Bears on Ice: A life changing experience

Bears on Ice (BOI) kicks off today with a record-breaking number of 200 gay men travelling to Iceland to take part in the annual men only festival. Among them are Shaun Shaffer from Seattle and Anthony Jackson from Florida who’ve been to it on several occasions and are super excited about attending the event which is taking place for the 13th time. GayIceland caught up with the two and asked what it is that keeps bringing them back for more.

Shaun Shaffer teaches web development for a software company (Ingeniux) in Seattle. There he organizes a bear group (XL Bears), does drag with a group of friends (Glitterbeast), and a few other things.  And now he’s attending Bears on Ice.

Shaun: “Well, Iceland is just so amazing. The country, the people, especially Frosti (i.e. Frosti Jónsson, the main organizer of Bears on Ice). I’ve made so many personal connections and life long friends at Bears on Ice. It’s the best bear event I’ve attended.”

Anthony: “Yeah, its everything. Nature first and foremost. The northern lights. And the people, they’re just so vibrant and friendly. I only go to one bear event and a bear bust in Orlando every year. Bears on Ice is just on a whole other level.”

Anthony has been coming to Bears on Ice every year since 2012 and says it initially blew his mind. “To tell you the truth I wasn’t expecting much, so I was very surprised by how awesome the parties and excursions were and how friendly the bears are – the culture is way different from the American bear events I’ve been to. Frosti also surprised me; he was so attentive to everyone and made sure that the festival was both fun and a learning experience at the same time.”

Shaun, who has been to Bears on Ice six times already – seven if you count this year, agrees. “I have to admit that the main reason I attended the first time, which was back in 2009, was because a friend I met up with in Iceland earlier that year convinced me to come back for the festival. Having previously been to many bear events, I really wasn’t prepared for how much love I’d experience at Bears on Ice. Frosti really put an effort into introducing the country and the culture to everyone. With that I fell even further in love with Iceland. It was life changing!”

“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Icelandic LGBTQIAP community blossom over the years. I’ll say it was quite different and shy in 2010, compared to what it is today.”

In fact Shaun says that he liked the concept behind Bears on Ice so much that not only does he attend the festival as often as he can, he also decided to use it as model for a bear event he set up in Seattle. “Yes, I designed my own event based XL Bears on the flow that Frosti set up: “Make friends; experience local flavors, culture and art; get out and see sights, then also party and have fun.” This pattern has spread to many other events around the world, because it’s very engrossing.”

Talking about other bear festivals, is it our imagination or is the bear scene growing – internationally? “It’s more normalized now,” says Shaun. “I mean it’s always been huge, we were just more isolated. We are getting bigger though as bears feel more accepted, it’s easier for them to accept others. Social media are showing everyone what we are up to. They should be jealous. We know how to party, love and generally take advantage of what life has to offer.”

Anthony Jackson, on the right and his partner, Joseph Robles on one of their trips to Iceland. The pair live in Florida but Anthony is originally from New Jersey. He’s a freelance graphic artist and dance music artist and has even made a track with Frosti a.k.a. Bistro Boy called Loving Life.

“I find that the bear scene is actually much larger in Europe than in the U.S.,” Anthony points out. “It’s all very inclusive and I feel good about going to events. Of course you’re always going to get some bad apples – but that’s no reason not to enjoy yourself!”

From what you’re saying it sounds like the bear scene is very friendly and open – and maybe “less bitchy” (in dramatic terms) than the overall gay scene can sometimes be?

Shaun: “Well, I think it’s becoming more inclusive. Definitely more inclusive than the gay community as a whole. But we still have a lot of work to do. Especially in helping minorities and people with differing gender identities feel welcome.”

What about the Icelandic bear scene, what do you think about it? For example, do you think it’s growing as well?

Anthony nods. “Yes. And getting better.”

Shaun: “It’s grown in popularity, for sure and I love that more and more locals are pitching in to help organize the event. The best thing is that despite more popularity it has remained true to its roots. Actually that’s something I like about Iceland in general. How it has managed to stay true to itself. For example by not letting tourism change its identity. Icelanders stand up for themselves, which is something I experienced first hand when I took part in the protests here and for that I’m really proud of them.”

“The bear scene is more normalized now. I mean it’s always been huge, we were just more isolated. We are getting bigger though as bears feel more accepted, it’s easier for them to accept others.”

On that note, what do you think of the Icelandic queer community?

Shaun: “I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Icelandic LGBTQIAP community blossom over the years. I’ll say it was quite different and shy in 2010, compared to what it is today. Personally I do think it’s a little sad that queer spaces have had trouble staying queer in Iceland, because sometimes it’s good to have a queer escape, but I guess this development is a product of acceptance and normalization.”

