Published July 7, 2015
Welcome, readers, to our 2015 BEST OF REYKJAVÍK issue. It’s that time in the midsummer when the days are long, the nights are nonexistent, and people are in an upbeat and active mood. The streets of Reykjavík have a carnival feeling, with people eating out, flaneuring around, having drinks with friends, taking long walks, going to festivals, and generally squeezing every drop of enjoyment out of the brightest season.
With that in mind, there’s no better time to celebrate the things that make Reykjavík a pretty great place to live (we’ve had the whole winter to carp and grumble, after all, so we’re ready to take a little break). After a long process of taking suggestions from our readers, contributors and resident experts, arguing around pub tables, checking in on much-loved classics and promising new places, tearing it all up and starting again, then arguing a whole lot more, we’ve come up with the following list of the very best this little city has to offer.
So put your feet up, and dig in. And hey, if any of our winners make you sit up again, spluttering with indignation, then we want to hear why. A list like this is a constant work in progress—it’s the result of lots of toing and froing between people with varying tastes in pretty much everything. So if you feel the compulsion to raise a figurative or actual eyebrow, high-five us, scream blue murder, or anything between, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And finally, if you’d like to flag something for next year’s list, drop us an email at email@example.com, and we’ll be sure to check it out. Okay, that’s all! Get out of this intro and start reading! Go on, get!
- Best Shop To Stock Up
On Local Design
- Best Shop To Stock Up
On Local Fashion Design
- Best Bookstore
- NEW: Best Barber Shop
- NEW: Best Hairdressing
- Best Second Hand Shop
- Best Shop For
- Best Haberdashery
- Best Place To Shop
- Best Record Store
- Best Place To Buy
A Wool Sweater
- NEW: Best Jewellery Shop
- NEW: Best Boutique
- NEW: Best Cheap Store
- NEW: Best Goddamn Store
- Best Shop To Stock Up
- Best Swimming Pool
- Best Gallery
- Best Art Museum
- Best Museum
- Best Place To Spend
A Rainy Day
- Best Place To Spend
A Sunny Day
- NEW: Best place For
Cycling & Jogging
- Best Place To See A
- Best Romantic Walk
- Best Shock Walk
- Best Place To Enjoy
A Zen Moment
- Best Place To Spend
Time With Kids
- Best Place To Read
- Best Day Trip From
- Best Place To Watch
- Best People-Watching
- Best Graveyard To
Hang Out In
- Best Cheap Thrill
- NEW: Best Mural/
Geirsgata 1, Bankastræti 5
There has been a burger explosion in Reykjavík lately. Every mid-range and fine dining restaurant seems to have one and we get a new gastropub every month it seems. Icelanders love their burgers and it’s the food topic we’re most interested in arguing back and forth over. The problem is that most of these restaurants are giving the burger their special flair, from the Kol burger with slow-cooked brisket and blue cheese to the lamb Mountain Burger at Íslenski Barinn. But if it’s a basic American cheeseburger you want then Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar has got you covered. It’s a simple, savoury, dependable and popular burger. People might personally rank another burger higher but “Búllan” will make an appearance in everyone’s top three.
Honourable mention: Lebowski Bar
2014: Kex Hostel
2011: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2010: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2009: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
Best Veggie Burger
This was an incredibly contentious category as 2015 saw enormous growth in innovative and tasty veggie burgers of all shapes and sizes. There are no hard or fixed rules for what a veggie burger should be but if it’s a typical mulched nut-bean-veggie patty you’re in the mood for then Brooklyn Bar is your place. Here’s what our food editor had to say in his recent review of the place: “It’s a savoury veggie burger with a fantastic texture and the perfect amount of some kind of cream-cheese sauce. In fact, it’s probably the best veggie burger in the city.”
Honourable mention: Celeriac slice burger at Roadhouse
2014: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2013: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
2012: Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar
Best Specialty Burger
Reindeer burger at Gallery Hotel Holt
If you want to treat yourself, then why not splurge on the most decadent and luxurious burger in Iceland. Gallery Restaurant at Hótel Holt is an institution of white tablecloth dining in Reykjavík. In the evening this is where you go to enjoy roasted langoustine tails and take advantage of an eclectic wine cellar, but for lunch the brasserie offers a truly special burger. It’s a locally sourced 100% reindeer burger topped with blue cheese, blueberry jam and a poached egg in beetroot juice. It comes served with house fries and a proper hollandaise sauce. It is literally Rudolph with a red eggy nose. It will set you back 3450 ISK but this unique spin on the classic cheeseburger is worth every drool-covered penny.
Honourable mention: Black Slider at Public House
2014: “The Empire State,” Roadhouse
2013: Hamborgarafabrikkan’s Christmas burger
2012: Vitabar’s ‘Forget-me-not’
Best Ice Cream
The last few years saw a lot of growth in new artisanal ice cream parlours, but for the best all-around ice cream joint it still has to go to Valdís. You won’t go there for the soft serve but if it’s inventively flavoured scoops you’re after then Valdís is your place. It’s not gelato in the strictest Italian sense but the rhubarb and peppery liquorice scoops are perennial favourites with locals and tourists alike. One panellist recommended the caramel and salted peanut, noting that the freshly baked waffle cones really take it to the next level.
Honourable mention: Sandholt
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Ísbúð Vesturbæjar
“It’s hard to explain the charm to outsiders, just tell them to go there. The ever-present queue speaks for itself.”
2011: Ísbúðin Ísland
2010: Ísbúðin Ísland
2009: Ísbúð Vesturbæjar
Best Indian Food
For Indian food, Austur-Indíafjelagið (The East India Company) is unbeatable. This is why we have given it the status of an institution, to give other restaurants a little time in the spotlight. This year saw at least one new Indian restaurant with Bombay Bazaar in Kópavogur, but otherwise we have the two other Indian restaurants in the Reykjavík area: Shalimar and Gandhi. Shalimar is on the budget end of the spectrum and Gandhi lands somewhere between Austur-Indíafjelagið and Shalimar with its comfy little basement restaurant by Austurvöllur. As our food editor concluded in his review of the place: “It’s partly Kerala cuisine. Think Indian meets Indonesian, with coconut, fish, coriander, and lamb. More piquant than simply spicy.”
Honourable mention: Bombay Bazaar
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Austur-Indía fjelagið
“Probably your safest bet for fine dining in Iceland, period.”
Best Thai Food
There is no competition for best all-around Thai food in Reykjavík and Ban Thai just keeps sweeping up this category. It’s not fast food—you will have to be patient for your meal but once it arrives, Ban Thai brings the realness, the heat, the complexity of flavour without compromise.
Honourable mention: Krua Mai in Kópavogur
2014: Ban Thai
2013: Yummi Yummi
2012: Ban Thai
2011: Ban Thai
2010: Ban Thai
2009: Ban Thai
Considering their recent beef (metaphorically speaking) and in the spirit of reconciliation, we were tempted to let Ali Baba and Mandi share the title of Best Kebab. Both restaurants definitely had their supporters on the judges’ panel. However, we did end up landing firmly on the side of the Syrian kebab joint, Mandi. One of the judges delivered a rousing speech which convinced us of the joys of the the Speciality Chicken (with rainbow rice and almonds) and the fries, which come drizzled with a white mystery sauce and strips of chili sauce. Another judge was fond of their minced lamb Arias. Although be warned that the location looks more like your basic “sjoppa” (corner store) than a proper takeout place and we would recommend taking it to go. Check out both and tell us what you think—and if you’re lucky you might catch the owners fighting over parking spaces with the metre men or with each other!
