Reykjavik: Exploring the Capital of Cool

Matur og Drykkur / Photo by Karl Petersson
Matur og Drykkur / Photo by Karl Petersson

The word is out: The world’s northernmost capital city is cool—literally and figuratively—and that starts with the food and beverage scene. From destination restaurants to casual haunts, modern cocktail lounges to bars peddling local brews and spirits, you’ll be sated. Add in a few unique landmarks and a trip here, where the perfect summer day is sunny and about 62˚F, is all about being chill, indoors and out.

Laundromat Café / Photo by Michael Schachner
Laundromat Café / Photo by Michael Schachner


Iceland produces excellent beers, gins and vodkas, but Brennivín, a caraway-flavored aquavit, is its signature spirit. You’ll find it used creatively at Slippbarinn, a trendy cocktail bar located in the Marina Hotel. For housemade beers and other Icelandic microbrews, try the pubby Kaldi Bar. Nearby is Sandholt, a sophisticated café with a nice selection of wines and beers. For a cold one (or a hearty breakfast or lunch), you won’t go wrong at the quirky Laundromat Café.

Matur og Drykkur / Photo by Karl Petersson
Matur og Drykkur / Photo by Karl Petersson


Call a couple of months ahead to snare a table at Dill, Reykjavik’s premier upscale restaurant. Owned by Gunnar Gíslason, who recently opened Agern in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Dill serves fixed-price, Nordic-themed extravaganzas. Meanwhile, the young chefs at Matur og Drykkur (Food and Drink) turn out modern interpretations of Icelandic classics like roasted whole cod’s head or sea trout smoked over dried sheep’s dung. At Kol, the slogan is “come for the food, stay for the fun.” That seems about right, as Kol delivers artisan cocktails, a commendable wine list and well-executed dishes like charred tuna and duck confit. For lunch, both The Coocoo’s Nest and Kaffivagninn are easygoing spots near the city’s main port. Dishes such as the kale-and-braised-cod omelet at The Coocoo’s Nest and Kaffivagninn’s Icelandic fish soup made with tomatoes, cream and a light curry infusion give a nod to the city’s cross-cultural culinary aspirations. Snackers might check out the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog cart and Valdís, where you can try salted licorice ice cream, a local favorite.

Aerial view of Reykjavik, Iceland
Aerial view of Reykjavik, Iceland


Reykjavik offers enough sights and activities to fill a couple of days. Housed in a former fish processing plant, the Maritime Museum focuses on seafaring traditions and fishing roots. Also by the port, you can board a whale-watching boat or take an excursion to nearby islands inhabited by puffins, Iceland’s national bird with a colorful bill. The city’s most visible landmark is Hallgrímskirkja, a cement-clad Lutheran church that stands 244 feet tall. While it’s a well-trodden tourist path, one shouldn’t pass up a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a huge, geothermally heated pool located south of the city (book in advance).

10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2016
Farmer's Market / Photo by Michael Schachner
Farmer’s Market / Photo by Michael Schachner


Geysir and 66˚ North are Iceland’s version of The North Face or Patagonia. But for fashionable clothing with an outdoor leaning (boots, sweaters, hats, etc.), Farmers Market, shown here, has no equal. On Laugavegur Street, Reykjavik’s main commercial thoroughfare, Kiosk features unconventional women’s wear from local designers, while Hrím is all about housewares.

4 Hour Getaway

The Golden Circle is a 190-mile route that winds into the uplands and back, the highlight of which is Thingvellir National Park, which includes Gullfoss waterfalls, geysers and Keriŏ Crater (below). If you travel along the southern coastline, eat at Fjorubordid in the village of Stokkseyri. There, the sweet Icelandic langoustines cooked with butter, olive oil, garlic, peppercorns and coriander seeds are as good as crustaceans get.

Kerið volcanic crater
Kerið volcanic crater

For lighter crowds and fewer tour buses, a trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, located about 90 minutes north of Reykjavik, is highly recommended. Visit black-stone beaches or hike to waterfalls and lava fields between taking in views of rugged coastline and the glacier-topped volcano known as Snæfellsjökull. Along the way, have lunch at Hotel Búdir, one of the area’s most charming country inns.

Published on December 21, 2016
Topics: Travel Destinations
About the Author
Michael Schachner
Spanish and South American Editor

Reviews wines from Argentina, Chile and Spain.

Michael Schachner is a New York-based journalist specializing in wine, food and travel. His articles appear regularly in Wine Enthusiast, where he is a longstanding contributing editor responsible for South America and Spain. Schachner reviews more than 2,000 wines annually for WE and regularly travels to Chile, Argentina and Spain to keep abreast of the constantly changing global wine map. Email:

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