With ice bars, Nordic hotels and restaurants serving foraged food from the mountains, the capital’s main street is a snapshot of Iceland in microcosm.
While Iceland’s capital is tiny by most European standards, Reykjavik has always punched way above its weight when it comes to cool cultural cachet. Distilling its best bits into a buzzy 2km (1.2mi) stretch is Laugavegur, one of the oldest streets in the city and the main shopping artery in the Icelandic capital. Here, you’ll find everything from ice bars and cosy cafes to concept stores and vintage threads, together with some great places to stay once you’ve explored them all.
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Just around the corner from Reykjavik’s rather magical rainbow street art – a symbol of LGBTQ acceptance – this ice-bar-cum-art-gallery certainly has a touch of the winter wonderland about it. Every piece of the permanent exhibition is carved or moulded from crystal-clear ice, even down to the glasses at the bar. Sculptures are dramatically illuminated, some of which recount Icelandic history. You get a winter poncho, cosy gloves and their signature blue drink on arrival. It’s very chilly, but lots of fun and great for the ‘Gram.
Icelanders are renowned for their love of books and this cool cultural centre blends bookstore, bar and live-music venue. You can browse the hundreds of tomes squeezed into the shelves across two floors, and even find yourself a cosy corner to have a read with a drink. Local and out-of-town bands regularly perform here in the evening, and the place stays open until late at the weekend – for a bookshop at least.
You step off Laugavegur right into the swishly understated lobby of this design-led hotel, a “bird’s nest” hanging lamp, ice-cube desk and granite tiles alluding to the Icelandic wilds. Clever use of light and mirrors add a sense of space and drama, especially in the jazzed-up corridors. Rooms continue in kind, with natural materials employed to stylish effect, plus premium Egyptian cotton sheets and B&O bluetooth speakers. Some suites add balconies with private saunas. Worrying about staying on Reykjavik’s busiest street? Fear not. Rooms are soundproofed to the max.
The entrance to the Sand Hotel is discreetly tucked away in a courtyard just steps from Laugavegur’s main drag. You enter a world of calm, greeted by a soothing palette and understated interiors, with oh-so-tasteful design throughout. The hotel is in the same building that includes the Sandholt Bakery, so the sweet smell of oven-fresh goods is one you’ll have to try to resist. Rooms balance cosy and elegant with aplomb, with fancy touches including Marshall bluetooth speakers and Nespresso machines, plus thick robes to kick back in.
Opened in 2014 by three brothers, Old Iceland quickly established itself as one of the finest restaurants on Laugavegur – if not in the whole of Reykjavik. They’re dedicated to highlighting Icelandic produce, so expect a menu filled with the likes of wild mushrooms, roasted root vegetables and some truly fabulous seafood. Herbs and spices are foraged from the mountains of Iceland and it’s all wonderfully presented, too. A dessert wine from a local distillery rounds it off deliciously.
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