Easily the most beautiful place I have ever visited, Reykjavik feels almost like a fantasy land. It is so incredibly picturesque and whilst covered in snow, it looked so magical. Every view is spectacular and visiting in January for my dad’s 60th birthday, the weather was so bright, clear blue skies with lots of sunshine - yet still very cold. it felt extra special to be blessed with such great weather whilst we were there. Unlike other city breaks, Reykjavik is somewhere we wanted to go so we could do lots of exploring of the landscape and go on guided tours. The city itself has a lot of exciting things happening, but still has a very traditional feel and remains very much an up and coming town. There is so many trips to go on and it feels like a once in a lifetime holiday so be sure to make the most of it, unless you plan to go back! We booked the Northern Lights tour, Golden Circle and South Coast tour - where you see the Black Sand beaches and exploding geezers. There is also some great wildlife tours where you can see seals, whales and puffins, but sadly it wasn’t a great time of year so we didn’t manage to book. The tours are incredibly tiring and it is a lot of long days so make sure you allow yourself some extra time to unwind and enjoy Reykjavik itself as it really is so beautiful and worth seeing.
TOP TIP: I wouldn’t bother taking cash to Iceland, instead set up a Monzo card/banking app. it is completely free to use abroad and saves the hassle of carrying cash, you can split the bill on the app and everywhere accepts the cards!
CAFES & RESTAURANTS
Freyjugata 41, 101 Reykjavík
Reykjavik Roasters is hands down the best cafe in Reykjavik and easily one of my favourite cafes we have ever visited on a city break. It has a real family feel to it with wooden children’s toys on the floor and a relaxed, no rush atmosphere. There are large communal tables, my favourite kind of seating, and large groups of 10+ families were seated catching up with piles of empty coffee cups around them. You can just sit yourself down anywhere in and amongst it all on the long tables. The chai latte was a fresh blend of herbs and spices, served with hot oat milk and the cortado coffee was delicious too! Roasters have three different branches and I would definitely recommend visiting either the Freyjugata or Brautarholt branch for the biggest brunch menu selection and the nicest interiors.
Austurstræti 14, 101 Reykjavík
So good, we went back twice! Paris Cafe is exactly how you would except it to be, a traditional Parisian style decor with fuss-free tasty breakfast food. The menu was extensive with lots of delicious freshly baked pastries and macrons to choose from at the counter. I ordered the spinach and poached eggs with avocado toast and a pain au chocolat, Paris offered the best breakfast food we had eaten in Reykjavik and was the perfect balance of modern style home-cooking and a contemporary twist, the portion sizes were really good too!
Laugavegur 36, 101 Reykjavík
Sandholt is a family bakery & eatery operating as one of the oldest bakeries in Iceland. They offer delicious lunchtime food served alongside their delicious bread made in-house. When you enter the cafe there is a glass cabinet full of traditional, refined patisseries and pastries, homemade chocolates and ganaches. I picked up a different selection of treats each day because everything tasted so good and fresh, i wanted to work my way through! I ordered the Shakshuka with a side of sourdough which was spicy and delicious.
Melhagi 20, 107 Reykjavík
Walking from central Reykjavik over to Vesturbær, the westernmost district of Reykjavík, things quickly become residential and you realise you have veered off the beaten track a little. There are lots of apartments, not much going on and you’re almost at the oceanfront. You might be surprised to find Kaffihús Vesturbæjar, which is a relatively new addition to the quiet Icelandic neighbourhood. The cafe has large, open windows and feels very welcoming after a long walk, however inside it is very much a locals hangout, in the sense that they didn’t seem particularly welcome to tourists. it is a neighbourhood cafe and I get the impression they wish to keep it that way. There is a small menu with minimal selection and a few tea’s and coffees available but I would probably not recommend the trip unless you are in the area and need a pit stop.
