Stofan: I read a review of this place on Conde Nast Traveler's site and was drawn to it -- and it was the perfect refuge for us when we arrived in Reykjavik at 7am and couldn't check in to our hotel until 2pm. Cozy, warm, and tastefully eclectic. Breakfast was around $25-$30. $-$$
Reykjavik Roasters: Deemed the best coffee shop by the locals, and I agree with them. It's small but hip and comfortable, and the baristas have won several awards for their craft. $
Gló: Lovely, fresh, vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurant (with options for meat eaters, too). I really enjoyed my meal here, so much that I bought the owner's beautiful cookbook. Suitable for lunch or dinner. Good prices, too, for Iceland! $$
Kaffi Vinyl: Reykjavik's only all-vegan restaurant. Wonderful place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Their chalkboard menu rotates regularly and the restaurant doubles as a record store. $-$$
Reykjavik Chips: Sells Reykjavik's finest late night snack: fries. Chips. Whatever you wanna call them, they're good. And yes, we ate them for lunch one day. $
------ Dinner & Drinks
DILL: If you have the money and the time to reserve a table well in advance, this Michelin-star restaurant is incredible. A true taste of Iceland fine dining. You choose either a 5-course or a 7-course meal and wine pairing. Unlike many fine dining restaurants, we actually left feeling full and satisfied. $$$$
Sæmundur í Sparifötunum at Kex Hostel: We ate here for lunch but their dinner menu looked amazing. The same creators of DILL also started this restaurant at Kex (which means biscuit in Icelandic -- the hostel is housed in an old biscuit factory) so you know that a lot of care goes into the making of their dishes. They also have a fantastic bar with views of the bay and the mountains. $$-$$$
Bergsson Mathús: We had a quiet dinner here and really enjoyed the light, fresh decor. Vegan/vegetarian friendly with locally sourced/in season ingredients. $$
Slippbarinn: We went here for drinks near the harbor. Their drink menu is inventive as it is funny - I ordered the Judas Hobo (mint, vodka, basil, strawberries, lime) and it was served to me in a paper bag. $$
On the road:
Signs with a fork on them indicate that a little farm or bed and breakfast is nearby, and almost always, the food is fresh and delicious.
Bláa Kannan: You can't miss this place. We'd already eaten dinner but stopped in for dessert and the Caramel Cheesecake was the most delicious. It's the blue building that looks straight out of a fairytale. $
Kaffi Ilmur: We had breakfast here, but they also serve lunch. It's located in one of the oldest buildings in the heart of town. $
Getting around Iceland is pretty easy!
Riding the bus in Reykjavik: Though few locals enjoy riding the bus (they take a lot of pride in driving their private vehicles around) it makes for an easy way to get around if you are staying a few miles from the city center. You can hop on the bus if you have exact change. One ride is 440 krona - be sure to take the receipt in case you end up on the wrong bus. You have 60 minutes to change buses if you do! You can also buy bus tickets with your credit card when you stop by a tourism agency, and some gas stations sell them. A day pass can be purchased (you get four rides) which might suit you if your hotel is far from the city center -- otherwise it's probably not worth it.
Renting a car: We rented a car through Hertz, and it's pretty easy to reserve or get an estimate online. I'll say one thing -- Iceland weather can be pretty tricky, as in, you might end up driving in a snowstorm, or pouring rain, or intense wind (we experienced all three) and it's important to feel confident in your vehicle's ability to handle the terrain as well as your own ability to navigate treacherous weather. We rented a small, two-wheel drive vehicle, which worked out in the long run - but getting caught on icy roads in pelting snow made for a bit of anxiety - and questioning whether our car could handle the drive. It may be a safer bet to rent a car with 4-wheel drive just to feel a little more secure, but if you're traveling just the southern rim in the summer, you shouldn't have a problem!