Honourable mention: Ali Baba
2012: Kebab Grill
Oh, you life-sustaining, black comfort fuel straight from Gaia’s breast! Without coffee, the Grapevine office would be a zombie wasteland so this category is near and dear to our hearts. It’s undeniable (at least at the moment) that Reykjavík Roasters has the best coffee in town, so we felt that the Best Coffeehouse category had to take other things into account. Kaffihús Vesturbæjar is the closest thing to the full package. They have excellent coffee (using coffee from Reykjavík Roasters for the most part) but they also have a wonderful view, excellent food (vegetarian options deserving special praise), lively atmosphere (although some have criticized the noise levels), and friendly service. It’s a solid all-rounder and a much needed quality coffee house for the western corner of Reykjavík.
Honourable mention: Pallett Kaffikompaní in Hafnarfjörður
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Mokka
“They brought ‘coffee’ to Iceland, pretty much”.
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Tíu dropar
“Quintessentially Icelandic in every way. The coffee, the cake, the vibe. If I were to point a visiting friend to ‘the essence of Iceland,’ this is where I would send him.”
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Prikið
“Serving old men their morning coffee since way back, and somehow combining that with serving beer and hip hop to young folks since the late ‘90s. And burgers. And milkshakes. A one of a kind place with spirit and soul.”
2014: Reykjavík Roasters
Although there was universal agreement that Reykjavík Roasters make a damn fine cup of coffee (probably the best in Iceland), the panel did not feel RR was the most comfortable place to sit and hang out. The furniture is difficult and the place usually crowded and overwarm. And although they feature several different brewing methods and a range of different coffee drinks, they don’t really have that much on offer aside the coffee. However, we have high hopes for the Roasters branch set to open by the Icelandic Academy of the Arts in that regard. Here’s what one of our judges had to say: “Roasters are so wonderfully snobbish it’s like a ‘Portlandia’ sketch. They refuse to make a double cappuccino but will give you the ingredients to add the extra shot yourself—so as not to stain their hands. I love it!” RR are definitely hipster-friendly but the energy there is more Sigur Rós than Nathan Barley. Roasters buy their beans directly from farmers and go to great lengths to be ethical, sustainable, and fair. Beans are roasted on location and the servers are happy to adapt to your desires (as long as it isn’t a double cappuccino).
Honourable mention: Kigali
2013: Litli Bóndabærinn
2010: Café Haiti
Best Place To Get Tea
Te og kaffi
Tea is a tough racket in Reykjavík. Iceland is one of the most coffee-obsessed places on earth and has little history of tea drinking. However, this may be changing. Recently the city saw a pop-up tea house called Menghai, your average coffee houses are stepping their tea game up, and we have a wonderful subscription tea wholesale company called Tefélagið. But if you want to go and have someone else make you a cup of tea, Te og kaffi is probably your best bet. They have a large and varied selection of teas and infusions, including nettle, hollyhock, rooibos, chai, and mate. All that and they’re the only place with “tea” in the name.
Honourable mention: Café Babalú
2014: Café Babalú
2012: Litli Bóndabærinn
2011: Te og kaffi
As one of our panellists remarked: “I’m still waiting for the perfect vegetarian place.” This is a sentiment that is echoed widely in the vegetarian community. Two all-vegetarian restaurants, Á Næstu Grösum and Grænn Kostur, have recently closed down. In place of Á Næstu Grösum we got the equally delightful (but not exclusively vegetarian) restaurant Gló, leaving Ecstasy’s Heart Garden on Klapparstígur as the last exclusively vegetarian restaurant in downtown Reykjavík. So we decided to look more closely at the ethnic restaurants and we decided on the Ethiopian restaurant Teni. Orthodox Ethiopians abstain from meat at least twice a week and do long periods of vegetarian fasting, so this is ingrained in their unique culinary heritage. Vegetarian dishes are frequently discounted during Teni’s lunch hour so there’s good value to be had too. Expect everything to be served on the sourdough pancakes, and beans, lentils, and chilies are rarely missing. Not vegan and not cuisine for sensitive stomachs but delicious food best followed by traditional Ethiopian coffee.
Honourable mention: Krúska
2010: Á Næstu Grösum
2009: Á Næstu Grösum
Soup of the day (750 ISK) is a safe bet but the fish soup (1150 ISK) during their lunch hour is a party for the taste buds. Restó is a simple mom-and-pop restaurant on Rauðarárstígur which specializes in fish dishes and treats them with styles and ingredients from around the globe.
Honourable mention: Kryddlegin Hjörtu
2014: Noodle Station
2013: Kryddlegin Hjörtu
2011: Kryddlegin Hjörtu
2009: Lobster Soup at Sægreifinn
Best Place To Go For A Date
Kolabrautin is fancy as all get-out so it might not fit everyone’s wallet. If you want a casual beer-food vibe then Bunk Bar might be a better bet. But if you’re going all in and dressed to impress, make it Kolabrautin. Firstly, Italian food is the classic date meal and Kolabrautin have rebranded as a modernist Italian restaurant with a handsome selection of Italian wines. Secondly, the atmosphere and lighting is just right for some under-the-table footsies. Thirdly, it’s got an unbeatable view over the Reykjavík marina from the top floor of the Harpa concert hall.
Honourable mention: Grillmarkaðurinn
2013: Tapas Barinn
Best Newcomer Restaurant
Matur og Drykkur
Matur og Drykkur is named after a seminal Icelandic book of recipes by Helga Sigurðardóttir and it sets the tone for their approach. As we documented in our interview with head chef Gísli, they have done some serious research to reinterpret Icelandic food heritage authentically. The result is an original restaurant which is still as Icelandic as it gets. Enjoy some cured arctic char appetizers, caramelized whey desserts, or whole cod heads with sugar kelp for main course. An inspiring localized stab at New Nordic cuisine.
Honourable mention: Apótek Restaurant
2013: Bergsson Mathús
2010: Noodle Station
Best Cheap Meal
Korean-inflected gastropub K-bar offers an unbeatable Beer + Korean Fried Chicken happy hour combo for 990 ISK. If Korean chicken isn’t your style then they also offer a Beer + Calamari combo (1290 ISK) and a Beer + Cauliflower combo (1290 ISK). The 2 for 1 takeaway deal at Bergsson was a close contender but we’re suckers for cheap alcohol and sweet-and-spicy Korean food.
Honourable mention: Bergsson
2014: 10-11 after 14:00
2013: “Sub of the month” at Subway
2012: Íslenski barinn
2011: Noodle Station
2010: “Sub of the month” at Subway
Fiskfélagið (The Fish Company)
There’s a lot of competition for good seafood in Reykjavík but Fiskfélagið got our panellists the most excited despite being far from exclusively fish-oriented. The menu is as international as it gets and you can choose between set menus Around the World and Around Iceland. Neither menu will leave fish fans disappointed (unless they’re the Troy McClure kind) and everything has been given the molecular gastronomy spin (expect little jellies, crumbles, sand, purées, and globes around your fish). Fiskfélagið is dependable, professional, playful, and adventurous and it respects its core ingredient.
Honourable mention: Fish Market
2011: Við Tjörnina
This was a tough one and this category could be divided in two. For a brunch menu, Coocoo’s Nest is still one of our favorites, but if it’s a brunch buffet you want then Slippbarinn has to be the best in town. As one of the judges said: “It’s clean and wholesome ingredients, well presented, and with plenty of variety.” He wasn’t kidding with the variety: at Slippbarinn you’ll find fluffy eggs, thick slices of bacon, waffles with dulce de leche, shots of green mystery juice, cured fish, serrano hams, Spanish flatbread with salad and pomegranates, cakes, corn dogs dusted with confectioner’s sugar, pared wedges of pink grapefruit, creamy greek yoghurt, roasted veggies, and more. The Slippbarinn brunch is far from your standard continental hotel breakfast buffet and for something that will leave you full for the rest of the day, 3190 ISK is not a bad deal.
