This museum features the permanent Icelandic collection, Marking of a Nation—Heritage and History in Iceland, which had previously been in Danish museums. This collection is “conceived as a journey through time: it begins with a ship in which medieval settlers crossed the ocean to their new home, it ends in a modern airport, the Icelanders’ gateway to the world.”
- Reykjavík City Museum: This assortment of museums includes an Open Air Museum, the Maritime Museum and The Settlement Exhibition Reykjavík 871 +/- 2, which is an exhibition on the settlement of Reykjavík.
Accommodations in Reykjavík
Hotel Borg: An elegant Art Deco hotel in the center of Reykjavík.
Radisson Blu 1919 Hotel: Eighty-eight rooms and suites with modern finishes, in the city center.
Your Journey Is Just Beginning
Staying for your entire trip in Reykjavík would certainly be fun, but to miss out on the austere beauty of Iceland’s countryside would be a mistake. Iceland is a very geologically-active spot with many volcanoes, including Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that three times, fast). Here are some adventures not to be missed:
- Icelandic Ponies: Iceland is well known for its small, hardy pony-sized horses, a breed apart from all other horse breeds. Their most celebrated feature is their five natural, and unique, gaits: the walk, the trot, the canter, the tölt, and the flying pace. The tölt is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait, which allows for an almost bounce-free ride. It’s magical. Ishestar Horseback Riding Tours, provides day and multiple-day tours for beginners through advanced levels.
- The Golden Circle: A popular tourist route that loops through 190 miles of southern Iceland’s terrain, beginning in Reykjavík. Traditionally, there are three main stops on the route: the Þingvellir National Park; the Gullfoss Waterfall and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the Geysir and Strokkur. While Geysir (once called “the mother of all geysers”) is now mostly dormant, you will be guaranteed to see an eruption at Strokkur. Some other highlights of the Circle include the Kerið volcanic crater, the town of Hveragerði, Skálholt Cathedral, and the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiðarvirkjun geothermal power plants. Both self-guided and tour-guided trips are available.
- Glaciers: Here you will find yourself on a hike drinking the purest drinking water known to man straight from the earth. Icelandic Mountain Guides offers an enormousvariety of day tours from Reykjavík, including glacier walks, ice-climbing, hiking, caving or less strenuous sightseeing trips. Day tours from Reykjavík include a convenient pickup and drop off at your hotel. A popular hike is the Hot Spring Hike, which careens through the Hengill, one of the most spectacular geothermal zones in Iceland.
- Dog Sledding: As you can imagine, dog sledding is a popular sport in an island close to the Arctic Circle. Dog sledding has a variety of tour options, including warm weather tours on wheeled sleds.
- Blue Lagoon: For both tourists and natives alike, the unexpected upshot of the Blue Lagoon experience is geothermal activity. Geothermal pools and geysers dot the landscape and are popular spa destinations. One of the most well-known geothermal spas is located 40 minutes from Reykjavík in the village of Grindavik. Over the years, its unique waters became celebrated for the silica mud with various medicinal properties.
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Accommodations Outside Reykjavík:
Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel: A resort set against the mountainous Icelandic lava fields and less than an hour drive from Reykjavík.
Silica Hotel at Blue Lagoon: A luxurious hotel a short ten-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon. It features thirty-five rooms with gorgeous views, spa amenities and a bathing lagoon. This is a great way to end your trip and children are permitted.
Deplar Farms (by Eleven Experience): A converted sheep farm, amazing and over the top!
This is just a taste of everything that Iceland has to offer. To book accommodations or any of the tours mentioned in this article, contact Jack Ezon, president and partner at Ovation Vacations, or call 800-977-LUXE (5893) and mention prowdr.com.