Travel Thursday: Two Men In Iceland
Lord Byron said "I love not man the less, but nature more" and even if you love the men, you might just agree with him after a trip to Iceland. Thanks to relatively inexpensive airfare options, a burgeoning food scene in Reykjavík, a rich history, and most importantly to this writer - unbridled, breathtaking, borderline cataclysmically life-altering natural beauty - Iceland has become one of the hottest getaways for wanderlust-stricken Americans over the past decade. In fact, during a recent dinner with a now frenemy, I was tasked with warding off her response to my second Icelandic visit with my husband: "Oh yeah, Iceland is like, trendy now, isn't it?" Yeah Martha, it is, and for good reason!
Last month marked my second go-around in Iceland, and with two very different trips under my belt, I feel relatively well-equipped to share some piping hot tips with you, and I really hope that whether you've visited before or are mapping out your first excursion, you find at least an ounce of juicy wisdom in this Travel Thursday that will help make your Iceland trip as amazing as possible!
The most important basic to know about Iceland is that everything's expensive. Period. I saw a convenience store selling a single banana for just under four dollars. My hottest tip on here would be to pack some food in your suitcase (we brought Eataly goodies for a charcuterie board because, gay) and purchase any booze that you will want at the Duty Free upon arrival. Save up your bucks for brunch and a nice meal out - not for fourteen dollar blueberries at a gas station. Which I actually bought.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iceland since 2010, and I felt completely comfortable traversing the country with my husband (both trips) and gay BFF and straight gal BFF (my first trip.)
Credit card machines are widely used in Iceland, and I haven't exchanged currency either time that I've visited, even though I headed to some remote places.
Drinking and driving laws are very strict in Iceland - as in you can't confidently have even a glass of wine with dinner if you're going to get behind the wheel - so take this into consideration while booking your accommodations / planning how you're going to get around. If you want a Gays Gone Wild weekend, you might want to sleep near where you hang.
Most Icelanders speak English, and even if someone isn't fluent, no one has given us any grief for not knowing the language and having to figure things out with mutual pointing. Just over 300,000 people live in Iceland (by comparison, the largest football stadium holds 107,000 people) so residents don't seem too floored when tourists aren't fluent in Icelandic.
As someone who has experienced Iceland with and without renting a car, I lean towards renting. The expense may seem prohibitive at first, but bus excursions are not unlike that four dollar banana, plus I enjoyed the freedom of choosing my own adventure.
While Iceland feels worlds away, it's actually a relatively short flight from most of the United States and an enviable five and a half hours from New York City. WOW Airlines offers a Spirit-esque part and parcel approach to flying, allowing for some truly amazing deals if you don't mind packing light and adhering to the stringent pricing system. Iceland Air is the other big airline, and while they offer a more traditional flying experience (as in you can get complimentary water on the plane - something that can't be said for WOW) the prices on WOW just can't be beat, and with some savvy preparation before you take off, flying WOW is worth the sacrifice of Pan Am-era creature comforts, IMHO.
Where To Slay
Choosing where to stay in Iceland all depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Reykjavík is the largest city and cultural hub, and there are plenty of ways to access nature by using Reykjavík as your home base. Staying outside of Reykjavík means that your MO is to experience the great outdoors. Remember, there are only 300,000 people spread across the entire 39,769 mi² island. If you want population density and the nightlife, shopping, and restaurants that it comes with, Reykjavík is probably your jam. I've stayed in two Airbnb's in Reykjavík and one on the nearby Álftanes, and they were all gorgeous.
Those of you wanting to get all up in nature for a more immersive experience can do no better than to head out of the Big City for a couple of nights to experience the Volcano Huts in Þórsmörk Nature Reserve. Þórsmörk (also spelled Thórsmörk) is considered to have one of the best hiking trails in all of Iceland, and the view of the glacier (below) took, my, breath, away. We choose to stay in the Volcano Huts after much much research as to how to best experience nature by "roughing it" within a reasonable distance of Reykjavík.
