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Our Favorite Bars and Restaurants in Reykjavík

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We spent a sizable chunk of our 91 Icelandic days inside the drinking and eating establishments of Reykjavík. After another long day of museum-visiting or waterfall-ogling, a big beer and dinner cooked by someone else always sounded like a good idea. Here’s a quick list of our favorite places in the city.

Puffin Breast Smoked
Puffin Breast at Þrir Frakkar

Throughout our first month in Iceland, we were shocked by the sky-high alcohol prices, and drastically scaled back consumption. Of course, our alcoholic natures eventually reasserted themselves, but not until we had discovered the trick to drinking in Iceland: happy hour, happy hour, happy hour. Almost every bar in Reykjavík has a generous happy hour special, and a fun evening can be had by bouncing from one to the other. The Reykjavík Grapevine even offers an app for it. Here are our three favorite bars, in no particular order.

Den Danske Kro literally means The Danish Inn, but this is a place for Icelanders. We often visited the small bar on Ingólfsstræti and always had a blast. A raucous crowd gathers here to talk, play darts and listen to music. There’s also a large patio out front, but good luck finding a seat during one of Reykjavík’s rare sunny days. [Location]

The Loft is found on the fourth floor of a building on Bankastræti. The terrace offers a great view of the city, and is another popular spot when the sun is shining. Inside, there are comfortable couches and tables which are perfect for working. I spent more than one afternoon here, happily hacking away at my computer and sipping on a giant Gull lager. [Location]

MicroBar is an apt name for this tiny bar tucked into the back of the City Hotel. Beer Heaven would also work. Despite its small size, MicroBar has the best selection of beer in the city, with craft Icelandic brews joining bottles from across Europe. There’s always a different local beer discounted during happy hour and the crowd seems to be an even mix between Icelanders and tourists. [Location]

Honorable mention goes to a few other places we often patronized. Kaldi Bar on Laugavegur is a cozy and intimate little joint, with excruciatingly slow taps and an indie vibe. The Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) is a cool spot across from the Austurvöllur Park with a lot of outdoor seating and great food. And Lebowski Bar has fully dedicated itself to The Big Lebowski with film paraphernalia and even a full size bowling lane adorning the walls. You read that right: the bowling lane is affixed to the wall.


Eating out in Reykjavík always presented a challenge, as much to our palates as to our pocketbooks. All too often, we ended up at ho-hum places memorable only for their outrageous prices. A bill over $100 at a mediocre pasta joint? Anything is possible in Reykjavík! So it was a treat to find restaurants that offered either great food or reasonable prices… and occasionally even both.

Icelandic Fish & Chips might not have one of the city’s most creative names, but it serves up some of the best food we had in town, at an affordable price. This is a mix-and-match kind of place, where you can choose your type of fish, potatoes and a sauce. The menu includes suggestions for those who don’t feel like winging it, but I have a feeling any combination is equally delicious. [Location]

The Noodle Station serves up probably the best-value meal in Reykjavík. Big steaming bowls of oriental noodle soups, served with chicken, lamb or veggies. Predictably popular with students, this place is about as simple and quick as it gets, but the noodles are incredible. The nearby Núðluskálin, which serves similar dishes, is also worth checking out. [Location]

Þrir Frakkar isn’t exactly cheap, but if you’re going to splash out, you might as well do it right. The name of this Reykjavík institution translates to either “Three Overcoats” or “Three Frenchmen”, and both meanings are played upon in the decor. The restaurant concentrates on Icelandic fare, such as puffin breast, horse filet and whale steak. Incidentally, we tried all of these. The whale was surprisingly flavorful and the horse was amazing. At the end of our meal, we felt good enough for shots of Brennivín. A very fun and popular place, where reservations are mandatory. [Location]

Those were our favorites, but we enjoyed other great meals in town. You can’t talk about Icelandic cuisine without tipping your hat to the Icelandic Hot Dog, best enjoyed at the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand near the harbor. Nearby is the excellent and affordable Krua Thai. We also loved more upscale meals at Rub23 Sushi and especially Vegamot.

