Iceland recommendations
June 2, 2023 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Doing a 4-5 day trip to Iceland second week of July. Mostly need food and shopping recommendations bc we have accommodations and a few special excursions planned, but open to all suggestions! Please see below the fold for itinerary and questions!

My bud and I (2 women, late 30s/early 40s) are doing a short trip to Iceland the second week of July. We've already created our itinerary and rented a car and accommodations so that's not going to change.

We're both child-free decades-long New Yorkers who like to experience cool shit and are into left-field and/or high-end suggestions. We're pretty energetic and down to clown. Looking for any and all ideas pertaining to the questions/locations below. I feel like our itinerary on the driving/non-Reykjavik days is pretty tight with no room for extra detours other than food, but willing to be proven otherwise.

Our itinerary is as follows:

Day 1 Arrive Reykjavik (Reykjavik overnight in Airbnb near Hallgrímskirkja). We don't really have anything planned for Reykjavik yet because the biggest draws for us are landscapes/nature, so need recommendations.
--Would love breakfast, lunch and dinner recommendations
--Any cool shops/boutiques/galleries?
--Must-see other stuff in Reykjavik?
--Any good cocktail bars for night?

Day 2 Driving Golden Circle (Overnight just south of Selfoss at Camp Boutique) Doing the main attractions: Öxarárfoss, Strokkur, Gullfoss. Silfra snorkeling.
--Any breakfast recommendations near Hallgrímskirkja before we take off?
--Any lunch recommendations around the Golden Circle?
--Any tips of something we shouldn't miss?
--Dinner recommendations near Selfoss?

Day 3 Driving South Coast Selfoss to Vik back to Reykjavik (Overnight back at Reykjavik airbnb). Seeing Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Reynisfjara Beach (yes, I know to be careful of the waves/cave/etc).
--Lunch recommendations near Vik?
--Any other Can't Misses?
--Jökulsárlón is too far to make it from Selfoss up to it and back to Reykjavik in day, right?

Day 4 Half Blue Lagoon Half last night in Reykjavik (overnight in airbnb). Driving to Blue Lagoon doing that until early afternoon, then back to Reykjavik for final night in town.
--Should we do lunch near Blue Lagoon or wait until we get back into Reykjavik? If the former, any recommendations?
--We'd love to have a blow-out fancy dinner last night in town. What's a good special-occasion meal?

Day 5 Morning in Reykjavik then afternoon departure to NY

Looking forward to your tips, thank you!
posted by greta simone to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also any tips for what to pack given mid-July and our itinerary would be great. ie, like do I really need rain pants? I was thinking thick leggings, jeans, sweaters/sweatshirts, light puffy layer, rain jacket, some uniqlo heattech leggings/shirt just in case, beanie for windy days/areas, waterproof trail runners for outdoorsy stuff and comfy chelsea boots for city. I want to pack as light as possible.

posted by greta simone at 8:43 AM on June 2

For your last night in Reykjavik I highly recommend Tapas Barrin. If you are adventurous eaters, you can dine on local delicacies like puffin and whale, but my husband and I are NOT adventurous eaters and we had the best meal of our week here (not including rest stop lamb stew which was outstanding and their rest stops are nothing like American rest stops which are basically garbage dumps of sewage).

Fun tip I learned the hard way: So much of their chocoloate has licorice in it, so learn the Icelandic word for licorice before you buy it. I don't understand it. The combination of chocolate and licorice was shockingly bad, but maybe because I was not expecting it, and I also hate licorice.
posted by archimago at 9:03 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

The Settlement Exhibition at the City Museum and the Punk museum in Reykjavik are both great and must-see in my opinion.

For lunch, Gló is a vegetarian restaurant that had good food when I was craving something healthy-ish but tasty.

I regret not stopping by the Lebowski bar.
posted by lizard music at 9:13 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

Note that neither the puffin nor the kind of whale they serve is endangered, and puffin is, sadly, rather delicious. (The only thing I couldn't bring myself to eat in Iceland was horse meat; it seemed like a violation of the working compact between humans and horses to eat them afterwards, and also I'd just read Independent People on the flight over, where the implication that a household was reduced to eating horse meat was fighting words.)

