Reykjavik gay guide tells us “Most of Iceland celebrates Pride.”
We originally planned for a DIY tour of Reykjavik when the Azamara Journey docked there for two days. But gay travel karma intervened, sending us an unexpected bonus.
We started wandering on our own, visiting the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran Church in the center of the city. The view from the tower of this beautiful structure offers a terrific view which helped orient us to the city. On the church grounds, we enjoyed the chance to chat with a local lesbian couple, one of whom was originally from Denmark. As liberal as Denmark is, she said that Iceland was the first place where she felt completely safe as a woman.
After the Hallgrímskirkja, we did some leisurely window shopping. We live in Phoenix with warm winters, but the colorful locally crafted woolen sweaters and scarves (almost) made us nostalgic for snow. A group of young street singers energized an already active scene unusual for such a small city.
The wonderful scent of fresh bread and pastries drifting out of the bakeries brought to mind childhood memories. The city’s abundance of colorful hanging flower baskets reminded us of our years living in the Pacific Northwest.
Reykjavik Gay Guide
A rainbow flag caught our eye as we pulled ourselves reluctantly away from the bakery. Curious, we walked into Pink Iceland Tours (Hverfisgata 39, 101 Reykjavik) just to check out the vibe. We found ourselves enjoying a great conversation with staff member/office manager Hafsteinn Thorolfsson. We asked if he could be our guide on a walking tour the next day. Fortunately, he had an opening in his schedule (Availability at such short notice is not the norm for this company, so we strongly suggest booking in advance.)
MMOB TIP: In Reykjavik you’re likely to encounter cool, wet weather and wind during any time of year so dress in layers. Bring a waterproof coat rather than an umbrella to protect you from the region’s frequent “horizontal rain” showers.
Coming out on National TV
Our guide, Hafsteinn (Haffi), speaks perfect English, like literally everyone we encountered in Iceland. He shared a bit with us about his own life while we strolled through downtown Reykjavik.
Haffi’s coming-out story belongs in a movie. In 1997, he helped arrange a drag competition. The venue sold out and the performance date was fast approaching when at the last-minute, several drag queens dropped out. Since a drag show is hard to pull off without people in drag, Haffi donned a dress, a wig, heels and make-up for his drag debut. He was broadcast on national television, which meant his entire family watched him singing in a sultry voice, wearing an outfit even Auntie Mame wouldn’t touch!
Haffi kept us laughing throughout our tour, regaling us with stories, even during an extended rainstorm. Taking refuge from the rain, we enjoyed delicious pastries and comforting hot chocolate in his favorite coffee-house, Kaffitár (Bankastræti 8, 101 Reykjavík, a block from the old port) He told us that, along with three other gay men, he ran the first openly gay bar in Iceland in 1998. It was called “Spotlights,” and he’s proud of the fact that the bar lasted for several years.
The city’s sole current LGBT bar currently is called “Kiki.” (Laugavegur 22, 101 Reykjavik) Since the bar opens at 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights only, we had to take Haffi’s word that Kiki is a fun location! Bar culture doesn’t play as important a role in the Icelandic LGBT community as in some other countries. Alcohol is very expensive so there isn’t much “let’s-go-out-for-drinks” on weekdays.
We asked Haffi “Are Icelanders OK with gay people in their midst?” He said, “By and large yes, but we do face some opposition like in other countries.” He went on to explain that “Society is outspoken in support of LGBT rights.”
The Reykjavik Pride parade has grown to include about 115,000 participants and observers. That is very close to the entire population of Reykjavik, so Pride has become an occasion for everyone in this liberal country. Haffi sang the Icelandic version of “I am what I am” as an anthem for the 2001 Reykjavik Gay Pride Festival (see video below). If you’re a last minute traveler, you still time to catch this year’s Festival which is August 8-13.
LGBT civil unions became legal in Iceland in 1996. In 2009, Iceland became the first country to have a lesbian Head of State. When marriage equality came to Iceland in 2010, Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her wife were the first couple to be married.
Iceland was on our bucket list long before this cruise. After a wonderful two-day introduction to this proud nation with its dramatic landscape and accepting attitude toward LGBT folks, we hope to visit there again. Although no nation can lay claim to perfection, we came away from our visit thinking that many countries, including our own, would do well to emulate Iceland.
Note: MMOB received no consideration or reduced fee from Pink Iceland Tours. The authors traveled as guests of Azamara Club Cruises. Read our disclosure policy here.