Emergency measures in the wake of Covid-19:
On June 15th Iceland began to welcome visitors again. Those arriving must take a coronavirus test or quarantine for two weeks. Groups of up to 50 people may gather and hair salons and other similar businesses can reopen including hotels and restaurants. Gyms, bars, and nightclubs remain closed. See the Covid-19 website.
The small gay scene in Iceland is mostly limited to the capital city, Reykjavík, but a warm welcome can be expected from the local gay and lesbian population. The general public is as enlightened and friendly as anywhere in the world, so one can be quite open about sexual orientation here. The legal status of gay people is considered to be one of the best, with individual rights protected in the country’s constitution.
Laugavegur, the long main shopping street at city center, is where the small gay scene can be found at the corner of Klapparstigur. Kiki is the queerest bar in town, upstairs with music, and a fun crowd. Below, Bravo Bar is a cozy chill-out bar with DJ music, local draft beers, and light fare including pizza and paninis. Curious, a mainstream bar, has an upstairs queer-friendly dance club. Garðurinn, with vegan & raw foods, soups, daily specials, coffees and desserts, has Pink Icelad events. Kaldi Bar/Café, a gay-friendly microbrewery bar, offers a large beer selection, plus sandwiches, and live music. Q Open House nights take place Thursday evenings in winter at Samtökin '78, with gay movie nights, games and cosy conversations.
The nearby Café Paris offers local and international breakfast through dinner, daily brunch until 4pm, plus coffees/teas and their own cakes and pastries, also wines and cocktails, anytime between 8am and 1pm. Pedersen Svítan bar&grill has live music and a rooftop bar deck wirh 360° views. Slippbarinn, at Reykjavik Marina Hotel, offers Saturday/Sunday brunch buffets, all-day food and drinks, and Icelandic music, art and stand-up comedy in the evenings. See more bar and restaurant suggestions at our map & listings pages.
Other gay dances take place year-round at various places, including the Pink Party in February during Rainbow Reykjavik, the LGBT winter festival. Look for flyers, check local websites, or just ask around. A lively local music scene mixes gay and straight crowds to enjoy local talent and visiting bands. See the events page for some of what goes on here throughout the year.
Pink Iceland, the gay-owned-and-operated LGBT travel and events company, specializes in amazing tours and unforgettable weddings. Same-sex couples have been able to wed legally in Iceland since the “one marriage law for all” was passed unanimously by parliament in 2010. The first couple to tie the knot under the new legislation was Iceland’s then prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her partner. Pink Iceland takes care of all the paperwork, helps you choose a celebrant or priest, suggests the perfect photographer and scouts a location based on your wishes. They can even design your wedding stationary. Most weddings are set in natural surroundings, with many options from which to choose.
Getting Here, getting around
Keflavik International Airport has world-wide connections. Icelandair, serving 31 destinations in Europe and North America, can arrange a mid-point stoppover visit, at no additional airfare, to experience the natural beauty and attractions of the island. The airline also has partnership deals with a number of US and interntional carriers.
From Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal a Flybus leaves departs for downtown Reykjavik 35-40 minutes after the arrival of each flight, a journey of approximately 45 minutes. Tickets can be bought inside the terminal building at their booth or from the ticket machine by the exit door - not sold by the driver. The fare is around $25-31 (2,700-3,300 ISK).
The Straeto bus system (look for 'S' logo and orange buses) covers Reykjavik, the suburbs and connects to surrounding towns. A single fare is just over $4.30 (460 ISK), but a 20-trip ticket costs less per trip, and one day or 3-day pass cards (capital area only) may also save you money. You can pay cash, but only with exact change.
Reykjavik Excursions offers coaches to all the most scenic places in Iceland, and they have free Wi-Fi on every vehicle.
The Iceland Krona (ISK) is the local currency. Exchange rates this past year (2019) have ranged from 117 to 126 ISK per 1 USD, after hovering around 100 to 106 for the two previous years. See xe.com for the latest rates. ATMs can be found around the city and credit cards are widely used. Inform your bank of your travel plans before departure. Take note in your budget plans that Iceland's capital is Europe's most expensive city.
Media & resources
Reykjavik Pride festivities take place in August with a queer cruise, men's, women's and open dances, a Pride Parade, and festival concert, movies & theater events.
Pink Iceland, an LGBT tour operator, also organizes events, and provides tips on local restaurants, accommodations, shopping and nightlife at their website. Besides the gay day tours they can help with all the arrangements for LGBT couples to get married here.
Samtökin ’78, the national Queer Organization, has a community center in downtown Reykjavík, at Suðurgötu 3, open to all, with a cosy café and events nights. They also have a library with many books, magazines, videos and DVD in English and a social Wotever Nights, third Wednesday each month from 6pm with queer artists, performers, and open mic.
Q - Félag Hinsegin Stúdenta is the Queer Student Association at the University of Iceland, whose members take part in Q Center nights, Pride, plus other events and discussion groups.
Our map & listings tab has a list of local gay bars, along with a sampling of restaurant and hotel options.
