Over Easter I traveled out of the country for the first time in six years (I know, embarrassing, right?) I am so grateful to have an adventurous friend in Abby Laughery, who has traveled the globe to more countries than I can count. We flew from JFK to KEF on Icelandair‘s red eye (a quick 4 1/2 hours!) with no expectations, only a rough outline of an itinerary and some great friends to laugh, drink and explore with.
Ok… so I know you’re all dying to know…What are the signature food and drink in Iceland? It is not rare to see Icelanders ordering whale, puffin or lamb at dinner. If you’re brave enough you can even eat fermented shark! Iceland’s signature distilled beverage is called Brennivín, also known as The Black Death due to its 80 proof.
Here’s the lowdown on where to EAT (& DRINK), SLEEP and PLAY in Iceland
Grái Kötturinn, translated to “The Gray Cat,” is a favorite of Björk. The pancakes are super thick. Be sure to order The Truck.
Tiu Dropar offers a little bit of everything (waffles, yogurt, eggs, pastries…) . If you’re looking for the cafe at night you’ll discover Le Chateau des Dix Gouttes, a spot serving wine, cheese and other goodies.
To get the full Icelandic experience make sure you spend an evening at Tapas, where you can enjoy a tasting of many foods. Make sure to order the “Icelandic Gourmet” and “A Journey into the Unknown.” While Tapas was expensive, it was well worth it for the amount of food and the types of food we we’re able to try,
Steikhúsið, or Steak House, has the best beef tenderloin I’ve ever had. They also offer an extensive wine list on an iPad.
Saegreifinn, or Sea Barron, offers authentic seafood right next to the harbor in a casual setting. Be prepared to share a bench with other patrons. Saegreifinn in the least expensive restaurant we visited for dinner on our trip.
Kex Hostel is first and foremost a hostel, but it also has an incredible restaurant with a full bar and live music. The venue offers a really relaxed vibe and beers are served in mason jars. It’s a great spot to check out for a chill night.
The English Pub has live music every night and local beers on tap. Be sure to take a spin on the wheel of fortune where you can win (or lose) free drinks.
Loftið, or The Loft, is a classy speakeasy type bar. They make excellent cocktails and it’s a easy place to have good conversation.
B5 is the go to if you like the club scene and want to get your groove on. Be prepared wait in line to get in and a thick crowd once inside.
Lebowski Bar is my personal favorite. The bar is modeled after the movie “The Big Lebowski” (if you haven’t seen it, rent it today!) They have an extensive list of White Russian variations (the drink “The Dude” makes in the film), a full food menu and excellent music (if I do say so myself.) The chairs clear out in the later hours and the dance floor stays open until the wee hours of the morning.
We rented an apartment from airbnb for our trip. This specific apartment was the perfect location for us. It was at the edge of Laugavegur, the main shopping street, so it was accessible and allowed us to get plenty of sleep. Airbnb is a great option if you’re interested in having your own space and the ability to make meals at home.
Hotel Borg is right in the center of town on the square. It’s also a popular spot for Björk.
Ocean Comfort Apartments are at the edge of the center of town, between the square and the harbor. The apartments are new, on a quiet street and they are just down the street from many bars and restauarants.
FossHotel is a chain in Iceland that offers a few locations in Reykjavik, including one walking distance to the major shops, bars and restaurants.
The Blue Lagoon is the most touristy spot near Reykjavik but if you can handle the crowds it is well worth it. You should also be prepared to spend a good chunk of change. The natural geothermal spa is incredible to experience — the lava rock, the silica, the process to ‘cool’ the water (it is naturally warm year round.) We opted for the comfort package which provided us with a bathrobe, a towel, a mud mask and a drink at the bar.
The Golden Circle is the defining landscape of Iceland. You can see Iceland’s stunning landscape by renting a car or by taking a day trip on a tour bus. We opted for the Reykjavik Excursions afternoon tour to see the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss, a powerful waterfall, as well as Thingvellir National Park (truly remarkable.)
The Icelandic Horses are an animal to be ridden. The Icelandic Horse has a fourth gait (most horses have three gaits) called a tölt. The tölt is a very smooth ride and also fascinating, as the horse only has one foot on the ground at time. Abby and I took a tour through the lava fields with Íslenski Hesturinn. The guides love their horses and love sharing their knowledge with tourists from around the world. They’ve even won awards of excellence from Trip Advisor (you may find my review there too!)
A few notes:
-If you want to pick up groceries for your apartment check out the local supermarket fondly named Bonus. You can find them all over town.
-Spend an afternoon window shopping along Laugavegur.
-Don’t miss a chance to take the elevator to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church for the incredible 360 view of Reykjavik.
-If your goal is to see the Northern Lights the best time to go is between November and early April. The colder and clearer the weather, the better the chance of seeing the lights.
-It rains quite a bit so be sure to bring rain gear. They say if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait 10 minutes. It really is true!
Planning a trip to Iceland? I’d love to hear about your itinerary! Comment below.