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Last updated : Nov 2009
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Food & Drink

Icelandic food in general is based on lamb and fish, as well as owing much to Scandinavian and European influences. Fishing is Iceland’s most significant export, accounting for some 80 % of the country’s Gross National Product. There is also a heavy importance on vegetables grown in greenhouses heated by the natural steam from geysers. There have been some welcome additions to the selection of eating places in Reykjavík and there is now a small but striking choice of restaurants to cater for all pockets with new tourist menus.

Bars in Iceland have table and / or counter service, and will serve coffee as well as alcohol. Beer was prohibited in Iceland for 75 years and was ultimately legalised in March 1989. Alcohol is usually expensive (a small beer costs approximately US $8). In coffee shops you pay for the 1st cup then help yourself to subsequent cups. There is large selection of European spirits and wines.

National specialities include salmon, a great delicacy of Iceland, served in many forms, 1 of the most popular being gravlax, a form of marinating. Hangikjot (which is smoked lamb), Harðfiskur (which is dried fish) and Skyr (curds) are also specialities. Icelandic sild (herring marinated in assorted flavours) and Slátur, which is for the more adventurous and literally means slaughter and is similar to Haggis. An Icelantic delicacy not for the squeamish is rotten shark, cured by burying and washed down with a shot of Black Death Schnapps.

National drinks include Brennivin (which is a potent variation of aquavit made from potatoes), a local drink.


There are many nightclubs, bars, cafes and cinemas in Iceland, the majority of them in the capital. Reykjavík is known as 1 of Europe's hottest nightspots where the friendly pubs and nightlife scene lasts through the night. Icelandic nightlife is predominantly vibrant from June to August when there is nearly 24 hours of perpetual daylight (Icelanders call this period the ‘White Nights’).

Leading theatres are the National Theatre and the Reykjavík City Theatre, closed in summer, however during the tourist season there is an attractive light entertainment show in English called ‘Light Nights’ with traditional Icelandic stories and folk songs. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra gives concerts each week.

Iceland also has its own opera company, performing in the smallest (400 seat) and most northernmost opera house in the world. Performances run during the winter. Iceland has an exciting music scene that has produced, amongst others, the internationally acclaimed artist Björk and, reportedly, Brad Pitt's favourite band Sigur Rós. This has, in turn, attracted numerous British and American pop stars to Iceland, such as Damon Albarn from the British band Blur, who opened his own cafe, the Kaffibarinn, in Reykjavík.


Fluffy, earth coloured Lopi wool blankets and jackets, coats, hats and handknits are synonymous with Iceland. Many local potters handthrow earthenware containers in natural colours. Crushed lava is a common addition to highly glazed ceramic pieces, which are trendy as souvenirs. The duty free shop at Keflavík Airport sells all of these gifts. Laugavegur is Reykjavík's major shopping street.

The shops along Skolavordustigur are great for art lovers. Kringlan is Reykjavík's world class shopping mall. Bargain hunters should visit the indoor market in Reykjavík called Kolaportid, held every weekend from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm. Brilliant buys on handmade Icelandic jumpers, food and toys can be found.

General shopping hours are Monday to Friday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm, Saturday 10.00 am to 2.00 pm, with variations from shop to shop. Shopping malls are open Monday to Wednesday 10.00 am to 6.30, Thursday 10.00 am to 9.00 pm, Friday 10.00 am to 7.00 pm, Saturday 10.00 am to 4.00 pm and Sunday 1.00 pm to 5.00 pm. On the 1st Saturday of the month, shops open 10.00 am to 6.00 pm.


Service charges are generally included in bills and extra tips are not expected.