When most people hear the word Iceland, they think ice, glaciers, Northern Lights, puffins, and probably expensive. And they’re all right. Iceland is perhaps the most expensive country that I’ve ever visited – and I live in New York City so I know expensive cities.
I think the majority of our budget was spent on eating out. Sure, since we had an AirBnB, we could’ve cooked our meals and saved a lot of money. But as a self-proclaimed foodie, I also absolutely love eating out and trying out the food in all the places that I visit. So, we ate out a lot. And my wallet is now sad. But, my stomach was super happy!
Iceland, believe it or not, has a lot of amazing food. They have a lot of really great seafood available to them since they are an island. They also have really, really good dairy products like Skyr (their own special yogurt-like cheese), quality cheeses, and delicious ice cream. They also have some really “exotic” food items like fermented shark, grilled whale, and puffin.
So did I eat all of that? What did I eat? Read on to find out!
One night, we went all out. We went to Fish Market, or Fiskmarkaðurinn. I chose Fish Market because their menu looked captivating and interesting. They pride themselves in sourcing the freshest ingredients and cooking it with a modern twist.
We had the Volcano Langoustine Maki, featuring langoustine tartar with sesame oil, 7 spice, and chili on top of a maki roll filled with salmon and cucumber. This roll was very busy and really exploded with flavor in your mouth.
We also split the Hosomaki, which featured king crab with spicy fly fish roe. This roll was very simple, yet the sweetness of the king crab contrasted very nicely against the spice and saltiness of the fly fish roe. Highly recommend both of them!
I had the Pan-fried Atlantic Catfish with herb pesto, creamy potato salad, grilled corn, and sugar snaps. It was, to put it simply, bomb. The catfish was moist and flakey and the grilled corn and potato salad really mixed things up on the plate.
For dessert, we ordered the Sorbet Selection since it was the lightest dessert on the menu. It came out on a foot long plate with an assortment of exotic fruits. This was … a very Instagramable dessert.
The Best of the Best
Best Breakfast –
My best breakfast choice goes to Sandholt. Sandholt, located on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik, was our first stop after arriving at our hotel. They sell all sorts of goodies – sandwiches, bread sliced to order, pastries, desserts, etc. They also have a little “deli” section in the front with cured meats, cheeses, jams, and skyr.
On our first morning in the city, we stopped in for breakfast at about 9am. We were seated right away and service was prompt and attentive. Everyone had a breakfast plate with sausages, eggs, salad, and sourdough. I opted for their smoked salmon on a soft pretzel, which was yummy but a bit hard to eat. I also had an oat milk latte, which was my first. It was surprisingly good!
Best Lunch –
My best lunch option is also one of the cheapest meals in the city. Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, which basically translates to, “The Town’s Best Sausages”, is a small chain of hot dog stands located in Reykjavik.
The sausages are made with lamb, pork, and beef. It’s served in a bun and if you order it with everything, it comes topped with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade. Under the sausage is a layer of crispy fried onions and raw onions.
I think we ended up going about 4 times during our week in Iceland. On our first day, it was the best midday snack after our afternoon naps (we had arrived at 6am and didn’t get rooms until about 1pm). I really liked the crispy fried onions on the bottom of the sausage since it gives it more texture with every bite. Icelandic mustard is also super delicious, I love that it’s slightly sweet and contrasts with the salty hot dog.
Best Dinner –
For my best dinner in Iceland, I would have to pick Salka Valka, or Fish & More. Fish & More is definitely a very affordable option in the Reykjavik area and has a very homey, comforting vibe. We all opted to have their Traditional Fish Stew, or Plokkfiskur. Plokkfiskur is a traditional oven-baked fish stew made with haddock, cod, potatoes, onions, and spices in a casserole-like fashion. I am a HUGE fan of Plokkfiskur because it just feels so warm and homey every single time I eat it.
