To celebrate the arrival of 2018 in my all-time favourite spot to see in the new year, I just spent a few days in Reykjavík. This was my third visit to the world’s northernmost capital and despite the eye-watering prices and the bitingly-cold winter winds, I fall in love more with Iceland with every single visit.
There is something so invigorating and simultaneously calming about the huge pastel-coloured skies, snow-capped mountain ranges, dramatic geysirs and epic waterfalls. Furthermore, Reykjavík is a progressive, friendly, safe and artsy city. Teeny but teeming with fun places to eat, drink and explore. It wasn’t all fermented shark meat and raw puffin hearts on the menu either. PHEW. I was massively impressed by the vegan options and found eating veg here to be a doddle. An expensive doddle, but a doddle nonetheless.
Here’s where I ate:
Location: Hverfisgata 76, 101 Reykjavík
Price: 5,000 kronor for two sandwiches + tip
Good for: Beautiful food, lots of tap water, brilliant soundtrack, friendly staff, laid-back.
Bad for: I can’t fault Kaffi Vínyl at all.
Our first meal in Reykjavík and my goodness it was delicious. We each ordered a garlic toasted ciabatta with fried mushrooms, guac, balsamic glaze, parmesan and oumph. It came with a nutty little salad which was also very welcome. It was our first time trying Oumph but certainly not our last – chewy and tender and so lovely amongst the other flavours and textures in the sandwich. This was a really decent serving and I enjoyed every single bite. The café itself is so charming: really cosy and bright with -naturally- fantastic and eclectic records playing in the background. If I had the time and the money I would return until I had tried everything on the menu. If you have limited funds for eating out during your time in Reykjavík I’d put Kaffi Vínyl very high up on your list.
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Location: Vitastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Price: 1,500 kronor for two cones of chips’n’sauce
Good for: The most perfectly cooked chips. The most delicious sauces. So friendly.
Bad for: Nothing. It’s flawless.
Even though the lunch at Vinyl Café was enough to feed any person we decided that after the exertion of flying we could do with a second lunch. And so to Reykjavík Chips. What a genius concept and execution. You choose your chips and then the sauce you want them topped with. An extraordinarily friendly dude served us and we listened to hip-hop whilst we waited and ate. I cannot stress enough how brilliant this place is. My perfectly-cooked cone of chips were topped with a vegan-friendly creamy cashew satay sauce and let me tell you: it was perfect. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this place to you. Especially if you’re on a budget. Or hungover. Or in the market for a second lunch. I tried to go back so I could try the chips with the vegan mayo and it was closed (it was New Years Day) and I nearly fell to my knees and wailed. It really is a gem of a place.
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Location: Laugavegur 20b, 101 Reykjavík
Price: 1290 for one serving of soup.
Good for: Healthy and tasty food.
Bad for: Service wasn’t the friendliest. Tiny bit of a wait.
There are several locations of Gló across Reykjavík but this is right on the main shopping drag and has clean and cosy interior design. The menu features lots of local and organic produce including raw food, chicken, a vegetarian dish, and soup of the day, along with coffee, tea and deserts. I worked out that a single serving of lasagne was about £22 and baulked before ordering the soup and whilst it was a fairly small portion it really was a delicious and nourishing meal. The staff weren’t especially friendly and I did think it weird that there was no music playing at all – the silence was oddly jarring – but this was healthy and very tasty food.
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Location: Lækjargata 8, Reykjavík, 101. There’s also one on Hverfisgata.
Price: 6,580 for two Thalis.
Good for: Great service, lovely décor, beautiful food.
Bad for: Nothing. I loved it here.
This beautiful and friendly Indian Street Food-style restaurant was such a joy. Thalis cost 3.090 kronor each and mine came with: Aloo Gobi Mattar (potatoes and cauliflower), Channa Masala (a chickpea curry), Onion Pakoras, Aloo Bondas (spicy potato balls), rice and mango chutney. The menu was clearly marked and the lady who served me was also vegan so knew what I could eat. Also, vegans rejoice! Every month Hraðlestin’s chefs create three new vegan courses which are on offer on their Vegan Wednesdays. I really loved this meal and would recommend it especially if you’re with non-veggies.
