Reykjavik is a seriously fun city to explore – especially with kids. We could easily have spent an entire week in Reykjavik alone – strolling around the city, eating licorice-flavored everything, popping into a museum and ending each day at one of the city’s (many) heated outdoor pools. There are tons of day hikes and adventures within a two hour drive, for the days you need a change of pace.
But…..where to stay and where to eat? Both are, admittedly, expensive. And while there’s not much you can do to get around that fact, here’s what we did to take full advantage of this seriously amazing city. Below are our favorite neighborhoods to stay in, as well as our fav spots to eat.
WHERE TO STAY IN REYKJAVIK (AirBnB or VRBO)
We almost always stay in vacation rentals while traveling – either AirBnb or VRBO. Iceland has some of the highest rental rates in the world (seriously)….but going out to eat in Reykjavik is also absurdly expensive, so you gotta pick your poison. We loved the house we stayed in – it was perfect for families – with toys, books, a trampoline in the backyard and located right next to a school with a playground. I mean….the boys were in heaven. It was hard to get them out of the house – they would’ve been perfectly content to spend our week in Iceland at our rental house.
In terms of neighborhood, we picked a house that was roughly 4km from the city center, which was perfect. Easy to get to the downtown (just a couple of minutes drive time), but also easy to get out of the city for day trips. But to be honest, driving around Reykjavik wasn’t really that hard – and we were able to find parking downtown pretty easily (as compared to Philly).
WHERE TO EAT IN REYKJAVIK
As I mentioned before…..it’s really expensive to eat out in Reykjavik. I remember peeking at an online menu for a restaurant that looked equivalent to one we’d hit in Philly (a nicer one, for a nicer date night but not Vetri or anything)….and the beet soup (appetizer) was $22. For example.
We combated the prices (somewhat) by doing a combination of eating in (but groceries are expensive, too – most produce has to be shipped in)….or eating at coffee shops, bakeries, and having a ton of fish & chips or fish stew. Which really wasn’t a hardship, it was some of the best fish we’ve ever had.
Side note: Costco just opened in Reyjkavik, and everyone (the locals we talked to) were very excited. One women said her kids were over-the-moon at the fact that they could get so much fruit year-round. So if you have a Costco card….bring it.
Lastly, it might be worth sticking a few bottles of wine into your suitcase. Iceland doesn’t make it’s own wine, so any wine you buy is likely the same stuff you can get at home….for double the price. If that’s too annoying, at least stock up on beer & wine at the duty-free shop before you leave the airport.
Here are our fav spots to eat – and while many of these were *slightly* more affordable…..the food was so insanely good (for most of them) that I’d recommend them anyway.
Favorite Healthy Breakfast: Reykjavik Roasters
For a healthy and relatively affordable breakfast, Reykjavik Roasters is hard to beat. Not only is their coffee amazing, but we loved their oatmeal with fruit compote (and I think they had a quinoa or chia version as well). Best of all? There’s an amazing square outside, so if the weather is nice, everyone brings their coffees out and lounges in the square.
Favorite Pastries: Braud & Co
There’s another, more famous bakery in Reykjavik (Sandholt, I think?), but we took the advice of a reader and went straight to Braud & Co. Dear GOD. It was the tip of the trip. Braud & Co is located half a block from Reykjavik Roasters and make breads – which OK, fine – and…..PASTRIES. It’s the pastries you want. The flavors change daily, but they’re always something unique and delicious – caramel apple granola was one that the kids loved, but both Mike and I became obsessed with blueberry licorice. OBSESSED.
My only complaint is that I couldn’t quite figure out the baking schedule. On one of the days they didn’t have the pastries ready until….11AM? Maybe noon? Which seemed late for pastries. But we just grabbed more coffee from Reykjavik Roasters, lounged in the square, and let the kids run around until the pastries were ready. They’re totally worth the wait.
