At a little under three hours away from London, and with an exclusivity bred of expense, a nightlife to die for and some amazing scenery on it’s doorstep, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik has become the hip weekend break for those in the know. says OutUK correspondent Steve Bustin.
The country is small – the population of Iceland is only 270,000, and over half of Icelanders live in Reykjavik. The rest are thinly spread around the outside rim of the island, joined by a ring road which makes a good driving holiday. The interior of the island is harsh, rugged and virtually uninhabited. Reykjavik is a relatively small and compact city – think Guildford, both in size and in scope – you certainly don’t feel as if you’re in a capital city. Even the Parliament building is smaller than your average town hall. It’s not a particularly pretty city, although the view from the top of the cathedral (which itself is shaped to look like a lava flow) is worth a look – all the houses and roofs are painted in bright colours, and beyond the city fringes, dramatic mountains line the horizon.
Reykjavik makes a superb stopover on a trans-Atlantic trip being only four hours from the US.
The climate is milder than you might expect from a city within 500 miles of the Arctic Circle. The Gulf Stream brings warmth (but also wetness) plus the country’s biggest industry and the raw material for some of the best restaurants: fish. Also on the menu and worth trying are reindeer, blackbird and puffin. English is widely spoken, and menus often appear in both Icelandic and English.

THE BLUE LAGOON

A must-do while in Reykjavik is a trip to The Blue Lagoon – no, not a nasty encounter with Brooke Shields, but a huge spa development about an hours drive outside the city.
It is not actually a geothermal pool (and there are loads of those around the city) but was created by accident when waste water from a power station was pumped onto the lavaflows. Instead of draining away, it formed a pool of bright blue water rich in minerals which many claim to have healing properties.
The Blue Lagoon certainly makes for a warm and skin-enriching bathing experience.
While we are talking of water Sundhöll Reykjavík is one of the city's most famous public swimming pools, and visiting them is a national pastime. Icelanders love to soak in the warm water of the pools year-round, bouncing between hot tubs, saunas, and swimming laps. Going for a swim is one of the coolest and warmest things to do in Reykjavík. Swimmers are required to shower head to toe with soap and water before entering the pools, and all pools in Reykjavík are equipped with communal showers and single/unisex showers, so you can pick the one that’s most comfortable for you.
If you want to kick start your LGBTQIA+ tour of Reykjavík then head for Skólavörđustígur, their picturesque rainbow street. In previous years, the street was painted in rainbow colours in celebration of Reykjavík Pride, but now the colours are maintained year-round. On a clear day, this street is the perfect place to take a picture of one of the city’s most prominent landmarks, stately Hallgrímskirkja.
Skólavörđustígur - Reykjavík's rainbow street
Photo: Hyppolyte de Saint-Rambert
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
While churches in other parts of the world may be hostile to gay rights, that’s not the case in Iceland. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iceland since 2010, and since 2015 the Church of Iceland has performed marriages for people of all genders and sexual orientations. Inside Hallgrímskirkja, a landmark visible from almost anywhere in the city, you can not only look at the church but also pay a small fee to take an elevator and an observation deck in the church tower, which gives you an amazing panoramic view of Reykjavík.

While you are in the area, it’s worth taking a stroll down Sćbraut, the street that runs along the sea. In the distance, you’ll see the holographic windows of Harpa concert hall, and within closer reach, you’ll see a steel Sun Voyager sculpture, by the artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, that’s perfect for a photo. It's described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the Sun, with a promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

The Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Reykjavík. You’ll quickly spot its unique, colourful glass facade inspired by Iceland’s basalt landscape. Harpa is home to several shops and restaurants and provides ample photo opportunities. You can also catch an ongoing show or exhibit.

Reykjavík is certainly the place to go if you are after cock. The Icelandic Phallological Museum to be precise, which has over 200 penile specimens, one from each of the land and water animals that reside in and around Iceland - humans included! Founded in 1997 by historian and teacher, Sigurdur Hjartarson, the museum is one of the main attractions in downtown Reykjavik. There are hundreds of specimens from the entire Icelandic mammal fauna and well over 100 foreign species.