Anthony: “Can I be honest? I don’t get a whiff of racism in Iceland. It’s so refreshing. I can be me and no one judges me. Epic!”

Bears on Ice is full of exciting events, including a trip to the Blue Lagoon. Photo/Páll Guðjónsson, courtesy of Bears on Ice.

Going back to Bears on Ice, it officially starts tonight with a greet and meet part and then its going to be packed with all kinds of events; parties, a Golden circle tour, a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a brunch and a main party with top-notch performances. What are your plans for this year’s festival? 

Shaun: “I’m bringing friends over and I’m excited to watch them enjoy the festival. I know I’ll get a chance to meet a lot of amazing new people and reconnect with old friends.”

Anthony: “I’m going do what I always do. See friends, drink and dance. See Frosti and Palli (i.e. Páll Guðjónsson, Frosti’s partner). They are like family to me and my partner Joe. Iceland itself feels like a second home that I always look forward to going back to.”

And after that?

Anthony: “After Bears of Ice I plan to go with two friends who are from Nashville to a bear event in Sitges, Spain, for a week. It will be my first time there. From there we’re going on a days trip to Lyon in France and then to Glasgow in Scotland for four days. Friends in Glasgow invited us to come visit and in Lyon we will be meeting my best friend from childhood, Luis, who I haven’t seen for 20 years. I’m very excited about all this.”

Shaun: “I’ll be hitting many other festivals and throwing some of my own in Seattle with the XL Bears.”

Wow, it really sounds like you guys are having fun all the time! “No, no, of course it’s not always fun and games,” says Shaun and laughs. “My group in Seattle does a lot for the community: fundraising and marching for causes. But we find the fun in those things too, most of the time. Sure, there can be drama as well, but where isn’t there drama?!”

Check out the program for Bears on Ice. And their shop.

Main photo: Páll Guðjónsson, courtesy of Bears on Ice.

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.


Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.


    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.



        Nasdaq (Nasdaq: NDAQ) is a global technology company serving the capital markets and other industries. Our diverse offering of data, analytics, software and services enables clients to optimize and execute their business vision with confidence.

        With over 4,300 employees in 39 offices around the world, at Nasdaq we all contribute to the success of the company and its culture, and each one of us has the ability to make a difference. When it comes to our core mission and values, we embrace the role of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) as a fundamental driver of our corporate growth, workplace culture and market development. We strive to create a culture that embraces the power of different perspectives—a culture where people’s unique backgrounds and different experiences helps us fuel innovation and support our clients around the world.

        Our unique position at the center of the capital markets allows us to see firsthand how these values have redefined corporate culture and success, deepening and accelerating our own commitment to champion inclusive growth and prosperity, as we strive to create more equitable opportunities to help people of all backgrounds reach their full potential. Most notably, we published our diversity statistics for the first time in 2020. These metrics serve as a quantitative assessment of where we are today and help determine what strategies we need to adopt to enhance diversity in the workplace. We recognize that we have much work to do, but we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture—one that reflects the communities in which we live, allows all employees to be their true, authentic selves and fosters individual growth and achievement.

        As we move forward together, we will continue advancing diverse ideas and perspectives that help fulfill the promise of a more inclusive and prosperous world. We aim to set the pace for rethinking capital markets and economies anywhere and everywhere. To learn more about the company, technology solutions and career opportunities, visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @Nasdaq, or at

        Blue Lagoon
        - One of the 25 Wonders of the World

        Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater
        comes from 2.000 meters within the earth where seawater and freshwater converge in a tectonic realm of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals—the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

        From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing two hotels, three restaurants, three
        geothermal lagoons, a subterranean spa, a renowned line of skin care, a thriving research center, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

        Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

        The Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

        Whales of Iceland
        - larger than life

        Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

        - leading financial institution

        Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

        The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

        Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

        The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

        Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

        Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

        It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

        Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

        Aurora Reykjavik
        - northern lights center

          Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

          Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

          The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

          Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

          Contact Aurora

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            - get inspired

            Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

            Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

            More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

            VSÓ Ráðgjöf


              VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

              - for all your Apple needs

              From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

              Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
              For all your Apple needs. We are here.

              Ísey skyr
              - once tasted never forgotten

              Our Story
              Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

              For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

              Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
              This is our secret and you are in on it

              You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

              - noodle bar

              Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

              All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
              We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
              Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

              Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

              - adventure cruise

              Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
              and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

              The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.


              This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.


              The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

              Birds, possible to spot:
              -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
              -eider ducks
              -white-tailed eagle

              The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
              Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

              Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

              Contact Us

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