Hafnarfjörður Town Guide: Herbs, Huldfólk And Home Cooking

Hafnarfjörður Town Guide: Herbs, Huldfólk And Home Cooking

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Although it’s attached to the Greater Reykjavík area, the seaside town Hafnarfjörður is a separate municipality from Iceland’s capital, with a personality all its own. Hafnarfjörður has a small-town feeling that’s long gone from Reykjavík’s puffin shop-infested central strip—with bakeries, independent shops, and plenty of tucked away cafés and curiosities that make it well worth a visit if you’ve a day to spare.

Stay: Hotels Norðurey or Viking
Most tourists coming to Iceland will probably stay in Reykjavík’s city centre, but there a variety of accommodation options in Hafnarfjörður. Hotel Norðurey offers basic, bright, modern rooms for those who lean towards the functional and minimalistic. If you want to go full-blown tourist kitsch, you could also opt for the extreme retro of the sea-front Hotel Viking, which has the upside of being right on the harbour in the town centre, and comes complete with a feasting hall.

Hike: Helgafell
A short drive out of Hafnarfjörður is Helgafell, a 338m mountain with a hiking trail up its spine. If the weather is clear, it’s an easy hike to the summit, where you’ll get fine views over Reykjanes Peninsula. In winter, the track is completely snowed in, but if you have good boots, you can still get a nice walk around its base. Avoid taking on the mountain in winter—the icy path is dangerous without proper equipment and preparation.

Lunch: Pallett
This local café is a comfortable spot with a mellow, homely atmosphere where it’s easy to while away a few hours. It serves gourmet coffee, hearty stew, and legendary veggie sausage rolls that some people travel out from Reykjavík for alone. There are lots of books to read, cosy sofas to relax in, and tables for those who want to get some work done on their laptop. One of Iceland’s very best cafés.

Shop: Urta Islandica
This family-run company produces teas, balms, oils, and syrups created from wild Icelandic plants. Urta Islandica has hundreds of pickers all over the country who collect angelica, kelp, birch, berries, thyme and all sorts of other natural goodies. You can buy pungent barley tea, aromatic herbal salts, and all manner of cookery ingredients—many of them made up according to traditional recipes for herbal remedies.

Park: Hellisgerði
Tucked away behind an unassuming railing, this small, hilly park holds many peaceful nooks, including a sitting area with a fountain, jagged lava boulders, copses of trees, flowerbeds, winding pathways and busts of local historic figures. There’s also an elf-themed cafe, where you can get a drink and hear stories of the húldufólk, and a stage where free music events are held in the summer.

Dinner: Von
This family-run harbourside restaurant is the best in town, offering such delicacies as crispy chicken skin, crudos with lemon mayonnaise, toasted hazelnut and nori, slow-cooked ox cheek, and a stellar fish of the day. Rumour has it the service is a little on the slow side, so be prepared to get a cocktail or two, and make an evening of it.

Read more town guides here.