Driving in Iceland: Always check www.road.is before you head out as unpredictable weather may result in road closures. Notice that some roads, particularly bridges, turn into one-lane roads, and the best way to navigate these roads is to approach cautiously, and if there is traffic already driving through, yield to them. ALSO: if you are driving Ring Road in its entirety, there will be a time when you drive over a mountain (on the Southeastern coast heading north towards Egilsstaðir from Höfn). We were not prepared for this, and our little car was going up, pedal to the metal, slowly uphill in the snow. We finally made it to Egilsstaðir and had lunch at a cafe, and I asked our server if we went the right way -- she said yes, and that it's the worst road in Iceland! My fear was that we'd encounter more mountains during the rest of our drive to Akureyri, but she told us that was the only one, and it was. We did, however, encounter more treacherous driving thanks to snow, wind, and ice. Be careful!
Don't forget to bring your converter, toothbrush, etc, etc. A list can be found on my definitive & portable Iceland Itinerary, where you can save a copy for yourself and tweak it however you choose!
The Little Book of the Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdóttir -- Alda provides quirky and quick insight into Icelandic life.
The Iceland Chapter of The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner -- I loved this book! If you love travel and are the slightest bit self-aware of your own happiness in a given time and place, I think you'll really enjoy it, too.
Also, while in Iceland, stop into their bookstores and peruse the shelves. You might find an interesting read to take home with you (but warning: you'll pay a lot of money for it).
Be wary of the dangers of Iceland. This is one of my favorite articles about all the things that can kill you in Iceland. It kind of seems funny at first but a lot of tourists actually have died from not making conscious decisions in such an unpredictable land.
Decide what you want to see and how you're going to see it. If you're looking for my complete and portable Ring Road itinerary, click here!
Bíó Paradís: We have this thing where we love to go see a movie in a foreign country. In English. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but we were the only travelers in the theatre, and nightlife in the city is pretty nonexistent on weekdays. This theatre sells beer & wine, candy, and screens films in both English and Icelandic.
Hallgrímskirkja: Iceland's now iconic Lutheran church. The view from the top offers a panorama of the colorful town below. It costs about $9 to take the lift to the top.
Walk the main shopping street Laugavegur and browse through bookstores and New Nordic home goods suppliers.
Museums: I love museums, but the only one we ended up at was the Icelandic Phallological Museum, so that's the only one I can speak for.
If you're looking for a things to see/do while driving Ring Road, click here!
Golden Circle Tour/Other various tours: We hear it's best to skip it. Just rent a car and tour yourself! More on that under the "Drive" section above.
Stígur: This ceramics store/gallery gave me LIFE. My obsession is ceramics. Several artists have work on display in this shop, but my favorites were Bjarni Sigurdsson's beautiful, delicate and unique bowls, vases, cups, and plates. I bought two coffee cups and use one every day to sip my morning matcha -- I love having a piece of art I can actually use daily that reminds me of my time in Iceland (ᵔᴥᵔ)
Eydmundsson Bookstores: These are all over Reykjavik, and there's another in Akureyri. There's coffee, tea, and pastries inside, as well as gifts. We sat in one on Friday morning, Dalton reading, me writing, and all the tables were filled. Everyone was speaking Icelandic. The familial nature of the Icelanders was evident as one would get up from his table, walk over to another, conversing with his friend, while another would swap spots. Everybody seemed to know everybody, and it was an observation that made me feel connected and contributing to the community in Reykjavik.
Hrim: This is a trendy shop with home goods that make great gifts and souvenirs.
GOOD TO KNOW
There are no public restrooms in Reykjavik -- you must go into a cafe and order something and they'll give you a key. Most shops don't have restrooms! I advise you to go while at lunch or dinner.
Of course, you can only plan so much. Doing a bit of reading and planning before can make your life easier while you are there, but leave some room to be spontaneous. You know this. Let adventure take over and you will absolutely come back with some of the best stories and memories of this magical, unpredictable, and very much alive country. Reach out in the comments or in the "contact" section if you have any questions!!