Go native: A few Reykjavík alternatives to the things you know from home

I think it’s fair to say that the Icelandic media has been taken over by Dunkin Donuts lately. So has Laugavegur, our main shopping street, for that matter but the American doughnut shop opened the doors to it’s new coffee shop on Laugavegur last week. On the opening day, and the days following, people dressed as giant doughnuts and coffee mugs wandered in what seemed aimless manner around Laugavegur, scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting passers by. Myself included. On a side note I discovered in the midst of all of this that I should probably never go to Disney world, or land, or whatever they are all called. Stay away Goofy!

The opening of Dunkin Donuts has not come without its controversies. People are worried that with the influx of tourists and foreign chains taking up prime real estate on Reykjavík’s main shopping street that the city is losing some of the charm that makes it so special. They look at Donkin Donuts as a gateway for other chains to sweep in and before we know it the whole downtown area will be ridden with Starbucks and McDonald’s along with our much “beloved” puffin stores.

Mind you, I don’t think anyone would complain if H&M opened up a store on Laugavegur. That’s totally different. I mean, they’re Swedish!

So who goes to Dunkin Donuts? The Icelandic youth lined up for hours before the grand opening, thirsty for something new and a bit different, and I’m sure the franchisees here in Iceland are banking on people that are familiar with the brand from other places will go there out of fear for the unknown and comfort. Which seems pretty strange to me because here I thought we traveled to experience something different from what we have at home.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely innocent of this behavior. I sometimes go to McDonald’s when I first arrive somewhere because I know what it stands for. Arriving in Jerusalem during the Sabbath, McDonald’s was also probably the only thing open and after 24 hours in the air, or in one of the many airports I had to visit to get there, I was famished. Lets not even talk about the two hours I spent with border control while they were deciding on god knows what- maybe whether I was secretly an Icelandic terrorist. But I hear people so often ask on the streets of Reykjavík where all the Starbucks are. I’ve even witnessed a person ask a coffee barista at a local coffee shop where they would find the closest Starbucks. Really?

So to help you overcome your food insecurities without throwing you into the deep end, here are a few local alternatives to what you will find at home.

Local alternatives to Dunkin Donuts

The Icelandic Kleina

Kleina

In English, the kleina is sometimes called twisted doughnut as like a doughnut it is essential deep fried bread. It doesn’t have glace or anything like that but it’s delicious and I’ve actually had people on my tours that were, no joke, obsessed with kleinur and didn’t talk about much else.

Although we would like to claim the kleina as ours most of the Nordic countries have their own version of it and I read somewhere that it’s a Christmas treat in Sweden. The thing I read said the Swedes hang them up on door frames, or something like that, and make a game out of eating them without hands. That sounds like a strange Christmas tradition to me but who am I to talk with all our horrifying Christmas stories.

Kleina is best paired with Kókómjólk, a chocolate milk most people of my generation were brought up on, and can be found in every bakery and supermarket in Iceland.

Dons Donuts

Now, I’ve never been to Dons Donuts myself but the peoples of the internet swear by it. It’s a little donut food cart that is located next to Hlemmur bus station and from the looks of it they seem to use everything and their uncle as sprinkles. Not literally. I have just decided that I’m going to make a note of going there and investigate soon. Maybe right now. Yes.

 

Local Alternatives to Starbucks

Te og Kaffi and Kaffitár

Te og Kaffi and Kaffitár are both Iceland’s answer to Starbucks except I’ve hear the coffee is better. Much better actually. You can everything from normal black coffee to extravagant frappos that have very little to do with coffee and all kinds of treats. They are dotted all over the city center but there are more Te og Kaffi shops around than Kaffitár but both have been around for a while and are owned by locals.

Independent coffee shops

Image via the Reykjavík Roaster's Facebook page

Image via the Reykjavík Roaster’s Facebook page

Now this is where you get the really good stuff. People praise the coffee at Reykjavík Roasters for example and I can tell you that they probably do the best Chai Latte in town. It’s mucho yummy. Then you have places like Kaffifélagið in Skólavörðustígur and then of course the godfather of Icelandic coffee Mokka only a few steps away. Even gas stations in Iceland have pretty decent coffee.

 

Local alternatives to McDonald’s

Tommi’s Burger Joint

Hamborgarabúllan - The Burgerjoint

Hamborgarabúllan – The Burgerjoint

The Burger Joint is not only one the most popular local burger chains, it’s also the only one that has to my knowledge expanded out of Iceland. You can now find Tommi’s in London ( the word on the street is that the Beckhams eat there all the time), Berlín and Copenhagen on top of their two locations in downtown Reykjavík. If you want to go to the original one that the one located in Geirsgata down by the old harbor. The burgers are excellent and you must have Bearnaise with your fries.

