TRAVEL

A Reykjavik Primer

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Presided over by Hrefna Saetran, the 27-year-old culinary wunderkind, co-owner, and head chef, Fish Market prides itself on sustainability. The ingredients that make up their creative dishes like lightly smoked minke whale sashimi, smoking mussels with dulse, and laser cut king crab claws, are bought directly from Iceland’s farmers and fisherman. And if you happen to be craving sushi, come here for the freshest sashimi around.

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It’s easy to miss the entrance to this subterranean eatery, though once you finish one of head chef Johannes Johannesson’s New Nordic meals (preferably the 5-course tasting), you’d be hard-pressed to forget it. Remembering how to pronounce the restaurant’s Icelandic name, Sjavarkjallarinn, is another story.

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This quaint organic bistro serves some of the best fish and chips around. The fish (from Blue Lang to Spotted Catfish) is as fresh as you would expect from a restaurant that neighbors the ocean and the better-for-you batter made from spelt and barley is deliciously light and crispy. Of particular note are the “Skyronnaise” sauces made from Iceland’s famous skyr, rather than mayo, and available in far too many delicious flavors to try in one sitting.

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Named for Einar Gustavsson (a poet and entrepreneur who started Iceland’s first newspaper) and housed in his 1908 home, the second-floor space has an other-century Victorian romance with a decadent menu to match. Come here when you’re craving some red meat (though they have excellent fish as well), their exceptionally tender lamb is second-to-none and more unusual proteins like reindeer and horse are handled expertly.

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For the most playful, and impeccably constructed footwear, Kron by KronKron takes the cake. The shoes—designed in vibrant leathers, suedes and patents and crafted in Spain—are available in both the dedicated shoe store and in the larger boutique just off the main shopping drag of Laugavegur (which also houses a spot-on collection of major names like Marc by Marc, Missoni, and Sonia Rykiel).

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Co-owned by nine local designers, Kiosk features a well-edited selection of Icelandic talent like EYGLO and Shadow Creatures in this coolly designed space: real trees (complete with branches) form the supports for racks and a wall made of broken mirror bounces light around the store, even on the darkest of Iceland winter days.

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This one-stop-shop for unique design-y gifts (from crocheted toadstools for kids to modern furniture) also houses a beautiful selection of delicate pieces from designer and owner Gudbjorg Kristin Ingvarsdottir.

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This Icelandic line was founded in 1999 as a knitwear company, but has since branched out as a full collection of architectural separates that are now sold worldwide. And if prices are a bit too steep, head further down Laugavegur to their outlet location.

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Following in the footsteps of the NYC flagship, Reykjavik’s Kisan outpost houses a worldly array of design-driven home and fashion items with a particular focus on Icelandic brands like Farmers Market and Tonfisk.

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Launched in 1934 as the first tailoring house in Reykjavik, their wares are now sold in more than 30 countries. Expect lace, beading and bohemian detailing on the women’s line and classic, well-tailored pieces for the men. The outlet store further down Laugavegur offers previous-season collections at up to 80 percent off.

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Bright, punk-y clothes are the name of the game at this colorful store. Also, be on the lookout for a rotating selection of art books, street art and hipper-than-thou music.

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This high-style store feels as though it’s been plucked from New York and placed on Reykjavik’s chicest shopping strip. Major US labels like DKNY mix with Strategia shoes, Imperial by Malene Birger, and Gerard Darel.

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The cheeky name is in no way indicative of what you’ll discover inside: the latest Icelandic hits as well as a great selection of vinyl.

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No visit would be complete without a trip to the ethereal geothermal pools at the Blue Lagoon. The water hovers around 100 degrees (making it worth the visit even in the coldest and most sleet-filled days) and the rising steam and rocky borders give it an alien landscape that is unlike anything in the world. Plus, the natural silica mud located in wooden boxes throughout the lagoon works wonders for the skin.

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For such a small country (300,000 people), Iceland turns out an impressive volume of vintage wares. Stores are dotted up and down the main shopping stretch of Laugavegur, but the real standouts are Red Cross, Rokk Og Rosir, Sputnik, and Nostalgia. Don’t expect bargain-basement prices, but some of the pieces are so unique, you won’t mind paying prices that border on retail. Plus, if you’re on the hunt for a traditional Icelandic sweater (yes, the locals really wear them) look to secondhand stores for better deals.

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Unquestionably, the most entrancing part of Iceland is its natural wonders (of which there are far too many to mention here). Get just a few minutes outside of Reykjavik and you are surrounded on all sides with rolling volcanic lava plains covered in vibrant green moss, waterfalls, geysers, and possibly most enticing—an almost endless amount of unpopulated, seemingly uncharted space. The best way to experience it all? Book anywhere from a day to two full weeks of trekking with native-Icelander and expert-guide, Erling of Iceland Encounter Private Tours. He will pick you up in his big-wheeled Toyota (a necessity for going off-road and accessing the real hidden natural gems) and take you on a mind-blowing trip. While more expensive than a tourist-y big bus tour, the real magic of venturing inland is the sense of being alone with the elements, of being the first to chart the wilderness—a feeling that is tough to muster with a troupe of tourists in tow. You’ll be happy you spent the extra money when you find yourself alone atop a glacier or in a hidden cave on a black sand beach as the tide comes crashing in.

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It’s pretty hard to miss this Reykjavik landmark—though the steeple of this Lutheran church is only 244 feet, it towers above the city’s charmingly low-rise buildings. Take a quick stop inside—the sweeping arches feel like a modern take on a Lord of the Rings relic.

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Extravagant, bold, and graphic designs from Guðmundur Hallgrímsson (or Mundi, as he is called) rule the roost at his store. He initially garnered a following with his patterned sweaters, which are still a mainstay of his collections.