You guessed it; Dan and I took a food tour (actually 2!) when we visited Iceland back in February 2020. We choose to tour with Wake Up Reykjavik because it fit into our schedule, but there are a few in town. From my online research, these tours are similar and you try some of the same foods. And on that note, what is Icelandic food you may ask? An interesting mix of fresh, local seafood, the most amazing rye bread, local butter and lamb, licorice flavored things, and, among some other things that I’m sure I’ve missed, hotdogs!! Yes, my favorite, hotdogs! Our tour provided a good overview of Icelandic cuisine and a look into modern Icelandic life, at least in Reykjavik, through our very cool guide, Tinna. I would recommend this tour to tourists with a few days in Iceland, foodies, and those on a budget wanting to try some good food. That being said, the tour was still approximately $95 USD, but everything in Iceland is expensive and this tour offered a lot of quality, classic Icelandic food.
Our tour met in the late morning in front of Reykjavik’s famous concert hall, the Harpa, on a terribly windy morning. We walked from our hotel about 30 minutes away arrived arrived right on time, which was too bad because the Harpa appeared to have a lovely gift shop…. Our tour consisted of about ten people, mostly from the US, and a native Icelander guide, Tinna, who braved the day in a light jacket (for comparison, I worse a Canada Goose jacket, a hat, gloves, a huge sweater, and really warm boots, and I was still cold) and filled us in on all things Iceland!
Post introductions, the first stop on our tour was at a really lovely restaurant, Messinn, a short walk from the Harpa and right in the heart of the tourist center of Reykjavik. Messinn’s speciality is seafood, as is proudly displayed on their sign, and I was slightly uncomfortable with this; while I like seafood, I am picky and am not a huge seafood lover. In any case, my worries were unfounded. The food at Messinn was outstanding!!!
But, before I delve into the food, can we just talk about how adorably Messinn is decorated? The whole restaurant is super cute and feels like you are a guest in someone’s Icelandic home, with lots of nautical touches. We were seated at a large table in the back room and the table was set with the most lovely dishes. I seriously wanted to take one home with me. There were also model boats and sea birds about. All in all an adorable place from a design view. One of my favorite things about food tours is finding cute little places like this that I otherwise never would visit.
Shortly after we sat down, the staff brought out several large skillets of food to be shared family style amongst the group. The dishes were quickly explained, and we dug in. The biggest surprise of the entire meal, and really food tour, for me was the first fish dish that I tried. And spoiler alert, I do not love fish dishes. BUT THIS ONE WAS AMAZING. In short, in the skillet was Arctic Char done in a crispy honey glaze with butter, tomatoes, almonds limes, basil, and potatoes. I would absolutely return to Messinn just for this dish. It was outstanding. For others iffy on fish, it was not the least bit fishy.
The salmon was paired with a “fish mash”: boiled codfish, potatoes, onion, garlic, white wine, cream and butter. Apparently very old school and popular with the locals, I liked the fish mash but it was nowhere near as good as the Arctic Char.
And of course, as is common in Iceland, we were also served Icelandic rye bread with local Icelandic butter. Icelandic bread and butter are two of the things I will miss most about Iceland.
Finishing up a pretty large tasting at Messinn, I fully expected our next stop to be small, or possibly even for a drink. But no. It was second lunch at one of Iceland’s most famous food stalls – Bæjarins Beztu – for, what else, hotdogs! Yes, hotdogs are incredibly popular in Iceland, and even Bill Clinton has dined at Bæjarins Beztu! We had a few hotdogs during our brief tour of Iceland and while I did not find them quite as tasty as good ole USA dogs, Icelandic hot dogs are quite good. Bæjarins Beztu is legit a stand in downtown Reykjavik and its hotdogs are made from Icelandic lamb, combined with pork, and beef, and traditionally are topped with raw onion, fried onion, Icelandic ketchup, and a sweet Icelandic mustard (that you can buy at the grocery store and bring home!), although you can get them however you want. Open all year, be prepared to wait in line and eat outside in the elements. We returned our last day for another hotdog.
A little walk from the hotdog stand, we made another stop at a restaurant called the Icelandic Bar, which surprised me a bit. Like its name, this restaurant seemed pretty touristy and some American dishes were on the menu (like waffle fries and fried chicken, which of course I was not opposed to eating). Our group piled into a table in the back and the waitstaff quickly took our drink orders – beer, tea, or soft drink, and who wanted a shot of Black Death…. Ah, Black Death! Its an Icelandic “thing” that consists of a shot of Brandevinn liquor and a bite of fermented shark. I had heard about this pairing before visiting Iceland and honestly, I had been dreading it since I booked our flight… Very cautiously, I raised my hand for the shot.
In any case, setting aside the Black Death, the Icelandic Bar was cool on the inside and not as touristy as I envisioned. We almost came back on our last day (but draught Guinness called!). Shortly after taking our drink orders, the waitstaff brought around our drinks – a half pint of an Icelandic beer called Viking for me. Viking is a craft beer brand in Iceland and its readily available. This particular one was a hefeweizen. In addition to the Viking beer, I received my shot of Brennivin…
A communal try serving dried fish skin, an apparent Icelandic snack described as “potato chip like” by our guide and what looked like a pill bottled containing very tiny pieces of fermented shark (approximately 1/3 or 1/4 the size of a US Dime coin). I will say, the fish skin was pretty tasty, particularly when dipped in Icelandic butter, as is traditional in Iceland. Next up, the fermented shark. UGH. The little medicine bottle with the shark was passed around and everyone participating took a piece with a tooth pick. Side note – remember the days when we could sit next to each other and pass around food without worry?? Those were the days! But I digress. We were warned not to smell the jar, and I heeded that advice. Others did not, and the smell of the shark is apparently QUITE foul. Its also apparently the worst. Next, we were directed to eat the shark, taking the shot of Brennivin immediately after swallowing the fermented shark. So, I did it. The shark was actually not that tasteful in my opinion, not something I desire again but it also did not make me cringe. Then, the Brennivin shot, which turned out to be the biggest surprised of my trip. It had a light licorice taste and went down super easy. I liked it so much I purchased a t-shirt and a bottle to bring home. Not everyone else was of the same opinion, but I certainly liked it.
