My city: Reykjavik

Our ‘my city’ series puts a new perspective on some of our favourite places, as we catch up with creative residents, asking them to divulge their best kept secrets. From their favourite cheap eats, to their go-to coffee spot, there are plenty of hints and tips on how to stay like a local.

We’re heading to Iceland‘s Reykjavik, where we catch up with jewellery designer and world wanderer, Elin Rut Bieltvedt.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in Reykjavík, and why?

Well it’s not that weird, but when I was 18 I used to pretend that I was American when going out to clubs and bars. The drinking age here is 20 and I felt that they hassled me less when I pretended to be a tourist, it worked every time!

Where do you go for the best coffee in the city?

Ooh coffee. I really love the coffee at Reykjavík Roasters, they roast their own and it’s delicious! Te og Kaffi also has really great coffee, they’re a little family-owned chain that’s been around since 1984. Their branches are usually found in book shops such as Eymundsson, so you can grab a few magazines and people watch – it’s one of my favourite things to do.

Reykjavík Roasters. Image: Chris Wronski/Flickr
If a friend’s visiting and you want to impress them, which is your go-to restaurant?

There are a bunch of good restaurants here and usually when people visit, they want to try out some Icelandic cuisine, but my local go-to restaurant is usually Snaps. It’s a French bistro with a nice atmosphere, great food and equally great drinks. The two restaurants I usually point visitors to are Grillmarkaðurinn (grill market) and Fiskimarkaðurinn (fish market) as they’re both delicious and they work with more traditional Icelandic produce.

And your favourite cheap eat?

Bæjarins Beztu! It’s a hot dog stand in town near the harbour which is pretty popular, even Bill Clinton ate here when he was in the city. You have to ask for one with ‘everything’, they’re so good. If you want to sit inside, Hamborgarabullan is a hamburger joint just down the road which has a real David Lynch vibe about it. It’s super cute inside and the cheeseburgers are really tasty! Glo is a vegetarian alternative set on the main shopping strip. It’s not too expensive either, so it’s handy for budget travellers.

Hamborgarabúlla. Image: Helgi Halldórsson/Flickr
Tell us something that only a resident of the city would know?

Icelanders are weirdly obsessed with ice cream. To pass as a local, you must go and queue outside in the rain or snow for some ice cream. People actually do this! Go check out Valdis – it’s an organic ice cream shop and they change their flavours everyday.

What’s the best thing to do in Reykjavik for free?

Probably hiking in the countryside around the city. It’s one of my favourite things to do over the summer months. The hills are covered in Lupine flowers and with all that fresh mountain air and clear spring water from the lakes, it’s pretty magical.

Photography by Elin Rut Bieltvedt
Are there any tourist traps that should be avoided?

The Blue Lagoon is a crazy-busy touristy place, it’s just one hodgepodge of tourists. So if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, head to the lesser-known hot springs in the country such as Reykjadalur. You have to hike to get there and its in the middle of the mountains and it’s just 40 minutes from the city, but I would only recommend going there over summer. Also, Grjótagjá is a natural thermal pool inside a cave in the north of Iceland. If you’re travelling around the country, you should definitely try to visit! If you want more of a spa experience like the Blue Lagoon check out the less-busy Laugarvatn Fontana, which is on the Golden Triangle route.

Describe your perfect day in Reykjavik

I’d start with a morning swim at Laugardalur if it’s a nice day (fact: Icelanders love swimming!), followed by coffee and breakfast at Kaffi Flóran, which is a beautiful cafe set in Reykjavík Botanical Garden, so it’s especially lovely in summer. Vesturbæjarlaug is another nice pool, it’s pretty old-school and it’s in the west part of the city, which is a charming area to check out. If I was over that way, I’d go to Kaffi Vest, which is a stylish cafe right across the street, owned by the same owners of Kex Hostel. Sidetracking a bit here but speaking of Kex Hostel, it’s great for food and drinks in a cool, relaxed setting (think your typically hip Brooklyn/Hackney warehouse conversions) and on Tuesdays they have live jazz.

Kex Hostel – image from

Later, I’d head into town and do some shopping on Laugavegur. There are lots of concept stores, vintage shops and independent shops in Reykjavik. Jör is a designer store right at the top of the street and My Concept Store is another one of my faves. For lunch, I’d stop by the super-cosy Sandholt Bakery for a sandwich on sourdough and other baked treats, followed by a few galleries. My favourites are Ásmundarsafn, which has a sculpture garden and Reykjavik Art Museum. Arbaer museum is also really interesting – it’s an open-air museum and old houses from Reykjavík have been relocated there to form a small village – it’s only 15 minutes from the city centre by bus.

Around 5pm, I’d pop by Kaffibarinn for a happy hour beer with some friends and afterwards head to Pizza With No Name, which is a kind-of hidden pizzeria that’s all dark and romantic inside. They have a great bar upstairs too called Mikkeller & Friends (the Danish beer company)

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Where do you go when you need to get away from it all?

I love to go visit a friend of mine who lives in Höfn in Hornarfirði (the south-east of Iceland) when I have a few days off. It’s about a six-hour drive from the city and the views are just spectacular. You pass by a bunch of amazing natural sights on the way – one of my favourites is Jokulsarlon, which is a breathtaking glacier lagoon. Höfn itself is a cute little town but my friend lives on a farm just outside, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, not too bad a setting for a weekend getaway!

If you didn’t live in Reykjavik, where else would you live and why?

Right now I’m obsessed with Oaxaca in Mexico and I’d love to live there for a few months. It’s just the most beautiful place – full of colour and the best food. But long-term I’d probably choose L.A., I love the fact that within two hours you can be out of the city and in the mountains surrounded by enormous trees and lakes, at the beach, or in the desert. The contrast is pretty unbeatable.

Photography by Elin Rut Bieltvedt
In your opinion, when’s the best time of year to visit Reykjavik?

For me, I’d have to say the summer as you get about 20 hours of sunlight a day and in June, you can watch the sun set at midnight! Though, winter is beautiful too – that’s when you have a chance to catch the Northern Lights.

When you leave Reykjavik, what do you look forward to most when you return?

The glorious landscapes and the water. I miss not being able to get the freshest, coldest water straight from the tap and even though the hot water smells like rotten eggs, it has to be the best in the world.


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