We all know the adage, Greenland is icy and Iceland is green. But really, not many know much more of the large island nation inhabited by just 320,000 people. On our most recent trip to Iceland to visit the capital city of Reykjavik for DesignMarch we made it a mission to really explore the little city we’ve come to know and love. Brimming with artistic creativity and eager to break into the international design scene, Reykajvik has much to offer.
With our new friend and local graphic designer Siggi Odds at our side, we wound our way through the grid of cobblestone streets lined with brightly colored architecture to find the most relevant gems Reykjavik has to offer. From restaurants to design shops and fashion boutiques, the following are five of our favorite spots.
Situated just off the main drag on Reykjavik’s waterfront, Kex is a friendly hostel, restaurant, bar and all around pleasant place to hang. Formerly a cookie factory—Kex being Icelandic for cookie—the multi-floored space was gutted to expose some of its more quaint architectural details. From exposed bricks and rough-hewn hardwood floors, the eclectic space seems to be the Ace Hotel of the Nordic—a connection reinforced by rumors of a North American expansion on the horizon. Running the length of the main room a wall of windows perfectly frames the calming Northern Atlantic and imposing mountain range-filled peninsula surrounding the city.
The comfortable interior gives more of a genuine feel than most locales attempting a similar aesthetic. Subtly inspired by their design-driven neighbors to the east, the comfortable space is peppered with Danish mid-century modern sofas and vintage Eames chairs, among other kitschy finds. As for the restaurant and bar, all beer is Icelandic and all meat is sourced from local farms and prepared in an open kitchen. Needless to say we didn’t find a dish we didn’t like. Try the spicy burger and chips, you wont be disappointed.
For a perfectly pulled espresso and freshly baked roll visit Kaffismidja. Located just a few steps from the Reykjavik’s largest landmark, the Hallgrimskirkja church, the cozy corner shop is run by two World Barista Championship finalists and well known to locals as Reykjavik’s best coffee house. Not only does Kaffismidja roast their own beans and serve the freshest cup of joe around—using a La Marzocco espresso machine of course—it acts as a cultural hub for the city’s growing population of young creatives. The eclectic decor lands somewhere between your grandmother’s house and an artisanal bakery, in the best of ways. Barista competition awards line the walls while two large pink giesen roasters demand attention in the second room, all surrounded by mismatched seating. In short, come for the coffee and fresh muffins, stay for the friendly conversation.
Myrin + MAR
In recent years the city’s old harbor district, Hafnarbúdir, has been reimagined and reestablished as a genuine creative hub. While the area is heavily populated with design studios, boutiques and eateries, few captured our attention like Myrin design shop and MAR restaurant. Sharing a joint space, the two separate ventures play well off of each other. Myrin is brimming with a finely curated selection of Nordic and Scandinavian design objects and women’s fashion while MAR serves an outstanding selection of local seafood cooked with both South American and Southern European influences and served in gorgeous, handcrafted porcelain dishes made by Icelandic designer Gudny Hafsteins. The bright and inviting restaurant space is elegantly decorated with work from local designers HAF and Siggi Odds.
In a country that grows very little but livestock, being recognized for serving the best burger is a fine accomplishment for a restaurant. Grillmarkadurinn—or Grill Market—happens to hold such a title. Working with a handful of Iceland’s finest cattle, sheep, dairy and honey farmers, the expansive restaurant serves the freshest foods direct from the source. Filled with vintage mid-century modern furniture and lighting by Tom Dixon, the upscale restaurant is one not to miss—be sure to make a reservation, the popular spot fills up fast.
Kormáks & Skjaldar
Since 1996 Reykjavik’s finest menswear shop Kormáks & Skjalder has been keeping Iceland’s most respectable gentlemen trim and dapper. Located in the basement of the city’s oldest shopping mall, the large store sells elegantly tailored wears under their own eponymous label, garments by Icelandic designers Farmers Market and JÖR by Gudmundur Jörundsson, as well as items by Barbour, Filson, Ben Sherman, Grenson, Stetson and many more. After you’ve picked out a new kit jump in the barber’s chair for proper chop and be on your way a new man. If there’s a wait, pick up a copy of the shop’s newspaper filled with garment-related articles and adverts exclusively shot by and featuring Kormáks & Skjaldar staff.
For a better idea at what each spot has in store for the wandering out of towner see the slideshow.
Images by Graham Hiemstra