South Iceland’s main town of Selfoss is an hour-long drive from Reykjavík on the banks of the wide and gushing Ölfusá river. It’s not immediately charming—the main street is lined by dull municipal buildings, a mall, and some chain stores—but it’s nevertheless a hub for the area, with plenty of things to see and do.
Stay: Hótel Selfoss
This grand old pile stands a stone’s throw from the Ölfusá, looking over the wide torrent; when we were there, sheets of shattered ice swirled and eddied in the crook of a bend in the river. The reception corridor winds around through an atrium into a kind of mini-mall, including meeting rooms, a restaurant, a sports bar, and a small windowless spa with a steam room, sauna and hot pot. Some rooms seem more modern than others—perhaps enquire when booking, if you’re picky.
Shop: Second hand shop & Handicrafts Store
Across the street you’ll find two interesting independent shops. One is a labyrinthine handicrafts stores with all kind of ornaments, jewellery, artwork, knitwear and charming locally made knick knacks; the other is a sprawling second hand store with a vast mixture of used goods, from electronics to furniture, clothing, paintings, kitchenwares, toys, luggage, and pretty much anything you could imagine. You’ll come out with some essential bits and pieces you didn’t realise you needed.
Eat: Kaffi Krús
This homely cafe is located in a wooden house, nested amongst the various mall-style buildings on the main strip of Selfoss. They have lunch options of soup and cod, but the star of the show is the platter of cakes—there are usually seven or eight decadent treats to choose from. They have brunch options on weekends.
Visit: Bobby Fischer Centre
This small museum is dedicated to the erratic, virulently anti-semitic, 9/11-supporting weirdo and renegade chess genius Bobby Fischer. Bobby spent the last chapter of his life as an émigré, ending his days in Iceland after getting into various diplomatic shitstorms. The museum is open by appointment—visit the shop out front to get in.
A cosy café and bookshop, if you find yourself caught in a snowstorm this could be the perfect hangout to while away some time with a good book.
Lunch: Noodle Station, Krisp & Búllan
These three fast food options are all within a hundred metres of each other. Noodle Station—an outpost of the Reykjavík main branch—is a crisp white room with high stools to perch on, selling rich, pungent noodle soup with plenty of chilli and ginger. Búllan is a homely burger joint slinging decent cheeseburgers and fries to wolf down on a road trip. Krisp is a more of a sit-down place, with a jolly pink exterior, a full menu, and a slightly chilly dining room—grab a seat by the radiator if you’re there in winter.
One of the finest restaurants in southern Iceland, Tryggvaskáli is located in the house that was formerly Selfoss’ historic first hotel. A listed building, the interior still has the old layout, resulting in a charming series of nooks, reception areas and private dining rooms that were once bedrooms. The kitchen uses local ingredients with a playful flair, creating complex, colourful, surprising dishes. A cut above most rural restaurants, it’s worth making Selfoss your dinner stop.