Burger galore

Although the title above is actually not a title of a Reykjavík Burger place (it totally should be though, I give you permission to use this) it’s a great way to describe to burger scene in Reykjavík. You can get burgers everywhere and most of them are quite tasty.

 

Local alternatives to Pizza Hut (even though we have one)

Gamla Smiðjan

It’s easy to miss Gamla Smiðjan, it’s a tiny little place in Lækjargata  that doesn’t look that hot from the outside but their pizzas are really good. They do what we here in Iceland call fire baked pizzas (stone oven maybe?) and their prices are quite fair.

The pizza place with no name

Image via Kexland

Image via Kexland

If you want something more hip and cool, with toppings that usually don’t make their way to your pizza, you might want to try the pizza place in Hverfisgata that is so hip that it doesn’t have a name or sign or anything. You just kind of have to know that it’s there. It’s owned by the same people that own Kex hostel and has the same hipster vibe.

 

Spread the word

PinIt

48 thoughts on “Go native: A few Reykjavík alternatives to the things you know from home”

  1. Kat Shinnick says:

    My daughter and I come to Iceland every December for the last five years. Trying to find a cup of coffee before 7 am is really difficult . Starbucks,love it or hate it , is up and serving coffee at 6am every day.

    1. mm Auður says:

      First of all, why do you need coffee before 7am? You should be sleeping or at the pool or something 😉

      Sandholt bakery opens at 6:30 and the gas stations serve decent local coffee 24/7. I’m also not sure Starbucks would necessarily open at 6 even though it was here.

      1. jp says:

        Starbucks doesn’t serve coffee though….why would you go there for coffee? they sell brown water lol

  2. Kat Shinnick says:

    I would love to only visit local coffee shops. I go to Iceland every December and trying to find a cup of coffee before 7 am is very difficult . Starbucks,love it or hate it, is open at 6am every day

  3. Jim erdmann says:

    Why don’t locals ever mention Hamborgarafabbrikan as a good place for burgers? Me and my daughter are there many time while in town. Great fries and skyrkaka too. Just sayin’…

    1. mm Auður says:

      Yeah sure, that’s fine too. I’m not a big fan but the burgers are OK. Maybe I’m not a fan because every time I go in there half the place is requesting a song because it’s their birthday – you don’t have time to eat because you have to applaud all the 7 year olds celebrating their birthdays 🙂

  4. April says:

    I hope that the powers that be really think hard about letting foreign chains set up shop in Iceland. People come to experience all the wonderful differences that make Iceland unique. I know when we were there with our family my husband insisted on getting dinner at KFC lol. I was appalled but let him have his way. I remember being so excited to see that there wasn’t a single Starbucks (being from Seattle I notice this sort of thing lol) and loved exploring all the cool, independent coffee shops of Reykjavik. It will be so very sad if they are replaced by chains.

    1. mm Auður says:

      There there, I go to KFC sometimes too 🙂

  5. Lisa says:

    I was disappointed to see Dunkins in Iceland, I read they’re putting 16 franchises there. I will continue to support the local small shops when visiting this December.

  6. Phoebe says:

    I know this is terrible but as I am from Ireland and we have nowhere that does good donuts I am quite excited to try a Dunkin Donut in two days time. I find the American influence in Icelandic food weird but also fun.

    I have tried a Kleina (which is yummy) and I am staying near Dons Donuts cart near the bus station so in the name of supporting Iceland I will just have to try them all…and do a lot of walking. I do think the proposed 16 is way way too many though!

    1. Lauren says:

      I’m from the US, and really don’t like Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kreme for that matter. I’ll admit that I hate it when I travel somewhere and see these large US chains (although Starbucks does offer free bathrooms, which is nice). I travel to experience something I can’t get near my house. I’m coming to Reykjavik in May, and will have to check out Dons Donuts.

  7. Matthew Paluch says:

    One note about pizza (and this was ordering from Pizza Hut – they deliver to tired tourists in their hotel room, sorry =( ) but what we in america call green peppers, they called oregano, so we ordered pizza with oregano, which is a spice not a vegetable in the states. Stuff like this is just another reason iceland is fun as heck.

    Also id recommend taking chances on toppings – i am not normally a huge fan of mushroom but we got them bc my roommate likes them, and i can tolerate them. WOW, icelandic mushrooms (no idea what name is) were fantastic!!! I am so glad i was too tired to argue and let my roommate pick.

    Pizza, just like all foods, is an area where id encourage everybody to let down their hair and just try everything in sight, you will probably not regret it =)

    1. Oreganó says:

      Umm… Oregano is oregano, whether you’re in Iceland or the States. There’s only a spelling dfference: Oreganó.