See Reykjavikurborg for the official city website, in either Islandic or English. Visit Reykjavik is the official tourist website, with a tab for gay visitors. Surviving Iceland is an expat website with useful tips for getting around on this island. The Reykjavik Grapevine is a print magazine and website covering music, art, travel, food and shopping, in English. Restaurants.Is, which aims to list every restaurant on the island, is also in English.
For those on a budget, hostel dorm beds can be found for $35-60 a night depending on the season. Hostel.is has a list of 32 hostels all around Iceland, including Reykjavic, as well as tours for going hiking, horse riding, fishing, river rafting, whale-watching, spelunking, snorkelling; and for snow mobiles on graciers, ATV adventures, geothermal pool bathing, and aurora borealis sightings. They also have complete updates on any volcanic activity. Reykjavik Excursions and Iceland Guest can also help to get you out and about.
In the Book of Settlement it is said, Ingólfur Arnarson decided the location of his settlement by traditional Viking means around AD 870 - dropping his high seat pillars (Öndvegissúlur), into coastline waters, then landing where the pillars came to shore. Reykjavík loosely translates to "Cove of Smoke," suggesting that steam from local hot springs inspired the name. Mostly farmland until the 18th century, several buildings were constructed here in the 1750s to house the wool industry, that became Reykjavík's most important source of income. 1786 is considered to be the city's founding date, with the granting of a Danish Crown trading charter. During hard years in the mid-19th century perhaps 20% of Iceland's population emigrated to North America, many to Manitoba.
In 1845, the Alþingi, or general assembly, was re-established in Reykjavík; a constitution and limited legislative powers came in 1874; home rule in 1904; and by 1918 Iceland was a sovereign nation under the Crown of Denmark. British and then American forces occupied Iceland after an unopposed landing in 1940, and the allied powers built the city up considerably, including construction of the two airports. The Republic of Iceland was declared in 1944. After the war this small town was transformed into a modern city by migration from elsewhere on the island, as well as a significant number of foreigners who came to live here - about 8% of Reykjavik's 2008 population.
Iceland is a member of NATO, though it has no standing army. Part of the EEA, the country is a member of the EU's single market, and a member of the Schengen Area, which removes border controls between many EU member states. The Icelandic Kroner (ISK) is the currency. Polls suggest the Euro will not be adopted any time soon.
Gay history and sexual politics
In 1869 a comprehensive penal code came into effect in Iceland, based on the Danish model, that criminalized sexual intercourse between two individuals of the same sex. One of many to be convicted during the next century, Guðmundur Sigurjónsson Hofdal was sentenced to eight months in prison in 1924. Hofdal, a renowned sportsman and wrestling champion who had taken part in the 1908 Olympics, was granted a royal pardon in 1935.
Beginning in 1940 and again in 1985, these laws were challenged and modified, and in 1992 sexual intercourse between individuals, age 14 and above, became legal as long as both parties consented, with no distinction made between the sex of the two parties. In 1996 the law recognised registered partnerships between individuals of the same sex, and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation was outlawed. In 2006 full adoption rights were granted to registered partners, as were full rights for women to seek assisted pregnancy in an official clinic, regardless of marital status.
In 2010 Parliament voted unanimously to approve same-sex marriage. The wording of marriage legislation included matrimony between "man and man, woman and woman" and upgraded same sex marriage to full equality with traditional marriage. See the Gay Ice article for more. Weddings may take place in a church, a religious congregation or by civil registrar. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the former prime minister of Iceland (2009-2013), the world's first openly gay head of government, married her longtime partner in June, 2010, after passage of the legislation.
But sexual politics in Iceland are in some ways less libertarian than in many European countries. Prostitution is a crime here, although only the "john" is prosecuted, and all strip clubs were banned in 2010. Shortly after that the Interior Minister, Ögmundur Jónasson, was looking at ways to ban some forms of adult-consensual internet porn (already forbidden in print editions). Smári McCarthy, the executive director of the International Modern Media Initiative, called the proposal "fascist" and the interior minister "insane." Pröstur Jónasson, of Iceland's Association of Digital Freedom, asks who would decide what is OK, and what isn't.* The proposals were not adopted.
Iceland is highly geologically active with many volcanoes such as Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið and Eldfell. A 1783-1784 eruption of Laki caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the population. Recent eruptions of Grímsvötn and Eyjafjallajökull caused disruptions in air travel all across Europe. Dettifoss, in the northeast, is the waterfall with the largest volume discharge in Europe, with average water flows of 200 m3/second. The many geysers in Iceland include Geysir which became active soon after some earthquakes in 2000 (but less often of late), and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 5–10 minutes. Availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of rivers and waterfalls, provide effectively all of Iceland's electricity, and most residents have inexpensive hot water home heat. Spas with hot spring pools for wading and swimming are popular tourist attractions.
The island's coasts remain ice-free during the winter, and ice incursions are rare, but glaciers and ice caps cover a tenth of the land area. Extensively forested at the time of first settlements, about three-quarters of the island is now barren of vegetation. Grassland grazed by livestock constitutes the bulk of plant life, with small stands of trees here and there. Surrounding waters have abundant marine life, and the fishing industry is a big contributor to the economy, accounting for over half the country's exports - as well as an enduring source of conflict with other nations over fishing rights.
*Footnote: from The Guardian, UK, February 16, 2013.