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Whale Steak Iceland
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Den Danke Kro Reykjavik
Den Danke Kro Iceland
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Going Out In Reykjavik

Also, if you have access to a kitchen during your time in Reykjavík, you can save a ton of money by shopping at the weekly Kolaportið Flea Market. The focus here is on clothes and toys, but there is also a food section toward the back, where filets of horse meat and even whale are surprisingly cheap.

Horse Meat Market Iceland
Whale Meat Market

At this market, these pale blue eggs caught our eye. These are guillemot eggs, and they’re considered a delicacy in Iceland. We bought a couple and boiled them up… the consistency was a bit strange, but we enjoyed them.

Guillemot eggs
Guillemot eggs
Guillemot egg art
Cooking Guillemot eggs
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Cooked Guillemot eggs
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November 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm Comments (2)

Reykjavík Street Art

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Street Art Reykjavik

One of our favorite parts of moving to a new place is checking out the street art scene. We’ve come to learn that aspects of a city’s personality will often be reflected in its graffiti and public art, so the work we saw in Reykjavík wasn’t a total surprise. Extremely artistic, modern, intelligent and well-coordinated, Reykjavík’s street art is clearly done with the property owner’s permission. Perhaps a bit too nice for such an anarchic art form, but very Icelandic.

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Street Art Reykjavik
Street Art Reykjavik
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November 1, 2013 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)

It’s Always Christmas in Akureyri

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Maybe it’s because of the long, dark winters, when any scrap of joy or warmth is especially appreciated, but Christmas is a very big deal in Iceland. And nowhere is the Christmas spirit stronger than in Akureyri, where it’s celebrated all year round.


Jólagarðurinn, or the Christmas Garden, is found about ten minutes south of Akureyri. Halldor (from Fab Travel) insisted that we visit after I accidentally betrayed some cynicism towards Christmas. He had been shocked. “How can you not love Christmas?” He kept asking me the same question over and over, unable to wrap his head around the concept, regardless of how I tried to explain. The crass commercialism of the American holiday turns me off. I can’t stand “Last Christmas” by Wham!, not the first time I heard it and certainly not the 385th. The Christmas lights, the caroling, the stress, the fake plastic joy brought to you by Coca-Cola, it’s all just too much. But Halldor couldn’t understand. To him, hating Christmas was akin to hating love or family.

We arrived at Jólagarðurinn, driving up to a bright red house which, despite appearances, wasn’t made of gingerbread. Inside, a shop sells a mind-numbing array of Christmas decorations from around the world, with a special emphasis on Icelandic traditions. We browsed the ornaments, sampled some smoked lamb and Laufabrauð (a fried cookie decorated in hand-made patterns), walked around the garden, and saw Grýla the Christmas Ogre in her cave.

A Christmas Ogre? With this revelation, I felt myself warming to the Icelandic version of the holiday. Grýla is an ogre with extremely sharp hearing, who will throw misbehaving children in a bag and cook them into a stew. She has a black cat who also eats children, and thirteen sons known as the Yule Lads. The Yule Lads have big bushy beards and bring gifts to children, but that’s where their similarity to Santa Claus ends.

Dressed in ratty, old rags and with dirty grey beards, the Yule Lads most resemble crazy old bums, and they’re always up to no good. Each of the thirteen is known for some special sort of mischief, reflected in their names. There’s Sheep-Cote Clod, Gully Gawk, Shorty, Ladle Licker, Pot Scraper, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Skyr Gobbler (I’m not making these up by the way), Sausage Swiper, Window Peeper, Door Sniffer, Meat Hook and Candle Beggar. One by one, they begin arriving at Icelandic homes, from December 12th to the 24th, each leaving a small gift for children.

I imagine the 23rd is a sleepless night around Iceland, because that’s when Meat Hook is coming to town.

We had a surprisingly good time in the Christmas Garden, and even bought an ornament of Spoon Licker as a souvenir. But just as the Christmas Spirit was sinking into my bones, the speakers started bleating “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart…” and I fell back into my old holiday-hating ways. Iceland has some fun traditions of their own but Wham!, it seems, is universal.