Since you have the time, I'd like to make a recommendation for the period before the trip, which is to read Njal's Saga, or, if you just can't bear medieval literature, the aforementioned Independent People (the author, Halldór Laxness, won the Nobel Prize for Literature). It's hard to argue with the idea that a visitor should focus on the extraordinary landscape, especially on a short trip, but it's a pity not to get some idea of the culture and history of the place beyond what you can read in a Wikipedia article. Independent People is pretty bleak but a great book; Njal's Saga is a lot more fun (the odd story that combines ritual feuds and scheming lawyers!) but also does not have a happy ending. Many people consider the Icelandic sagas to be one of the important forerunners of the modern novel. The events of Njal's Saga take place right around where most tourists visit, too.
posted by praemunire at 9:23 AM on June 2

I’m flying back to NYC from Iceland right now I didn’t find I needed rain pants or heat tech. What I did use a lot were my hiking boots and rain jacket (with hood) and a light sweater I could layer under a heavier one. A nice hat was also helpful and it would get quite warm when the sun is out. The coldest things I did were the glacier lagoon boat tour and a puffin watching tour in Reykjavík both provided exposure suits so we were waterproof and warm.

Don’t try to drive from Jökulsárlón and back in one day it would be really tiring and and I think miserable! Also you’d probably want to spend at least 2-3 hours there to make it worth it.

I had a very nice dinner at this restaurant in Reykjavík. The lamb was extremely good!
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:27 AM on June 2

I had a nice afternoon at Kaldi Bar in Reykjavik; they have some reasonably obscure gins from around the world and the bartender at the time made some nice cocktails (note: I’m the kind of customer who, at a specialist place like this, puts myself in the hands of the bartender rather than ordering a specific drink).

It’s reasonably close to where you’re staying.
posted by aramaic at 9:40 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You shouldn't need rain pants in July ... though so far this "summer" has been abysmal and record-setting rainy :)

Anyway, you'll be staying in my neighbourhood! Some things from the top of my head:

Staying by Hallgrímskirkja you will be very close to Brauð & co on Frakkastígur, very tasty baked goods. Another bakery is not far, Sandholt on Laugavegur, which seems to be a popular breakfast spot. Reykjavík Roasters on Kárastígur is also right there, some say it's the best coffee in the city and some decent breakfast options.

I second that Tapas barinn is a great restaurant, great food and fun atmosphere. Also their kitchen is open really late if you are running late. Sumac has excellent Middle Eastern-inspired food and great cocktails, that's probably where I would go for a fancy dinner. Brút has great seafood in a nice setting, also a good place for brunch/lunch. Kol is right by Hallgrímskirkja, I haven't been there for a year or so but at least used to have good food and good cocktails.

Some bars ... 12 tónar is a cool record store with a bar (mostly beer/wine I think) and some nights live music. Vínstúkan is a cosy place with exotic natural wines (as well as regular wine/beer), despite not being hugely into the natural wine trend it's one of my favourite places, also has great snacks and small courses. Röntgen has great cocktails in a cool old house, but can get rather loud as the night progresses. Bodega is a nice new-ish place close to the church, it's by a square and if there is sun out you can witness Icelanders sitting outside with their drinks enthusiastically pretending to be in a city on the European mainland. Also Slippbarinn by the harbour at least used to be noted for its cocktails, I haven't been in a while so cannot vouch for it, but the harbour area is fun to wander around as well.
posted by Bektashi at 9:42 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]

Also if it fits your itinerary I would drive through Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki, two small fishing villages just south of Selfoss with some beautiful and quaint old buildings, and have lobster soup at Rauða húsið in Eyrarbakki.
posted by Bektashi at 9:50 AM on June 2

Someone just fed me Omnom Milk of Madagascar 15 minutes ago. It's made in Iceland, and her friend brought it back for her. It's incredible. It's $12.59 for a 2 ounce bar on Amazon, because I just checked.

So, maybe get some of that. If you want to thank me for this excellent travel tip...
posted by amtho at 10:23 AM on June 2

Bring eye masks! It literally never gets dark this time of year and a surprisingly large number of hotels/airBNBs don't have room darkening shades but rather just regular curtains that don't do shit.

Eat Skyr! It's so hard to find where I live in the US and as a vegetarian it was just an absolute miracle food because it has so much protein but tastes WAY better than greek yogurt. Also check out food courts which give you the best bang for your buck ito quantity of food. The cheapest meal we ate in Iceland was this unlimited soup, salad, and bread bar at a random mall food court in Reykjavik.

Don't rush through all the waterfalls and hiking near Silfra. Give yourself plenty of time to amble at your own pace, explore the whole area for a few hours, and wander away from the crowds which tend to gravitate towards the "main" sights. The landscape there is incredible and expansive and occasionally looks positively alien. Give yourself the time and space and silence to feel the otherwordliness of it.

Speaking of weird alien landscapes OH MY GOD PLEASE GIVE YOURSELF AT LEAST A COUPLE OF HOURS TO WANDER AROUND OUTSIDE OF THE BLUE LAGOON. It was like how I think walking around on Venus would be like. *shudder* I almost had an out of body experience. IDK if you're the kind of person who appreciates being skeeved out of your skin by a weirdass landscape but I *live* for this shit lol and it was the highlight of our trip for me.