We finished our meal by splitting their Warm Apple Pie and Icelandic Rhubarb Cake. I think I liked the rhubarb cake more since it was very subtly sweet and just a little tart. I highly recommend the rhubarb cake!
Best Cafes –
Honestly, it is really hard to decide which café is my favorite. We went to quite a lot. I’d like to highlight a few of them –
Reykjavik Roasters is probably my favorite café based on just coffee alone. Their coffee was probably the best that I had in the city. Pop in for a morning or mid-day pick up and you won’t be disappointed!
Café Loki was one of my favorite café stops during our trip because they have a really interesting food menu. You can try fermented shark here and they have delicious smashed fish sandwiches and rye bread ice cream!
Te & Kaffi is a local coffee chain in Reykjavik and we stopped in here several times during our stay. They serve very good coffee and are a solid choice if you’re looking for a coffee fix.
Honorable Mentions –
Saegreifinn, or Sea Baron, serves the “World’s Best Lobster Soup” and has a really great selection of grilled fish kebabs.
Day 6 in Iceland – Old Ports, Chocolate Tours, and Geese
Our last 2 days in Iceland were pretty laid back. We moved back to Centerhotel Midgardur on Day 6 to make it easier to leave the next afternoon. Again, I cannot rave enough about both our AirBnB and Centerhotel Midgardur. They were both really great places to stay in – clean, airy, and conveniently located.
My day started off at Café Haiti, where we had a leisurely breakfast before exploring the Old Port area of Reykjavik. I love how a part of it is painted in bright turquoise blue. Check out these awesome quotes that go straight to my foodie soul!
After breakfast and a bit of exploration (I really meant we went to Bonus and Kronan and walked around the supermarkets for about 2 hours), we made our way over to the Onnom Chocolate Factory. The Onnom Chocolate Factory is located in the Old Port area of the city and offers one tour a day – at 2pm.
Our guide, Kyle, was super nice and very informative. He walked us through the process of how Onnom’s bean to bar chocolate is made. We got to try some choco nibs and he even made a chocolate cold brew for us to try. We sampled pretty much every single chocolate they had in the store, which was really helpful in our purchasing process. The chocolate bars here are also at least 400KR to 600KR cheaper than the stores in town. I may have gone a little bit overboard…
After our tour, we stopped by Valdis. It was on the way back to the main part of the city so we stopped in for a mid-afternoon treat. I had a single scoop of their Hawaii flavor, which was pineapple, coconut, and one more fruit. It was delightful! It was very fresh and light, just what I wanted after sampling so much chocolate at the factory!
We ended our day at Tjörnin, a prominent small lake in central Reykjavík. The lake is often visited by over 50 species of water birds. We definitely saw some geese, ducks, and swans. A lot of them were bobbing by looking for bread!
Day 5 in Iceland – Black Sand Beaches, Glaciers, and More Waterfalls!
Our 5th day in Iceland began just like our 3rd day – it was windy and rainy, but we nonetheless ventured out to meet our tour guide. This time, we would be touring Southern Iceland!
Our tour visited a lot of places and it was a very, very long day. Here’s where we went!
Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks that stand under the Reynisfjall Mountain, at the end of a black sand beach. Reynisfjara beach, where Reynisdrangar stands, is considered one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.
Our tour guide told us that legend says the sea stacks were formed when two trolls were trying to pull a three-mast ship to the shore. They were caught by the sunlight when the sun rose and turned into stone. They now sit on the beach forever as stone stacks.
The beach itself is super beautiful. The waves are very dangerous here – they come up really high up on the shore so you always have to make sure you never turn your back to the ocean. The waves can suddenly come up and sweep you out!
Sólheimajökull is a part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the Katla caldera, a fierce volcano that will one day erupt. A visit to Sólheimajökull will show you that climate change is a real thing. Our tour guide told us that at one point, Sólheimajökull reached out into the parking lot. Now, it’s a solid 20 minute walk until you reach an actual part of the glacier. As you walk further in, all you see is brown water and dark ice bobbing in the water – a result of pollution and volcanic ash.