      You’ve been fooled, the employee must have mixed up!

      1. Oreganó says:

        Do you mean paprika, maybe? Green, yellow and red bell peppers are called paprika in Iceland…

        1. Matthew Paluch says:

          Oh you are totally right! It was paprika, my apologies!

    2. Lynn says:

      Pizza in Japan comes with corn, squid and mayonnaise on it – I learned this my first week of the five years I lived in the country. I’m pretty adventurous and love trying new things. Had a couple of stomach turners in my experiences but the thing to remember is that disgust is a culturally-learned phenomenon, you’re (usually) not gonna die from it and you’ll have a great bar story to share on nights out. I ate fish with every meal during my visit to Iceland, and it was a joy, since I live in the landlocked state of Colorado. I was amazed by the delicious rye bread and rich butter, gobbled up gallons of Skyr, had a batch of sweet potatoes (sprinkled with cooked barley on top) that was SO delicious I nearly cried, and discovered I really like pickled herring. While food is not cheap like it is in the US, I also understand why it’s costly and it made it okay by me. It also means that food is respected and prepared with care. We tried lots of things and we hit every price point on the scale, but the commonality was that ALL the food was very good, well-prepared and even when we ran into something we didn’t care for, we were glad we tried it.

      1. mm Auður says:

        Glad you had such a positive experience.

        I love the spicy Japanese mayo (apparently Icelanders love their mayo and I’m not exception) but I’m not sure about the squid 🙂

  8. Norm says:

    Dunkin Donuts originated in my area, and I love them. I mean, it’s a hometown brand and they sell doughnuts. But I have really had enough of their expansions abroad. They’re in China now, too. China! Stop poisoning the world with your irresistible doughnuts, DD!

  9. JillB says:

    Iceland has great coffee! One of the things I look forward to when I go is a delicious cup of coffee (or 5) that tastes as it should, instead of a mediocre cup from Starbucks. And the kleina are worth the flight 😉 But I’m a big fan of eating what is local when I travel, I don’t want any US chain food, I can get that when I get back if I want it.

  10. Love love love Reykjavik Roasters. Not only are their coffee and pastries delicious, they also have immense Instagram potential. I would NEVER go to Dunkin Donuts while in Iceland, that’s for sure!

  11. Andrea says:

    Starbucks largely failed in Melbourne (my home city) because there were too many excellent independent coffee stores. I’m guessing it’s the same with Reykjavik.

    Disappointing about the gentrification of Laugavegur, and I won’t have Dunkin Donuts here. I’m also a fan of trying local cuisine and have had some great food here, but sorry, I’m not going near fermented shark, not even ‘when in Rome’

    1. Brendan says:

      Not sure I would call this gentrification, that’s a whole different animal. I get your point however:)

    2. Amy says:

      Was about to say the same. I was so proud when Starbucks closed down many of their frachises in Melbourne. Really with so many amazing independent coffee shops every 50 metres why would anyone pay so much to get a milk flavoured stale coffee from Starbucks. I’m not against having one or two chain shops in a city but the problem with these chains is that they are never satisfied until they occupy every single corner of the whole city.

  12. Aly says:

    Thank you!! We’re traveling from Canada to Iceland in October and I am thrilled that I now know where to eat pizza.

  13. anna says:

    WOW! I am so glad to have come across your blog! Alternative to Starbuck!?! YESSSSS The icelandic coffee shops sound like a place that I want to hang out and people watch. I have a question. I am lactose intolerant so I cannot drink regular milk (i drink soy, almond or cashew milk). Do you know if it’s common to find icelandic coffee shops to carry milk alternatives like soy or almond milk?

    1. mm Auður says:

      Te og Kaffi has almond milk and Reykjavík Roasters soy milk and I’m almost certain Kaffitár has soy milk too.

      1. Matthew says:

        I’ll have mine simply local and black please…????

  14. Anand says:

    Are there good vegetarian food options in Reykjavik or Iceland in general for those of us who don’t eat meat?

      1. Matthew Paluch says:

        There was a Noodle place (but i am looking at noodle station and i dont *think* thats it) that had a ton of vegetarian and vegan options. it was the only place i saw =)

        1. mm Auður says:

          The noodle bowl has vegetarian and vegan options I think. They also have more options than the noddle station.

  15. Miles says:

    I was at Reykjavik Roasters this morning and had an excellent cup of coffee. Thank you for your recommendation, Reykjavik is awesome!

    1. Miles says:

      Also, the person in front of me had a soy coffee, so they do have alternatives to dairy.

