Visiting Iceland as an LGBTQ+ person

Rainbow over the Sunvoyager

Iceland is LGBTQ Friendly

 At first glance Iceland might not seem the obvious choice for LGBTQ+ travelers- you never hear about a Reykjavik queer district, and Iceland’s beaches are more known for their volcanic sand than Speedo wearing gay men. However, this island in the middle of the North Atlantic is one of the world’s safest and most welcoming places for queer residents and tourists alike. 

The Icelandic laws are LGBTQ+ friendly

Marriage equality has been law here since 2010, and in 2009 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBTQ+ head of government. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is illegal in almost every aspect of public life, although transgender and Intersex Icelanders were left behind for far too long. In 2019 a law was passed that allows transgender Icelanders the right to change their name and gender in Þjóðskrá, the National Registry, without requiring medical documentation. This process does cost money, however, so recently a fund was started that helps low-income trans and non-binary folk pay for this. This same 2019 law also guarantees legal access to transition-related health care following the informed consent model- and includes children from age 15, as long as they have parental approval. Unfortunately, though the National Hospital has not always been able to provide the necessary transition care recently, as many providers are leaving for more lucrative private practice. Non-binary, genderqueer, and intersex Icelanders can also choose a neutral gender marker option in the National Registry. The world-famous, and tongue twister, Icelandic Naming Committee  (Mannanafnanefnd) recently okayed the use of the linguistically gender-neutral names Regn (Rain) and Frost, although the legal restrictions around what names can be used for what gender was already removed in 2019. At the end of 2020, a bill to protect children born with atypical sex characteristics from medically unnecessary and/or non-consensual surgery was submitted by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

The Rainbow street at Skólavörðustígur

Don't be afraid of public displays of affection

Don’t be afraid to knúsast (embrace each other)

Public displays of affection between LGBTQ+ couples are not usually frowned upon, and are actually very common in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Holding your partner’s hand whilst walking down Skólavörðustígur- that rainbow painted street near Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrimskirkja- makes for a great photo opportunity by the way! The town of Seyðisfjörður, located in the East Fjords about 8 hours from Reykjavik, is also home to its own painted rainbow road. Seyðisfjörður, located at the tip of the fjord of the same name, is regarded as one of Iceland’s most picturesque settlements, and its Regnboga Vegur is one of its most popular tourist attractions. 

Show your Pride!

Iceland’s main Pride festival is held in the capital during August when the sunlight seems to last all day and there is more chance of drier and milder weather. It’s important to remember though that the weather here is changeable all year round, and any trip to Iceland requires warm and waterproof clothing regardless of the month. Many a tourist has been caught off guard when a sunny summer day suddenly turns to rain that hits you sideways, and wind that leaves you breathless. Reykjavik Pride is held rain or shine, although in 2020, like many other in-person Pride events, it, unfortunately, was canceled due to the coronavirus. This year’s events have been tentatively scheduled for August 3- 8th, and with increasing vaccination rates worldwide, there is cautious optimism that it will go ahead this year. 

Queer days

Pride is known locally as Hinsegin Dagar, which literally translates to ‘Queer Days’. The festival includes everything from LGBTQ+ themed movies, concerts, and drag shows, to more serious forums on school safety and racial equality within the queer movement. In recent years there have been a number of specifically trans-themed events, and hopefully this programming continues to expand. For many, the highlight of the festival is the parade in downtown Reykjavik on Saturday, an event that frequently draws crowds of up to 100,000. With Iceland´s total population equalling around 370,000  that’s quite a phenomenal display of support for the LGBTQ+ community!

Many of the festival events are super family-friendly – and you will see lots of queer families and children participating in the fun. In the past, there has also been a special Rainbow festival at the Reykjavik Park and Zoo- giving LGBTQ+ families an opportunity to meet each other while visiting this well-loved local attraction. 

More LGBTQ+ friendly times

In recent years Pride festivals have also taken place in smaller towns all over the country, and don’t be surprised if you see rainbow flags, or even small parades, in the remotest of Icelandic towns. Pride isn’t just for the summer either- the Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Festival is a February/March event hosted by the folks at Pink Iceland. It offers an opportunity for a long weekend of city walks, parties, and drag shows along with out-of-town excursions soaking at the Blue Lagoon or hunting for the Northern Lights. Reykjavik Bear, formally known as Bears on Ice, brings Bears and Bear-attracted men from all around the world together for a fun-filled weekend in the early autumn. This year it’s penciled in for September 2-5.

LGBTQ+ visitors are welcome anywhere

LGBTQ+ visitors will be welcomed anywhere and it’s not necessary to seek out exclusively queer bars, clubs, or hotels in order to be your authentic self. Reykjavik does have some really great queer venues though- the world-famous Kiki Bar is located on Laugavegur. At Cafe Babalú, on Skólavörðustígur, you can enjoy American refreshments and good people´ until 11 pm every night. If you are looking for live music, poetry and drag shows Gaukurinn on Tryggvagata is your place to be! This queer-friendly venue also serves some of the best vegan food in Reykjavík! Outside of the capital area, there are no LGBTQ+ bars or clubs, although queer-focused events are frequently held in libraries, coffee shops, and art galleries. 

Connect with LGBTQ+ locals

In recent years LGBTQ+ organizations are forming in all corners of the country, although the National Queer Organization ( Samtökin 78) is very well known and respected countrywide. S’78, and its various affinity groups including Trans Ísland for transgender folk, also provides trainings to employers, schools and hospitals etc. S’78 also hosts a number of open houses and events in Reykjavík that always welcome tourists- and they are typically announced via the Organization’s Facebook page.  If you want to meet local queer women, the Hinsegin Ladies Group also holds (monthly) social events that every woman-loving woman is welcome to attend- even those visiting for just a few days. 

What are you curious about?

There is much more that can be said about visiting Iceland as an LGBTQ+ tourist but we hope that this has sparked your curiosity about paying us a visit! Let us know what you are interested in learning more about, and what information we can share about queer life here. We look forward to welcoming you soon!  We recommend your first stop to be our introduction to Iceland walking tour, called a Walk With a Viking. 

Rainbow road leading up to Hallgrimskirkja Church
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