When one thinks of Iceland, one thinks of glaciers. Sólheimajökull was the only glacier we saw during our trip (the road to Jökulsárlón closed midway through our trip). Despite the fact that it didn’t look like what most people think of when they hear the word glacier, it was a really powerful and striking image for me.
Skógafoss is a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in southern Iceland. It is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country. According to Viking legend, the first Viking settler in the area buried treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. The legend claims that locals were able to find the chest of treasure, but was only able to grab the ring on the chest before it disappeared. I wonder if there’s still treasure back there?
Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall in the Southern part of Iceland. It is one of the best known waterfalls in Iceland – partially because you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. I think it’s really, really neat that you can do this. You do get super wet if you go all the way back there, so do go prepared.
We went to about 4 waterfalls during our time in Iceland and I think Seljalandsfoss was my favorite one. It’s very subtle and small, but I loved how beautiful it looked in the sun. We even managed to catch a bit of rainbow when we were there.
Day 4 in Iceland – The Blue Lagoon
There seem to be a lot of mixed reviews regarding the Blue Lagoon. Some people think it’s a huge manmade tourist trap that’s expensive and not real. Some people think it’s a really cool experience and would gladly pay the price to spend a few hours just soaking in some moisturizing silica water. I’m part of the latter. While I admit it is a bit of a tourist trap and very expensive, it’s something I think everyone should experience at least once if they go to Iceland.
I had pre-booked our Comfort Package tickets online along with a roundtrip bus transfer. The trip itself took maybe an hour and we arrived just in time for our time slot. The lockers are a bit hard to figure out as you pick an open one, put your stuff in, close it, and THEN scan your bracelet. I have no idea how they know it’s your locker to your bracelet when tons of people are scanning their bracelets for lockers close to yours.
You have to do a complete shower before you enter – I saw a ton of people showering with their bathing suits on, which you’re not supposed to do. I wish they enforce this rule a little better. After your shower, you enter the lagoon – either from the inside or by walking outside. There are hooks on the outside with numbers for you to hand your towel or robe. We brought our own flip flops so we left those by our towels as well.
The water is so warm and so soothing. We ended up throwing our original plans out the window and saying for almost 5 hours. First we went for our silica masks, which I think is pretty darn amazing. My pores felt smaller and I noticed fewer blackheads after we used them. Our Comfort Package included an Algae mask as well, which is meant to brighten and nourish your skin.
I wish there was something like the Blue Lagoon back home in NYC because I would be there all the damn time! It’s so relaxing and a great way to unwind during your vacation.
Day 3 in Iceland – Waterfalls, Geysers, and Icelandic Horses
Our 3rd day in Iceland started off grey and rainy. Nonetheless, we bundled up and went out to meet our guide for our Golden Circle Tour. The Golden Circle is a very popular tourist route in the Southern part of Iceland, covering about 300km looping from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back.
Our Golden Circle tour hit several spots –
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is perhaps best known for the Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. The park is also known for sitting in a rift valley that was caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates. The rift valley marks the boundary between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate.
It is a really, really pretty place to visit and it really gives a lot of history on the beginnings of Iceland as a country. The Öxarárfoss Waterfall was the first waterfall that we had seen in Iceland and while it is on the small side compared to a lot of Iceland’s famous waterfalls, it was no less beautiful.
Gullfoss is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. The best way to approach Gullfoss is to start from the viewing platform at the top. This really gives you an idea of what the entire waterfall looks like.
Then backtrack to the stairs that bring you all the way down to the falls itself. You can get really super close to the top of the waterfall, but you do need to be careful as there are no official steps and the rocks are wet.
The power of the waterfall is truly amazing and at the top, you can really feel the rumble of the water crashing down.