Location of Jólagarðurinn on our Map

1 Dollar Gifts

Letters To Icelandic Santa
Sweets House Iceland
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Christmas Gifts Iceland
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Christmas Ogre
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Christmas Ogre Iceland
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October 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm Comments (0)

Fall Colors in the Eyjafjörður Valley

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When Halldor offered to show us the autumn colors of the Eyjafjörður Valley, south of Akureyri, I was a little amused. Up until this point, we had seen approximately three trees in all Iceland. “Maybe the idea of ‘autumn colors’ means something different here,” I thought. “Like, a pile of red lava rocks on top of wet, yellow hay.” But it turns out that Iceland has some trees after all. There are a lot, in fact, if you know where to look.

Born and raised in the valley, Halldor definitely knew where to look. He’s the son of the founder of FAB (Free as a Bird) Travels, based in Akureyri and Reykjavík, and not only knowledgeable about the Eyjafjörður region, but enthusiastic about it. Throughout the day, he would point out various farms and churches, share some history, and relate funny anecdotes from his childhood. It brought the valley to life in a way we wouldn’t have been able to appreciate alone.

We stopped by a couple beautiful old churches, including the strange Grundarkirkja. Built in 1905 by a local merchant, this large church is unlike any other we’d seen in Iceland, topped with a Russian-like spire. Unfortunately, this being the winter season, we weren’t able to get into either the Grundarkirkja nor the Saurbæjarkirkja, which we visited next. Built in 1858, this is one of Iceland’s last turfed churches.

The churches were nice, but next we drove into the Basilica of Mother Earth. At the end of a long gravel road on the southwestern end of the valley, and through a relatively impressive forest, we found the campsite of Leyningshólar. Gold, orange, yellow, dark red — the September colors on display here wouldn’t have been out of place in New Hampshire. A lovely sight, and one we hadn’t expected to see while in Iceland.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Grundarkirkja | Saurbæjarkirkja | Leyningshólar

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Eyjafjörður Valley
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October 18, 2013 at 7:12 pm Comments (2)

Harpa – Iceland’s Opera House

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An asymmetrical glass building on Reykjavík’s harbor, Harpa resembles a shimmering iceberg that crashed onto the shore. Since opening in 2010, the city’s opera and concert hall has won prominent architectural awards, welcomed over two million visitors and become one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

Coolest Bar In Rekjavik

One stormy afternoon, we took a guided tour of Harpa, which introduced us to the building’s design elements. With three concert venues, ample space for conferences, a restaurant and enormous open spaces meant for nothing more than lounging, the place is just huge. Insanely so, when you consider the size of Iceland’s population. I asked our guide if the entire population of Iceland could fit inside Harpa, and she kind of laughed… unsure whether I was joking or being serious. I was being serious.

As we toured each of the concert halls, outfitted with state-of-the-art acoustic and lighting technology, it became clear that no expense was spared. And so it came as no surprise to learn that Harpa was conceived during those intoxicating years when Iceland was rolling in cash. It’s just what you do when you’re suddenly very wealthy; you build an opera house. But Harpa wasn’t yet completed when the 2008 financial crash brought Iceland’s party to an end. The half-built monstrosity on the shore immediately became a symbol of the excess and corruption which led to financial downfall, and was looked upon with scorn.

Despite the calls for Harpa’s demolition, the government decided to push through with the plans. They took it over from its private investors, making it a public venue, and funded the construction with taxpayer money. Not an entirely popular move, but I would guess that, today, most Icelanders are happy about the government’s resolve. What could have been a symbol of greed became one of determination. They had been planning to put this private, bank-owned concert hall in a new section of town which would go by the horrible name of “World Trade Center Reykjavík”. Instead, it’s become a beautiful public venue.

The Harpa is almost always open to the public and is free to visit. It’s possibly even more stunning from the inside than the out. The design is fantastic, with sharp angles, glass, grand open spaces and black granite walls meant to evoke the bizarre landscape of the country itself. Gorgeous, and it’s definitely the architectural highlight of Reykjavík.