Favorite Lunch Spot: Svarta Kaffid
Svarta Kaffid is a little lunch spot located on the main drag (for shopping), has a cozy atmosphere, and sells one thing: soup in a bread bowl. Everyday they have one vegetarian option, and one meat option. This was a perfect spot for when everyone’s hungry, tired, and picky about their food. After looking at us incredulously, “they only have TWO THINGS?” our boys shrugged and picked one. And ate every last drop. Also, we had a beer. Comfort food for lunch on a chilly Reykjavik day is reallllllly hard to beat.
Favorite Dinner Spot: Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar
While this is, technically, a coffee house (with pastries and coffee and all kinds of yummies)…..Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar was actually where we had our very best dinner in Reykjavik. Hands down. Order the stew. Order the salad to start. Order literally anything – it’s all delicious. Also, they have wine and good beer on tap and….it’s a half a block down from our verrrry favorite outdoor pool, Vesturbaejarlaug. The vibe is casual but fun, and no one looked twice at our kids, even though it was very late one of the times we went. (The first time we went was also our first night in Reykjavik, and our kids were literally falling asleep at the table.)
Like Braud & Co’s blueberry & licorice pastry….I long for this place.
Favorite Fish & Chips/Fish Stew: Reykjavik Fish
There are several fish and chip options by the harbor (we meant to try reader-favorite Kaffivagninn, but ran out of time)….but I can happily report that we LOVED Reykjavik Fish. The fish was fresh, delicious, and the batter wasn’t greasy or heavy. Also? Their fish stew was AMAZING. This place has a good atmosphere, is kid-friendly (our kids rolled in with their newly-purchased Viking shields) and delicious food. A total win.
NOTE: If you make plans to go whale watching, or want to visit the Saga or Whale Museums, this place is really conveniently located. Also…..Valdis ice cream is around the corner. Just sayin.
Favorite Experience: Hverfisgata 12
Hverfisgata 12 (also inexplicably known as the Pizza with No Name) was…..tons of fun. It’s located above Mikkeller & Friends, feels like a local joint, had some of the best atmosphere, and had a cool, no-name pub upstairs where you could wait for a table (with plenty of space for the kids to do their thing). But Icelandic pizza is….strange. Cream cheese instead of tomato sauce seems to be a thing in Iceland. We tried to stick to the tomato-based sauces and I think that was our mistake: the tomato sauce is….different. It was interesting to try, however (all part of the experience, right?), but in the end, we didn’t love the super sweet sauce. The one pizza we ordered Icelandic-style, cream cheese and all? Surprisingly good!
When in Rome, I guess. Ha.
But honestly, this is one of my favorite parts of travel – watching my kids navigate through something familiar-yet-not….it’s all good stuff. And Hverfisgata 12 was exactly where we wanted to be on a cold night in Reykjavik.
Favorite Late Night Drink: Slipbarinn
It turns out that Iceland knows how to drink. And the drinks at the Slipbarinn are the best we’ve ever had. Without exaggeration. It was a seriously fun surprise: the beer is good, the wine is imported but the mixed drinks? On. Freaking. Point. Get the Basil Gimlet. It’ll change your life.
The Slipbarinn will also make fun non-alcoholic drinks if you are the crazy sort who walks into a bar at 11:30PM with your kids, and have no problem spending $$ on fancy drinks because it’s all part of the experience. (In our defense we had just gotten back from whale watching, were still on East Coast time, and were DYING for a date night. So….we improvise. Out of desperation.)
Favorite Ice Cream: Valdis
Valdis is a Reykjavik institution, and nothing particularly new (you’ll see it mentioned in basically every travel article)….but I’m happy to report that it’s totally worth the hype. Licorice ice cream is life. That’s all.
NOTE: Raines said the strawberry tastes like real strawberries, and isn’t too sweet. So there’s that.
More of our favorites (what to see, do and shop) in Reykjavik soon!
Well….soonish, anyway. These things take forever.