Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Did you know that only about six years ago, it would have cost double the price for you to visit Iceland? The Icelandic krona was particularly strong and where booking a Golden Circle day tour might now cost you about $100 AUD, back then it would have cost you the equivalent of $200 AUD. So no matter how expensive you think Iceland is at the moment, keep that in mind – it could definitely be much worse!
With that said, a visit to Iceland is not like a visit to a cheaper EU country like Spain, Portugal, or even to places like Germany. Being a lone island makes most products particularly expensive because of import costs, and we were scared away from dining out too often when our first lunch on our daytrip ended up costing us about $35 AUD for one soup and one panini. We ended up cooking a lot to save some money – $50 AUD bought us enough from the supermarket for three breakfasts and dinners, and a few snacks as well.
Still, you can’t visit one of the fishing capitals of the world without at least going out once for a seafood lunch! We followed our noses on our last day in Reykjavik and ended up at Fiskfelagid (Fish Company) close to the harbour – the smell of delicious fish emanating from their kitchen was too hard to resist! Located in the subterranean cellar of an old building, Fiskfelagid is hard to spot with its discrete signage – you need to know where to go to find it!
With exposed brick walls showing the age of the building, exposed timber beams and support columns, combined with fraying Turkish carpets on the floor to deaden the noise of diners, Fiskfelagid exudes an atmosphere that feels entirely Icelandic – modern Scandinavian with a bohemian twist. Not unlike their most famous international celebrity – Bjork.
We started with the two most Icelandic drinks we could find on the non-alcoholic menu – Egils Appelsin and Egils Maltextrakt. The Applesin is like a carbonated orange drink, and the Maltextrakt is not dissimilar to beer in its flavour, with a strong malty taste that I found difficult to stomach. More appetising was a mix of the two drinks together (centre of photo) – according to our waitress who brought us an extra glass for this specific purpose, the Icelandic people mix the two together as their drink of choice around Christmastime.
If there’s one thing I love more than butter, it’s whipped butter! Fiskfelagid offered us two different types of whipped butter to go with our delicious sourdough bread – one hazelnut and the other orange ginger. The orange ginger was my pick, with a strong citrus burst that made it seem as though I had both butter and marmalade spread on the slices of sourdough.
We shared a Mixed Sushi Platter as our entree. With the Atlantic salmon fishing trade a particular feature in Iceland, I felt that sushi would be a great way to judge Icelandic fish…and I was right! The salmon here was absolutely unparalleled with a smooth and tender flesh that literally defined ‘melt in your mouth’. A winner, and a real nod of confidence to the Icelandic fish industry!
On an interesting note, did you know that the Japanese and the Icelanders are some of two of the world’s populations that have the longest life span? With my unqualified scientist hat on, I would guess that it has something to do with their diet – large amounts of seafood, not too much red meat, and plenty of fermented foods which are proven to be good for your gut bacteria – which in turn, is linked to many different health factors!
I chose the Finest Fish of the Day on the recommendation of our Reykjavik tour guide who said that it literally is the catch of the day – restaurants apparently just head down to the harbour each morning to buy whatever’s come in on the fishing boats! On this day, it happened to be grilled perch served with a range of greens and pickled cucumber on a bed of mash.
Unfortunately the cream sauce broke its boundaries making the dish not quite as visually appealing as it could have been! Luckily it didn’t have any effect on the flavour of the dish – the perch was particularly well grilled and the plain white flesh worked as a great vehicle for the pickled cucumber and sauce.
By far the best dish of the day was K’s Arctic Char though, which was much nicer than my perch. The hours of sous vide cooking left the char incredibly tender and velvety, while the roasted artichokes and vinegary apple added some needed texture. With a strong dill vinaigrette throughout the whole dish, it was the perfect balance of flavours and textures…and that char is the ideal example of how fish should be cooked!
Fiskfelagid is a fantastic seafood restaurant right in the heart of Reykjavik, offering surprisingly reasonably priced meals at a fraction of the cost of other seafood places in town. Coming in at around $85 AUD for two people, it’s far better priced than the $50 mains you’ll find elsewhere. Definitely give it a try if you ever visit Iceland!
Fiskfelagid is located at 2a Vesturgotu, Grófartorg in Reykjavik, Iceland.
For the rest of your time in Iceland, be aware that it’s particularly hard to get off the tourist path. Some people rent cars and drive around to all the different natural sites themselves, but I would advise against it particularly in the hazardous winter months with its uncertain weather. Summer may be a better travel time for the more independent traveller.
In winter, this leaves you at the mercy of the million and one tour operators in Iceland where your $100 Golden Circle daytrip will find you on a bus with forty other people being shuttled from one sight to the next. Paying double that price will find you on a smaller minibus with a smaller group on a more personalised tour – however it’s hard to justify that expense if you’re on a budget like us!
The Blue Lagoon is a must-do experience for most visitors to Reykjavik – it’s hard to go past its miraculously clear waters and amenities such as the in-pool bar. However it is quite expensive, so if you are after the experience of soaking in natural thermal waters rather than the travel-checklist nature of the Blue Lagoon, why not consider visiting some of the city-based thermal swimming pools which locals patronise? It’s a similar experience (without the frills) for a fifth of the cost of the Blue Lagoon.
The Northern Lights is another checklist item for visitors to Iceland. The best advise I can give is to book an evening Northern Lights cruise or bus tour for your first night in the country. That way, even if you don’t manage to see it on your first night, you can always rebook for the second or third or fourth nights to maximise your opportunity of seeing the lights. We missed out all together on seeing the Northern Lights – our first attempt was cancelled because of cloud cover, the second went ahead but without any success (weather changed), and we were never able to book a third attempt because of timing issues with flights! Very disappointing.
Thoughts on the rest of our stay in Reykjavik? For a small city with an even smaller population, they sure know how to party. That streak of individualism that I always associate with Icelanders thanks to Bjork is apparent everywhere you turn with creative graffiti art, colourfully painted houses, independent jewellery designers, hipster bars…everyone seems to know everyone, and parties go on all night. We’re not the partying type, but our rented apartment was located above a bar, so trust me, I know!
Iceland is an incredibly unique destination, offering natural wonders and individualistic shops and restaurants. However, it can begin to feel quite sanitised if you end up seeing Iceland the way the tourist board want you to see it – through endless group bus tours and on a particular schedule. It’s fine to do that on your first visit so that you get a sense of what the country is like – however, I think that if we were ever to visit Iceland again, we would do so in a milder season and try to make our own way around the country.