Iceland’s tourism has reached peak levels in the last couple of years, mainly thanks to cheap airfare to the Nordic Island. With WOW Air offering direct flights from Dublin for as little as €49.99 each way, visiting the capital of the land of fire and ice has never been more affordable.
Still though, once you arrive, Iceland lives up to its reputation of not being particularly pocket-friendly. You probably haven’t heard a whole lot about the food and drink scene, either. So here are a few favourites that’ll satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst, all without breaking the bank.
Typically included in most lodgings, you’ll want to fill up ahead of a day exploring and make the most of that breakfast buffet. For a budget option, try Loft Hostel on Bankastraeti, the city’s main shopping street.
The location couldn’t be more perfect and the free brekkie of eggs, coffee, pastries and fruit will keep you full until lunch.
For a fancier place to lay your weary head, Hlemmur Square at the other end of the main road serves up platters of pretty doughnuts in the morning – a sweet deal.
Prikid, also on Bankastraeti, does a ‘Hangover Killer’ for €25 that includes a ‘Bruce Willis’ shake that should bring you back to life after a night on the tiles in Reykjavik. They also do excellent fluffy American pancakes.
If you’ve got the time and inclination to venture out of the city, Reykjanes, the southern peninsula in the south-west of the country is only about 45 minutes from the capital. You’ll see stunning aqua crater lakes and natural geothermal activity. It’s the only place in the world where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level.
All that fresh air can work up quite an appetite, satisfy it with a warming cup of meat or veg soup from the food truck beside the bubbling mud pools at Krýsuvík. Most likely one of the cheapest meals you’ll eat in Iceland.
Back in Reykjavík, the Laundromat Café serves up a generous portion of salted cod with beet-slaw, roast potatoes and chilli mayo. They also do a brilliant weekend brunch and the prices are reasonable for Iceland, at around €22 for a main.
For a fast food option, head to the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand (translates into “the best hot dog in town”) right in the city centre. A favourite of Bill Clinton when he visited, order one “with everything”, for an inexpensive and tasty snack.
Casual diner style lunches of no-nonsense burgers in Prikid are served with fries for under €18. Try the Chili burger with pico de gallo, cheese, jalapeños and chili mayo, or one of their simple sandwiches.
The gastropub at KEX Hostel delivers Icelandic inspired dishes made with fresh local ingredients. If you’re really hungry get the burger and share a couple of sides (fried cauliflower is as healthy as it sounds). The grilled chorizo with mashed potatoes and mustard is another favourite.
This trendy hostel is housed in an old biscuit factory with views out over the seafront. Find a cosy seat by the library and order a reasonably priced bottle of bubbles, a rare find in Reykjavik!
The pizza place with no name isn’t the easiest to find – no name equals no door sign. If you’re looking for it, which you should, walk past 101 Hotel, turn right and you’ll see the entrance up a few steps on your right. Even if you get lost, the rewards that await will be worth the hunt.
A pizza (you’ll want a whole one to yourself! I recommend the Parma ham, pecorino and rocket) will set you back around €22. Add a bottle of wine into the mix and you won’t be left with much change from forty euro between two. But don’t worry, it’s worth every penny.
Public House Gastropub has a Japanese-inspired street food style menu, or you can choose their ‘best of’ set menu which includes crispy chicken skin with truffle potato dip, tuna tataki, ponzu, spring onion and puffed rice, duck chopsticks with truffle ponzu and chives and beef spears with wafu sauce, sweet potatoes and aji Amarillo. It’s not cheap though, at 7,990ISK, or about €65.
Loftid Lounge craft some of the best cocktails in the city, ask for something with citrus infused Mezcal for a warming treat. But start your night off during happy hour at the bar in Loft Hostel, on the rooftop with a gin and cherry tonic overlooking Bankastraeti.
Sign up for the Wake Up Reykjavik bar crawl if you want to party like the locals. If you’re looking to sample some traditional Icelandic fare and also take in the best of the nightlife downtown has to offer, this is the tour for you.
After a couple of cocktails in Loftið, you’ll head on to The Viking bar where you can try dried fish (tastes like stale and chewy prawn crackers that you’re encouraged to spread butter on), fermented shark (must be an acquired taste) and shots of Brennivín schnapps (a clear, unsweetened spirit, directly translates to ‘burning wine’) aka Black Death chased with Icelandic blonde ale, which helps wash everything down.
Afterwards, you’ll visit the Big Lebowski, a themed bar which plays excellent retro music and obviously has a decent selection of White Russians. Here you can try an off-menu Cocoa Puffs cocktail, which is pretty potent and served with a spoon to fish out the cocoa puffs. It’s a weird mix, but it works!
– Grab some drinks and snacks in the supermarket beside the baggage reclaim after you land at Keflavík airport. Food and drink in the city isn’t cheap, so it helps to have your own little stash.
– Download the ‘Appy Hour’ app, for times of all the bars that do happy hour in Reykjavik.
– Speaking of tips, it’s not really the done thing in Iceland. Tipping is far from compulsory, but still always appreciated. With the sudden boom in tourism, staff can often be overworked. You’ll meet some of the friendliest and warm people in Reykjavik, who are genuinely happy to help you.
Obsessed with travel and beauty and unable to find a traditional career that satisfied both passions, I decided to forge my own path by combining the two. I have a tendency to do that, just go ahead and jump two feet in before testing the waters, but luckily it seems to have worked out for me. And more importantly, I have fun doing it.
Visit Nadia’s travel and lifestyle blog, the daily s’elf, to read more about her adventures.