Location on our Iceland Map
Harpa – Website

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October 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm Comment (1)

After One Month in Iceland

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After our first month in Iceland, we had hardly scratched the surface. We knew Reykjavík fairly well, and had spent time on the South Coast, the Golden Circle, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords… With all the hopping from one sight to the next, we barely had the chance to relax and become familiar with the culture. So our relationship with Iceland after a month felt superficial. We were obsessed by its bizarre beauty, but needed to get to know it a bit better.

Most Memorable

Mike: I’ll never forget the death-hike we took in the Hengill mountain range. The landscape was insanely beautiful, but mostly it’s the fear that will stick with me. The fear, and then the utter relief I felt when it turned out my friend wasn’t dead after all.

Jürgen: On my first night, I woke up at around 1am, completely confused. Outside, it was still bright daylight and it took my sleepy brain a long time to remember… oh right, summer in Iceland!
Favorite Food

Mike: Certainly not fish jerky, which was among the most fantastically awful things I’ve ever eaten. This will earn us scorn from a lot of people, but I was shocked by how delicious my whale steak was. And I love Skyr.

Jürgen: An Icelandic Hot Dog with everything. Delicious and affordable. But probably the best food moment was eating freshly caught scallops on the Viking Sushi Tour in Stykkishólmur.
Most Surprising

Mike: The sheer ruggedness of the land. Before arriving, I kind of thought… well, we’ll still be in Europe, how crazy can it be? But Iceland’s wildness is really something. Gorgeous, isolated, and often dangerous.

Jürgen: When our landlord turned out to be a pilot, and asked if we wanted to see Iceland from the air, I almost died!
Most Disappointing

Mike: The weather was a real downer. Icelanders confirmed that we arrived during the coldest, rainiest summer in years, and it put a major damper on many of our plans.

Jürgen: No volcanic eruptions! Frustrating, since two volcanoes (Hekla and Katla) were overdue to explode. I’d love to photograph a volcano in action, and always kept an eye on the weather reports.
Funniest / Weirdest

Mike: Our first sunny day in Reykjavík… fine, the sun was nice, but let’s not kid ourselves, it was still quite cool. But to the Vitamin-E-deprived locals, it was beach-party time. Guys at the bar had their shirts off, soaking in the rays, and people were even laying on the grass in bikinis. Meanwhile, we kept our winter coats on.

Jürgen: Icelanders often make this sharp inhaling sound instead of saying “yes”… it’s just part of their speech, called an ingressive, but I could never get used to it.
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)

Mike: 9. Iceland only dodges the dreaded “10” because I know Norway is out there. But this is the priciest place we’ve ever lived. Even cooking at home, camping, trying to avoid costs wherever possible, we’re burning through our savings at a disturbing rate.

Jürgen: I would give it 7. It’s true, living expenses are through the roof but the natural beauty of the country is for free. You just have to find a way to see it all on a budget.
People from Iceland are…

Mike: … stylish, tall and blond. Everything I’m not! They’re also extremely friendly and trusting, which has come in handy when we’ve been forced to hitchhike, and seem to have a very down-to-earth approach to life.

Jürgen: … blessed with a great sense of irony and humor. For proof, just consider their election of the Best Party!
Iceland in Three Words

Mike: Glaciers, Volcanoes, Waterfalls

Jürgen: Incredible Nature Photography!
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August 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm Comments (2)

Hólmavík and the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft

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The first stop of our week-long tour of the Westfjords was in the tiny eastern village of Hólmavík, where we visited the unsettling Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.

Sorcery Museum Iceland

Although Hólmavík is the largest town on the Strandir peninsula, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s home to about 300 people, and “downtown” consists of a single road curving toward the port. But despite its small size, Hólmavík is surprisingly lively. I couldn’t believe how many cars were cruising around, nor the number of tourists.

The town’s big draw is the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. The Black Arts have a long history in the Westfjords. Life was hard in this isolated, northern peninsula, and people occasionally turned to magic to meet their needs. Whether it was to manipulate the weather, gain wealth, punish enemies or win love, the budding sorcerer could always find a spell, sacrifice, rune or incantation which might prove useful.

