If I had to choose one word to describe Iceland, it would be enchanting. Driving through the untouched countryside, you feel as if you are driving through a fantasy novel. The terrain changes as quickly as it does dramatically- one minute you’re ogling over the lush greenness of the towering mountains and fairy-tale like waterfalls. And before you know it, you’re staring as a miles-long stretch of lava artfully coated in moss.
While the climate may be less than ideal, it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the place. In fact, I think it adds to its mysticism. You can always return to your home base in Reykjavik after a day of adventuring, and find yourself a cozy bar with a vintage feel (Reykjavik has no shortage of those) and imbibe in a local beer and a hearty meal.
If there’s anything that can be said about Icelanders, it’s their resourcefulness. Almost the entire country of Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, and they have a goal to be completely free of fossil fuels by 2050. Icelanders are known for having one of the healthiest diets and longest life expectancies, and this can be attributed largely to their locavore ways. Their diet consists mostly of fresh and fermented seafood, skyr (a cultured dairy product), root vegetables, and greenhouse-grown tomatoes.
Staying in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik is a great way to experience the local culture, including farm-(or ocean)-to-table dining, local shops selling handmade goods, and museums.
Restaurants & Bars
Locally roasted coffee in a cozy, vintage-inspired setting. Reykjavik Roaster is arguably the best coffee shop in Reykjavik, and now has three locations throughout the city. It is a great place to hang out, get work done, meet up with friends, read a book, whatever you feel called to do!
Open from the morning until late at night, Stofan is a casual place to go for coffee, wine, beer, or a light meal, complete with board games, high-speed internet, and vintage furniture. Happy hour is every day from 16:00 to 18:00.
This cozy neighborhood joint was designed out of half of an old pharmacy store using mainly up-cycled materials and vintage furniture. Co-owner and interior designer Hálfdan Pedersen was able to create a modern, yet vintage vibe, and chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason (of the famous farm-to-table Dill Restaurant) created a locally-focused menu. Their menu is written on a chalkboard and consists of seasonal soups, a delicious and hearty vegan burger, and more. Whether you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, a healthy meal, or wine/beer/spirits, this is a wonderful place to go that’s a little off the beaten path.
When Iceland throws you a cold, rainy day, as Iceland tends to do, warm up with a bowl of noodles in between shopping and sight-seeing. They offer vegetable broth, making it suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
A canteen-style health-focused restaurant created by Elías Guðmundsson, a renowned raw vegan chef and organic food expert. Glo is the perfect place for both plant and meat eaters looking for fuss-free healthy meal.
Some of Reykjavik’s best vegan food is served in this small, 100% plant-based cafe. At night, it’s a great spot to hang out over a local beer or glass of wine.
Kex Hostel, one of the top-rated hostels in the world, is also home to one of Reykjavik’s most popular gathering spots. Sæmundur í Sparifötunum, their gastropub, serves food that is self-described as being “swankier than your ordinary pub grub” without being pretentious. Grab a local beer from the attached DRINX bar and mingle with people from all walks of the earth.
On the floor level of the luxury hostel Hlemmur Square is Pylsa, an artisinal sausage restaurant with an atmosphere reminiscent of Paris in the roaring twenties. They have a vegan “sausage” that is served with sweet potato mash and coconut creamed kale, and yes, it is something to write home about.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving a selection ethnic-inspired meals and raw vegan desserts.
Their tagline is “Honest Food” and their menu changes daily to reflect what’s local and in season. They are vegan and vegetarian friendly and open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A local fashion brand that makes clothing from recycled items and pays its workers fair wages.
A beautiful gift shop selling locally-crafted jewelry and other Icelandic goods.
A store showcasing Icelandic design in a variety of product categories- books, jewelry, clothing, interior design, and more.
Things to Do
While undoubtedly Iceland’s biggest tourist attraction, a visit to the Blue Lagoon is truly a must. There aren’t many other places in the world where you can bathe in a natural hot spring, immersed in fluorescent blue water, surrounded by volcanic terrain. The Blue Lagoon also places a high value on sustainability and is 100% powered by geothermal energy. Splurge and make a day of it by visiting their spa- which has a sauna, steam rooms, and a man-made waterfall- and having an Icelandic meal at Lava Restaurant. Stay at their Silica Hotel for a private bathing lagoon, complimentary access to the Blue Lagoon, and free breakfast.
Adventure & Sightseeing Tours
Iceland is the perfect destination for the adventurer, and the following tour companies will help feed your craving for adventure in a sustainable manner.
GoEcco Tours offers a variety of adventure and sightseeing tours, including a hot spring meditation hike and 1, 2, and 3 day ice caving tours. You can also join them on a hike into an ancient volcanic crater, or a day tour to the beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Go Green Tours, a small, family-run company, offers Northern Lights tours all winter long, as well as tours of the Golden Circle, the South Coast, and Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Hike Mount Esja
Just 10 km northeast of Reykjavik is the Esjan mountain range, which provides for an active day trip with stunning views of the city.
Visit the Icelandic Horses
Iceland is home to roughly 80,000 horses, which are used primarily for farm work, recreation, and showing. The breed is known for its friendliness and high spirit. They’re the types of horses that will approach you and almost demand your attention.