Iceland — Land of Fire and Ice, Part I

Take advantage of a #stopover and explore some unique food and places while in Reykjavik!

Iceland is a frequent travel stop for us, both to and from Europe, and a destination in its own right. The Northern Lights and hot springs beckon, and the scenery is ruggedly beautiful: from waterfalls to glaciers and volcanic mountains to black sand beaches. The colors of the Icelandic flag represent these natural phenomena– blue for the water, white for the ice, red for the fiery volcanoes. As a sort of ‘gateway’ between Europe and the west, the country has assimilated many elements to form its own culture. The pagan Viking history marries with more modern Scandinavian influence, the historic traditions of its people honored even as they’re incorporated into the society’s ever-more progressive fabric. We’ve visited no less than six times in the past five years; there’s still more that amazes and delights me each time!

Typically, we fly Icelandair on our way to and from European trips — so far, we’ve done Dublin, Helsinki, Stockholm, Paris, and London on their flights. While I can’t exactly say that basic economy is a spectacular experience, it offers what we need in terms of value. In addition, we enjoy breaking up our flight and having the chance to walk about and stretch for a spell before journeying on. With the red eye out of Dulles, we arrive in Iceland around 6:30 am with a layover of less than 2 hours and reach our final destination by early afternoon. AND, there’s the stopover, which is an option to stay in Iceland for a few nights on the trip. It’s rare that we don’t take advantage of that opportunity, and we highly encourage it.

Reykjavik is a 45-60 min trip from the airport. There are plenty of busses, private transfers, and rental cars available, but note that parking is rarely free in the city, although it may be available at some hotels or rentals. Laugavegur is the main shopping district, and this is the area where we usually stay because walkability is high and bus stops plentiful.

Our favorite accommodation so far has been Apartment K. It might have something to do with the bathroom… 🙂

From this area, it’s easy to find many of Reykjavik’s favorite eats and places, from traditional to….not so traditional. Read on for some ideas for your stopover.

Reykjavik Chips

A block off Laugavegur on Vitastígur, Reykjavik Chips serves hand-cut french fries (chips) with a sense of humor and a variety of sauce options like Buffy sauce, a garlicky vampire-killer.  Potato variety changes frequently depending on what’s available, so no two meals are ever alike.  I advise avoiding the large unless you have a hollow leg or want to eat them for days – even my ravenous, fry-adoring husband couldn’t eat more than half.  Best bet is a combo with a cold beer which is quite affordable.

Bæjarin’s Beztu Pylsur

Icelanders take their hot dogs very seriously, and Bæjarin’s are the best.  The small stand by the Harbor has served world leaders and hungry tourists since 1937 and has been referred to as the world’s best hotdog.  Have it ‘all the way’ with ketchup, mustard, remoulade, raw onion and crispy fried onion bits.

Sandholt Eatery

Located in the main shopping district on Laugavegur, Sandholt offers pastries, croissants, and sandwiches for on-the-go munching and table service to linger over coffee or tea with a meal.  It’s often crowded, so we usually take the ham and cheese croissants to go.

Chuck Norris Grill

There’s no evidence that Chuck is involved with this restaurant or its ownership.  The Grill offers ‘typical’ American fare.  What makes it don’t miss is the atmosphere: the walls and windows are peppered with funny quotes about Chuck that’ll make you – wait for it – chuckle. (“The boogie man looks in his closet every night for Chuck Norris”).

Hlemmur Square

Iceland’s first food hall.  If you don’t know the concept, think mall food court and you have a good idea.  Instant aromas when you open the door – spicy taco meat, fresh-baked bread, oven-cooked pizza.  A feast for the eyes, too: colorful smørrebrød, pho with its verdant green cilantro, glasses of golden Viking lager.  I’m getting hungry typing this, so I say if you can’t find something to eat here, you aren’t hungry.  Plus, it’s close to the penis museum – yes, you read that correctly 😊 — a great place to pick up souvenirs for friends with a like-minded sense of  humor. 

Kofinn

This basement bar at the “split” on Laugavegur is a great place to pop in and warm up (with a cold Viking?!?).  Try the lamp soup and play your favorite card game while you wait.  Friendly service, casual atmosphere, and convenient location.

Icelandic Street Food

Icelandic Street Food has multiple locations, the concept being to serve traditional foods in fast-food-type time, so the menu offers a few exclusive Icelandic specialties.  Try the Fisherman’s Favorite, a cod and potato stew for an authentic and traditional Icelandic dish.

If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for Part II coming soon. Can’t wait? Try our recipe for traditional lamb soup for a taste of Iceland — Kjotsupa!

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