Need to render yourself invisible for some nefarious reason? Easy. Just paint the sign of Hulinhjálmur on a piece of lignite. But you have to use a special kind of ink, prepared in the following way:

“Collect three drops of blood from the index finger of your left hand, three from the ring finger of your right hand, two from your right nipple and one from your left nipple. Mix the blood with six drops of blood from the heart of a living raven and melt it all with the raven’s brain and pieces of a human stomach. Carve the sign on the lignite with magnetic steel which has been hardened three times in human blood.”
Icelandic Sorcery

Maybe it’s not quite so important to be invisible, after all. Instead, let’s create a monster to steal goat milk. A “tilberi”. That sounds cute!

“To acquire a tilberi, a woman has to steal a human rib from a churchyard in the early hours of Whit Sunday, wrap it in gray wool and keep it between her breasts. The next three times she takes Holy Communion, she must spit the sacramental wine over the bundle. The third spurt of holy wine will bring the tilberi to life. When it grows larger and the ‘mother’ can no longer conceal it in her bosom, she must cut loose a piece of skin on the inside of her thigh and make a nipple which the tilberi will hang on to, and draw nourishment from her body fluids.”

Forget it. And I’m not even going to get into “Necropants”. You can just look that one up, yourself.

The museum is full of fascinating/horrifying information like this. Along with the specifics of the spells, it tells the stories of people who were executed for employing them. Twenty sorcerers were put to death during 17th century witch hunts in the Westfjords, almost all of them men. The most infamous persecutor of witches was Jón Mangússon, a Lutheran pastor from Ísafjörður who had the tendency to accuse neighbors who had slighted him in some way.

We loved the Sorcery Museum. It’s not very large, but was one of the rare museums in which we avidly read every bit of information posted. Hólmavík is worth seeing in its own right, but this collection of stories from the Westfjords’ dark past warrants an extended stop.

Location on our Iceland Map
Strandagaldur: The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft – Website

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Witchcraft Museum Hólmavík
Hólmavík Sorcery Witchcraft
Hexen Museum Island
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August 25, 2013 at 7:08 pm Comment (1)

Modern Art at the Hafnarhus

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With three venues spread across the city, each dedicated to a different discipline, the Listasafn Reykjavíkur is the largest art museum in Iceland. One ticket will get you into all three locations. We chose to start at the Hafnarhus (Harbor House), which focuses on modern Icelandic art.

Hafnarhus Reykjavik

Iceland is an isolated island in the middle of the North Atlantic which gets about thirteen seconds of sun during the winter. Unbroken darkness tends to make people a little eccentric, which perhaps explains why Icelanders have embraced the absurd in everything from fashion to politics to music. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise to discover that their modern art sits squarely in the realm of the surreal.

Even so, an exhibition which must be smelled? A video of people wearing hats pierced by long sticks, humming and muttering jibberish while a woman recites a poem in the background? A sound exhibition in the elevator which (according to its description) “produces a series of palimpsestic overlaps defined more by slips and discrepancies than by conjunctions”?

Most of the museum is dedicated to such weirdo temporary exhibits, but there’s a permanent collection featuring the work of Erró, Iceland’s most renowned postmodern artist. Erró concentrates in pop art, with heavy influences (and a lot of straight-up swiping) from the world of comics and Picasso. His pieces are strange, often political, occasionally perverted, and a lot of fun.

Location of the Hafnarhusid
Listasafn Reykjavíkur: Hafnarhusid – Website

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August 24, 2013 at 10:21 am Comments (0)

The Best Party and Jón Gnarr

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“Stop corruption: We promise to stop corruption. We’ll accomplish this by participating in it openly.” Now that’s a political promise I can believe in! It’s just one of the excellent items in the platform of The Best Party, led by Reykjavík’s Jón Gnarr.

Jón Gnarr at the 2011 naming of the Reykjavík Tree… possibly yawning. [Photo by Helgi Halldórsson]

For most of his career, Jón Gnarr was an Icelandic comedian and writer. He went by the name of “Jónsi Punk” when he played bass in a band called Runny Nose. And now he’s mayor of the capital.

