I’ve just returned from Easter in Reykjavik, Iceland. Easter might not be the best time to visit (see tips at the end!), but we still had an action packed few days and found Reykjavik was relatively easy for gluten free – largely helped by the perfect English spoken by everyone we came across. The Icelandic people are very friendly and were all happy to check with the chef about food and in most cases already knew what gluten free was, but it is still a good idea to take a translation card with you.
My research prior to the trip flagged up quite a few sushi places and vegetarian raw food – this would be great in the summer – but when you are cold, you just want something warm to eat. You would think that fish would be the national dish of Iceland and I wasn’t looking forward to having fish at every meal, but I hardly ate any fish as the national dish is actually lamb! All the details of the restaurants mentioned below (and others I found during pre-visit research) are on the Restaurant List page.
We stayed at Hotel Borg, a lovely Art Deco hotel in a good central location (downtown). It was around the corner from two great places to eat – Grill Market and Laundromat (both of these places were recommended by locals).
Laudromat is a casual café by day and a bar by night, with a real laundromat underneath if you need to do your laundry at the same time. I had a couple of options available to me after the waiter spoke to the chef, and I had the burger without the bun and potato wedges (I wasn’t sure about the mayonnaise, so left that). The salmon was also an option. The burger was absolutely delicious and just what a I felt like after a morning being bashed about in wind and hail, which thankfully was interspersed with sunny intervals.
The Grill Market is a more upmarket and the waitress came back with quite a few options that could be made GF. She said they frequently use soy sauce as a marinade, so that was the main reason for exclusions. I had lamb which had to have a modification (although I don’t know what is was) and it was very nice, although I was feeling a bit suspicious of the topping, which I was told was butter with dill, with something done to it with nitrogen. I was assured my meal was gluten free and I felt fine afterwards. As we hadn’t booked, we were seated at a bench that faces directly into the kitchen and it was interesting watching staff at work.
I think my favourite meal of the trip was at LAVA restaurant at the Blue Lagoon (about a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik). It is a fine dining restaurant, but during the day there are a lot of people eating in their dressing gowns as they are spending the day in and out of the lagoon (normal clothes needed after 5pm). We did the Blue Lagoon tour, which includes a ‘tasting menu’ from the restaurant. It was only the two of us on the tour which was fantastic (apparently up to 60 people could be on a tour in peak times) and the chef put together a GF option for me of Lobster soup (which was divine), some raw salmon and a cocktail.
Our guide told us that the chef was one of the best in Scandinavia – it was this information, plus the care taken over the soup that made us decide to eat there for a late lunch after a swim. I had the rack of lamb and the flavours were amazing.
While in the restaurant (or even if you don’t eat there), don’t forget to visit the viewing platform for the lagoon, which you get to by going through the restaurant and up some stairs (it would be easy to miss this if you didn’t know it was there). The lagoon itself looks magical with the water an amazing blue and you can use the silica mud at the side of the pool to use as a face mask – which lots of people were doing, including the men. I was lucky it was sunny when I went out, but it snowed soon after, which is a risk of a springtime visit. It is basically like having a hot bath outside with lots of other people! There is a swim up bar that you can put drinks on your account using a scanning wristband. It is very shallow so you walk around crouched down to keep your body under water (but trying not to get your hair wet as the minerals dry your hair out).
We were really pleased we had hired a car to drive ourselves to the Blue Lagoon which gave more flexibility than being on a bus departure schedule. As I found out after my swim, when the buses arrive there is complete chaos in the changing rooms! I have to mention nudity in case you are a bit bashful (which I am!). For some bizarre reason the rules of the pool are that you have to shower naked before getting into your bathers to go to the pool. Most of the showers do not have doors (and the ones that do have no room for your towel etc.), so when you shower before and after the swim, don’t expect any privacy! I was lucky that the change room was nearly deserted for most of the time I was there. You shower in one section, dry off in another, and then get dressed in the locker area. There were two hair dryers for about 80 lockers in the upstairs change room I used.
After a half day tour of the Golden Circle (Geysir, Gulfoss and Pingvellir), we had dinner at Kitchen Eldhaus. It is a Nepalese restaurant where all the curries were gluten free and most of the entrees were also an option (apparently even the battered things are just made of spices – worth double checking, but the waiter seemed very confident about it). The chicken korma was delicious – slightly sweet and incredibly moreish and I polished it all off with the help of a (BYO) Warburtons wrap to mop up the sauce! It is on the uptown end of the main shopping street, Laugavegur.
