The capital city of Iceland has become a popular stopover destination for those heading to Europe from Canada or the US over the last decade. We recently visited Iceland (read our Top 10 Reasons to Visit Iceland here) – just because. Not heading anywhere else, just stopped by to breathe the air, marvel at the waterfalls, mountains and the sheer rugged beauty of the place. Reykjavik was a great place to start our visit to the Land of Fire and Ice!
We stayed at 2 different hotels – Center Hotels Plaza in the Old Town and Center Hotels Grandi in the Creative Quarter – both clean, comfortable and located where the “action” is. People are friendly and fluent in English (my Icelandic, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired).
There is a friendly, easy-going atmosphere in the town with lots of whimsical décor, colourful buildings, boutique shops (wools, leather, souvenirs), coffee shops and restaurants galore.
The food in Reykjavik was particularly delicious. Expensive. But delicious. The restaurants we were at had a lot of dishes that were meat and fish focused – although apparently Reykjavik does have some vegan/vegetarian choices. Searching for meatless dining outside the capital, however, will be a challenge.
Although Reykjavik does have a very famous Michelin star restaurant, Dill, we were not able to dine there. In fact, we were surprised that it was so difficult to get into most restaurants on the weekend without a reservation.
We did find a fabulous restaurant within a 5 minute walk of our Center Plaza Hotel. I highly recommend the tasting menu at APOTEK which focused on seafood and fowl. A second a la carte meal we had there confirmed the stellar performance of Apotek’s chef. Here’s a sampling of the creative cuisine at APOTEK: (and yes, the photo on the bottom right is foie gras!)
Other restaurants you may want to check out:
Kopar – located on the main harbour serving wonderful seafood.
Kaffi Loki (café Loki) – Located across the street from Hallgrímskirkja church in downtown Reykjavik you will find this charming café serving homemade Icelandic breads and hearty soups. A great place to stop after you’ve seen the most iconic Icelandic landmark.
Of course, if you want a quick bite, don’t forget to try the famous Icelandic hot dog from Bæjarins Beztu (Translation: “The bezt in town.”) This world famous hot-dog stand has been standing in this location since the 1960’s after moving 2 streets over from its original 1937 location.
In August 2004 former US President Bill Clinton ordered 3 with mustard only. Since then, The British Newspaper, The Guardian, declared this humble food stand to have the “best hotdog in Europe”.
This yummy nosh should be ordered as ‘One with everything’. What is ‘everything’?
- Lamb Hot Dog
- Icelandic Mustard (which is brown, not yellow)
- Remolaði sauce (looks like mayo)
- Fried Onions
- Raw Onions (how ingenious! 2 kinds of onions!)
- Iceland Style Ketchup (with apples instead of sugar to sweeten the flavour)
When your tummy is full, you may want to check out some of Reykjavik’s attractions. Besides wandering through the quaint streets and shops of the Old Town, there are several museums and art galleries you can visit. We particularly enjoyed the static displays at the Whales of Iceland Museum and the Sculpture Garden outside the Einar Jónsson Museum.
Walking around the town you will notice there is art everywhere in Reykjavik. In the middle of town is a beautiful “pond” called Tjörnin and dotted in the park-like surroundings are various sculptures comprising The Pearl Necklace – art exclusively by women of Iceland that was collected and installed in 2014. One of the most famous is the Little Mermaid by renowned sculptor Nína Sæmundsson. You can’t miss that one if you are looking at the Pond.
You will also notice a man on a park bench – a tribute to one on Iceland’s greatest 20th Century poets – Tómas Guðmundsson.
Then there is Lad & Lass by sculptor Thorbjorg Palsdottir.
There are many other sculptures located around the town. One of the most famous being the Sun Voyager on the waterfront and Yoko Ono’s 2007 Imagine Peace Tower – which is a light that shoots straight up into the night sky.
And just for fun, you will want to be whisked through the air in the exhilarating Fly Over Iceland ride. This is a spectacular way to see the best of Iceland. (Beware that this ride can invoke nausea!)
One of the highlights of our Reykjavik visit was a nightly visit to a Jazz Bar situated within a few minutes of the Center Plaza Hotel. Skuggabaldur is a brand new venue that just opened in June of 2021. The name is curious – apparently a skuggabaldur is a mythical creature—a mix of a cat and a fox that can’t be killed by a gun. The creatures are often treated like shadow men, sneaky animals or evil spirits. (It was selected as “monster of the month” in 2017.)
Not sure what skuggabaldur has to do with jazz, but this place is a great hang out for live music every night of the week. The drinks menu is extensive and the food coming out of the kitchen looked great, too. We were there 3 different nights and heard 3 different bands. Reykjavik has a number of live music venues. You should have no problem finding the music you love.
If you go, a few things to keep in mind:
Reykjavik is pretty chilly in October/November – especially on a windy day. Dress in layers.
No need to tip at restaurants. No need to buy water – just fill up your refillable with the wonderful potable water from the tap. You can tap your way around Reykjavik with a credit card. No need to exchange dollars for Icelandic Kronas.
You will hear stories of Vikings, trolls, and imaginary characters. Icelanders have a lot of fun folklore and interesting traditions.
The BLUE LAGOON is about 50 minutes from Reykjavik and only 20 minutes from the airport. Lots of travellers who have a 6 hour stopover in Iceland will get a shuttle to the Blue Lagoon for a few hours and return to catch their connection refreshed and relaxed. This is certainly an option if you don’t have a lot of time for Iceland; It should whet your appetite to return.
And, finally, your best chance of seeing Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights) is in the late fall/winter seasons. There is no guarantee that you will see them. There are all sorts of excursions – both on land and water – that will take you out of the city after dark is search of the elusive Aurora!
Read more about our Iceland Adventures – Top 10 Reasons to Visit the Land of Fire & Ice