Drive-Through Towns: A Day In The Kópacabana

Drive-Through Towns: A Day In The Kópacabana

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

I’m not going to lie—when I suggested to my editor that we should write a travel article about Kópavogur, I was joking. Kópavogur, for non-Icelanders, is a suburb of Reykavík—technically a separate municipality—best known for Smáralind, the largest mall in Iceland. While it is a beautiful residential area, it’s not necessarily a must-see on TripAdvisor. When I asked some Kóp-dwelling friends what people do there, I was met with bemused expressions—they thought I was joking too.

Kópavogur by Art Bicnick

Enginn Enska

But I did get some recommendations. Café Catalina is a local haunt that was recommended by absolutely everyone I talked to. Some urged me to catch a classical concert at Salurinn—a Kópavogur concert hall—and finish with a beer at Catalina, while others recommended going during the weekend, when it’s apparently pretty rowdy.

I arrive around noon, and immediately fall in love with the café’s homey decor. There are flowers on every table, shiny wood paneling, old-school wallpaper—it’s quite kitschy. Off to the side, hidden behind a false wall, lies a classic bandstand and dance floor. I promise myself I’ll djamm at Catalina ASAP.

Kópavogur by Art Bicnick

There’s a small daily food menu—two entrées and a soup—which I decide to sample. Here’s why I’m urging future Kóp-visitors to check this place out: the food is unbelievable. The cauliflower soup is the best soup I’ve had in years, and the fish is cooked to perfection. If you’re looking for one of those “hidden” culinary destinations, here it is.

Warning though: This is not a tourist restaurant, so they don’t have a menu in English. But I guess if you’re the type of person who wants a hidden culinary destination, you’ll probably just think this makes the café more authentic. God bless.

Cafe Catalina Kópavogur by Art Bicnick


Our next destination is the nearby Gerðarsafn Kópavogur Art Museum. The current exhibition is called ‘Sculpture / Sculpture’ and features work by Sindri Leifsson and Eva Ísleifsdóttir. In the first room lie about twenty circular pieces of wood attached to metal rods. Sindri titled these “Sculptures with Attitude Problems.” “Sindri is challenging the idea that sculptures are something that is only in one place,” says the museum attendant. “We move the sculptures around every day.” Sometimes they line up the wood in a line, while other days they make squares or diamonds or just random shapes. Eva’s work in the next room follows a similar format: the museum workers move her sculptures around constantly. It’s a cool concept, and I find the exhibit aesthetically pleasing, but who knows? The room will look totally different when you visit.

Kópavogur Art Museum by Art Bicnick

Just a short walk up the hill from the museum is Kópavogskirkja, or, as many call it, Iceland’s “McDonald’s church”—if you look at the church from the side you’ll see some familiar golden arches. Local secret: There are actually two other ugly churches in Kóp, both so hideous that I’m thinking of writing a piece called: “Who the fuck hired this architect?”

But stroll down a paved path from the museum and you’ll find my favorite spot in Kópavogur—a beautiful duck pond with a little gazebo on it. It’s incredibly romantic. If you ever find yourself in the improbable position of planning an impromptu date in Kópavogur, here’s your secret.

So while Kóp might not be the most traditional tourist destination, if you find yourself there, there is plenty to do. Copacabana, Kópacabana? What’s the difference?

Kópavogur by Art Bicnick

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