Looking for somewhere cool to travel in summer? Try Reykjavik, Oslo or Helsinki
Many people make a beeline for the beach in summer, but you have other plans for the holidays. If you fancy grabbing your raincoat instead of your swimming costume, here are three cool destinations that you might like. Next stop – Reykjavik, Oslo or Helsinki!more info
Where to Eat and Drink in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is the ideal starting point for an adventurous road trip along endless snowy roads, sometimes surrounded by vegetation, lunar landscapes and fascinatingly intriguing rocky backdrops. The geography of one of the most enchanting countries in the world consists of lakes, mountains, volcanoes, fjords and glaciers, among other spectacular landscape features. Its capital, Reykjavik, is a trendy paradise dominated by middle-class inhabitants. There you may bump into Björk enjoying a cappuccino in the carefree environment of a café where top quality food is served. To assist you in the choice of great dining options in Reykjavik, we have chosen 8 restaurants you can never go wrong with.
1. Lava Restaurant
Aside from being situated in a fairy-tale location, the Blue Lagoon restaurant is representative of Iceland's creative cuisine. Its chef, Viktor Orn Andresson, who was named best Nordic chef of 2014, offers creative, organic cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh fish and vegetables. Here you can see the geothermal waters and lava formations of the Blue Lagoon open-air spa by just looking out the dining room's glass walls. Alternatively, an outdoor bathe in these warm medicinal waters can be enjoyed regardless of the freezing ambient temperature, while indulging in Icelandic avant-garde cuisine. Their dishes range from mutton tartar with spicy radish to garlic and crayfish soup, to delicious cod with citrus fruits.
Charming restaurant with spectacular views, located by the harbour. This delightful eatery is always busy thanks to their delectable seasonal cuisine, fresh produce – lovingly prepared – and a no-nonsense approach. They boast a great international wine list, with slightly higher prices than the rest of the menu, in addition to a wonderful choice of lavish dishes, some among the best we have ever tried – the harbour-style tuna (lightly roasted, with garlic chips), cod tongue with garlic and cherry, and creamy lobster risotto. Undoubtedly a must.
A visit to Reykjavik is incomplete without gazing up at the stunning Harpa building. Located by the sea, it houses a macro concert and conference hall that won a Mies Van Der Rohe prize and is the headquarters of the Icelandic Symphonic Orchestra and Opera. After a photo shoot of this glazed building and a sneak-peak at their design store, we can take the lift up to the 4th floor to Kolabrautin, its snazzy restaurant. While soaking up what is likely the best view of the city, you can enjoy a well-blended fusion of Icelandic and Italian cuisine, accompanied by a blissful cocktail or a glass of wine. If you would rather venture into one of the numerous eateries of the main street – Laugavegur, a paradise of art, design and fashion shops, cute cafés and restaurants – you can always move on to Kolabrautin after supper for some drinks.
4. Café Babalú
From the cosmopolitan sophistication of the last three options to the informality of this enchanting café. Café Babalú welcomes anyone at any time of the day, with an original and picturesque ambience and a menu that ranges from homemade cakes to soups, sandwiches and vegetarian pies. When approaching it from the street you'll see a pretty yellow house and, on entering, you'll be greeted by an interior of various types of vintage furniture. This renders Babalú the ideal location to enjoy the marvellous view from its glass front while clutching a massive cappuccino with both hands. Their cheesecake is the city's most popular.
5. Te & Kaffi
This bookshop café is a required stop. From its terrace you can sit back and watch Reykjavik's placid everyday life.If the weather is not on your side, you can take a seat at an indoor table and enjoy a large coffee and an equally remarkably-sized slice of cake. Meanwhile, you can flip through one of their art and design books in a pleasant and cosy atmosphere. This chain of cafés can also be found in some shopping centres.
One of the first things that will strike you when you set foot in Reykjavik is that Icelanders love huge cafés and homemade pastries. Indeed, the city is teeming with establishments packed with surprisingly slim hipsters, considering the amount of cakes they put away. One of the busiest cafés in town is Mokka, frequented by local artists, where their wonderful waffles are a must-try. No Wi-Fi connection here but, so what?
7. The Laundromat Cafe
As most things in Reykjavik, this place is super cute but, take note, their hamburgers are among the best you will find here. A totally kid-friendly spot with a playroom, this delightful café with wood-panelled walls is just as trendy as it is cosy. Bright, spacious and charismatic, The Laundromat Café is always lively and – yes – you can do your laundry here.