Honourable mention: Coocoo’s Nest
2014: Coocoo’s Nest
Best Place To Go With A Group Of Friends
Tapasbarinn (Tapas Bar)
Tapas is made for groups of friends. It’s a chaotic meal made up of many small dishes, and people can come and go without worrying about disrupting the proceedings. It’s encouraged to share and no one is expecting you to keep your voice down. It’s part of that grand Mediterranean tradition in which a night out drinking is not complete unless you’re eating the whole time (something Icelanders are still figuring out). As one judge said: “The tables are long and the selection is varied, so everyone can fit in and find something they like. And they nail the atmosphere—it’s crowded and boisterous the way it should be.”
Honourable mention: Bunk Bar
2012: Tapas Bar
2011: Tapas Bar
2010: Tapas Bar
Ostabúðin á Skólavörðustíg
Ostabúðin is a delicatessen and cheese shop which has been staging a semi-secret lunch restaurant in the basement for years. This year they have expanded next door and setup a whole separate restaurant including dinner service. Their lunch deal is still one of the best in the city, featuring simple food made with real ingredients and likely taking advantage of some gourmet surplus from the store. “I always get half a soup portion and half a main course and that lasts me the whole day. Filling and with quality ingredients,” is what one our judges had to say.
Honourable mention: Prikið lunch offer
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Jómfrúin
“This Danish ‘smørrebrød’ house provides a unique atmosphere and taste you won’t find elsewhere in town… or in the world for that matter.”
2014: Bergsson Mathús
Best Late Night Bite
Chicken wings at Dirty Burger & Ribs
Miklabraut & Austurstræti 8-10
The hangover meal is overrated: every real booze hound knows that it’s the meal you eat at tail end of your night out which matters. Most of the beer has left your body and you’re left with a bloated and salt-deprived body demanding solid food. You might not remember it and somewhere in the back of your head you are aware that your next run-in with food will be that phone call to Dominos from the bathroom floor the next day—but right in that moment, all you want to do is smear the grub all over your body like a hyena to fuel your walk home. In 2015, the Reykjavík late night grub scene was joined by Dirty Burger & Ribs (open until 6am on Friday and Saturday nights at their Austurstræti location). We love the wings, but if our feathered friends aren’t your forte, then they also make a mean veggie burger and about their ribs our food editor had this to say: “The ribs were dripping off the bone like a gaggle of Nazis spooning on top of the Ark of the Covenant and the meaty fibres put up less resistance than Norway.”
Honourable mention: Belgian waffle with cream at Vöffluvagninn
Best Must-Try Dining Experience
Shrimp Pyramid at Jómfrúin
This is the one category where we’ve had no repeats from year-to-year, because there are just so many Must-Try Dining Experiences in Reykjavík! As fun as the sheep heads and whale kebab may be, we wanted to highlight something a little more elegant this time around. Jómfrúin is a place which wears its colonial past proudly: the focus is on Danish open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød). But the place is as Icelandic as it gets and walking into Jómfrúin you are immediately transported to 1985 Reykjavík. The place attracts a slightly older, upper-middle-class crowd (although they aren’t afraid to tie off a few Danish schnapps on a Saturday afternoon if the mood takes them). We recommend the honest-to-god pyramid of shrimp served on a sliver of bread, but really you can’t go wrong at Jómfrúin. The “Hangover” roast beef on rye with tomatoes, horseradish, and a fried egg is also delicious. They open up the place in the back in the summer—make sure to grab a seat in the sun while you can.
Honourable mention: Texasborgari (for the pure kitschy horror of it all)
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Hotdog at Bæjarins bestu
“Everyone goes there. All the time. For over 70 years now. Not exactly gourmet dining, but a really freaking great snack nonetheless.”
2014: Food section at Kolaportið
2013: Icelandic food at Kaffi Loki
2012: Icelandic Home-Style Food at Mamma Steina
2011: The svið at Fljótt og Gott, BSÍ
2010: Moby Dick on a Stick at Sægreifinn
2009: Bæjarins Beztu
Best Place For A Fancy Meal
We give it to Dill the second year in a row. Our panel agonized over this one but the consensus was that while Iceland has a lot of great upmarket restaurants, they normally are more “business-casual” in approach. If you want true fine dining with ambition to match then it’s a much smaller pool. Dill doesn’t just provide starched white napkins, it is also one of the most imaginative and innovative restaurants in Iceland and an established presence in the New Nordic food community. As one of our experts said: “Dill is constantly moving forward, constantly exploring new things and keeping them local and seasonal.” Dill would be a Michelin star restaurant if the Michelin guide had any interest in visiting Iceland.
Honourable mention: Fish Company
2013: Gallery at Hótel Holt
2012: Grill Market
2009: Gallery Restaurant at Hótel Holt
Best Family Restaurant
We had a lot of family people on our Grapevine panel this time around. Here is what one had to say: “Kex has plenty of space for the kids to run around, they have toys for them to play with, and the atmosphere is relaxed. The staff is good with the kids and you aren’t segregated to some special kids area.” Kex also got points for offering child-modified versions of their menu items instead of just placating them with chicken nuggets and ketchup. Mainly, the consensus was that although other places might match Kex in child-friendliness, none matched it in adult-friendliness (IPAs on tap don’t hurt).
Honourable mention: IKEA food court in Garðabær
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Hornið
“For a restaurant to remain so consistently on top of its game for over thirty years is one huge achievement. They are cosy, dependable and ever-tasty.”
This category was a bit complicated. The Fish Market has great sushi but can they really be said to be devoted to sushi? Sushi Samba does fun and popular sushi but does it count seeing as it’s completely non-traditional? Tokyo Sushi offers good catering and good value but is that enough? We settled on SuZushi for getting the basics right. Their salmon and trout sashimi is consistently fresh and delicious and the owners will instruct customers on how to correctly apply soy sauce (don’t dip the whole thing in there!). One of our panellists had this to say: “The rice is the core of sushi and SuZushi are among very few who get it right in Iceland. And they know to serve it slightly warm, not ice-cold.” You should be warned that SuZushi is in a mall food court and although it’s maybe not the most elegant or comfortable setting for sushi, the strange setting is somehow part of the appeal.
Honourable mention: Fish Market
Devito’s is basically an institution in Reykjavík at this point. Devito’s raised a generation of Icelandic kids and they’ll fight for it tooth and nail. The panel especially complimented Devito’s on the quality of their crust. At 550 ISK for a large slice, it’s a steal.
Honourable mention: Gamla Smiðjan
The not-so-secret pizza place wins again! There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best pizza but in terms of basic pizza quality, setting, and inventive toppings, the Hverfisgata 12 pizza place has them all beat. “They go the extra mile with the toppings, like smoking the cream cheese”, said one correspondent. “Their vegetarian Christmas pizza was amazing, it was topped with red beets, ruccola and walnuts. I hope they feature it again.” Another worthy mention is their brunch pizza with fried eggs and bacon, the perfect recovery dish before starting again at upstairs bar Mikkeller and Friends. The place will also surprise in other ways. The service is remarkably fast even when swamped and the place was actually suggested for the Family Friendly category despite the secrecy and tight fit.
Honourable mention: Pan pizzas at Dominos (we compliment recent efforts)
2014: Hverfisgata 12
2013: Gamla Smiðjan
2012: La Luna trattoria-pizzeria
2011: Gamla Smiðjan
2010: Gamla Smiðjan
This time around we took a close look to see if any other bakery was more deserving of the title. We went over all the arguments we’ve heard against Sandholt: It’s too touristy, the lines are too long, the prices are too high, gossip about the management, all of it. But at the end of the day no one in Reykjavík can touch Sandholt. They’ve use the same oven since it opened in 1920 and it’s run by a fourth-generation baker, so the pedigree is there. The sourdough is the best and pastries and confectionaries are miles above the rest. They even have great ice cream and reasonable catering options. Try the amazing danishes with the real fruity fillings, the strawberry tart, the proper eclairs, they’re the real deal. It may be swamped by tourists but you simply won’t find better.