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Pizza Place With No Name/ Hverfisgata 12
Location: Hverfisgata 12, Reykjavik 101, Iceland
Price: 10,400 for two pizzas a beer and a cocktail
Good for: Cosy spot, amazing staff, great music.
Bad for: My pizza could have done with more cashew cheese.
This “secret” restaurant – that’s not so secret – has a bit of a speakeasy feel. It’s really dark and they make mean cocktails, including my favourite: “Bjork the Queen”. They also serve pizzas with unusual toppings and one my first visit since going vegan I was pleased to see they had a pizza I could eat. Topped with tomato sauce, baked rutabaga, caramelized onion, cashew “cheese”, dates, walnuts, and a rocket salad it was lovely but a little odd. There wasn’t enough cashew cheese for my liking and I loved every topping except for the rutabaga, which I had to google (it’s a swede. A swede in Iceland!) as it didn’t work in this context for me. The staff were extraordinarily friendly, and hip, and the music at Hverfisgata 12 was perfect. A fun stop and I found the pizza was perfectly filling.
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C is for Cookie
Location: Tysgata 8, Reykjavik 101, Iceland
Price: 530 kronor for one flapjack
Good for: Cute little place with friendly service and lovely baked goods.
Bad for: Nothing.
After my soup at Gló I felt like I needed a little extra treat so grabbed a slice of flapjack here and took it to go. They had other vegan-friendly baked goods for sale and often have vegan soups, bread and dairy-free milk for coffee and tea. C is for Cookie is a cosy place to escape the cold.
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Every time we’ve been to Reykjavík we’ve spent one of our days going on an excursion to the Icelandic countryside and we take a picnic lunch to cut down on costs. This year we stocked up on goodies at a big Netto out by the Saga Museum. I was thrilled to find: Oatly chocolate milk, loads of vegan-friendly chocolate bars, bread rolls, a Philadelphia-style Oatly soft cheese for sale. I also took cashew nuts and other snacks from home so had plenty to eat. Netto sold loads of different cheeses, fresh veggies, pasta, bread and faux-meats too so for those self-catering there would be loads of choice. There was also a Bonus and other big supermarkets there too.
The only dud note that was hit during our trip was our New Year’s Eve dinner at Kex Hostel. We’d been to Kex, a hip hostel in an old biscuit factory, before for drinks and had the New Year’s buffet there prior to me going vegan. This time we checked with them in advance if they could cater for vegans and re-confirmed that I was vegan a few days before we set off for Iceland. However, when I arrived… nope. There was no vegan meal. I talked to the chef who was lovely and very apologetic than no one had told him to expect me. Rather than heading off to try and find a restaurant with a table – by this point it was pretty late – I ate the salad and veggies that were available. I have no idea if everything I ate was vegan (I picked the goat’s cheese off the salad for example…) and there was no dessert that I could eat but, in fairness to them, Kex refunded my meal and offered a free drink too.
For a small city, Reykjavík is a heckuva lotta fun. They have the Reykjavík rúntur after all – a weekend pub crawl mostly on and around Laugavegur Street. Whilst our bank balance and stamina couldn’t stretch to a rúntur we loved having fancy (happy hour) cocktails at Slippbarinn. A bit of a dive-bar/pub and we mean that in the nicest way, we adored hanging out in Ölstofan drinking beers and whisky and admiring the wall crammed with cross-stitch art. I was beyond delighted that Lebowski Bar (a Big Lebowski-themed bar and diner, yeah you read that right) served ‘The Tree Hugger’: a White Russian made with Soya Milk and hazelnut syrup which was delicious.
