This article was updated on May 26th, 2020.
Iceland is a country unlike any in the world and this tiny European destination will leave you awestruck after any visit. With a population of just over 300,000, this small island offers up amazing experiences all in the company of its welcoming locals who in just the past few decades, have managed to move the country into an incredibly progressive position with regards to LGBT rights.
Located almost halfway in between North America and Europe, Iceland is a fairly simple visit from either destination. In fact, you can even make Iceland a stopover heading both directions as the local carrier Icelandair offers flights specifically allowing you to stop over for up to a weeks’ time before continuing on to your next destination, all on the same airfare.
Due to its geothermal characteristics, the island nation produces its power using renewable sources and overall, it’s considered one of the “greenest” countries in the world. In addition to using renewable energy sources, the locals are cautious in the products they produce and much of the food you’ll find on the island is locally sourced when possible and carefully produced with environmental sustainability in mind.
You can easily spend several weeks in Iceland traveling around the country to see the amazing natural landscapes, glaciers, geothermal pools – not to mention their incredibly gay-friendly capital city of Reykjavik. Still, if your time is limited and you have just a few days, it might be best to take a guided tour to catch some of the top highlights located in the southwest of the island; all located just a couple hour’s drive from Reykjavik. Our friends at Pink Iceland offer a great selection of gay tours around Iceland.
And if you’re looking to catch the infamous northern lights on your trip, it’s most recommended to visit from October through February, giving you the best chance of seeing this natural phenomenon. So without further adieu, here are a few of Iceland’s top highlights that you can pack into just a few days at this one-of-a-kind destination.
Reykjavik: Iceland’s Gay-Friendly Capital City
Most visitors’ first stop in Iceland is likely going to be Reykjavik. Though the international airport is technically located just outside the city, most connections start in Reykjavik and it’s a perfect place to start your tour and become acquainted with this tiny country. Nearly two-thirds of Iceland’s population lives in the capital and it’s a fun place to learn about the culture, history and city life. We visited Iceland back in 2014 and spent four days in Reykjavik during the summer gay pride celebration. We had an amazing time and were overwhelmed by how gay welcoming the city was. But if you’re not visiting in August during the gay pride, you can easily catch the highlights of the city in just a day or two.
We started off by taking a Pink City Walk with the local tour guide Pink Iceland. You’ll walk around the city with a gay guide and learn about the history of Reykjavik and also get some insight into how this nation fought and so quickly won the title as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world. By day, you can’t miss seeing Reykjavik’s only gay-specific bar and club called Kiki Queer Bar, whose façade is painted in bright rainbow colors. It’s the perfect place to spend the night in Reykjavik connecting with locals and other LGBT visitors. Though pretty much any bar in town is totally gay welcoming, this is where you can connect with other members of the LGBT community when in town.
The Famous Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is perhaps one of Iceland’s most famous sites and tourist attractions. You won’t find anything quite like it, though it’s sometimes mistaken for a completely natural attraction. In fact, the Blue Lagoon is partially man-made but it doesn’t make it any less stunning and sensational. The lagoon space itself is naturally occurring but the warm waters you find that fill the space are actually the byproduct of the nearby geothermal power plant. But unlike other types of power production, the waters are completely safe and actually therapeutic. Be warned that if you visit the Blue Lagoon, it’s best to make reservations in advance to ensure there’s space. If you’re visiting with a group tour they’ll book your visit as part of the package, which typically includes your entrance, towel, a drink from the bar plus a soothing miracle mask.
Save yourself some hassle and consider joining a tour with Pink Iceland for entrance to the Blue Lagoon and other amazing activities across the island.
The Continental Rift at Thingvellir National Park
Iceland is a volcanic island and this characteristic is caused by the fact that the landmass sits on top of the continental rift of both the Eurasian and North American continents. Yes, Iceland actually straddles two continental plates and you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Thingvellir National Park, where you’ll find the divide that is slowly ripping apart the island. This park also happens to be the location of the oldest parliament in history – the former site of a Viking settlement that housed the national parliament of Iceland started in 930 AD and held sessions until 1798. The park makes for a nice quick stop to hike around the area and explore the views of this unique, natural phenomenon. If you happen to have more time, you can even snorkel or scuba dive in the lake of the Silfra fissure – some of the clearest waters on earth.
Snaefellsjokull National Park
Just a two and half hour drive from Reykjavik is world-famous glacier and stunning coastline of Snæfellsjökull National Park. The park is located at the foot of a volcano completely covered by a glacier of the same name. Besides the picturesque views of the Snaefellsjokull glacier, you can find great sites for bird watching, black pebble beaches, lava tube caves, countless waterfalls plus tiny fishing villages with occasional sightings of orcas and seals along the coastline.
Icelandic Countryside and Wildlife
One of the best parts about driving in the countryside of Iceland is the amazing views you’ll get out of the window. The landscape is covered with grasslands and grazing wildlife like Icelandic sheep and horses. The breed of horse you’ll see in Iceland is unique and originated from the time of the Viking colonization centuries ago. Over time they’ve become acclimated to survive in the harsh conditions of the Icelandic winter and they’re a true icon of Iceland. Hop out of your car to meet face to face with one of these cute and elegant creatures and even snap a selfie if you get the chance.
Go on the Hunt for the Northern Lights
Catching a glimpse of the elusive northern lights can be a challenge and its best done in the company of a local guide. These experts know the best time and place to get a chance at experiencing this unique phenomenon first hand. If you choose a guided tour, the experience is perfectly timed with the best time of the year to see this amazing light show. Though finding this feature of Mother Nature is never a guarantee, you’ll have the best chance during October or February, which is not coincidentally when the tours are offered.
Geothermal Sites and Baths
The Blue Lagoon is one of just countless geothermal sites you can visit on a trip to Iceland. Plus, if you’re not visiting during the peak of summer, a geothermal bath is an wonderful experience and nice escape from the often cold and windy weather. Places like Laugarvatn Fontana Steam Baths make for a great stop to enjoy a warm soak in the naturally warm waters. Or if you happen to visit farther south on the island, don’t miss the region near Hveragerdi. This area is highly geothermal and you’ll see steam pouring out of the ground. This area has the highest concentration of naturally heated greenhouses where locals grow most of their produce on the island.
Nearby, you’ll even find a river named Varma, which is considered a “hot river” due to the hot springs that flow into parts of the river itself. You can even bathe in the warm area of the river but this requires a 45-minute hike to the hot spring site. If you don’t have time for the hike, you can also enjoy a riverside hot tub or steam bath at one of the many riverside hotels in the area.
Interested in visiting Iceland?
You can find out more info here about tours offered by our friends at Pink Iceland. They offer an amazing experience of the island all packed into five days which includes entrance to great attractions, gay-friendly accommodation, transport and various meals throughout your visit. It’s a great way to see some amazing highlights of the island with a local guide who knows all the ins and outs of this amazing destination.
Did you know that Iceland had such a gay-friendly reputation? Which of the attractions above sounds most interesting to you? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: This article was written in partnership with Pink Iceland, however rest assured all opinions are 100% our own and we would never sacrifice our integrity for a sponsorship. In fact, we've traveled with Pink Iceland before and can't recommend them enough!