We aren’t sure if it is the fact that Iceland is an island in the middle of the Atlantic, or that a Google search for “traditional Icelandic food” brings up some pretty scary sounding dishes, but somewhere along the way Iceland has gotten a reputation for not having the tastiest meals.
While it is true that traditional Icelandic food does mostly include a lot of fermented dishes the modern Icelandic cuisine has evolved into quite the delicious array of dishes. With fresh fish and the famous Icelandic lamb, a strong focus on using local products, and some of the best dairy products (we think!) you will find the modern Icelandic cuisine is full of yummy fresh options, and Reykjavik is full of restaurants offering some of the best dishes around.
To help you have some delicious dining experiences while in Reykjavik we have put together a guide of the best restaurants and cafes to check out. But first, let's talk about how in the heck rotten (okay fermented) food came to be the go to meals of the Vikings.
A Brief History of Icelandic Cuisine
Hundreds of years ago the process of preserving food to last through the winter became an important part of the Icelandic cuisine. As you can imagine the winters were quite long and difficult in those years so having enough food to last through those long dark months was a survival must. Early settlers faced an additional challenge as there was little salt available on the island. Instead, Icelanders turned to different preservation methods to make their food last for months. These methods included fermenting fish in whey or brine to drying and smoking meats.
Tasty sounding isn’t it?
Today most of the traditional Icelandic food is still some form of meat that has gone through a fermentation process, each with a unique flavor that comes from how they are preserved. While some of these dishes are best left to the more adventurous palate such as fermented shark, you will find tasty dishes that are very popular with the locals such as smoked lamb (hangikjöt) or salmon.
If you are interested in testing your taste buds you can take on the challenge of eating the fermented shark at the local flea market over the weekend. Or just watch this video and you will get the idea.
While the ingredients in today’s Icelandic cuisine haven’t changed much over the years there is now a more modern twist on how the dishes are prepared and fermentation of foods is not as common. Icelandic cuisine now has a strong focus on using fresh local products that goes beyond just meat and dairy items with lots of fresh produce now available thanks to the geothermal greenhouses located around the country.
Now that you have a better understanding of the Icelandic cuisine let’s talk about where to eat while in Reykjavik.
Where to eat in Reykjavik
Reykjavik, considered the cultural hub of Iceland, is home to many of the country's best restaurants so make sure to schedule a few days here to eat your way around the quirky capital city. Below is our guide of where to eat in Reykjavik broken down into a range of different restaurant options so that everyone can find something to enjoy!
Fine dining in Reykjavik
Fancy a memorable dining experience that will have you tasting some of the best Iceland cuisine has to offer? Reykjavik has some impressive restaurants around town known for their beautiful decor and modern twist on traditional Icelandic dishes. We recommend trying the different tasting menus at the below restaurants to truly make it an unforgettable dining experience, but any dish you order won’t disappoint.
Dessert at Apotek Restaurant - Photo Source
Fiskmarkaðurinn (Fish Markt) – Known for their innovative style of seafood cuisine with an Icelandic and Asian influence, the presentation of the dishes alone will have you impressed! Fiskmarkaðurinn has been on the Reykjavik restaurant scene since 2007 where year after year it has continued to remain a popular choice for both locals and visitors.
Matarkjallarinn (Food Cellar) - Located in a 160 year old building in the center of Reykjavik, this restaurant will have your attention as soon as you step into the cozy yet elegant atmosphere. In the evenings you will often find live music adding to the ambience of the restaurant while you enjoy the delicious cocktails and food they serve here. We recommend ordering the secret menu for a unique dining experience.
Apotek - located where the oldest pharmacy in Iceland used to be, Apotek serves a tasting menu full of Icelandic specialties. Finish off the evening with one of their delicious cocktails or crave worthy desserts for a memorable dining experience
Best Restaurants for Traditional Icelandic Dishes
Part of the fun of visiting a new country is learning all about the culture there, and a big part of this is the food culture. If you are interested in learning more about the traditional Icelandic dishes and trying them out for yourself head to one of the below restaurants while in Reykjavik. Who knows, you might even discover your a big fan of boiled sheep head!
Matur og Drykkur - A restaurant that quickly made a name for themselves on the Reykjavik dining scene, here you will find a menu full of the Icelandic traditional dishes with a modern twist.
Café Loki - This is the place to be for those wanting to try traditional Icelandic food. From rye bread with smoked salmon or trout to sheep head jelly and mashed fish come here ready to sample some unique dishes. Bonus, you can enjoy a lovely view of Hallgrímskirkja while dining.
Reykjavík Street Food - Reykjavík Street Food is a fast-food restaurant serving traditional Icelandic dishes plus a selection of noodle soups. This is the place to go if you want to sample some of the traditional dishes but don’t want to pay the higher prices of the other restaurants around town.
Meal at Kaffi Loki - Photo Source
Budget-Friendly Restaurants in Reykjavik
Iceland may not be the most budget-friendly country to visit, but it is possible to find budget-friendly meals that don’t lack of flavor while in Reykjavik. A few locations to check out around town are:
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur - Reykjavik’s famous hot dog stand, order one with everything and enjoy one of the locals favorite meals for under $5 USD.
Noodle Station - The best meal to warm up with, this soup will only cost you $7-$14 USD.