Strokkur is a fountain geyser located beside the Hvítá River in the southwest part of Iceland. It is one of Iceland’s most famous geysers. It erupts almost every 6-10 minutes, but I saw it erupting earlier and later than both of those time ranges.
Kerið (Kerid) is a volcanic crater lake located in south Iceland. It is believed that Kerið was formed by a huge volcanic explosion. Once the volcano erupted and emptied out its magma reserve, the cone of the volcano collapsed into the empty magma camber.
Kerið was one of my favorite spots on the Golden Circle tour route. The colors of the lake are really spectacular. The red of the caldera offers a really beautiful contrast to the blue of the lake. We had walked all the way down to the lake and you just feel so small standing in such a huge crater that used to be a volcano.
Faxi Waterfall is located on the Tungufljót River. It’s fairly close to Gullfoss and Geysir, so a lot of tourists stop here after visiting those two sites. According to our tour guide, the waterfall is full of salmon and is a very popular spot for fishing.
Pit stop to pet some Icelandic horses!
Days 1 + 2 in Iceland – Northern Lights, a tall Church, and Bonus Supermarkets
Our trip to Iceland started off with us landing at 6am in Keflavik Airport, which is about 45 minutes away from the city of Reykjavik. Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, we made our way to the FlyBus for our ride into the city. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel (quick shout out to Centerhotel Midgardur, which I really loved), we set off on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavik, to look for breakfast.
I highly recommend Sandholt. They open super early and stay open later than a lot of the shops and cafes on Laugavegur, so I really like them. We would often stop in for a mid-afternoon or post-dinner treat since they sell all sorts of goodies – sandwiches, bread sliced to order, pastries, desserts, etc.
After breakfast, we ventured down to the waterfront towards Harpa, which is a really pretty concert hall/conference center. It’s beautiful during the day, but absolutely stunning during the night when all the colors are reflecting off of the façade. It features a very distinctive colored glass façade that was inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. The inside is free to visit and explore and there are several gift shops inside as well.
We spent the rest of the day exploring Laugavegur and doing some souvenir shopping. Yes, that’s right, we started souvenir shopping on our very first day!
The rest of our first night was Northern Lights hunting! The forecast for the night was between a 2 to 3, which is about a mid-range forecast. We drove out about 1.5 hours away from Reykjavik before we could see it. And when we did, it was glorious. I can’t believe we were so lucky to see the Northern Lights on our first day! Being from the city, I have also never seen quite as many stars as I had that night in the middle of nowhere Iceland. Truly a beautiful and unforgettable night!
Our second day in Iceland started off pretty late. We had breakfast at the hotel and made our way down to the waterfront to check out the Sun Voyager or Solfar. It is described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. It’s really cool and very large. I enjoyed seeing it.
We then made our way to Hallgrímskirkja, one of Reykjavik’s most iconic sites. You can see this church from a lot of places in Reykjavik. It’s pretty striking when you’re walking up one of the side streets from Laugavegur and spot it on the hill top. At 74.5 meters high, it is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures as well. The structure of the outside of the church, in my opinion, is the most interesting part of visiting. It is said to have been designed to resemble the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape.
You can visit the top of the church to get a fantastic 360 degree view of Reykjavik. It costs 900KR.
After our visit to the church, we checked into our AirBnB, which I am linking here, because I absolutely loved it and want to share it with everyone. It’s just a short 5 minute walk from Hallgrímskirkja, meaning you can use Bus Stop #8 for any drop offs or pickups for tours.
After settling into our AirBnB, we made our way over to the Bonus supermarket. I am completely in love with Bonus. I love their logo. I love their prices. I love their selection. I just love everything about them!
The prices are legit about half of the prices in all the other stores in Reykjavik and most of the time the selection is exactly the same. They sell pretty much everything that you need – except maybe razors. I’m the type that loves to buy candy and snacks back as souvenirs for friends and family and Bonus was THE SPOT to do it. They had all sorts of local Icelandic candies and snacks.