Pete and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in Iceland this summer. Our visit was almost scuppered by Bárðarbunga, an Icelandic volcano that chose the time of our visit to get a little fractious. Luckily, no flights were cancelled, and although Bárðarbunga did let loose its lava during our holiday, its tantrum had very little impact on our tour.
Late summer in Iceland means long, long days most of which were light and sunny, but Reykjavik was drizzly for most of our time there.
Reykjavik still holds on to a reputation as party central, but as far as we could tell, that seems to have calmed down a great deal since the 1990s heyday. What we enjoyed was a relaxed but funky city with just enough to keep us occupied for a couple of days, provided we liberally interrupted our sightseeing with coffee and cake breaks. We loved being within the centre, which was a pleasure to meander around. The colourful houses in the Mioborg area are home to a surprisingly high number of trendy coffee shops and restaurants. I particularly loved coming across the vibrant and artistic graffiti we spotted around town.
We found the Harpa Concert Hall as captivating as most visitors and whiled away a few rainy hours taking photographs inside.
Hallgrímskirkja, a modern Lutheran church designed in 1937 and constructed between 1945 and 1986, is also impressive, though we paid a shorter visit. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson is thought to have been inspired by the basalt lava formations found across Iceland, and once we’d seen some of these for ourselves, that inspiration fell into place.
We stayed two nights in Center Hotel Þingholt (written in English as Thingholt – that’s a Þ not a P!) The hotel sits along the walking route between Hallgrímskirkja and Harpa – an excellent location in Mioborg, Reykjavik – and we really appreciated our very modern room, though the concrete, leather and glass design won’t suit everyone. The hotel had a trendy bar area and restaurant, though we only ate breakfast there, a perfectly decent buffet offering. Find out more on where to stay in Reykjavik.
Thanks to recommendations from Iheartreykjavik, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at Grillmarkadurinn. It’s name translates to Grill Market and owners Hrefna Rósa Sætran and Guðlaugur P. Frímannsson have forged strong relationships with farmers and producers, to showcase the best that Iceland can offer. The tasting menu (9,400 kr per person) is a great way to try a range of dishes.
We enjoyed another great albeit much simpler meal in charmingly homely Jorundur restaurant, located just in front of Grillmarkadurinn. I chose one of the fiski pönnur (fish pan) dishes, a complete meal presented in a frying pan , though clearly not the one it was cooked in; my fried plaice and shrimps in a white wine sauce was both generous and delicious, served with creamy mash beneath and that sweet sour onion pickle. Pete had a tasty hamburger and a local ale. Here, our bill was around 6,000 kr between us.
We made a few almost obligatory stops, and are certainly not sorry we did…
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is touted as the source of Iceland’s best hot dogs; I can’t say I found them noticeably better than the many others I enjoyed across the rest of Iceland, but our pylsa með öllu were a great first meal of the trip. Certainly, the hot dogs of Iceland inspired some kitchen experimentation, when we returned home.
Sægreifinn (Sea Baron) is a pitstop recommended on virtually every food guide to Reykjavik. Located inside a rough-and-ready fish shack by the harbour, it was named for its owner, retired fisherman and coastguard Kjartan Halldorsson. Customers select and pay for their food on entering – skewers of fish are displayed in a fridge by the counter – and grab a seat at one of the communal tables. Most order a skewer or two of fish alongside the famous “lobster” soup; in Iceland langoustines are referred to as lobsters, and that’s the species used in this dish. The soup is a rustic bowl of flavourful broth, a few remnants of celery, pepper and tomato and some slightly mushy chunks of lobster meat – certainly not the best lobster soup I had in Iceland but hearty and budget-friendly.
Coffee shops and bars are plentiful.
We liked Sandholt Bakarí (bakery) for its wide selection of cakes and doughnuts, and a lively space with plenty of seating. The lunch menu looked good too, though we didn’t have time to try it. Thanks to the girl who ate everything for the suggestion. Stofan Cafe, which we were drawn to by the historical building itself, was another lovely place to hide from the rain; it had the homely feel of a domestic living room.
Another popular and oft-recommended spot is The Laundromat Cafe, first launched in Copenhagen. Upstairs is all about the cafe, with plenty of seating around a central serving station. I really like the cafe’s eclectic styling with funky red lamps, huge maps glued to the walls and row upon row of framed photographs of laundrettes (as we call them in the UK) from around the world. Downstairs there is indeed a working laundrette, should you need it.
Micro Bar is a small bar run by Icelandic brewery, Gæðingur Öl. It’s right on Austurstræti but we kept missing it as the website doesn’t mention that the entrance is inside a hotel lobby!
Here are a last few images of Reykjavik!
And remember, Single Gloves Speed Dating never dies!
Read about Stykkisholmur in North West Iceland, Grundarfjörður and Sauðárkrókur, in North West Iceland, Sauðárkrókur, Hólar and Akureyri in North Iceland, Húsavík in North Iceland, and several spots on Iceland’s south coast.
You might also enjoy these fabulous resources about travel in Iceland:
- 9 Hidden Hotsprings in Iceland on Adventographer
- How to Drive in Iceland by Beer and Croissants
- How to See the Northern Lights on Bite of Iceland
- Reykjavik for first timers on Boho Chica
- The Best Time To Go To Iceland by Make Time To See The World
- The Landscape of Iceland on IM Voyager
- The Reykjavik Food Walk Tour on The Diary of a Jewellery Lover
- Visiting Iceland in winter on Migrating Miss