  16. Nancy says:

    We only went to Dunkin Donuts as my 12 year old insisted. I didn’t like the donut and wouldn’t go again. My favourite treats were chocolate dipped icecream at the weekend market – cheaper than other places, and the little cinnamon buns like the ones you get in ikea. Reykjavik has a lovely unique character and it would be sad to see that spoilt by foreign chains. There were coffee shops everywhere, why would you need starbucks?

  17. Matthew says:

    I will be visiting in September with my daughter. We are definitely coming to experience the local culture, food, drink, and sights. The thought of any corporate US based chain infiltrating Iceland saddens me. Thank you for raising awareness through this blog. You are providing a wonderful service to newcomers of
    Iceland.

  18. Kat says:

    I was grossed out to see DD here when we arrived a week ago, too, and I wouldn’t darken their doors for love nor money (or Starbucks, KFC, McD etc.)

    I do sense a depressing tone of colonialism and “noble savage” romanticism in non-Icelanders’ resentment of major international chains setting up shop in Iceland, though. Icelanders are hyper-educated, insightful, opinionated and much more socially engaged than people in most societies based on the American model, so I personally trust them to vote in whatever way is available to them for whatever is the majority leaning. Foreigners’ yearning for the “unspoilt” Reykjavík is selfish and condescending.

  19. Danielle says:

    More access to Icelandic donuts needed! The best one Kathryn and I had was on the Iceland air flight home! Sad times, maybe I will find a nice one on my trip next week (can’t believe it’s come around so quick!!)

    Im glad there is no Starbucks in Iceland. Not so keen on the Dunkin donuts thing, or at least, surprised there are going to be so many branches in such a small place. I had them quite a lot in Boston, but they are quite expensive here in UK (I think)

    Beckhams certainly do love tommis – of all the ‘modern’ burger places, tommis are the best, and I don’t think it’s totally because I am biased 🙂 shake shake and five guys are nice, but tommis is such simple and great and better price. I admit I was a little bit swayed by the fact there is one just up the road from my hotel in hafnarsjóður…..

    Í was going to try the burger place someone else mentioned in the comments, but didn’t like that thy served minke whale.

  20. Sam Sonite says:

    Planning a trip to Iceland for 2016 and I don’t think I can wait until then to try The Icelandic Kleina! They look awesome, quite similar to French “beignets de carnaval” I used to get when I was a kid… Can’t wait to visit! Bring on 2016!

  21. Caroline says:

    Hi. What a fantastic blog. We are traveling for a family adventure in about a week and are getting very excited. I have two a questions. What time do the supermarkets stay open till on week nights? As most of us are vegetarian I was wondering what frying oil is used for donuts and fish and chips etc? Thanks

    1. mm Auður says:

      You can try this post for the supermarkets: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2013/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-food-shopping-in-iceland/

      Unfortunately I have no idea what kind of oil they use.

  22. I love trying out the native food of a country so much. 🙂

  23. Elizabeth Wolfcale says:

    Hello, wonderful posts, thank you so much! My 17 y.o. son is hitchhiking around Iceland right now, worried about him getting enough hot food. He’s in the south, working his way east, (he wants to travel all the way around Iceland). Wondering if there are lists of hostels still open late September, all of October. Thank you!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Most of the hostels are open year round – you can find more information here: http://www.hostel.is

  24. Jenelle says:

    Traveling at the end of November, totally excited for my visit! Can you tell me more about where the pizza place is in Hverfisgata? The link doesn’t work. Thanks!

  25. Ian says:

    Pizza Pronto. Not high-end pizza, but way better than Pizza Hut.

    I assume the public was just interested in Dunkin based on how many locations they have globally, and now there is one in Reykjavik. The luster will wear off soon.

    1. mm Auður says:

      Pizza Pronto doesn’t exist any more…

  26. Danielle says:

    Kind of weird, but Saffran opened a single store in my hometown, Orlando, Florida. I loved it so much. The location wasn’t great, and it closed. I’m looking forward to visiting it in Reykjavik this fall. It’s sort of like me coming to see your Starbucks.. except it’s not a chain.. but kinda like that

  27. Danielle says:

    Seeing as you reposted it on FB, i wanted to reiterate my love of kleinur <3 I bought a bag of the small ones from the grocery store home with me and have frozen some, i should probably eat them before they get freezer burnt but i want to hoard them forever as i won't be back any time soon. Did have a couple of fresh ones when i visited, dipped in coffee, mmmm. On my last two trips i also bought back a bag (or two) of Kaffitar coffee beans, the varity i got in 2015 wasnt still around 2016 but the nice lady helped me choose a similar one. I did enquire on how much it was to ship over to the UK but um, i think that would just be too crazy…. They were really nice beans though, almost as good as my favourite ones here…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top