Honourable mention: Passion Bakarí
2012: Mosfellsbakari in Reykjavík
NEW: Best Food Truck
Taquería No mames
Naustin, by Dubliners
This tremendous taco joint is usually found by Irish pub The Dubliner. It’s a strange fit but we won’t argue with the results. It’s not really a real truck, more like a wagon but the Mexican tacos are plenty real and come courtesy of Adrian, a native of Mexico City. The atmosphere is relaxed, as indicated by the name (an exclamation of surprise which translates roughly as “No fucking way”). The nachos are authentic fried corn tortillas, served with classic red and green salsa as well as less orthodox choices like kiwi salsa. All homemade and with a serious chili kick. They have classic beef and chicken tacos with all the fixins and they even serve Clamato, the combination of clam broth and tomato juice which Canadians, Mexicans, and the US Hispanic community love with a passion. Let’s add Iceland to that list just to mess with people.
Honourable mention: The Fish and Chips Wagon
Best Kept Secret
Pad Thai Noodles
This is a funny category because of course we‘re aiming to make it the “Best Worst Kept Secret” in Reykjavík by highlighting it. There were many worthy contenders this year and that‘s even after excluding a lot of interesting places just outside of Reykjavík proper. This small place in Álfheimar (seats four) is playing exclusively with Pad Thai in three variations (chicken, shrimp, vegetarian). It’s moderately greasy feel-good food done correctly. Lightly scrambled eggs, fish sauce, bean sprouts, spring onions, sugar, peanuts. It’s simple and it’s a crowd pleaser. Two out of the panel rushed out the next day to try it and neither regretted the trip outside the city centre.
Honourable mention: Ramen Momo
2014: Café Flora
2013: Lunch Beat
2012: Café Flora
Best Hangover Meal
Hangover Killer at Prikið
Downtown Reykjavík is a tangibly hungover place on Sunday morning. It looks like the streets themselves had a rager. So you’re spoiled for choice if salty, greasy, soul-anchoring food is your grail, but nothing has been so artfully designed to kill your hangover as the aptly named “Hangover Killer” at Prikið. The solid component is a delicious toasted sandwich with bacon, egg, tomato, ham, and cheese. The liquid component is the Jack Daniel’s-spiked “Bruce Willis milkshake” (the kind Vincent Vega would pay five dollars for). The finishing touch is the medicinal component: a tablet of painkiller Treo (like Alka Seltzer plus caffeine). It’s literally everything you could ever need/want after a night out. And since it’s a bar you can just stay there and Groundhog Day your way into oblivion.
Honourable mention: Grái kötturinn
2014: Hangover Killer at Prikið
2013: Hangover Killer at Prikið
2011: The Truck at Grái Kötturinn
2010: The Truck at Prikið
2009: The Truck at Grái kötturinn
Best Goddamn Restaurant
“You can take anyone there, it’s always a safe bet,” is what one our judges had to say about Snaps. We combed through the local restaurant scene to see if we could find other contenders for the throne of Best Goddamn Restaurant but had no luck. It’s hard to say what it is that makes Snaps such a good default restaurant but for the discerning 101 rat in the age range 20-35 it tends to be the go-to restaurant. It’s a good place to enjoy a simple but elegant meal and good cocktails with friends without having to dress up or check your bank balance. You can go there without much planning or fuss and the food is basic enough that most will find something they’ll like.
2011: Ban Thai
2009: Segurmo at Boston
Best Everyman Bar
Popular Laugavegur watering hole Bravó wins the best everyman bar (formerly “best mainstreamer bar”), both for its location and for its mixed crowd and laid-back, multi-purpose nature. The bar is run by the same folks as the wildly popular Húrra, and it shows in the atmosphere: “Early in the night they play nice music at conversation level,” our panel noted, “and when the DJs start, they’re not always trying to get a dance floor going, so it can be a great place for a weeknight hangout.” There’s good wi-fi, plenty of seating, and reasonable beer prices, and even when it’s chilled out, it has an upbeat mood.
Runners-up: The English Pub, Frederiksen
2014: The English Pub
2013: The English Pub
2012: The English Pub
2011: The English Pub
Best Place To Start The Night
As a meeting place and a staging point for a night out, Loft Hostel has it all. It’s a spacious, comfortable, airy bar with a large outdoor balcony space to catch the sun, a good happy hour, plenty of comfortable sofas, small nooks for couples and larger tables for groups, unobtrusive conversation-level music, and close proximity to the downtown party scene. They host nice low-key events like clothing markets, theme nights, comedy and the occasional live show, and the crowd is a nice mix of hostel guests and Icelanders.
Runners-up: Stofan, Bar Ananas
2011: Nýlenduvörverzlun Hemma & Valda (RIP)
2010: Nýlenduvörverzlun Hemma & Valda (RIP)
Best Place To End The Night
In Paloma’s dingy basement is a bar that, on “djamm nights,” feels like you’ve already landed in a particularly chaotic after-party. It’s always full of faces from around town, who come pouring in from whatever gigs or events they’ve been at earlier in the night, such as at Húrra next door. During peak hours, Paloma feels a bit wild and chaotic, like Bakkus used to be, or like Kaffibarinn (whose “institution” status renders it ineligible) before the tourist influx. It’s one of Reykjavík’s few “all in” party places. A particularly passionate write-in further noted that “it’s a bit dirty, but by that point in the night, maybe you don’t care—you’re so shitfaced that nothing matters any more.”
Runners-up: Húrra, Kiki
2013: Harlem (RIP)
Best Cheap Bar
Bar 7 does take-outs, and when we say cheap, we mean it—it’s REALLY cheap. You can get a happy hour beer for 350 ISK, and walk out with the can on your way to the next place. Bar 7’s raison d’etre is simple: very cheap alcohol. It’s nothing fancy of course, but if you wanna go cheap: go there.
Runners-up: Glaumbar, Ölsmiðjan
2011: Den Danske Kro
2010: Kaffi Zimsen (RIP)
2009: Nýlenduvöruverzlun Hemma & Valda (RIP)
Best All-Around Bar
Kex is a hostel bar, although you wouldn’t know it. It’s a spacious bar room and restaurant with a lively atmosphere, cool bric-a-bric decor and raw but cosy interior design. The beer selection is excellent, and they sometimes have free concerts in the evening, including the weekly jazz night. Kex also has a garden area which hosts gigs during the summer weekends, a comfortable sun patio for sunny days, and a nice view of Esja from the large front windows. “You can pop in there any time and it always feels like the right time,” said the panel. What more could you ask of our best all-round bar?
Runners-up: Boston, Húrra
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE
“Despite some ups and downs, Kaffibarinn has remained the undisputed reigning champion of Reykjavík nightlife and drinking for well over a decade. They are a true nightlife institution.”
2012: Faktorý (RIP)
Best Bar To Go Dancing
Kiki Queer Bar
With Kaffibarinn an institution and Húrra already awarded “best bar for live music,” we kicked around several late-night dancing spots before settling on Kiki Queer Bar, which wins the category for the second year running. Their pop ‘n’ classics music policy is perfect for those who like to sing along and know every track they’ll hear. “People go there only to dance like crazy,” one friend of the Grapevine noted. “You always know that it’ll be full of people who are cutting loose, and the atmosphere is inclusive, so whether you’re in the mood or not, you’ll probably end up joining in.”