BTW the Blue Lagoon is *not* overrated. Neither is it underrated, mind you. It is exactly as spectacular as the brochures claim. Do not let people try to talk you out of visiting it. Do not be too cool or too hipster to visit this extremely touristy spot. It is worth the hype. My kids and I visited several other hot springs across Iceland - many of which were recommended to us as "way better than that tourist trap known as the Blue Lagoon" but while the natural hot springs at Myvatn way up north were a close second (with surrounding volcanic lava fields that in fact surpass the landscape outside BL), the Blue Lagoon was definitely still the best. Absolutely fucking gorgeous. You will not regret it.
posted by MiraK at 10:37 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I liked this fancy restaurant in ROK (next to the church) and the Hlemmur Mathöll food hall (specifically Skal). The Marriott Edition hotel has great views from the rooftop bar/terrace if you want a drink. However, the best cocktails in that hotel is the hidden/secret bar called TÖLT. We had to ask and get a secret password and all that fuss to get in.

There's some cool, eclectic clothing stores in the warf area like Kiosk or Farmers Market if that's more your style. One of the Sigur Rós members has a perfumery in town if you're into interesting scents. They offer scent tours. Kirsuberjatréð is an awesome little shop that carried handmade things from local makers. I bought earrings made out of volcano and a beautiful ceramic mug.

While I did not go to Blue Lagoon, I very much enjoyed Sky Lagoon. It was magical. Do the seven step ritual. It's also close to town but overlooks the water. I heard people compare it to Blue Lagoon as more intimate because it's smaller and there's nooks and crannies in the rocks instead of one giant pool.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:55 PM on June 2

Eat your weight in late-night hot dogs (pylsur) at any cart, they’re wonderful and cheap.

And please bring me some pylsusinnep, I’m begging you.
posted by functionequalsform at 7:29 PM on June 2

I’m surprised no one has mentioned The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik. Quite honestly one of the best collection of penises I’ve ever seen, and some very cool art as well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:24 PM on June 2

Best answer: Been to Iceland a few times. Jokuksarlon is the place I’d give anything to see again. My #1 recommendation in the entire country. Yes, you can get there and back in a day. For comparison, there are daylong return trip bus tours from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon. Long day, yes, but it’s an order of magnitude more otherworldly amazing than Vik. Stop at every gas station you see: 1) get gas when you can, 2) eat Icelandic pylsurs.

Seconding the above Reykjavik recommendations for the Phallological Museum and both the food and natural wines at Skal in Hlemmur food hall. For breakfast we like Grai Koturrin (gray cat). Reykjavik is NOT a morning town. If you’re going directly into town from a pre-dawn arrival, like most east coast flights, there’s only a handful of breakfast places that open as early as 8. Grai Koturrin is one.

If you like colorful high-end fashion, hit up Kron Kron for their own designs and a curated collection of other designers. is the Time Out of Reykjavik.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:15 AM on June 3

You say you're doing the main Golden Circle attractions, but since I don't see Þingvellir (Thingvellir) anywhere I figure I should mention it -- it is, IMO, not to be missed. It's the site of some cool history and it's goddamn gorgeous.

Not lunch, but there's a very cute cafe inside a converted school bus near Vik, called Skool Beans. Good coffee, assorted crafts/soaps/jams made by the proprietor which make nice souvenir gifts, and at least as of 2021, a charming if aloof tripod cat.

If you have time to stop at Yet Another Waterfall on the way to Vik, I particularly liked Skógafoss. There's a stair you can climb to see it from the top, and then a very scenic path you can walk from there following the river that feeds the waterfall. It goes a long way, but you can just go as long as you have time for.
posted by egregious theorem at 4:33 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend Aalto Bistro in the Nordic House in Reykjavik, but I see that it has closed permanently. Too bad! I had a very good dinner at Frost og Funi in Hveragerdi, if that works for your itinerary.

When you go back, I'd recommend Jökulsárlón, the Westfjords (especially the puffin nesting grounds at Latrabjarg), Borgarnes (the Settlement Center is fun), the replica of Eric the Red's house at Eiriksstadir, Snæfellsnes.... My first trip to Iceland was a 6-day stopover on the way back from the UK to the US. My second was a 16-day visit circumnavigating the country with a colleague who was preparing to teach a college course on the Vikings. The main drawback to that was that she's a vegan, so we cooked most of our meals in our rentals. I'd like to go back again in a few years.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:15 PM on June 3

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