From take-it-to-go hot dogs to gourmet platters on white-clothed tables, little Reykjavík has an astonishing assortment of eateries. Loads of seafood and Icelandic or ‘New Nordic’ restaurants serve tried-and-true variations on local fish and lamb, but the capital is also the main spot for finding international eats.
Kolaportið Flea Market also has a section with traditional Icelandic foods.
Reykjavík has a rich coffee culture and cafe scene. Cool, cosy cafes encourage lingering, and though they're tops for morning coffee and light lunches, as evening comes along many undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation – coffee becomes beer, DJs materialise in dark corners, and suddenly you’re in a kick-ass bar. Some restaurants morph into late-night bars, too, with their kitchens closing around 10pm and the party rocking into the wee hours.
Eating the Locals: Whale, Shark & Puffin
Many restaurants and tour operators in Iceland tout their more unusual delicacies: whale (hvál/hvalur), shark (fermented and called hákarl) and puffin (lundi). Before you dig in, consider that what may have been sustainable with 350,000 Icelanders becomes taxing on species and delicate ecosystems when 2.2 million tourists annually (more than six times the population) get involved. Be aware:
- As much as an estimated 60% of Icelandic whale meat consumption is by tourists.
- A 2017 Gallup survey found 81% of Icelanders had never eaten whale meat. And only 1% of Icelanders questioned said they eat whale regularly.
- Between 75% and 80% of minke whale is thrown away after killing.
- Fin whales are classified as endangered globally; their status in the North Atlantic region is hotly debated.
- Iceland’s Ministry of Industries & Innovation (www.government.is) maintains that the whale catch is sustainable (at less than 1% of local stocks), is strictly managed and is in accordance with international law
- The International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org) claims recent campaigns have helped halve whale meat consumption by tourists, with more than half the restaurants in downtown Reykjavík pledging not to serve it.
- The Greenland shark, which is used for hákarl, has a conservation status of 'near threatened' globally.
- Recent studies suggest Greenland shark might have a lifespan of some 500 years, but are only able to reproduce after 150 years, making the species slow to recover from any reduction in numbers.
- Iceland's iconic Atlantic puffin is classified as a vulnerable species globally because of rapid European population decline.
- In the crucially important breeding colonies of Iceland's Vestmannaeyjar islands chick production has collapsed over the last decade.
- Since 2003 there's been a drop in the puffin population of around 40%; this is the equivalent of two million breeding pairs.
While we do not exclude restaurants that serve these meats from our listings, you can opt not to order the meat, or easily find whale-free spots at www.icewhale.is/whale-friendly-restaurants.