8. Slipp Bar
Like other buildings across the road from Reykjavik harbour, the bar of the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina is a tribute to Scandinavian good taste (to the point it may give you Stendhal syndrome). An overnight stay at this soberly charming three-star is well worthwhile, and you'll almost fall asleep to the lullaby of the waves. Both Slipp Bar and the hotel are exquisitely decorated and are ideal spots to spend an afternoon in Reykjavik. Here you can enjoy a mid-morning coffee, a snack in the afternoon or a cocktail in the late evening, always with views over the sea and a designer lamp above you.
Feeling hungry? Check out our flights and discover Reykjavik's fabulous cuisine now!
Text and images by Laura Conde (Gastronomistas)
Reykjavik A Great Small City I
This, the first part of the post focuses on the rich music scene in the Icelandic capital. As we shall see, it is an enchanting, visitor-friendly city, full of contrasts.
To some extent, if you’ve only seen Reykjavik, you haven’t really seen Iceland. What you have seen, though, is its openness to the world, its warmer, more friendly side, making you feel comfortable despite being thousands of kilometres from home. For, once you leave the welcoming streets in Reykjavik’s city centre, the distances between built-up areas grow exponentially, with population centres distributed like in the United States. Reykjavik itself is the largest city on the island, with a population of 130,000 inhabitants – 215,000 if you include its surrounding areas. Once you leave the limits of Reykjavik, nature rules, but that is another story we will deal with some other time.
While the freezing winter temperatures preclude the sort of sightseeing we Mediterraneans are fond of, a visit to Reykjavik in spring, summer and early autumn can be a fantastic experience. In early October, temperatures in the city are still bearable for Spanish tourists, ranging from a minimum of two degrees to a maximum of ten. Well, that’s cold, but not untowardly so. With that in mind, and given the scarce sunlight hours, you will feel like walking up and down the street and peeking into the shop windows ranged one after the other in the city centre. Craft stores, fashion stores and boutiques with a huge variety of apparel. Those selling jerseys with colourful, handmade patterns come highly recommended. Then there are the restaurants, musical bars, art galleries and even record shops, making downtown Reykjavik a large business emporium, although worlds apart from the crowding of the large European city centres. Here, everything is carefully thought out, but endearingly so – shops all have their own personality and service is warm and friendly. You won’t be overwhelmed by ghetto-blasting piped music, endless queues or intrusive, frenzied marketing campaigns.
When you’re ready to grab a bite, your options range from strong-tasting local fare to Italian-style pizzas, like those served up at Primo Ristorante, while appetising Nordic- and Slavic-style soups are also much in vogue – be sure to visit Svarta Kaffi, at Laugavegur 54, where the soup is served in bread. Also worth trying are the hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (Tryggvagata 1), a street stall where, according to George Clinton, they make the best hot dogs in the world. And, don’t worry about the service. Apart from the fact that you can come across people of various nationalities – among them, quite a few Spaniards – Icelanders are friendly yet discreet people. And, don’t be surprised if the waiters or waitresses seem very young by Spanish standards. While work may be considered ennobling, in Iceland they appear to have learned this earlier than in other European countries.
For those who don’t fancy walking about, Reykjavik has several bus lines covering the city centre and surrounding areas.
A trip to Iceland could start in the streets of Reykjavik and then strike out necessarily across the island, one of the most beautiful in the world for those seeking tranquility, a magical atmosphere and nature in the raw. In the city, buildings are painted in various colours, so you can come across one with blue walls adjoining another in stately white, tainted by the passage of time. In the wild, the white of snow and ice, the bright green of the vegetation, volcanic greys and browns and the one thousand and one hues of freely flowing waters combine to create a colour palette which underscores the majesty of this land’s natural surroundings, which Icelanders have long protected, a sentiment deep-seated in their hearts.
While your first port of call may be the city, you should also consider taking the chance to venture out into Iceland’s wild, free interior. To go no further, Reykjavik harbour provides numerous options of three- to five-hour boat rides to go whale-spotting. The idea is to observe various types of whales swimming freely in the cold Arctic waters; whales of different sizes, as well as an amazing variety of dolphins. But, don’t get your hopes up too fast – the animals aren’t just out there waiting for you to come along. It’s up to the gods of the sea whether you will be lucky enough to spot them, or whether your trip will be successful. Indeed, you are more likely to get the desired results by going on an outing to the areas where those “little Atlantic friars” the puffins live and nest. Some eight to ten million puffins are believed to inhabit the territory.
But, there is a lot more to do in a city like Reykjavik. From there you can watch the fantastic northern lights and, if you are lucky, you will coincide with one of the few occasions when the city lights are switched off to enhance everyone’s viewing experience of this natural wonder. You could also visit Hallgrímskirkja Church – with grey tones on the outside, and striking forms and interior spaces – or have a dip in the warm waters of any number of thermal baths, both in the city and outside it.