Runners-up: Austur, B5
2014: Kiki Queer Bar
Best Newcomer Bar
Mikkeller & Friends
Mikkeller & Friends is a small but perfectly-formed craft bar with fancy circus-themed decor and a public house feel. It’s a controversial place, as bars go, dividing Reykjavík’s drinkers into two camps: committed devotees, and those who wince at the high prices and small measures (you’ll get 20% less beer than at a regular bar). We are firmly in the pro-Mikkeller camp, with our panel praising the wide range of beers on offer—from the darkest, strongest stout they’d ever tasted, and the eye-wateringly sour lambic ales, to some mind-blowing American pale ales, brown ales and various other beers and lagers. Most of them are brewed by Mikkeller, which has over 300 recipes, and produces each beer in a limited batch; the handful of delectable guest beers are from similarly independent microbreweries. Put simply, Mikkeller’s 20 taps pour the best beers in town, and it’s a very welcome addition to Reykjavík’s bar scene.
Runners-up: Skúli, Frederiksen
2012: Slippbarinn, Hótel Marína
2011: Faktorý (RIP)
2010: Sódóma (RIP)
Best Place To Watch Sports Over A Beer
Bjarni Fel is Reykjavík’s downtown sports bar institution, winning this category for the third year in a row. “It has a lot of screens, so you can watch multiple games or even multiple sports at once,” said our office sports fan. “People congregate there only to watch games, so it has a good atmosphere of fun rivalry when people are supporting different teams. Everyone is very focused on the sport, so nobody is talking over the game, and no troubadours are gonna come in and ruin everything.” Bjarni Fel is attached to Hressó, so they offer burgers and bar snacks along with their reasonably priced beer. For really big events, don’t worry about missing out: Hressó opens up the back room to accommodate more people.
Runners-up: English Pub, Brooklyn Bar
2014: Bjarni Fel
2013: Bjarni Fel
2012: Úrilla Górillan (RIP)
2011: Hvíta Perlan (RIP)
2010: Hvíta Perlan
2009: Bjarni Fel
Best Beer Selection
Skúli Craft Bar
Skúli is a newcomer on the bar scene, and it’s been an instant hit. “It feels like it’s always been there,” our panel noted. “It’s really settled into the city’s new craft bar scene.” Skúli scores points for the old-fashioned chalkboard presentation of what’s on the twelve taps, and the generally pleasant environment—it’s much more atmospheric and comfortable than our previous winner, Micro Bar. The beers on offer vary from wheat beers to rich IPAs, dark stouts and lighter lagers, with six Icelandic beers and six imported, and a rotation that means there’s always something new to try. There’s an extensive selection of bottles for those who want to delve deeper, and you can buy a tray of small tastes rather than a single beer if you prefer. “They also have a good wine list,” one panelist noted, “so if you don’t drink beers, it’s one of the better wine bars to be found in Reykjavík.”
Runner-up: Micro Bar
2014: Micro Bar
2013: Micro Bar
2012: Micro Bar
Best Place For Cocktails
Apótek is an upmarket restaurant with a bar in the front, located in a high-ceilinged, refurbished spot, from which it gets its name—because the building was once a pharmacy. “They have a great happy hour on their cocktails. You can get a cocktail and a dessert for a good price,” one write-in remarked. “It’s kind of fancy, but not in an intimidating way—it has a good atmosphere, relaxed, and less packed than some of the other contenders,” another noted. “The seating is nice, with lots of space, so it feels more private—it’s somewhere good for conversation with your drink.”
Runners-up: Grillmarket, Fishmarket, Slippbarinn
2013: Borg, Hotel Borg
Best Bar For Live Music
Húrra wins this category hands down, with everyone we consulted praising it to high heaven. Factors included the sound system, which seems like it handles any kind of music from acoustic to ambient to techno to noise; the lighting, which is dynamic and varied depending on the artist playing; the great month-round programme, which varies between visiting bands, record release parties, DJ nights, dance-eoke (yup, it’s a thing), and just plain ol’ good parties. Húrra attracts a young, fun, fashionable (mostly drunk) crowd, has a good range of beers and spirits at the bar, and is without question the best small music venue in Reykjavík. If it were our policy to give multiple awards to the same place, Húrra would be raking them in.
No runners-up—Húrra is peerless in this category!
2014: Cafe Rosenberg
2013: Volta (RIP)
Best Bar For Smokers
Boston is a classic Reykjavík bar that’s evolved over the years. From its roots as the “sequel” to the wildly popular and much-missed party bar Sirkus, it now attracts an unpredictably mixed crowd, from middle-aged moms out on the town, to dressed-up birthday parties, groups of tourists and the occasional member of Reykjavík’s music-scene royalty. It also has a solid DJ lineup, some fancy new infused-spirit cocktails, and a comfortable upstairs to hide in. To top all this, it has a huge seated sun-terrace area for smokers, complete with gas-powered heating, shelter from the elements, plenty of space, and super comfortable sofas. People often spend the summer nights outside, deep in conversation—this terrace has a really happy atmosphere as sun-starved Icelanders enjoy the long summer nights. Light ‘em up!*
(*But don’t forget, smoking is bad for you. Maybe get an ecig!)
Runners-up: Loft, Hressó
2013: Reykjavík Beats
NEW: Best Happy Hour
As we were sweeping the city’s drinking establishments recently for our annual Bar Guide, we happened upon this tucked-away gem of a bar. With an interior that’s somewhere between a cosy neighbourhood bar and an exposed-pipes industrial look, Forréttabarinn houses a tapas restaurant in one side, and a bar in the other. A large Bríó is just 500 ISK, with Hoegaarden, Kaldi, Einstök, Porter and wine all priced at 650 ISK from 16:00-20:00 daily, including weekends. And with a range of delicious tapas available to snack on from the restaurant menu, Forréttabarinn has the happiest happy hour in town.
Runners-up: Kaffibarinn, Frederiksen
Best Shop To Stock Up On Local Design
Spark Design Space
The Spark Design Space is a brightly lit white cube on Klapparstígur, perched on the fault line between gallery, design space and shop. It sells an immaculately curated selection of objects—be they clothing, prints and posters, fragrances, books or household stuff like shelving and cushions—with a focus on Icelandic projects. The space has a rolling exhibition programme that showcases work by a featured designer, giving the work room to breathe and providing a focus on their hand-picked makers, and the staff are always happy to tell you all about the background behind each line. So pop in just after payday, splash some krónur on something beautiful, and make your life just that bit more aesthetically pleasing.
Best Shop To Stock Up On Local Fashion Design
It’s not that common for customers to meet the fashion designers who make their clothing. But that’s exactly what happens at Kiosk, a high-end Reykjavík store manned by a collective of six Icelandic fashion designers: EYGLO, helicopter, Hildur Yeoman, milla snorrason, kyrja and Kristjana S Williams. Selling exclusively locally made garments, the designers run every aspect of Kiosk themselves, with one of the six always manning the counter. The collections change on regular basis, with designers in charge of what’s on sale, all of which is produced in limited numbers. Shopping in Kiosk also means the money flows straight to the designers, who are right there on hand to offer their insight to the customers.
Bókabúð Steinars (Sjónarlind)
Even though Iceland is a country with a remarkably high number of published authors per capita—some might say a nation of writers—it’s kind of surprising how limited the bookstore game is. Bókabúð Steinars on Bergstaðastræti is quite singular too, offering a lovely and well-curated selection of primarily non-fiction books almost exclusively in English. Ranging through topics such as biography, gastronomy, fashion, art, photography and beyond, they are the only first-hand indie bookstore in town. “Not only do they have great books showing styles and photographs, they also have an excellent selection of beautiful tutorial books,” said one bibliophile. “It is really great to find something fun or to find something to help you learn a serious skill.” Sounds great to us.
Runners-up: Mál og menning, Bókin
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Bókin – Bókabúð Braga
“It’s hard to imagine Reykjavík without it. So let’s not.”