THE COOCOO’S NEST
Grandagarður 23, 101 Reykjavík
Tucked out of the way from the city centre, Coocoo’s Nest sits alongside the dockland, down a quiet industrial plot of units. We had heard such good things about this family ran business and decided to stop by on our way to The Marshall House, a contemporary art gallery. Sadly we were left a little disappointed. The atmosphere was really bustling and busy in such a confined space and the service was rushed and unfriendly, which is forgivable, but the food turned out to be just ok when it arrived. I wouldn’t rule it out, as I think during quieter periods, the experience here would be different and it could be a really lovely hangout. The window seat on the large communal table full of newspapers was definitely the best seat in the house.
Laugavegur 107, 101 Reykjavík
We visited food hall Hlemmur Matholl in passing and did not expect the level of contemporary cuisine that was on offer, we were thinking street food. We sat down at Skal because we had been recommended to go by numerous online guides and looking at the menu, the food sounded exactly like what we enjoy eating at home. I love small plates and lots of different options to choose from, plus a bright pink bar with marble worktop was really fun. We ordered lots of different plates and everything was prepared in front of us at the bar fresh. The food was delicious and quickly put together, you could understand why it has held a spot in a fast paced food hall, i only wish we had a spot half as good in the UK. Pictured are the carrots, seaweed, horseradish and dill dish we ordered.
Grandagarður 11, 101 Reykjavík
The first night you land in a new place, you tend to just want something warm and comforting and so i always opt for Italian. I was never really a big pizza fan, as it was always too greasy for me, but since the artisan pizza wave has happened (thank you Franco Manca, Rudy’s, Little Furnace etc.) I now love it! I googled extensively about where i could get good fresh pizza and Flatey came up highly recommended and it did not disappoint. The menu was small and simple, traditional and the pizza was fresh and flavoursome with a super light base. The decor was not standard pizzaria either, it was a little more upmarket and fancy so you can definitely make an evening of it here, its great for families and one of the tastiest pizzas i’ve had!
Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík
Located inside the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, Lava restaurant is a high-end dining experience in which you can enjoy a two or three course set menu whilst in your robe after a trip to the spa (or fully clothed - whichever you prefer.) The food was delicious and the atmosphere wasn’t at all pretentious whilst still making you feel relaxed and special. Each course was a good as the last with great portion sizes, good value for money and really tasty but traditional flavour combinations. There was choice of seafood, meat or vegetarian options, which is hard to come by in Iceland as it is often so meat heavy on the dining scene. They even let me choose the dessert from the meat menu, which pictured, is one of the most delicious desserts I have ever eaten. It was Icelandic Ástarpungar otherwise known as ‘love balls’ - tasting similarly to a donut - and caramel with a side of caramel chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream and salted caramel drizzle. Heaven on a plate.
Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavík
There was such low lighting at Mat Bar during the evening, which i love, but it meant i didn’t manage to get any photographs of our delicious food, just the interiors the following day. Mat Bar was my favourite evening dining experience in Iceland because the atmosphere inside was fun, boozy, social and the chefs and staff were super friendly and engaging. They told us the story of how they had worked at the restaurant since opening and were given the opportunity to run the place for themselves so it had become their pride and joy - and you can definitely tell in the level of service and cooking. The staff seem really knowledgable about the food and produce and are passionate about what they are creating, talking us through each dish on the menu. Mat Bar offers small plates with an Italian/Nordic twist. The vibe is playful and quirky and has an extensive bar. Again, lots of fresh greens, fish and meat dishes with lots of big flavours. The menu is subject to change frequently but the grilled flatbread is super popular and for good reason - it was warm, soft, tear and share style and we ate that alongside scallops, fish tacos and charred cabbage. You have to visit if you are in Reykjavik.
OTHER CAFES & RESTAURANTS
MATUR OG DRYKKUR
Laugavegur 49 (bakhús), 101 Reykjavík
Easily the best shop in Reykjavik, Kvartyra is a concept store tucked away behind the store fronts of the busy high street of Laugavegur. The store is comprised of a carefully curated selection of contemporary womenswear and menswear, accessories, books and music which are housed in the chicest, minimalist surroundings. Not only is the store home to some of the best global labels including Etudes, Ashley Williams and Nanshuka, it also has a mini coffee bar offering some incredible European brews. A millennial haven.
