If you’re searching for the ideal vacation spot, then look no further than Iceland. A country filled with unspoiled natural beauty, culture and history. With a population of just over 300,000 people, many of whom believe in the mystical existence of elves, it really is a special location. The people are friendly and the cuisine is delicious – choose from traditional Icelandic dishes or opt for Italian, Mediterranean, Continental, and American options (all given a quirky Icelandic twist).
Within Reykjavik, you will come across fabulous restaurants, shopping experiences, and breathtaking architecture that holds a colorful history. Travel just a short 40 minutes away from the city and you can visit one of Iceland’s many waterfalls, soak your cares away in a natural hot spring, or walk along where the tectonic plates merge and pretend that you’re in an episode of Game of Thrones during the day. Then, spend your night attempting to catch a glimpse of the ever elusive Northern Lights.
Here’s our guide on must-visit restaurants and hotels for your next visit to Iceland!
Located in The Falcon House, in the middle of Austurvöllur Square, Uno is as rich in history as it is great cuisine.
Icelandic and Mediterranean traditions are twisted together with a few extra influences from around the globe, to create an entirely new cuisine. Begin your evening with a glass of Elderflower Prosecco (Elderflower liqueur and sparkling wine), or try one of their fresh cocktails. Two popular choices are Romeo Killer (Vodka; Amaretto; lime juice; sugar syrup; cranberry juice) and Grapefruit Code (Reyka Vodka; Sour Grapefruit liqueur; Creme de Cassis liqueur; lime juice; sugar syrup; grapefruit bitters; ginger ale). The restaurant offers a delicious selection of appetizers such as Arancini, Bruschetta Caprese, and Deep Fried Mozzarella. You cannot leave without a taste of Kyjúklingpasta, their homemade chicken pasta tossed with bacon and mushrooms in a luscious garlic and cream sauce. For dessert, the Amaretto Chocolate Brownie with ice cream and the Strawberry Margarita made with real strawberries are great choices.
Open late and conveniently located in the heart of the city, Uno attracts tourists and locals alike who are looking for a good meal after a day of exploring. Uno also offers a private room for groups of 14-24 guests and a large dining room for 25 – 65 guests, perfect for celebrations.
Reykjavik Excursions feature once-in-a-lifetime experiences to see the very best of Iceland. With knowledgeable guides taking you on different day trips to popular destinations, such as The Golden Circle – which includes Fridheimar Greenhouse, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park- you’re sure to have an incredible adventure. Tours allow for plenty of time to take photos, while still providing the opportunity for breaks on difficult terrain.
Tapas at Forrettabarinn
Forrettabarinn is a favorite restaurant among natives that’s located along Reykjavik’s marina. Executive Chef Róbert Ólafsson offers appetizer-style dishes and quick, efficient service. The intimate setting is the perfect place to bring a date, or to enjoy a meal with old friends.
One of the smaller dishes that stand out is the Braised Beef Brisket Quesadillas – the black bean & coriander salsa that comes with this is truly delightful. The “Coq au vin” (one of the larger “appetizer” sized dishes), is a restaurant favorite – flavorful roasted chicken, bacon & mushrooms in red wine sauce. Pair it with a refreshing bottle of Codorníu Cava Clasico – a Spanish sparkling wine. For dessert, you simply can’t go wrong. Choose from the indulgent Chocolate Cake with white chocolate, kumquat mousse & vanilla ice cream, or the Warm Apple Crumble with cinnamon ice cream & caramel sauce – both are to die for. If you prefer to end your meal on a savory note, the Assorted Cheese with port & honey glazed fruits, featuring authentic Icelandic cheeses is for you.
Fresh, well prepared food and a trendy yet cozy atmosphere make Forrettabarinn a must-visit for anyone looking for a distinctive and delectable meal…just make sure you take the opportunity to enjoy a shot of Iceland’s famous Brennivin liquor during the night.
Conveniently located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik on Laugavegur Street, Alda Hotel is a short walk from all of the local city attractions.
Stop in the lobby for a drink at Barber Bar, which serves local chocolates and specialty cocktails, as well as an arrangement of Japanese-style dishes that are available on their happy hour menu. You can also treat yourself to a trim in the barber shop/salon, housed next to the restaurant in the lobby.
Make the most of your stay by exploring some city highlights including Reykjavik Chips, which is known to have the best french fries (known as “chips” throughout Europe) in the city; Harpa, a beautifully designed concert hall; and Hallgrímskirkja, a captivating church in the heart of the city. The hotel is situated on the city’s main shopping street – don’t forget to pick up one of the traditional Nordic sweaters that Iceland is famous for!