A highlight of the trip for me was 1 hour sunset dogsledding tour in the Skalafell skiing area, about a 30 minute drive from Reykjavik. I absolutely love dogs so this got me to venture out in the snow (as I hate the cold!). The dogs are mainly Greenlandic Eskimo dogs which are stronger than Huskies, and they know their own mind – quite often they just stopped and had to be encouraged into the right direction, but once they got into a rhythm we scooted along at a good speed. It was a completely white scene with no trees or any landmarks, so I have no idea how the handlers knew the route to take!
Go dressed for skiing if you can. I don’t have any ski gear, so just had normal clothes on, a good North face coat & hiking boots (but sank nearly knee deep in snow in the walk from the car to the departure point which was only about 30 metres away). They provided really cosy overalls, goggles and some warm gloves which I put over my gloves and was not cold at all, except for my feet by end of the tour. My other top tip is go to the toilet before you get there – there are no public facilities – just a portaloo not connected to any water which was not a pretty experience!
What about breakfast? We ate breakfast every day in the hotel and there was enough for me to eat – smoked salmon, ham off the bone, boiled egg, cheese, salad vegetables and fruit. There was a toaster, so if you had bread and toaster bags you could toast your bread. I used a Warburtons wrap to make a ham wrap just to fill out the meal a little. They did have some rice cakes there, but no packaging and in a basket with other wheaty biscuits, but could be OK if you are just avoiding gluten and not a coeliac.
One of the convenience stores I went in had Nak’d bars, and prepackaged fruit salad (complete with fork). It was called 10-11 and was around the corner from Hotel Borg, but there are others around the city. There is also a Bonus supermarket in the main street, but I did not get an opportunity to see what they had as it was largely closed over Easter. Other shops with GF food are on the Restaurant List page.
The airport has two cafés once you have gone through security, and Bistro Atlantic had a few options – salad with fish, a smorgasboard of vegetables and egg (a bit like the hotel breakfast), prepacked fresh vegetables or fruit salad.
Gluten free tip: take your own biscuits for cheese and some bread as no-one had any gluten free bread. I took Warburtons white wraps and it helped to add some variety to breakfast and also mop up my delicious curry sauce. I carried them around in my hand bag and they stayed in perfect condition – amazing!
Click here for travel food ideas (leaving from the UK).
1/ Iceland Air hasn’t got much food on offer that is gluten free, but you could buy a banana or apple, olives, or a Toblerone. I would suggest taking your own food with you.
2/ Don’t buy bottled water – the water is completely safe to drink from the tap (and you will need your money for other things – Iceland is expensive!)
3/ Consider hiring a car if you are happy driving on the other side of the road. It was the same price for 2 days of car hire & 1 tank of petrol as paying for: 2 x tour bus to Blue Lagoon, 2 x transfers to dog sledding, 2 x bus back to airport, plus it gave us lots of flexibility. We got a 4WD because of going to the ski area for the dog sledding.
4/ I saw people doing a walking tour – this might have been it – and might be a good orientation if you can’t do the hop-on/hop-off bus.
5/ There are plenty of things to read in English – I even had a taste of Australia with one shop selling Women’s Weekly cookbooks!
Tip re timing of visit:
Easter was in late April this year, and I thought it would have been milder than it was. A few weeks before we went, it was 10 degrees, but when we were there, it was never over 4 degrees and the weather could change within minutes – in one 10 minute period you could have glorious sunshine, and then hail being swept with full force horizontally into your face, and then sunshine again. And of course as soon as we left, it was to be 10 degrees again!
Due to Easter all the museums were closed – except I believe the Phallogical museum was open if that is of interest! Most shops were closed, except for touristy type shops, some music stores and conviencee stores.
I had been hoping to do a city hop-on/hop-off bus tour, but these weren’t running until the end of May. We were also too late for the Northern Lights, but too early for seeing puffins and whales. There are plenty of other things to do, but timing could be an important consideration depending on what you are wanting to see.
There was a great ‘husband day care centre’ around the corner from the hotel if you need to leave your other half to do some shopping! I loved the sign on the door – PUSH and if that doesn’t work, PULL and if that doesn’t work, WE MUST BE CLOSED.
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