Sarah takes on Iceland: Being a vegetarian in Reykjavík

Often times traveling and vegetarianism don’t mesh well. I spent four months living in Spain and fueled myself with red wine and iceberg lettuce. After having dipped in and out of periods of anemia and B-vitamin deficiency, I’ve become highly conscious of my eating habits and consuming all food groups, not just the yummy grape kind. Fortunately, Reykjavík is extremely accommodating to those of us who don’t eat meat and I’ve never felt at a loss for options.

The food tourism industry here likes to boast about their unusual meats—including whale, puffin, and the infamous rotten shark. However, most all menus will have a specific vegetarian course, if not options scattered throughout the whole menu. There are a few restaurants devoted just to vegetarians and vegans. I don’t know about you other vegetarians out there, but I’ve come to find this very overwhelming! I’m so used to having one option that when I can choose from a whole menu I become paralyzed with confusion. So naturally, I’ve had to return to these restaurants again and again to make sure I know which option is best. My wallet is not thanking me, but my stomach sure is.

When you’re looking for food on the go, a fast and easy option for all travelers is one of the many convenience stores around the city center, such as 10-11 or Bonus. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stores don’t only sell ham sandwiches and chips, but also veggie wraps, bulgur salads, and other inventive veggie and carb combos. I no longer have to subsist on trail mix for lunch. Many of the gas stations around here (famous for their hot dogs) will also be connected to a Subway, BooztBar (a smoothie joint), or similar cafe with vegetarian options.

It’s quite common to run into Icelandic locals who’ve been vegetarian for years. I’ve never received a look of confusion from a waiter when I asked about options for a vegetarian or requested a meal without the meat. It’s the little things, but they come as quite a relief after being viewed as a kook in other countries.

Tips & Tricks

First and foremost, try the Skyr. It is a deliciously creamy yogurt that is high in protein for your morning boost. Or maybe it’s actually categorized as a cheese. I have yet to gain clarity on this question. Regardless, it’s delicious and nutritious.

Secondly, a reliable go-to is soup. You’ll find a vegetarian soup at many of the cafes and ADDED BONUS it’s almost always the cheapest option on the menu. My money savvy ways have discovered the best options for optimizing taste + cost + level of fullness. The mostly vegetarian menu at Gló serves a delicious bowl of soup with a free refill. Order it without the salads and load up the slice of bread you’re given with hummus. You’ll be quite full without breaking the bank. Also, at the restaurant Svarta Kaffiđ, the menu consists of only two items—both of which are soup in a bread bowl. But one of those soups is always vegetarian, and after consuming soup plus a whole bread bowl without shame, you’ll be merrily waddling out of their with your pant button undone. The last to keep in mind is the vegetable bowl from The Noodle Station. It’s one of the cheapest and fastest meals in town and is perfectly warming on a snowy winter night.

Thirdly, you’ll most likely be cooking some homemade meals while visiting to save money, so buy your groceries at a Bonus store. They offer the best prices. And on top of that, many vegetarian staples are quite cheap! You can buy quinoa and nuts for a better price than many other popular travel destinations. I moved here from New Zealand where I’d come to accept that I couldn’t afford these vegetarian delicacies, but have put them back on the grocery list.

I’m guilty as charged when it comes to choosing that flaky, chocolate croissant over a more hearty green salad in cafes. I always told myself it’s still vegetarian, still counts. However, if you’re subsisting off of a pastry and coffee for lunch instead of getting your necessary vitamins, your body will start to feel it. And this can be very taxing when traveling. You’ll likely be walking everywhere, standing on your feet most of the day and draining a lot of your energy. This is not the time to skimp on nutrients. So when you enter a cute café in Reykjavik, call on your mighty willpower and choose the veggie option. As I mentioned above, many cafes offer a vegetarian soup, including Stofan, Café Babalú and The Laundromat Café. You can also frequently find vegetarian sandwiches; I highly recommend Kaffibrennslan’s mozzarella, tomato, lettuce and pesto grilled sandwich. You might end up forking out a bit more for the purchase, but remember that these are the sacrifices we make for our moral decisions.

