Thursday, August 28, 2014

City Guide: Reykjavik

The Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik
A view over the city toward the port
Icelandic architecture
We had long wanted to travel to Iceland, especially their capitol city of Reykjavik, and suddenly everyone seems to be talking about the tiny Nordic Country. Fortunately, we were finally able to visit not long ago, and we are officially obsessed. Iceland is an easy flight from the East Coast, or many other European destinations, and is very tourist friendly, especially for English speakers as everyone there speaks the language. It is also a very compact, walkable city, and much can be accomplished in a short trip. These are some of our favorite places to check out in (or close to) Reykjavik:

To Fly

Icelandair has fantastic service, especially for what is essentially a budget airline. They have great loyalty rewards, if you are so inclined, and their Stopover option is the perfect way to go if you are planning on more than one destination during your trip (read about that here). 

To Eat

Some of the offerings at Sandholt
The front of Litli Bondabaerinn
Kopar: This was our favorite place for a nicer dinner. The crowd was very chic, the decor was rustic yet elegant, and it all felt very Icelandic. The menu was a delicious mix of local and imported ingredients, using traditional meats and fish.

Sea Baron: This place is fun and was highly recommended by locals, so the crowd is a mix of Icelanders and tourists. It's kind of a dive, and is counter service, but they have really fresh seafood (including Minke whale, in filet or tasting sizes) on kebabs. You pick your preferred fish out of the fridge and they grill it for you; they have soup and beer as well.

Sjavarbaron: This small, authentic seafood restaurant is part of a cute row of restaurants and cafés by the water, and has a more complete menu than the Sea Baron - i.e. many side dish options. Most people we encountered there were locals and it's very low key, perfect for a quiet night out.

Sandholt: This is listed as the best bakery in Reykjavik by the English language paper, and many foodie lists. Everything was delicious, and we loved the heavy doses of cinnamon and pistachio in the pastries we tried, but this felt like the most touristy place we visited.

Litli Bondabaerinn: This coffee shop is co-owned by a British expat. It serves excellent coffee and they have baked goods - all organic and with gluten-free options.  

The entrance to Dillon
Dillon - This whiskey bar is a fun scene, with live rock music or DJs, and a garden that opens in the summertime.

Grillmarkadurinn - This is a fabulous restaurant and bar, but we would recommend it as much for the scene as the food.  Definitely stay for dinner at the chef's counter if you are so inclined, but this is a perfect spot to start or end the evening with a cocktail or two.

Dolly - This club was recommended to us by locals, and it's a fun party spot for a big night out, conveniently located on a street with many of the busiest bars in town.  They seem to primarily be occupied on the weekends, though, Reykjavik doesn't have a nonstop nightlife scene by any means.


The National Museum of Iceland: This museum is a great first stop upon arrival to Reykjavik, with a fun permanent exhibit that helps you learn about the history of Iceland, and how its settlers learned to adapt to the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions.

Aurora Reykjavik: There is no guarantee you'll get to see the Northern Lights during an Icelandic visit, even in wintertime.  This little museum and gallery is the next best thing.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum: This was one of the oddest museums we had ever heard of, so of course we had to check it out.  Opening the tiny museum, devoted to the male anatomy, was a dream of the owner's, and he has filled it with interesting artifacts and anecdotes - there is also a gift shop.

Viking World: This is between Reykjavik and the international airport, but we were there at the word 'viking'.  This museum has examples of viking ships, settlements, and weaponry.


Don't try to buy any of these items in Iceland!
Shopping is pricey in Reykjavik, and much of what's available is the same from store to store.  However, the government regulates prices, so you don't have to worry that that ski jacket you loved was less expensive in town than at the Blue Lagoon gift shop. Our favorite brands there were 66 North for amazing, durable, and lightweight winter wear, and Farmer's Market for cozy sweaters and chic scarves. 

To Stay

Hotel Holt: This boutique hotel is family owned, and boasts both an extensive art collection and well regarded restaurant.
Radisson Blu Saga Hotel: If you prefer a larger/chain hotel, this is an excellent choice. It is ideally located near the port, and has a very cute lobby and downstairs bar.

Spa Trips
The Blue Lagoon
Fontana: This hot springs center is adjacent to a large lake, which it sources the water from to fill their several pools of varying temperatures. They also have saunas, and a café that serves cured lake trout and black bread baked in the warm sand.

The Blue Lagoon: No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon, an artificial lake between the main airport and Reykjavik. We highly recommend dedicating a full day to the Lagoon, where you can relax on the indoor sun deck, soak in the water, get spa treatments, enjoy lunch, or do a bit of shopping.

Farther Afield

Arctic Adventures: This is the best service for any active day trips you may want to venture on outside of the city. No matter what you want to do, they have you covered!


Be sure to check out Reykjavik's local English language newspaper, The Grapevine, for special events and more information about what's current in the city.

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