After all of that drama, we were served more Icelandic rye bread and a traditional lamb soup. The lamb soup consisted of chunks of lamb served in a light tomato broth with vegetables and potatoes. The lamb was good, but I actually preferred the soup to the lamb.
Thrilled that I survived the Black Death, we next strolled up the cutest street to Hallgrímskirkja, which, at the time, was painted with the loveliest rainbow! This street is easy to find and has some good tourist shopping, including some cool clothing thrift stores (a popular place to shop in Iceland and where I got my Brennivin t-shirt!). And, for those unfamiliar, the Hallgrímskirkja is Reykjavik’s famous church. Its worth a visit, but the bell tower closes at 16:00.
Our next stop was a casual cafe right across from Hallgrímskirkja named the Loki Cafe. Super popular with tourists, Loki Cafe offers some traditional Icelandic things and THE BEST ice cream. Seriously. Since its so popular with the tourists crowds, including large tour groups, reservations are highly recommended, even in off season. Our tasting was comprised of three dishes, two savory and one sweet. The savory tastings were a smoked lamb on toast and smoked salmon on rye bread with sour cream and chives. I actually don’t like smoked lamb or salmon (neither the tour’s nor the restaurant’s fault – personal preference), so I was happy that I was so full from our prior tastings. While not my favorite foods, the presentation was on point, and Dan was happy to finish my portions!
While I was not thrilled with the two savory tastings, I loved, loved, loved the sweet tasting – rye bread ice cream with legit whipped cream and a caramel drizzle! As you probably recall from our other stops, Iceland makes delicious rye bread, but I was not expecting it in ice cream. This ice cream was really, really good, and you could see and taste bits of rye bread. I finished every bite. Definitely a reason to visit touristy Loki Cafe. Looking back, this was one of my favorite dishes of my trip!
The final stop on the WakeUp Reykjavik Food tour was a short walk down from Loki Cafe, still in the most touristy area. The restaurant was called Sjávargrillið, and we again all piled into one table in the front of the restaurant. Hot coffee was promptly served from a thermos, which was so welcomed after our walk downhill, as it was extremely windy! Refills came frequently. And, like Messinn, I was loving the dishes at Sjávargrillið.
While Sjávargrillið is an adorable restaurant that would make a cute spot for a date, we came here for dessert, and a dessert that our guide had been talking about the entire tour. First up, and promptly after we arrived, everyone was served a plate of chocolate cake with caramel sauce and Bailey’s ice cream. Then, for the final touch, salty caramel popcorn was pored on top of the warm cake, which released a sort of dry ice effect (don’t know the science behind it). The dessert was as great as our guide promised, and they popcorn effect was really cool. Unfortunately, I could not capture the effect on camera.
Our lovely, lovely tour ended with an outdoor farewell outside of Sjávargrillið and a gift of Eitt sett, a beloved Icelandic milk chocolate candy bar with a strip of licorice in the middle. All and all, the tour was great and we had plenty to eat. There could have been a more adult beverages, but this tour was food focused as opposed to drink focused. Wake Up Reykjavik also does bar crawls if you are interested in drinking. While it did cost $95 USD, the amount and quality of food made it a decent deal in pricey Reykjavik. I would caution this tour to picky eaters, and ensure that you email the company in advance with any food allergies. They responded quickly to emails.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Wake Up Reykjavik Food Tour: Our tour, the Reykjavik Food Tour, was 13,900 ISK (approx. $95 USD) per person and included all food and drink. Other tours offered. Reservations are recommended. Tour capacity is limited and tours fill up in advance.
Bæjarins Beztu: Tryggvagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland. Open 10 AM – 1 AM daily, until 4:30 AM on Friday and Saturday. Totally outdoors and casual. Expect a short wait. Credit card accepted. Multiple locations in Iceland.
Icelandic Bar/Islenski Barinn: 11:30 – 1:30, until 3 on Friday and Saturday. Kitchen closes daily at 22:00. Very casual.
Cafe Loki: Lokastígur 28, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland. Open daily 8:00 – 22:00. Reservations required for parties over 6 people. Expect a wait with smaller groups. Very casual.
Sjávargrillið: Skólavörðustígur 14, Reykjavik, Iceland. Open Monday – Thursday, 11:30 – 21:00, Friday – Saturday, 11:30 – 22:00, and Sunday 17:00 – 21:00. Reservations recommended and made easily online. Nice casual attire.
ON A BUDGET
Nothing in Iceland is cheap. That being said, the Wake Up Reykjavik Food Tour was a lot of food (more than 1 meal) and was comparably priced to other food tours we have taken around the world. If you are a foodie, go for this tour. Otherwise, walk around Reykjavik on your own and stop into one or two of these restaurants. My top recommendations are the hotdog stand ($8 US for a dog) and the Eitt sett candy bar, which can be found cheaply in all Icelandic grocery stores. The Eitt sett candy bar is also a great gift to bring friends and family from Iceland.