2013: Eymundsson, Bankastræti
2012: Mál og Menning
2011: Eymundsson, Austurstræti
2010: Eymundsson, Skólavörðustígur
NEW: Best Barber Shop
Barber is a relatively new barber shop, in (of course) a new Laugavegur hotel. They put a welcome focus on the experience as much the haircut—along with a top-class trim, you can get a drink from the bar, and browse through a selection of vinyl records provided by the Reykjavík Record Store. “It’s a really nice all-round experience,” one freshly cut consultant noted. “They do unisex haircuts, and it’s small and intimate—there are only three chairs, so it doesn’t feel crowded and overwhelming.” So whether you’re after a #normcore short back ‘n’ sides, fancy bangs, a geometric beard trim or a hipster combover, Barber will hit the spot.
Runners-up: KEX, Kormáks og Skjaldar
NEW: Best Hairdressing Salon
This year, as opposed to lumping all places to get one’s hair done into one category, we decided it was time to split up barbers and salons. They’ve usually duked it out in one slot and that just isn’t fair. In fact, it might be somewhat of an upset, but this relatively new place right near City Hall got the top score in this redefined category. The salon is a sort of 60s theme shop with mod chic décor and copious references to the Jane Fonda B-movie classic that is their namesake. The talented team of stylists includes a couple of stray-hairs from acclaimed salon Rauðhetta og úlfurinn. They offer unisex styling and colouring, and they are stocked with high-quality products. It might be the best place to get a vintage ‘do, like a short Twiggy cut or big blonde bombshell locks. They may be new, but they’ve got our hair wrapped around their pinky.
Runners-up: Rauðhetta og úlfurinn, Sjoppan
Best Second Hand Shop
Okay, we gotta start by clarifying something: the difference between a vintage shop and a secondhand store. One is not better than the other by nature, but they are very different in terms of price, quality and overall store selection. For a long time, this category has been handed out to a vintage shop (good quality, prices that reflect this quality, and a limited curated selection). Now it’s time to give it back. At Hertex, the Salvation Army’s shop on Garðastræti, you get the best real secondhand experience in town. “You have to dig a bit to strike gold, but the clothes are in really good condition and they have great stuff and it’s actual secondhand prices,” enthused one panelist. “One time, I found an actual Dior jacket, and it cost nothing!” That’s a really lucky strike, but it’s that kind of you-never-know place. The store is clean, quaint and run by a couple of sweet, friendly grandmothers who keep the place ship-shape. We love it.
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Kolaportið
“If Kolaportið weren’t around, we’d need to establish it immediately, lest we vanish back to the dark ages of commerce.”
Best Shop For “High Fashion”
We might ruffle a few cummerbunds here, but our panel of fashionista experts have declared it so. Swooping the glory away from KronKron for the first time, GK Reykjavík has a good solid range of high-end designers and brands, and, as our experts noted, a wider and more democratic price range. They have a big beautiful location with a great-looking layout, good selection and collection turnover. “At KronKron they would often put the old collections on sale and then put them back on the floor at regular price, which is just not right,” one expert noted. “When GK puts something on sale, that’s the last time you see it, and there’s new stock after.” Way to keep it classy, GK.
Runners-up: KronKron, JÖR
Kormáks og Skjaldar
This is never a tough one. To be perfectly honest, this category is singularly dominated by this high-end menswear shop, and we would be surprised to see another shop give them a run for their money. In fact, we patiently await the challenge, just to see a little healthy competition. But really, Kormákur and Skjöldur know what they’re doing, and they keep on doing it well. Keep it up, guys.
Runners-up: No one holds a candle to them.
2014: Herrafataverzlun Kormáks & Skjaldar
2012: Herrafataverzlun Kormáks & Skjaldar
2011: Herrafataverzlun Kormáks & Skjaldar
2010: Herrafataverzlun Kormáks & Skjaldar
Best Place To Shop Organic
Frú Lauga, Laugardalur
Don’t be fooled by the little outpost shop in downtown: for real local organic quality food, one has to go to Frú Lauga’s mothership in Laugardalur. The branch out there is completely different, with a bigger space, wider selection and even their own greenhouse for growing and selling their extremely fresh produce right on the spot. It doesn’t get any more greenhouse-to-table than this—who can argue with that kind of quality?
2014: Frú Lauga
2013: Frú Lauga
2012: Frú Lauga
2011: Frú Lauga
Best Record Store
Reykjavík Record Shop
This newcomer has quickly become a local favourite. With a small but well-groomed selection, what you see is what you get. “There are less records than at Lucky, but there is higher product turnover and the records are always in excellent quality. You can always find something really good at a reasonable price,” said our crate-digger panelist. “Sometimes it has really weird, rare and obscure albums that are unexpected alongside new beautiful records by current bands.” Plus, the owner has been known to be a bit of a personal shopper to some local DJs, helping them get the records they need to keep Reykjavík crowds dancing. Keep up the good work!
Runner-up: Lucky Records
2014: Lucky Records
2013: Lucky Records
Best Place to Buy a Wool Sweater
Laugavegur 12 & 116, and Mjódd
As anyone who regularly interacts with tourists in Iceland can attest, one of the questions you are frequently asked is, “Where can I buy a nice traditional sweater?” Handprjónasambandið (The Icelandic Hand-Knitting Association) is great, but it’s possible to get a cheaper one at the secondhand shop, Rauði Krossinn (the Red Cross store). If you’re really lucky you can even find one there that was knit by a real Icelandic grandmother for a decent price. They have nice staff and a nice location on Laugavegur, plus you might find some other secondhand bargains.
NEW: Best Jewellery Shop
Orri Finn Design
Tucked down in a semi-basement on Skólavörðustígur, the shop is a workspace and shop for Orri Finn’s beautiful and unusual custom creations, with such interesting ornaments as cutting shears, fountain pen tips, moth wings and straight blades. “I was walking by the store in a hurry but I caught sight of the pendants in the window and I had to slow down,” one of our panellists remarked. Indeed, they are head-turning and remarkable items.
NEW: Best Boutique
This is one of those little shops that just draws you in from the outside. With one side of its vitrine dedicated to gorgeous designer jewellery and the other carefully decorated with an array of design products, accessories and toys, it’s simply irresistible. Inside they boast a great array of high-quality local design products, alongside French perfumes, cool Scandinavian bags, and a variety of products for the household. You can always expect to get something really nice there, whether you’re treating yourself or someone you love.
Runners-up: Hrím, Spúútnik
NEW: Best Cheap Store
Laugavegur 13 & Kringlan
Where can you go to find a nice new cookie jar, some lemonade glasses, finger paints for your little brother, googly-eye glasses for your niece, cards for your relatives birthdays, new candles for your bathroom, comfortable long-johns, a discreet toilet brush, and a large bag of turmeric powder, all for under 10,000 ISK? No, not seven different stores. Just the single, wonderful entity known as Tiger. It’s a big international Scandinavian chain but damn, they are excellent and cheap cheap cheap. Tiger, always there, always reliable.
Runners-up: Geysir, Kría
NEW: Best Goddamn Store
So many feelings occur when one sees this shiny unicorn of a store on Skólavörðustígur—amazement, desire, lust, envy, frustration. Sooner or later, one has to give in to the temptation caused by their pristine window display and venture in. Inside, their vast stock is built up by high quality, gorgeously designed brands that are built to last. And we’re not just talking great clothes here. There are housewares, accessories, essentials and the surprising little things you never quite knew you needed. The prices are steep, but what you buy is likely to last you a lifetime, and the experience of shopping there is always a pleasure. It is an all-around wonderful store and nothing else compares to it in town. Goddamn it, Geysir is great!
