Located just 15 km from downtown Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður has been a thriving independent entity for a long time, thanks in no small part to the fierce loyalty its inhabitants, “Hafnfirðingar”, show to local businesses and institutions. And they’ll welcome you with open arms as long as you don’t do anything crazy like call them a Reykjavík suburb or speak ill of either of their handball teams.
The elephant in the room (if elephants wore tusks on their heads)
Icelanders generally aren’t shy to flaunt their Viking heritage, but Hafnarfjörður took it to another level with its annual Viking Festival and a permanent miniature Viking settlement called The Viking Village—both of which sprang from the loins of a small group of private Viking enthusiasts in the 90s.
The village is essentially a hotel and gift store built around the Viking theme restaurant Fjörukráin. As far as theme restaurants go, Fjörukráin is quite ambitious—far more elaborate than the Finnish Viking restaurant chain Harald, but less so than Medieval Times (unless you count the annual staged Viking brawl). It exhibits a pleasant lack of anachronistic building materials and an abundance of elaborate woodwork, which has only gotten better with age—for the weathering of time is kind to Viking theme restaurants in ways that space age theme restaurants can only dream of.
The food itself, well, it’s about what you’d expect from a theme restaurant, but there’s something for all tastes, everything from classic Icelandic lamb stew to a “Viking banana split”.
Food Wars: A New Hope
Located on Strandgata, just up the road from Fjörukráin, Von has quickly secured its spot as the best Hafnarfjörður has to offer in fine dining. The name means “Hope” and it is well-earned as the town wasn’t brimming with fine dining options before their arrival four years ago.
Fortunately, Von more than holds its own against the best in Reykjavík and does so without breaking the bank. Go there for fresher-than-fresh fish plucked from the harbour just across the road—the firm-but-delicate wolf fish with tarragon mayo and polenta and the incomparable ling ceviche are two standouts. And don’t miss the rotating cocktails on tap and 650 ISK beers for a happy hour which, at least on the night of our visit, extended well into the night.
Coffee and Cakes
Next door to Von is the town’s finest coffee house, the vegetarian- and generally-friendly Pallett. It may also very well be the coziest coffee house in the greater Reykjavík area. This is the place to grab a random book from the shelves and plomp down in a pillowy nook with a classic scone, a hand pie and a cup of hot chocolate or full-flavoured coffee.
Further along Strandgata is the oldest part of downtown Hafnarfjörður. As in parts of downtown Reykjavík, the building styles are charmingly discordant, and void of frivolity like city planning. This will eventually lead you to coffeehouse Súfistinn, which led a step forward in Iceland’s artisan coffee scene in the 90s and has felt at ease in that decade ever since —a place to enjoy creamy cakes and cheesy lasagnas to the sounds of smooth jazz.
Where Strandgata ends, the controversial Norðurbakki apartment blocks of Norðurbakki take over, housing book café Norðurbakki and popular soup-and-sourdough bakery Brikk.
Hot dog burgers
No Icelandic town is complete without its signature burger and Hafnarfjörður is no exception.
In that category there is no competing with the madness at Pylsubarinn (“the hot dog bar”). Sure, you could go there and order a normal hot dog or an average burger but who has time for that!? This is home to a deep-fried hot dog with a slice of melted cheese and french fry seasoning served over french fries, baked beans or literally anything they have laying around in their burger hut, because we live in a democracy, dammit!
But to really go “full Hafnarfjörður” you will want their Fjarðarborgari (“fjord burger”) served with hot dog mustard, ketchup, fried onions and pickled red cabbage. It is basically an Icelandic hot dog with a floppy 90gr burger instead of a weiner, making it the most Icelandic burger in existence.
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