If you only remember one thing that I write, this is the most important information. Kaffi Vínyl is your best friend. They have a full vegan menu that could convert even your friends who swear by bacon. The vibes are top notch, with records playing all day and attractive hipster dudes rolling in and out. I haven’t disliked one thing I’ve tried on their menu (and I’ve been there quite a few times now). And to top it all off, you can choose from either oat, soy, almond, or coconut milk in your coffee. Options galore! Kaffi Vínyl is open for all three meals, so you could technically stay here all day. And I wouldn’t judge you for it.

Without a doubt, you won’t have a hard time satisfying your vegetarian dietary needs in Reykjavik. There are more options than the frontal lobe of your brain wants to deal with. Cheers to the Icelandic Tofu Gods.

Sarah takes on Iceland

This post is a part of a series of posts where Sarah, our 23-year-old Coloradan blog-helping-elf, shares her findings during her 5-week stay in Reykjavík. Before Sarah joined us here in Reykjavík she spent a year in New Zealand where she got a taste for the sweet life of travel. After Reykjavík she’s headed south again to spend a year in Australia.

Read more of Sarah Takes on Iceland here.

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13 thoughts on “Sarah takes on Iceland: Being a vegetarian in Reykjavík”

  1. Brigitta says:

    I’m visiting Iceland for three weeks in june and am so happy to read this! Thank you!

  2. Jessica says:

    I had a great experience in Iceland finding gluten free food! I have Celiac disease and I was really worried about being able to find food, It wasn’t a problem at all! People were very friendly and understanding. It was so wonderful being able to eat delicious food and not get sick!!!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Glad to hear it was easy – a few years ago it was not so easy 🙂

  3. Kat says:

    Mandi’s also has an amazing falafel wrap and great hummus! Seriously the best falafel I’ve had anywhere!

    1. mm Auður says:

      If this post would have been written by me that’s all I would have talked about 🙂 LOVE the falafel wrap at Mandi and the hummus is amazing!

  4. Ryan Carterét says:

    I was in Iceland last May and can fully attest to this. Despite all the things one might reasonably assume about the food options on a big, isolated rock in the middle of the North Atlantic, it’s exceedingly easy to be vegan there! Not just easy, but delightful, in fact.

    Now, if only someone enterprising would make a vegan skyr… 😉

  5. Ade says:

    I have been to Reykjavik twice as a veggie and found no problems. I had lunch a few times at the veggie cafe near Hallgrimskirkja (Gardurinn is it called?) and i highly recommend veg chilli and hot chocolate in Cafe Babalu!

  6. Leanne says:

    Myself and my boyfriend (both vegetarian) visited Iceland twice – once in winter up in the north, and then in summer in the south. Even in winter when many places were closed, we didn’t struggle to find food options. We stocked up at a Bonus supermarket where I found most food labels are easy enough to guess, and we had many nice sandwiches, soups and cakes at cafes too. Even in one sandwich shop when I couldn’t find a vegetable option on the board, the staff were so helpful and offered to make us something, which worked out very well. Try the great skyr drinks and yoghurts, and if you’re into fitness or needing a protein bar or powder/shake, they’re very easy to find (Iceland has a lot of champion weight lifters after all!). There’s also a great ice cream shop in Reykjavik centre which I highly recommend.

  7. Dez says:

    I’m coming back to Iceland this summer and I’m SO thrilled to have read this post! I thought I would have to bring food for my trip but looks like I won’t have to!
    Thank you <3

  8. Orla says:

    Great post and I’m so happy to hear Iceland is veggie-friendly! I will be there in July. Can’t beat a good Hipster veggie cafe 😂 – noted for my Reykjavik stay!

  9. Cassondra says:

    Hi! Do you happen to know if the Bonus stores take credit cards? I know some grocery stores by me only take cash. Also, do you need to bring your own grocery bag?

    1. mm Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Cassondra,

      Bónus stores take credit cards, and Krónan and I think all other grocery stores do too. You can buy both plastic and reusable bags there, but of course it’s always a good idea to travel with a reusable bags which packs small.

      1. Cassondra says:

        Thank you! That is good to know! 🙂

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