Before the 2010 elections, the Best Party openly described themselves as a joke. So why would Iceland vote them into power? The better question is, why not? The country was still recovering from a horrendous financial crisis, brought about when “serious” political parties deregulated the banking system, and Icelanders were completely disillusioned with politics.

Enter the comedian. The Best Party lampooned traditional politics, imitating the hypocrisy and bullshit inherent in every party platform to hilarious effect. “Free bus rides for students and cripples” they promised, going on to explain: “We can offer more free things than any other party because we aren’t going to follow through with it. We could say whatever we want. For example, free flights for women or free cars for people who live in rural areas. It’s all the same.”

For the municipal elections, the Best Party promised Reykjavík a polar bear at the city zoo and an Icelandic Disneyland. And they won, to the surprise of everyone, especially those in the establishment. Jón Gnarr became mayor and immediately began trailblazing a new path for public office. He would show up for official events dressed as Obi Wan Kenobe, and lead the city’s gay pride parade dressed in (frankly, very tasteful) drag.

But he’s not a joke. Despite treating his office with the irreverence it probably deserves, he’s spoken out about a number of serious issues. In 2013, he urged Reykjavík to cut ties with Moscow over Russia’s horrific record on gay rights, and has also gone up against China’s human rights record.

Perhaps Jón’s biggest accomplishment as mayor is returning a dose of reality to politics. Turns out there’s another way than the double-speak and institutional corruption most of us have come to identify as “normal”. Maybe it takes a punk rocking atheist comedian to remind us of that.

[Read this great interview with Mayor Jón in the Reykjavík Grapevine, conducted shortly after his win.]

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August 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm Comments (2)

Reykjavík Goes Gay for a Day

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Jürgen and I have been to our share of pride parades around the world: Boston, Berlin, NYC, Spain. But we’ve never seen a Gay Pride quite like Reykjavík’s, held annually in August. Led by its mayor, the entire city paints itself in rainbow colors and puts on an astonishing celebration of gayness.

Gay For A Day
Well then, this is my lucky day.

As we walked down to the parade route, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Reykjavík had truly gone all out! Rainbow-colored crosswalks, rainbow flags in every store and flying high above city hall. Girls passing out merchandise and guys wearing shirts which identified them as “Gay for a Day”. Families with small children dressed up in rainbow-colored gear.

We could hardly get to the parade route through all the baby strollers. It was a far cry from the raunchy, sexually-explicit parades of Berlin. The guy standing in front of me wasn’t a leather-thonged bear daddy, but a ten-year-old kid with buckteeth, who had made a bracelet out of some rainbow-colored ribbon and was clapping excitedly for the “Dykes on Bikes” roaring past on their hogs. There was even an appearance by Reykjavík’s flamboyant mayor, Jón Gnarr, dressed in Iceland’s traditional women’s costume and tossing out roses to the crowd.

After the last float had passed, we followed the crowd to Arnarhóll park, sat on the grass and listened to a concert. Again, completely different from the wild, drunken block parties that would ensue after Boston’s pride, but just as wonderful.

It was an incredible feeling to be in a place like Reykjavík, where homosexuality is so completely accepted that it’s almost become blasé. We felt the support of the entire city, from its mayor to its institutions, business and people. It’s the kind of unconditional acceptance which I had never experienced before. And it means a lot. So thanks, Reykjavík… we love you, too!

Book your hotel now for the upcoming Gay Pride in Reykjavik NOW!

Rainbow Street Crossing
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Kids At Gay Pride
In Drag Mayor Reykjavik Jón Gnarr
Mayor Jón Gnarr
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Dykes On Bikes Reykjavik
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Drag Queen Iceland
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Russia was the big villain at the parade.
Gay Price Reykjavik 2013
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Lesbians in the Wild rocked — the most energetic group in the parade
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Gay Pride Concert
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August 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm Comments (6)

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Our Favorite Bars and Restaurants in Reykjavk We spent a sizable chunk of our 91 Icelandic days inside the drinking and eating establishments of Reykjavík. After another long day of museum-visiting or waterfall-ogling, a big beer and dinner cooked by someone else always sounded like a good idea. Here's a quick list of our favorite places in the city.
For 91 Days