Needless to say it's the world biggest selection, and boasts the biggest cock so far found on the planet. Now I know the man of your dreams claims that almost every night - but here you'll see that the museum's elephant display is something else to behold!


Elephant Penis on display at the Icelandic
Phallological Museum   Photo: APK
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

GAY REYKJAVIK

As you’ve gathered by now, Reykjavík is a small city in a small country, so there is no dedicated queer neighbourhood or district. The gay and lesbian scene has all but disappeared – not through under-use, but because Icelanders have embraced inclusivity, and every bar is now a mixed bar. The one gay-identified nightclub, Kíkí Queer Bar, sports the ubiquitous rainbow flag painted on to exterior, but the crowd inside is certainly mixed. You can expect drag shows and lots of celebratory events.

Next door at Bravó, their happy hour runs from 11 am to 8 pm, so it’s a great place to grab a drink or two before heading to Kiki, which opens at 8 pm. Another popular queer hangout is Gaukurinn, which offers live music, karaoke, drag shows, and plenty of drinks!

If you are after something to eat, Downtown Reykjavik is a food-lovers paradise, with options to satisfy every palette. You can’t go wrong with Sjávargrilliđ for seafood, Apotek for cutting-edge European cuisine, or Höfnin for new takes on hearty Icelandic classics.

GOING FURTHER AFIELD

Reykjavik is also definitely a city to go to get out of. The interior of the island has been shaped by both volcanoes and glaciers, and is a highlight of any trip to Iceland. The landscapes are harsh, angular and stunningly beautiful. You can see why tales of trolls were told by early settlers, and why NASA bought astronauts here to train for the moonshots – there is a definite resemblance to the lunar surface! It is impossible to access the majority of the interior in anything except a four-wheel drive, and even then it not advisable to go without an experienced driver. Several companies offer jeep tours to areas such as Landmannalaugar, a stunning valley surrounded my volcanic mountains of amazing colours, and containing a thermal stream for bathing.

GO TO HELL

The tours often take in Hekla, Iceland’s most famous and most active volcano - the phrase ‘Go to Heck’ comes from the days when Hekla was thought to be the gateway to Hell. In good weather your driver can take you off road, up the fresh pumice fields, close enough to the crater to see the steam – and if there is snow on the volcano, the dark melted areas clearly show the still-warm recent lava flows. You can even sign the volcano’s own visitors book! Other tours will take you to the glaciers where you can ride snow scooters and even take helicopter flights over the ice that gives the country it’s name.

OK, Reykjavik as a city isn’t as beautiful or dynamic as, say, Paris or Amsterdam – but if you’re looking for a combination of a fantastic club scene and some amazing natural sights, it’s one heck of a destination!



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THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Apotek Restaurant (Apotek Hotel by Keahotels, Austurstrćti 16; T: +354 551 0011; Website)
Bravó (Laugavegur 22; Instagram)
Gaukurinn (Tryggvagata 22; Website)
Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrímstorg 1; T: +354 510 1000; Website)
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre (Austurbakki 2; T: +354 528 5050; Website)
Höfnin Restaurant (Geirsgata 7; T: +354 511 2300; Website)
Kíkí Queer Bar (Laugavegur 22; Website)
Sjávargrilliđ (Skólavörđustígur 14; T: +354 571 1100; Website)
Sundhöll Reykjavíkur (Barónsstígur 45a; T: +354 411 5350; Website)
The Icelandic Phallological Museum - Hiđ Íslenzka Ređasafn (Kalkofnsvegur 2; T: +354 561 6663; Website)

For more details on flights and hotel packages, visit Icelandair.co.uk or for further information on Iceland visit the official tourist board at icetourist.is or their website specifically for the capital visitreykjavik.is.

Revised April 2024.

 

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