Text by Joan S. Luna (Mondo Sonoro)
Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info
Reykjavik A Great Small City II
Our main reason for visiting Iceland’s capital was to uncover the city’s musical melting pot. Reykjavik has continued to churn out musical icons ever since the initial boom in the early 1980s, as reflected in the documentary and double LP, “Rokk í Reykjavík”, featuring such Icelandic bands as Baraflokkurinn and Tappi Tíkarrass – the latter was Björk’s first serious music project. When talking of Iceland, the first thing that springs to mind are the two most popular names on the international scene – Sigur Rós, and the aforementioned Björk. However, there is an amazingly long list of artists distributed across the length and breadth of the land, as well as countless bands, soloists and collectives that often share their members, regardless of each group’s musical style.
All of these have at some time performed in Húrra, Reykjavik’s leading concert hall, previously known as Harlem. When we were there, we were impressed by the varied setlists scheduled for the following days – an extreme metal festival, a reggae group (Hjálmar, very popular in Iceland) and a tribute group to the Sex Pistols which hails from the continent. Húrra really acts as a downtown music hub, covering all the musical genres. For starters, it is one of the customary venues for the popular music festival, Icelandic Airwaves, which is held at the beginning of November at various settings in the city, including the marvellous Harpa, a musical and cultural activities centre which has fairly galvanised the local scene in the last few years.
Needless to say, we had to finish off the night with a beer. There are myriad Icelandic brands, including the ubiquitous Viking, in addition to some imported varieties. We ended up at Kaffibarinn, also known as KB, owing to the fact that Damon Albarn from Blur is one of its proprietors. The downstairs hall is comfortable, cosy and features a good, ongoing soundtrack, principally pop and electronic. But, remember not to bother the DJ – not for nothing is there a metal plaque near the crockery which reads, “No requests accepted”. If you want to smoke, which is not allowed inside the premises, they have an open-air interior patio where you can smoke and still keep up a conversation with friends and acquaintances. But, at midnight, everything changes and the upstairs area at KB becomes a dance club which operates until the early hours.
The local scene is clearly both extensive and surprising. Apart from groups with a proven track record, notably Of Monster And Men, Sólstafir, Amina, FM Belfast and Sin Fang, it is the new generation that is shaking the very foundations of the city. We could start with Retro Stefson, a pop group which has been migrating toward electronic and has recently shot to the number one slot in Iceland thanks to their new single, Skin, a preview of their upcoming album, Scandinavian Pain. In fact, it was their vocalist and guitarist, Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson, who acted to some extent as our host during our fleeting visit. After inviting us to see his new studio, which is bound to become one of the most active in the city, he took us to have a coffee in Sæmundur í Sparifötunum, a hipster gastro hotel where he introduced us to two of Iceland’s best known rap stars, the upcoming talent, Gísli Pálmi, and the veteran Emmsjé Gauti, the author of a single called precisely Reykjavik. He talked to us about the female collective Reykjavíkurdætur, currently on a meteoric roll, and remarked how one of the leading lights of Iceland’s parliament, Óttarr Proppé, has played in various bands, among them HAM, which was very popular in the early nineties. He also revealed that his favourites included the very young singer (aged sixteen) from R&B and trap music, Aron Can, and the pop singer, Sturla Atlas. Truth be told, Manuel – of Portuguese and Angolan extraction – is also the brother ofLogi Pedro,one of the most celebrated hip hop producers in Iceland and the composer of much of the bass and rhythms for some of the aforementioned artists.
When it came to discovering new artists, we were also lucky enough to have the assistance of the writer, Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, who goes under the stage nameSjónand who collaborates closely with Björk. He recommended the DJ, Flugvél Og Geimskip, and the trap duo, Úlfur Úlfur, whose popularity is on the up and up and who feature among Iceland’s best known current stars.
We could go on about contemporary figures well worth watching, including Sin Fang, who has just worked with Jónsi of Sigur Rós on the latter’s new album. Then there is the electropop group, Gangly, and Alex Somers, the hyperactive writer of American soundtracks who resides in the city and who, together with his boyfriend, the aforementioned Jónsi, recorded under the name Riceboy Sleeps.
And, of course, a must-visit is to the best record shop in town, Smekkleysa, associated with the Bad Taste label (which is what “Smekkleysa” means in Icelandic), and originally related to members of The Sugarcubes. In short, this venue is the basic driving force behind the burgeoning Icelandic scene, due largely to its promotion of such internationally acclaimed projects as Fufanu, Gus Gus, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Minus, Mugison, Múm and Sigur Rós itself.
You will be dazzled by the huge variety of musical offerings to be had in Reykjavik. Don’t pass up the chance to venture into the city’s music scene – check out our flights here.
Text by Joan S. Luna (Mondo Sonoro)
Images by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS