Most people associate ice cream with hot summer days at the beach, or strolling through an Italian city, rather than the sub-arctic chill of Iceland. But, as it happens, the world’s northernmost capital is obsessed with the frozen dessert, whatever the weather. Naturally, I wanted to see what all the fuss is about, so in the name of journalism I embarked on the arduous task of testing all the ice cream parlours in downtown Reykjavík. You’re welcome.
Eldur og Ís
Variety: 4.5 stars Taste: 4 stars
Vegan friendly? Not for ice cream, but vegan crêpes are available
Best for: Eating in house
This ice cream parlour/café/crêperie is a super cute place to get your sugar fix. Sit alongside a piano and rocking horse as you tuck into one of their many flavours. If you don’t fancy your ice cream in regular cone form, have it blended into a milkshake or as a crêpe topping, accompanied by a coffee or hot chocolate. The best thing about Eldur og Ís is the cosy atmosphere—you can chill here with a cuppa and a cone and watch the world go by.
Variety: 3 stars Taste: 3 stars
Vegan friendly? No
Best For: Milkshakes
If you like the movie ‘Grease’, head to Vesturbæjar. Their 1950s diner style makes you feel like you’re sat in a jukebox. They only have soft serve, but the real magic happens when you get a milkshake. Choose a size, from tiny to a pint, and fill your cup with syrups and ice cream for a real sugar rush. And then jive all the way home.
Variety: 2 stars Taste: 5 stars
Vegan friendly? Very
Best for: Vegans who aren’t in a rush
If you’re a vegan, head to Joylato. They may only serve six flavours, but each flavour can be ordered as a coconut milk version. After ordering, you suddenly feel like you’re in a chemistry lab: out comes the liquid nitrogen and a mixing bowl. Yes, that’s right, they make the ice cream to order right in front of your eyes. It takes a little longer than scooping it from a tub, but they claim the liquid nitrogen prevents ice crystals from forming, making it creamier and more flavoursome. I have to agree. Each spoonful was creamy perfection.
Variety: 4 stars Taste: 4 stars
Vegan friendly? No
Best for: Soft serve and messy kids
I was a little disappointed with the amount of gelato Laugalæk offered, but then I realised gelato wasn’t really their thing; here, they are all about the soft serve. Get yours dipped in chocolate and rolled in the seemingly infinite choice of toppings. Also, I watched as a kid turned his ice cream upside down and ate the cone first, smearing ice cream all over the table. This may have been a one-off thing, but the staff seemed pretty cool with it, so let your messy kids go wild (but not, like, too wild).
Variety: 4 stars Taste: 3 stars
Vegan friendly? No
Best for: Indecisive control freaks
“I actually prefer frozen yogurt to ice cream,” said no one, ever. Although fro-yo will never taste as good as ice cream, I have to admit that Yoyo served some of the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had. The great thing about this place is that it’s self-service, and the price is worked out by weight rather than by scoop, so you can fill your pot with as many different flavours as you want, in any order, with as many toppings—just the way you like it. There’s plenty of seating, but it’s not really the sort of place where you can chill with a cup of coffee. And not just because they don’t serve coffee—it’s completely silent, and overlooks a car park. It’s not the cosy, welcoming atmosphere of Eldur og s, that’s for sure.
Variety: 5 stars Taste: 5 stars
Vegan friendly? If you like sorbet
Best for: Classic homemade ice cream
Valdis is perhaps Reykjavik’s most beloved ice cream parlour. All their ice cream is made in-house every morning, and you can tell: the ice cream tastes amazing and the flavours are to die for. If you like liquorice, try their Turkish Pepper flavour. It looks like liquid cement, but it’s one of their most popular offerings. Valdis doesn’t have much seating, so get your ice cream to go, zip up your coat and take a stroll along the harbour – or enjoy it in a parked car – Icelandic style.
The main thing I learnt on this task is that there is no such thing as bad ice cream. So take your pick, you won’t be disappointed.