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From puffins to people, why Iceland rocks!

Reykjavik delivers a memorable travel experience.

From puffins to people, why Iceland rocks!
Photo: Gareth Johnson
Reykjavik, Iceland

One of my all-time travel highlights was the five nights I spent in Iceland in 2012. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this was without doubt one of my best traveling experiences ever.

To be fair, it was a pretty unique and special time to be in Iceland – we were in the country’s capital Reykjavik for IGLA 2012 (the annual championships of International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics), where the LGBT aquatics clubs from around the world come together to compete in swimming, water polo, diving and synchronised swimming.

While Iceland is pretty gay-friendly, it’s unlikely that you’ll be visiting the country en masse with over 500 gay and lesbian sportspeople (who like to party hard), however this is a country definitely worth making the journey to. Here are six reasons why:


We’d arrived into Reykjavik on an early flight from London, so once we’d checked into our hotel (Room With A View) and registered for the competition we headed out to explore the town and grab some lunch. Our taxi driver from the airport had recommended the seafood cafes by the marina so we opted for Saegreifinn – a fairly unassuming looking place but we had the most fantastic lobster soup (with big chunks of lobster) and fish kebabs.

One of my team-mates ordered a minke whale kebab which seemed a bit morally wrong, but I had a taste and it was absolutely delicious. Other stand-out food experiences were Cafe Glaetan where we breakfasted on omelettes and the local Skyr yoghurt; Grillmarket where we had a really great team dinner, working our way through an exciting tasting menu; Fishmarket and Fish Company are also worth checking out.


As you arrive into Iceland you do really feel like you’re in a remote outpost of the world. Driving through the almost lunar landscape of treeless lava fields, it’s easy to imagine that you are discovering uncharted territory.

Highlights of our visit were a boat trip with Elding adventures out to observe a puffin colony – small awkward birds with colourful beaks, that burrow into the islands around Iceland to nest and breed and a horse-rising expedition with Ishestar Riding Tours to experience the small hairy Icelandic Horses with their unique gait (known as tölt – a smooth pace somewhere between a trot and a gallop).

Whale watching is also easily accessible; and it’s also really straightforward to hire a car and drive across the island to experience the spectacular Golden Circle waterfalls and geysers.


Iceland is able to heat its water using geothermal energy. You do notice a slight sulphuric rotten-egg smell when you’re showering, but you soon get used to this.

We spent most of our time in Reykjavik at the spectacular Laugardalur pool complex (where our swimming and water polo competitions were held).  Not just a massive pool with virtually no chlorine (due to the strict hygiene standards enforced – which we love), the complex also has a series of outdoor pools (heated of course) which we spent a lot of time in.

There was also a water slide which was surprisingly good (it was dark and had disco lights), plus the weather all week was so great that we were able to get quite a bit of tanning time in which has been a real bonus.


Before my visit, the famous Blue Lagoon was pretty much the only thing I could associate with Iceland. It seemed an obvious choice that the IGLA 2012 opening party would be held there – however I completely underestimated just how spectacular and overwhelming this would be.

The black volcanic sand is what turns the water of this lagoon an eerie milky blue and paddling around in the warm water (with self-applied mud masks) is quite a surreal experience.

Of course when you fill the pool with 500 gays and lesbians in stylish swimwear, add a bar and a DJ playing crowd-pleasing tunes it really ramps it up a few levels. We all agreed that we hoped that this was what gay heaven would be like.


With limited immigration, the people of Iceland are almost universally tall, blond and attractive. They’re also surprisingly friendly, welcoming and were a bit inquisitive about our visit to their country (English is widely spoken so communicating is easy).

On the Friday night (after a really great beach BBQ hosted by the local football team), the Toronto Triggerfish water polo team organised an underwear party at Club 46 – Reykjavik’s only gay bar. I don’t think they had warned the bar that they had invited everyone there for an underwear party, as the staff and the locals all looked pretty surprised when we all rocked up and stripped off, but they were totally relaxed, all got into the spirit of the party, and we had a fantastic night.


At the time of our visit to Iceland (late May/early June) it really didn’t get dark at all. During the day it was warm with clear blue skies and at night, even though the sun did kind of set, it was still light enough that you completely lost track of time which must mess up your body clock.

Our closing party was at Rubin restaurant – built into a hill overlooking Reykjavik. In between dancing (with Eurovision winner Loreen’s Euphoria being the big track of the holiday), we stood outside in the eerie twilight chatting and marvelling at the amazing view.

After the party had finished at 3am we wound up at Club 11 which was packed with locals all out on a Saturday night. As I was walking back to the hotel at 5am, the streets were still mobbed with groups of local people out drinking, laughing and enjoying themselves.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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