Come On Nature
The volcanic island of Iceland (which actually translates to Island in Icelandic) is a living, breathing, geothermal wonderland, and its vast natural beauty will likely be a big part of your visit. My second most piping hot tip on this Travel Thursday is to experience Iceland in winter at some point if possible. I've been in both September and January, and the brown, volcanic landscape visually lends itself spectacularly to snowfall, while the same landscape in the summer, sans snow, is well, brown and volcanic. Both seasons offer their own unique beauty, but for some reason wintertime really struck me as something special. In addition to traveling to the aforementioned Volcano Huts, which require a stay outside of Reykjavík, these are the three-day trips that I personally recommend for accessing breathtaking natural wonders within a day's drive of Reykjavík.
1) Snæfellsnes Peninsula - Stunning, dreamlike, and truly a can't-miss, photographs of this area can be found splashed across guidebooks as excellent representations of the best of Icelandic natural wonders. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is about a three-hour drive from Reykjavík if you want to go all the way to the tip, and the main road is in a loop. The drive up is beautiful as well. We just went to Arnarstapi to experience the breathtaking cliffs (below) before turning around, but dramatic landscapes can be found all around the Peninsula loop.
2) Reykjadalur Hot Springs - This two hour round trip hike will bring you to the most beautiful natural hot springs in Southwest Iceland. The hike offers stunning mountain views and all sorts of mind-boggling geothermal goodies. Dipping into the hot spring surrounded by snow was positively baptismal, and if that sounds overly dramatic, then, yeah, you know what it is. But true. My husband snapped this pic the moment I was converted.
3) Reykjanesfólkvangur and the Krysuvikurberg Cliffs - This area was the biggest surprise of our second Iceland trip, and we visited it before heading to the airport for a 3:00 p.m. flight. Reykjanesfólkvangur park is very close to the airport, and I assumed it would feel second tier just because of the accessibility. Snowfall might have really helped this area in particular, but from what I saw, it was fab. Maybe not high drama, but we settled on describing it as "lunar." We drove by the eerily quiet and peaceful Kleifarvatnlake lake and parked our car at the trailhead for the Krysuvikurberg Cliffs for a beautiful walk.
We reached these three destinations by car, but I know that for at least the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, bus options are available. The most popular and easily-accessible by bus nature area outside of Reykjavík (how many times can one writer use the word "Reykjavík" in a single article? We're about to find out) is the "Golden Circle." You're bound to see excursions to the Golden Circle advertised in at least forty-five-thousands brochures. And personally, and with all due, I say save your money. The Golden Circle sights were far from the most spectacular within Southwest Iceland, the experience cost a pretty penny with a tour bus, and the throngs of people took me right back to Chicago.
Eat, Drink, and be So Very
Iceland is home to one Michelin Star restaurant, Dill, which requires you to order a chef's tasting menu, with an additional wine pairing available. The well-plated dishes creatively weave in Icelandic specialties, and if you and your boo are looking for a lengthy (we were there for two hours on the five-course menu) and romantic fine dining experience, this is the place. Reservations a necessity.
For a snazzy meal out there's also Fiskmarkaðurinn, a kind of sushi Icelandic fusion restaurant that beckoned us back a second time. Our recent long weekend in Iceland was in celebration of my husband's birthday, and he said that if he could choose any restaurant in the world to eat at for his big day, this would be the one. Get the "sashimi on the rocks" for ridiculously fresh fish with colors so vibrant you'll want to swatch them and repaint your home. All the colors of the fish. Reservations also suggestion.
Kiki Queer Bar is the gay bar to see and be seen at in Reykjavík (so, Iceland,) and it is fun fun fun. I was blind drunk when I went with my friends, but I remember thumping recognizable and Euro-tastic jams and a sweaty, crowded dance floor. Or maybe all the sweat was coming off of me and my gross ass posse. Miss them. If you're gay and you enjoy clubbing, Kiki is a definite for your itinerary.
Of course, all of this isn't even to mention the dozens of other sights and experiences that the Reykjavík region has to offer, including the famed Blue Lagoon (not a must in this writer's eyes, but a must if you want to be prepared for interrogation from friends upon reentry,) the National Museum of Iceland for history buffs, and the dazzling Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall designed by celebrity sculptor Olafur Eliasson. Explorers of the highest order can book a plane to Eastern Iceland for a remoteness that few experience in a lifetime, though be warned that during wintertime, the roads can be closed to certain vehicles, weather depending.
Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Please let all your fellow readers know about your Iceland tips and tricks in the comments below, or leave me an Instagram comment if you have any specific questions that I can tackle. And most importantly, have a gay ol' time in Iceland!