Kaffibarrin, co-owned by Blur’s very own Damon Albarn, is a candelit, cosy and chill place to have a couple of drinks. Microbar and Skuli are both great for craft beer aficionados. As is Mikkeller & Friends which has a kinda circus/carnival theme, plays great music and serves incredible beers.
The first two times we’ve been to Reykjavík we’ve stayed at Icelandair Hotels Reykjavik Marina. Located by the harbour district and home to cute rooms and the Slipbarrin cocktail bar, it’s a lovely place to stay. Rooms start at around £150 a night and include breakfast at the really nice buffet. Friendly, clean, and although we found it a bit noisy in the past, I would stay here again.
This time around we fancied a change of scenery so opted to stay at the Skuggi Hotel on Hverfisgata. The décor is very monochrome and understated and I liked the inspiring quotes from Ragnar Axelsson, an Icelandic photographer, on the walls. Our room was quiet, our bed was super comfy, the shower was hot although eggy-smelling (the showers in Iceland smell of sulphur due to being geothermally heated, don’t worry!) the staff were brilliant and the breakfast buffet was decent. For £275 a night for a Superior Room it was expensive (as are all Reykjavik hotels), but lovely.
There is seemingly no end of fun things to do in Reykjavík and beyond, and this is everything we’ve got up to over three visits. We’re yet to go on a Whale Watching tour or on an expedition to see the Northern Lights but they’re obviously very popular too.
Golden Circle tour: this includes the Geysir geothermal area, the extraordinary Gullfoss waterfall, and the UNESCO site Þingvellir National Park. At Geysir there’s the active Strokkur geysir which shoots up a column of water up to 30 metres into the air every few minutes. It’s so dramatic and fun. The landscape has an otherworldly-feel: with little bubbling pools and rising steam, also there was a jaw-droppingly beautiful Super Moon during our visit. Gullfoss is three-step waterfall, part of the glacial river Hvítá which falls into a 62-metre deep canyon. On this trip we saw it by moonlight and it was unforgettable. Oh and Þingvellir National Park is geologically and historically significant, being home to the location of the oldest parliament in the world, Alþingi, and the only place where you can see the Mid-Atlantic ridge above ground. We’ve travelled on Golden Circle tours with both Reykjavik Excursions and Grayline who pick you up and drop you off near your hotel, drive you around all the sights and tell you about Icelandic history and geology during the day. It costs around £95 each, lasts the whole day and I can’t recommend it enough. Especially during the winter when doing a self-guided tour and driving in extreme weather conditions might be a bit hair-raising.
South Iceland tour: On our last trip to Iceland we took in the striking Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, the Solheimajokull glacier and the black sand beach of Reynisfjara with its magnificent basalt column cliffs and stunning sea stacks. We also dropped by the Skogar Folk Museum: home to artefacts dating back to the viking age and the very charming rebuilt turf houses. They also had a cabinet of old mobile phones which included the Nokia that my Mum still uses! Ha. A wonderful day trip, not least as we got to stop and say hi to some friendly-ish Icelandic Horses. Yasssss.
Blue Lagoon: Yes it’s touristy, yes it’s busy, yes it’s expensive but it’s also a lot of fun and a really unique and beautiful experience. I loved wallowing in the silky waters, applying loads of the Silica Mud Mask onto my face and wading up to the Lagoon Bar for a booze drink. I went right after I arrived at Keflavík airport on my first visit to Iceland and it was a great way to kick off my trip. The contrast between the freezing winter air/floor and the soothing hot waters never gets old. One tip is to use plenty of conditioner after your Blue Lagoon session as the water can make your hair dry.
Fontana Spa: Located 80km from Reykjavík, we visited Laugarvatn Fontana as part of a Golden Circle excursion on this most recent trip. It’s an invigorating spa where you can enjoy geothermal water; soak in a natural pool, sweat in a sauna or if you’re feeling especially brave take a dip in Lake Laugarvatn, which is beautiful and also seriously flipping cold. When we ventured into the lake this year we were joined by British A-lister Benedict Cumberbatch! Who it’s rumoured has gone vegan?! Anyway, it’s a chill place to hang out and much less busy than the Blue Lagoon. The hot water and springs have been used for cooking, geothermal house heating and healing steam bathing since 1929. Be aware you have to take a naked shower before enjoying the spa. Which is awkward for some of us Brits, right? But it’s fine, honest.
