I’ve put a top 10 list of places I frequent when in Iceland list together. 9 favorites, and 1 that I am eagerly waiting to try out. The great thing is, you can do most of these things all year round. These are places and things outside of the regularly mentioned attractions and off-venue gigs that you may have heard of. It’s just my favorite spots to hit while I’m in town for Airwaves.
1. On tour with Ívar
On tour with Ívar is one of my favorite walking tours around the city. You’ll go down partially hidden alleyways, drink local cocktails, eat local food and the tour ends with a beer. As a member of FM Belfast, Ívar has been in the Icelandic music world for quite a long time and he has a lot of great stories of the old and new Reykjavik. I would suggest booking sooner than later as he books up quickly, especially during Airwaves. You can book at the link provided above.
2. Lucky Records
Lucky records is a massive music hub. Typically there are bands playing during off-venue before, during, and after the festival. The shop is pretty massive so you can shop and listen to live music all at once without feeling crowded or drowned in sound. A lot of the Icelandic bands playing Airwaves will have music available at most the music stores and I suggest you get it while you can as a lot of it isn’t available off the island, And if it is you’ll pay more for shipping than your record.
Tucked neatly behind the city center in an old Icelandic house is Fischer. Ran by a very musical family and their friends, the house/store has a cozy old Icelandic feel that’s quite warm and welcoming. Throughout the shop there are displays of olden time “remedies” for common ailments all coming from an old book they also have on display. They sell bespoke items such as sustainable tooth brushes, soaps, shampoos, and perfumes. They also sell a 7′ that is handmade with the store soundtrack which was created by Sin Fang, Jonsi, Kjartan Holm, and Alex Somers. If you want one I would suggest getting there at the beginning of your trip as they are handcrafted and with the influx of festival goers chances are they will be sold out sooner than later. One of my favorite things about Fischer, is the mighty guard dog Atlas.
4. 12 Tónar
Another of my favorite record stores in Reykjavik. Go in, get a bit of coffee and browse both levels of the shop looking for new and used music. As with Lucky’s, the owners and employees are very nice and really knowledgeable about the Icelandic music scene. I have found absolute gems for great prices downstairs in their vinyl bins. They also may have bands playing during the festival so watch out for schedules.
5. Why not? Plötur
This is fairly new to Iceland. A new underground record label that will most likely have basement concerts at RS6013 later in the festival. True underground and off the mainstream Reykjavik experience. It’s a DIY label and I highly suggest you check and follow their Facebook page for updates and notices of when bands will be playing. They have a great catalog of music already and if you dig what you hear you need to pick it up then, as it’s rather difficult to get otherwise.
6. Smekkleysa Plötubúð
Smekkleysa is an old staple around Reykjavik. Smekkleysa records, (Bad Taste records) was the baby of Björk and Co, and the record store carries a lot of classics and current releases. Kiddi, the man behind the counter has been part of the music world as long as anyone and is quick to answer any questions you may have about music current and old.
I typically grocery shop and live off cucumber and tomato sandwiches all throughout the festival, money is better spent on vodka I say. That being said, I always try to hit up Messinn at least once during the festival. A few years ago I surveyed a good deal of my Icelandic friends and asked which restaurant in Reykjavik has the most true to form and best tasting Plokkfiskur (fish stew) in town. It was unanimous that Messinn was the place, and they were right. Served right in the skillet the food here is really good, and the atmosphere cozy, it’s perfect for the November weather. I would suggest getting a reservation a day or two before attempting to go there as they always tend to be busy.
8. Brauð & co
I’m not a big cinnamon bun fan, but this place made me one. They also carry quite the assortment of bread that you can get by the slice or full loaf. I typically grab my bread here for my breakfast and lunch during the festival. It can get busy, but it’s worth the wait. One of the better Icelandic secret spots you’ll find in the city.
It may seem weird, middle eastern food in Iceland, but Mandi is the saving grace of almost every late night in Iceland. They’ll be open after the bands stop playing, and out of all the late night food spots this is the best in the city. It will busy with locals most nights but it is well worth the wait. Typically, I grab food to eat then and food for breakfast in the morning. It’s a very social place so it’s easy to meet new folks and learn about unannounced gigs and after-parties around the city.
And finally, but not least, Veganæs. This is a new place located in Gaukurinn, A bar and possible Airwaves venue located in downtown Reykjavik. Veganæs is a new outfit ran by Linnae and Krummi. Linnae has been a staple for vegan food in Iceland for a long time, and her partner Krummi is in the Icelandic bands Mínus and Legend. I haven’t had a chance to eat here as they just opened, but it is one of the first places I plan on hitting once getting to the island. Other great vegetarian/vegan places in Iceland are Kaffi Vinyl, and Gló
I’ve been to Airwaves the past 3 years, where I’ve had some of the best times of my life. Not sure if I’m going to make it this year, but I love reading about all the fun things to do around Reykjavik. Lucky records is awesome, and good point that if you don’t buy the music while you’re there, you might not be able to find it when you get home….or if you do, you gotta pay for shipping. So glad I stocked up on kiasmos, olafur Arnold’s, gusgus, sin fang, tietur Magnuson, Moses hightower, and vok the last time I was there, I treasure my collection from Lucky records. Takk
It’s quite addictive and as it’s the 20th anniversary hopefully you’ll make it. Besides, you need to add some Bubbi Morthens, Megas, Tófa, and Milkywhale to your collection.