Comfort, convenience and cleanliness make Alda Hotel a top choice when visiting Reykjavik.
If you’re a fan of The Big Lebowski, you cannot pass up a visit to the Lebowski Bar. References to the 1998 cult classic are apparent all over the bar, from the carefully designed menu to the décor, which includes a jukebox and a whole bowling alley showcased on the wall. Try one of the bar’s amazing types of White Russians such as a White Chocolate Russian, Dirty Russian, Royal Russian, or The Other Jeffery Lebowski aka Black Russian.
Lebowski Bar keeps an American 1950s diner feel while still staying true to the movie. As with all great diners – hamburgers and fries take the lead here. When choosing an option, it’s hard to decide with so many takes on classic dishes. Try ordering the Lebowski, a basic cheeseburger or the Donny, a béarnaise burger, piled high with French Fries on the side. You must try one of their many extravagant milkshakes to complement your meal, or later for dessert. Lebowski Bar’s chocolate shake is a real treat, or add peanut butter for a truly decadent indulgence.
Regardless of whether you’re a hardcore Lebowski super fan, or if the movie is still waiting in your Netflix queue to be discovered, this quirky fun bar has something for everyone. Perfect for groups, Lebowski Bar even has an upstairs patio that’s great for private parties. While mostly a burger joint, they also feature chicken wings, cheese sticks, nachos and cheesy jalapeño poppers.
The Blue Lagoon holds six million liters of geothermal seawater, all of which is renewed every 40 hours. The origin of the geothermal seawater is 2,000 meters beneath the earth’s surface. The water is meant to have healing qualities with its mineral mixture that includes silica and sulfur. It’s known for having miraculous effects on people who suffer with sensitive skin and dermatological issues in particular. The spa-like temperatures run from 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit – ideal for laying back and letting your stress melt away in the soothing, natural, pale blue springs.
The Blue Lagoon is also home to the Lava Restaurant, where you can relax and dine whilst taking in the gorgeous views of the lagoon and the surrounding lava walls. Legend has it that the builders of the restaurant encountered multiple setbacks whilst construction took place – they were told that destroying the lava walls was angering the local “huldfólk” (the Icelandic elves). As a compromise, they decided to work around the natural rock formation. All of a sudden, all of their issues simply disappeared! The efforts made to appease the elves have given the restaurant a secondary benefit, providing a really unique and organic feeling. The building is now one with the landscape, and you get to experience the wonder of nature both inside and out.
The resort also features a spa, sauna, steamed baths, a swim-up bar and a skin care bar where you can put on silica face masks and algae masks (for an additional cost) to exfoliate, cleanse, and rejuvenate the skin.
The Blue Lagoon is one of the world’s most peaceful retreats – providing a feast for the eyes and a vacation for the soul. Whilst Icelandic weather is known for being spontaneously changeable, don’t be deterred on a stormy day…the weather simply adds to the natural ambience. It’s an experience you will probably never have anywhere else.
At present, The Blue Lagoon is expanding to include accommodations and more geothermal pools. Providing an additional 8700 square meters of pool area and new luxury accommodations for visitors, it is set to be complete in 2017.
Northern Lights Inn
Northern Lights Inn is a diamond in the rough. Not only is it the perfect spot to sneak a peak of the elusive Northern Lights, but it’s a great place to enjoy the quiet countryside. Rooms are spacious with double and twin beds, with warm and fluffy down comforters.
Cozy up next to the fire or play a game of chess in the lounge. Enjoy the view of the Icelandic mountains and possibly the Northern Lights from the inn’s sky room.
Guests are encouraged to make their own waffles and enjoy complimentary tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cookies in the lobby throughout the day – providing a charming and sociable atmosphere.
Explore Icelandic Culture and Art
There are always things to see and explore in this beautiful country.
One Icelandic artist worth checking out is Halldór Ingi Emilsson. He’s inspired by nature and paints landscapes of Reykjavik and the Icelandic countryside. His colorful paintings play with shadows and light and will give you a creative interpretation of the surrounding area. Make sure to check him out, his art is a great way to see Iceland through the eyes of a painter.
March is a good time to visit Reykjavik and check out the local art scene. The city is host to DesignMarch, the country’s biggest design event, showcasing the work of some of the most exceptional artisans in Iceland. Happy travels!
Written by Lesley Reider and Janine Silver