Hallgrímskirkja Church: with its stepped concrete façade – an ode to modernism and a reminder of the Icelandic landscape – you can see this stunning landmark from across the city. Hallgrímskirkja is one of the most visited places by tourists in Iceland and is beautiful to look at from the ground and has breathtaking views from the top. It’s also a great spot to watch the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Admission to the church is free. Admission to the tower is 900 kronor.
Lake Tjornin: Every single time I’ve visited Reykjavík I’ve made sure I got to this city-centre lake, and have taken bread from the hotel buffet or bought it at a supermarket, to feed the swans, geese and ducks who hang out here. The lake has been frozen over every time I’ve been there and people have been walking and playing on it but I’m waaay too much of a wuss to do the same!
Harpa: The stunning concert hall has a distinctive coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It’s great to look at and has some really nice gift shops (they are mighty expensive though) inside as well as concerts and guided tours. Harpa‘s location on the waterfront also offers views of snow-capped mountains and seabirds.
Sun Voyager: Also on the seafront, located on Sæbraut, is the Sun Voyager. Created by Jón Gunnar Árnason it’s described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. It’s lovely.
Icelandic Phallological Museum: Much less cerebral is Iceland’s very own Penis Museum. Yep. We quite literally went there! Home to one of the world’s largest displays of penises, well, it’s an oddity. But I have a thing for weird museums – I’ve loved going to the Mustard Museum, the Museum of Bad Art and the Museum of Broken Relationships on my travels around the world – so I couldn’t say no to this really. Displays include a penis-shaped telephone as well as specimens belonging to forty-six different kinds of mammal, including that of Homo sapiens. It’s a bit pricey at 1500 kronor a visit, whereas you can see the organ in Hallgrímskirkja Church for free! Lads, lads, lads!
Whales of Iceland: The exhibition features 23 life-size models of whales which hang from the ceiling with an engaging guided audio tour where we learnt everything there is to know about these giants of the sea. This charming exhibition isn’t cheap – at £25 each – but was so fascinating and adorable. Where else would I find out that Minke Whales make noises that sound very much like something out of Starwars?! If you were travelling with a whales-fan of any age it would be well worth a visit.
The Settlement Exhibition – Landnámssýningin: The museum is based on a 2001 excavation of the area where archaeologist discovered the oldest evidence of Icelandic settlement, dating from 871, plus or minus 2 years, and deals with the settlement of Reykjavik. I wasn’t that fussed about archaeology but this was genuinely fascinating and helped to shape my view of how people lived in Iceland hundreds of years ago.
Saga Museum: The Sögusafnið is where Iceland’s history comes alive. The museum uses life-like replicas of historical figures depicting Iceland’s history. It’s a teeny bit dorky but lots of fun and another experience which helps to nuture your knowledge of Icelandic culture and history.
On the latest trip we didn’t spot the Northern Lights, but on a previous visit upon stumbling out of a dive bar in Reykjavík we did look up and spot the dancing lights. Fingers crossed you see them if you go looking for them too, as they are very special indeed. Talking of special, I continue to be amazed by the winter daylight hours. The sun rises at about 11.30am, hangs heavy and low in the sky and then starts to descend again from about 3.30pm. The sunrises and sunsets can be SPECTACULAR. And obviously, in the summer they have midnight sunshine. Another way in which Iceland is totally mystical and out-of-this-world. We are desperately keen to save up enough money so we can drive around the ring road one summer. Until then if you get the chance to visit Iceland I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s magical.
If you’re thinking about a trip and have any questions about Iceland or Reykjavík – do leave a comment below and I’ll try and help if I can.