Runners-up: Tiger, 12 Tónar
Best Swimming Pool
The best pool in Reykjavík is always a hotly contested category. Whether because of territorial loyalties, nostalgic allegiances, or keen observations about the minutiae of the various saunas, hot tubs and other pool facilities, people get very heated on this subject. After a long discussion, popular “hipster pool” Vesturbæjarlaug was our winner. “I’ve heard some of the funniest pool stories in the hot tubs at Vesturbæjarlaug,” one panellist noted. “And it’s the only pool where I’ve seen Högni from Hjaltalín reading poetry to girls from a sun chair. You can watch the old men doing their exercises, and even join in if you want.” A recent refurbishment of the pool’s hot tubs and changing rooms was a big success, with new transparent sections in the pool’s perimeter fence meaning there’s always sun shining on the hotpots (subject to sunlight). They also boast powerful new back-massaging jets. Finally, the pool’s proximity to the new Kaffihús Vesturbæjar for a post-soak snack only helped the case.
Runners-up: Árbæjarlaug, Laugardalslaug
OUT OF THE RUNNING – UNTOUCHABLE: Sundhöll Reykjavíkur
“The Guðjón Samúelsson designed Sundhöll Reykjavíkur with its maze of locker rooms is a beautiful building, and the nude sunbathing facilities, soothing hot pots and an atmosphere that has remained relatively unchanged since the 1930s all add to its appeal. While some of Reykjavík’s other pools might offer more diversity, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur remains a unique and enduring local favourite.”
Reykjavík is home to a wide range of small galleries, from artist-run project spaces to commercial galleries, with new ones springing up or vanishing quite regularly. But amongst this flourishing/turbulent scene, i8 is a constant. Their programme changes every month, often offering work by two artists at once from i8’s roster of Icelandic and international artists. The gallery has a distinct aesthetic despite spotlighting a wide range of multimedia practise, unified by an experimental, playful spirit. This seems necessary in the sometimes po-faced and academic art world, and this enjoyable irreverence has made i8 a well-known organisation overseas. The panel remarked on the clockwork efficiency of their programme, and the sheer quality of the work on offer. So despite some promising competition, i8 is a clear winner.
Runners-up: Hverfisgallerí, Týsgallerí
2014: Kling og Bang
2013: National Museum
2012: National Museum
2011: National Museum
2010: National Center for Cultural Heritage
Best Art Museum
Reykjavík Art Museum
This year’s winner is no big surprise, having swept this category for the past several years. Yup, we’ve once again determined The Reykjavík Art Museum to be the top art museum in Reykjavík, due greatly to the fact that it resides in not just one but three branches across the city. While Hafnarhús often receives the bulk of the attention for its location, impressively modern building and host of many cultural events, our panel was particularly vocal about Kjarvalsstaðir, located right in Klambratún park. “Their permanent collection is incredible and they have many large spaces. You can always count on seeing something good there,” one argument went. “It’s a great place to take kids because they have a great drawing corner and lots of space,” our parent-panelist also noted. Ásmundarsafn also didn’t go ignored as one of the best off-the-beaten-path museums to visit. For upholding high curatorial standards and forward-thinking exhibits in all its locations, this museum takes the cake.
Runner-up: National Gallery of Iceland
2014: Reykjavík Art Museum
2013: Reykjavík Art Museum
2012: Reykjavík Art Museum
2011: Einar Jónsson
2010: Reykjavík Art Museum
2009: Einar Jónsson
It wasn’t so long ago that Reykjavík was just a rustic country village where merchants trotted down the mucky roads on horses, women would haul their laundry to Laugardalur to do the washing by hand, and sheep and chickens were common residents. Árbærsafnið is an ode to that no-so-distant past, a beautifully preserved slice of another era in Icelandic history. “It’s like a retirement home for Icelandic culture—where the old houses from 101 go when they die,” one of Grapevine’s friends noted. Once they arrive on this bucolic patch of land in the Árbær suburb, the houses are given new life in an old style, and the museum’s events and shows reflect the historic events of the past. In the summer, the museum comes alive with animals on location and staged exhibits. Árbæjarsafnið wins our hearts for its immersive experience, historical accuracy and delightful nostalgia.
Runner-up: Phallological Museum of Iceland
2014: National Museum of Iceland
2013: National Museum
2012: National Museum
2011: National Museum
2010: National Center for Cultural Heritage
Best Place To Spend A Rainy Day
Café Flóra is located inside a big greenhouse in the park area at Laugardalur, a short distance from downtown. The café is in an atrium that’s full of verdant plant life and water features, with views out into the parkland. “The rain makes a relaxing sound as it hits the greenhouse roof, and you can get tea, coffee, snacks or a beer if you feel like it,” a long time reader wrote in to tell us. “You can sit and read a book or look out at the weather, and it’s the perfect place to be amongst nature whilst staying dry.” And isn’t that lovely. There’s also an ice-skating rink in the hall next door if that’s your kind of thing, and when the sun comes out you can take a walk in the park. You’ll need your raincoat to get there, though.
Runners-up: Sundhöllin hot tubs, Harpa
2014: A Hot Tub
2013: Reykjavík Art Museum – Hafnarhús
2012: Bíó Paradís
2011: Bíó Paradís
2010: A hot tub
Best Place To Spend A Sunny Day
Heiðmörk is a park and nature conservation area at the very edge of greater Reykjavík. On one side lies the Rauðhólar area, characterised by some dramatic red and ochre rock formations jutting out of the ground; on the other, there’s a large area of spruce and pine woodland. In fact, over four million trees have been planted there since the park’s inception in 1950, and Icelanders go there in droves all the year round to wander through the various roads and pathways. It’s a beautiful spot for a hike, a meandering walk or a picnic, and it has a slightly wilder feeling than the many well-manicured inner-city parks.
Runners-up: Hljómskálagarðurinn, Laugardalur
NEW: Best Place For Cycling & Jogging
We joined the cycling and jogging categories together this year, for the simple reason that the scenic Ægisíða road is the perfect place for both. Located out on the south side of the Vesturbœr peninsula, this peaceful three-lane jogging and cycle path skirts a beautiful piece of Reykjavík’s coastline, looking over to the mountains and volcanic cones of Reykjanes. Depending on how far you want to go, you could take a short jog around the coast, or go as far west as the Grótta lighthouse and nature reserve; in the eastward direction lies the Nauthólsvík man-made beach, and a seaside path that leads all the way to Kópavogur. We like the combination of tranquil sea views and scenery, the distance the paths have from traffic (unlike, say, on Sæbraut), the separate lanes for bikes and joggers, and the fact that it’s not too windy.
Best Place To See A Movie
This downtown “cinema paradise” is a surefire winner for the movie category. Showing indie flicks, older movies, cult films and a selection of new art-house productions, the programme offers something for everyone, whilst avoiding the latest Hollywood stuff. Indeed, Iceland’s only art-house cinema should satisfy any would-be cinephile, hosting mini-film festivals and special events alongside recent Icelandic films with English subtitles. It’s even a nice place to hang out for a drink or two, as the theatre has a pleasant seating area and regularly hosts art exhibitions and even concerts. Also notable is the fact that Bíó Paradís is Iceland’s only cinema that doesn’t have intermissions.