Skólavörðustígur 7, 101 Reykjavík
Geysir has spots across various locations, the womenswear store on Skólavörðustígur 7 offers quality designer goods, including some of my favourite brands, such as Ganni, A.P.C, Stine Goya and Veja alongside their own branded products. Typically Nordic and inspired by the country’s history of craft and knitwear, Geysir creates pieces uniquely balanced between tradition and modernity. With locally sourced textiles and yarns, mixed with quality materials from around the world, each item is classical. Finding a store which houses all of my favourite Nordic brands was a dream come true - this Ganni beaded bucket bag was on sale with 60% off!
Geirsgata 7, 101 Reykjavík
Located on the harbour in a disused fisherman’s shed with a similar style of shopping to The Line, Icelandic design group HAF STUDIO have created a lifestyle store on the ground floor of their Reykjavik workspace. They sell a selection of products from their own collection alongside a mix of homeware, fashion, and wellness products from fellow local makers. Stcoking brands such as Overose and Beni Ourain. The studio meets showroom is a designers paradise.
Hverfisgata 50, 101 Reykjavík
Hurra has different locations for both its men’s and women’s clothing but overall has a very unisex feel to the clothing in supply. They offer street apparel and the boutique is dedicated to womenswear and female sneakers. Located on the same street as the original store, the new shop sees a beautiful interior designed by the store’s owners, Sindri Jensson and Jón Davíð, as well as Jensson’s father. The store houses many urban brands including Norse Projects, Wood Wood, Carhartt WIP, The North Face and Nike. The perfect stop if you like the Scandinavian masculine look.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Iceland without booking to see the Northern Lights. For roughly £50, we booked a tour for the first evening we arrived, after following the activity on an app, it was said to be the best night in recent years for sightings. The tour lasted from around 8:30pm - 1am and it was -13 degrees, so very, very cold. Our faces felt frozen to the bone! You are driven to a landscape far from the city via coach to avoid any light pollution in the hopes of getting a great view. We saw some faint activity but nothing spectacular and we headed home. You are welcome to join the tour every evening of your stay to ensure you see the lights, which I think is great value, but ultimately nature will do its own thing regardless. Luckily, three nights in after a late dinner and some drinks whilst walking along the harbour we saw the lights in full view, bright and glistening, dancing across the sky.
THE BLUE LAGOON
Nordurljosavegur 9, 240 Grindavík
The Blue Lagoon has always been on my bucket list of places to visit and I honestly could not recommend it enough. Even if you think it is not for you, it promises to be an amazing trip nonetheless. The Geothermal pool is so comforting and warm, it feels almost as though it has healing properties and leaves your skin feeling so soft and amazing! For £50 you get unlimited access and a free silica mud face mask, a drink from the bar and towels. You can swim in the open space with subzero temperatures above you and a snowy, misty mountain vista surrounding you. Also while you are there, why not try the incredible relaxation treatments on offer at the Spa, as well as the LAVA restaurant in your robe. I was so tempted to book a stay at the luxury boutique hotel with panoramic views of the pools but it is eye-wateringly expensive. It is a truly unforgettable experience just for the day.
Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík
The famous church is located in the square central to Reykjaviks shopping streets and you will find it hard to miss it. Architecturally it is beautiful and has such impact, it is the largest church in Iceland and among the tallest structures in the country. The church is actually named after the Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of the Passion Hymns and you can wander inside and up to the top of the tower for some outstanding views of the harbour.
Grandagarður, 101 Reykjavík
Translating to The Marshall House, which was originally built in 1948 and used as a fish meat factory, in 2017 the house was re-designed and renovated to be used as a cultural centre for arts. It houses some incredible contemporary galleries including The Living Art Museum, Gallery Kling & Bang, and Studio Ólafur Elíasson. We visited the i8 gallery which showcases some exciting new works and purchased some prints. On the ground floor, The Marshall Restaurant + Bar is chic, Nordic and modern, the perfect date night spot and it focuses on seafood and tasty drinks. Definitely worth the visit if you are a fan of contemporary art!
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
WHALE WATCHING TOUR
GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR
SOUTH ICELAND & BLACK SAND BEACH TOUR
SOUTH COAST & GLACIER LAGOON TOUR