The SeaBarron - One of Reykjavik's oldest restaurants the lobster soup and fresh bread will be a favorite meal for under $20 USD.
The famous Icelandic hot dog
To stretch your dollar even more here are a few extra tips for sticking to your food budget in Reykjavik:
Go out for lunch. Many of the fine dining restaurants offer excellent lunch time deals for half the price. This is a great option for those wanting to enjoy the dining scene but still want to stick to a budget. We recommend checking out Apotek’s awesome lunch deal, a 2 or 3 course meal from $30 to $40 USD.
Try the food carts. The food cart scene in Reykjavik is quickly growing with some delicious options hitting the streets. From the tasty Lobster Hut to the Fish and Chips Wagon you can sample two or three items for the great prices they offer.
Stock up on snacks at Bonus. Iceland’s discount grocery store, Bonus, offers some great prices that will fit any budget.
Bonus grocery store, just look for the big pink pig!
Vegetarian Friendly Eats in Reykjavik
One thing you will quickly find out in Iceland, meat is a staple dish in the Icelandic cuisine. This can make it a bit tricky to find a vegetarian friendly menu option while dining in Reykjavik. But in recent years the vegetarian dining scene has quickly grown with many restaurants now offering at least a couple of vegetarian options on their menus as well as some delicious vegetarian restaurants opening up around town. You won’t have to miss out on flavor at any of these locations, even your meat loving friends will find a dish to enjoy!
Glo - The most popular health food restaurant in Iceland, you can find several locations around Reykjavik offering fresh vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Kaffi Garðurinn - Located right in the city center you will find weekly seasonal specials to enjoy.
Cafés and Bakeries
Before heading out for a day of exploring the Icelandic countryside fuel up with some strong Icelandic coffee and a tasty treat from one of the delicious cafes and bakeries in town. Below are just a few of the many we enjoy getting our caffeine fix from.
Stofan Café - like walking into a cozy living room, this is a great place to grab a coffee and pastry and spend some time relaxing and planning out your next adventure.
Sandholt Bakery - the most popular bakery in town they have rows of treats to choose from so be sure to stop here for your pastry of the day.
Mokka Kaffi - one of the oldest cafes and a locals favorite go here for delicious Icelandic waffles.
Brauð og Co. - Instagram famous for its bright colorful building, foodie famous for its amazing cinnamon rolls! Stop here to get your picture and try out some of their treats.
Waffles at Mokka Kaffi - Photo Source
Best Happy Hours in Reykjavik
Now that you know where to eat while in Reykjavik, let's talk about the next important thing, where to go for a drink! The nightlife in Reykjavik is quite impressive for such a small city, you can almost always find a pub with live music to enjoy. To start off your evening check out one of these locations for a great happy hour deal in a fun environment.
Skúli Craft Bar - if you are into craft beers this location is for you!
Den Danske Kro - A traditional Danish pub and a local favorite, you can always find a live band and jolly group to enjoy some drinks with in this cozy pub in the city center.
Prikið - One of the oldest bars in Reykjavik, this quirky location will make you feel like you are partying in someone’s living room in downtown Reykjavik. Bonus, if you want to stay out dancing all night you can end the night with a tasty breakfast when this location changes from a bar to cafe in the morning.
KEX - this bar/restaurant is located inside a hostel that is in a building that used to be an old biscuit factory. They have some fun quirky decorations and often have really good live music with some gorgeous views over the ocean and mountains.
Tip: Make sure you always know where the closest happy hour in Reykjavik is and what is on offer by downloading the Appy Hour app.
Eating and Drinking Activities in Reykjavik
The above restaurants alone will keep your stomach happy while in Reykjavik. But if you like to take your dining experience one step further here are some ideas for more food fun to check out while in Reykjavik:
Visit a Brewery. Spend a few hours at the Reykjavik School of Beer enjoying a tour around Iceland’s oldest brewery, Ölgerðin. Learn about how the Viking’s brew their beer and enjoy some tasty samples of several different types of Icelandic alcoholic beverages. And for the brave, a shot of Brennivín, the Icelandic snaps that is traditional taken alongside rotten shark.
Go on a food tour. Join Reykjavik Food Walk and spend four hours visiting 6 different restaurants sampling delicious dishes as you go. Along the way you will hear stories about the restaurant's history, learn about some hidden local favorite spots, and get further insight to the Icelandic food culture. Or try the Funky Food & Beer tour which introduces you to traditional local food and craft beer.
Tour a chocolate factory. If you have a sweet tooth this tour is for you! Head down to the Reykjavik Harbor to enjoy a tour through the Omnom Chocolate factory where you will see how their chocolate is made all while enjoying endless samples along the way.
Join a cooking class. After sampling all the tasty Icelandic cuisine try taking a cooking class so you can recreate some traditional Icelandic dishes at home. Join Salt Eldhus for an evening full of food fun where you will learn to make a delicious dish using fresh Icelandic products before sitting down to enjoy the three-course meal your hard work created. When guests leave they get a recipe folder with all the dishes made that evening so you can show off your new skills to guest back home.
For being such a small country Iceland certainly has a booming foodie scene that will satisfy every palate in your group. Enjoy reading about Icelandic foods? Head to this post to learn more about the typical Icelandic dishes you will find here.
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