2014: VIP Theater, Mjódd
2013: Bíó Paradís
Best Romantic Walk
Set just outside of the city centre, Öskjuhlíð is a small hill crowned by distinctive landmark Perlan. It’s covered in little roads and paths through the trees that branch out into a winding network, offering a rare chance to get lost in this diminutive city. “You can have some privacy there, unlike at Sæbraut or Tjörnin,” one panellist noted. “It’s more intimate. There are so many little paths, you can just wander in the nature without being disturbed. You also have some options on Öskjuhlíð, if you feel like romancing it up with a seaside walk and an ice cream, because at the back of the hill is the Nauthólsvík beach.” The area also a sprawling graveyard to go and explore (see our “Best Graveyard To Hang Out In” award). And as far as makeout spots go, well, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Runners-up: Ægisíða, Tjörnin
Best Shock Walk
Hafnarstræti and Hverfisgata
This category was coined almost especially for the somewhat extreme nightlife devastation seen on the puke ‘n’ glass-strewn pavements of Laugavegur after Friday and Saturday nights. But lately, our panel noted, the streets of Hafnarstræti and Hverfisgata (which join together at Lækjargata) have become kind of shocking for different reasons. “It’s a hotspot for drunken attacks by really wasted people,” one panellist remarked, adding that he was also shocked by the construction-related devastation in the area. “It doesn’t feel safe, sometimes. And so many buildings have been razed to the ground,” he continued. “I saw an old building on Hafnarstræti that’s had its face torn off to reveal a gutted interior, and it made me go ‘WOAH!’ These streets are as close to a ‘ghetto’ as Reykjavík gets.”
Runners-up: Laugavegur at 5am (drunken destruction), Laugavegur at 3pm (tourist overload)
2014: Laugavegur 5am
2013: Laugavegur 5am
Best Place To Enjoy A Zen Moment
Just outside of the hubbub of Reykjavík’s downtown area lies Viðey, a tiny unpopulated island in the Faxaflói bay. It’s dotted with a couple of buildings, including one of Iceland’s oldest churches, a quaint cabin, and a small restaurant. Home to a series of pillar sculptures by Richard Serra and Yoko Ono’s “Peace Tower,” it’s accessible by Elding boat in the summer (somewhat optimistically designated as May-September), leaving from Harpa, Reykjavík’s old harbour, or the ferry terminal on Skarfagarðar, for a reasonable 1100 ISK. “Viðey feels like a step away from the city,” one reader noted. “As soon as you set foot on the boat, you’re decompressing from downtown. And once you’re on the island it’s even better—you can be completely at peace, away from the summer crowds. Esja looks beautiful—you’re right there with the mountains, the sea and the nature.”
Runners-up: Viðey won this hands down
2009: Reykjavík Botanical Gardens
Best Place To Spend Time With Kids
Húsdýra- og Fjölskyldugarðurinn
The parents we consulted readily picked this place, a petting zoo and family park located in the Laugardalur valley, for its benefits to kids and grown-ups alike. “Kids are occupied the whole time, with the animals and playing in the adventure park, and at the end of the day they are completely exhausted,” said one parent. It checks off all the boxes for keeping kids entertained and making bedtime a breeze. Bottom line: cute animals to cuddle, colourful things to bounce on, and easy on the wallet.
Runners-up: There was no contest for this category.
2012: Lynghagaróló Playground
Best Place To Read A Book
We’ll be honest, this wasn’t such an easy one. There was pretty tough competition between this beautiful, warm and comfortable café in downtown Reykjavík and the Reykjavík City Library, a mere block away. The library is of course a building full of books built with almost the exclusive purpose of faciliating reading, but Stofan has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that is so inviting to bringing your own and sitting there for hours. “The downstairs level is especially nice to read in,” said one person. “It’s spacious and cavernous but gets lots of light and you can just sink into the vintage couches.” Plus, with a great menu of coffees, cakes and light meals, there’s no need to relocate when your reading energy starts to fade. We’ll be doing our reading down there, thank you.
Runner-up: Reykjavík City Library
2014: National and University Library
Best Day Trip From Reykjavík
There are some people who say that Snæfellsnes is like a “mini Iceland,” and with good reason. Only two hours away from Reykjavík, the peninsula has a little bit of everything that can be found around the island—a magnificent and famous glacier, rolling marshy lava fields, natural hot pots, an incredible coastline with volcanic sands and rocky cliffs, and small towns with cosmopolitan vibes. “It’s nice all year round. In the summer you can go walk on the red sand beaches and in the winter you can walk or drive a snowcat onto Snæfellsjökull glacier,” said one person emphatically. Stykkishólmur is nice town to visit before driving back to the capital in the same day, with lots of colourful characters and interesting attractions like the Library of Water. Dotted with amazing sights like a crashed ship, a beached whale carcass (at times), lighthouses, cliffs and caves, Snæfellsnes is our get-outta-town winner.
Runners-up: Hvalfjörður, Þingvellir
2012: Mosfellsbær and Esja
Best Place To Watch The Sunset
This is another tough one. Some parts of the year the only light we get is a permanent sunset, and then there’s those pesky months where the sun barely sets at all and sleeping mask manufacturers rejoice. Admittedly, most of the city has a pretty great vantage point of the sky, but there was unanimous consensus amongst those we consulted that nowhere else in the city offers quite the same experience as watching the light fade from Grótta. All the way at the western tip of the city, the beachy point provides a perfect 360-panoramic view and gives the illusion of being out of the city when one hasn’t even left it. If the tide is out you can even access the lighthouse. It’s just the perfect place to enjoy the peace and quiet and the disappearing sun.
Best People-Watching Spot
This city is a great place to observe other human beings. There’s always someone familiar, colourful characters and interesting interactions. We had a few strong contenders for the best vantage point, but the square in front Alþingi swept the category in the end. “Everyone passes by here—tourists, politicians, artists, kids, drunks,” said one panelist. “It’s like all of Reykjavík’s street life in one place.” With the entire northern row of the square lined with pub patios, it’s especially well set up for sitting and relaxing and watching the town go by. Plus there is always something happening in the square—a protest, some kind of performance art, or just a good old-fashioned bumfight. Just sit back and enjoy.
Runners-up: Nauthólsvík, Prikið
2014: Second Floor Window Seats, Eymundsson on Austurstræti
2013: Booths at Hressó
Best Graveyard To Hang Out In
This year’s winner of the best graveyard to hang out in is Fossvogskirkjugarður—a wonderful, hidden spot nestled at the back of Öskjuhlíð. Whilst we also love the history and layout of previous winner Hólavallagarður, Fossvogskirkjugarður has a wilder and less cultivated atmosphere, and less people around. “It’s a graveyard that’s full of life,” one panellist said. “The trees and wild plants grow right between the graves, so it’s like you’re in a forest as well as a graveyard. There are lots of paths to explore, and little secret places. Sometimes you really don’t see many other people, so you can feel pleasantly alone there, except for all the bunny rabbits running around your feet.”
Best Cheap Thrill
This city is not especially renowned for facilitating frugality, so coming up with cheap thrills is always a challenge when we run this poll. This year, though, like a bolt from the blue, somebody remembered the bingo hall up on Skipholt. Under the cool vintage sign and within the no-frills exterior, one will find all walks of life commonly sharing the bingo experience. “It’s run by all these great old ladies—only women work there—and you can buy a ticket for just 300 ISK or get ten like the pros,” our panel’s bingo aficionado noted. “There’s a stage where they call the bingo from and behind there’s this huge screen where the numbers show up so it’s really easy to follow along. Plus the ladies are so helpful.” Also, it’s one of the few sober spaces in town on weekend nights. Bingo!
Runners-up: Riding the city busses, Art openings and free gigs, Shoplifting
2014: Sea Swimming at Nauthólsvík
2013: Reykjavík City Library
NEW: Best Mural / Street Art
Guido Van Helten at Grandi
For all the great galleries and art museums we have in this city, far too little is said about the incredible amount and quality of street art that fills our city. While the competition was tough, our entire panel was smitten by the stunning works of Guido Van Helten on the whitewashed buildings in Grandi. Overlooking empty construction pits, his charcoal sketch-styled paintings are both realistic and fantastical, with the tight close-up faces creating a hyper-sensuous juxtaposition to the industrial rubble beneath. It’s not only incredible art, but a moving sight altogether.
Runners-up: Sara Riel’s Hands, all around Reykjavík
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