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Vegan Iceland

Guide to Vegan and Vegetarian Travel in Iceland

From Some Magazine I Found

Iceland has a lot to offer travelers (particularly travelers who appreciate scenic, desolate landscapes, vast expanses of strange terrain, and surreal spaces as if not from this earth). Geisers, glaciers, fumaroles, volcanoes, and craters.  Lava fields, boiling mud pits, and thermal springs. Towering rock formations, giant waterfalls and wide iceberg lagoons. And when weather conditions are right, one can see the aurora borealis, beautiful cloud patterns, and huge rainbows spanning the entire sky. Local residents take a lot of pride in their country’s natural beauty and their large scale reliance on renewable energy.  Hydroelectric and geothermal power supply Iceland’s primary energy and water sources. Sound incredible? That’s because it is. Iceland is the type of place that makes you feel small and fragile – powerless when engulfed by all this nature. It’s really an amazing place to see with spectacular scenery you won’t find anywhere else, so take your time. At least a month is probably necessary to get a good appreciation for all the country has to offer – more time if you’re relying on catching rides (autostop) or using public transportation.

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So in summary, Iceland is a great travel destination. But is it a great travel destination for vegans? Well…that that question requires a more detailed response.

A quick glance at a guidebook would probably tell you no.

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Typical regional specialties include harðfiskur (dried fish pieces), hangikjöt (smoked lamb), svið (boiled sheep’s head), hákarl (putrified shark), sviðasulta (head cheese), soured ram’s testicles, blood pudding, and skyr (a thick yogurt-like dairy product).

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Iceland is notorious for its commercial whaling industry, marine products account for a large percentage of the country’s exports, and animal products dominate the region’s food culture. Many restaurants specialize in seafood because the ingredients are fresh, local, and easily accessible. And some restaurants, particularly ones that cater to tourists, even serve whale meat and other threatened species. “Adventurous” travelers who don’t want to miss out on the country’s edible delights, fuel this “exotic” foodie tourism and order threatened species like grilled puffin and minke whale steak.

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It’s hard to fathom how someone can appreciate the beauty of these powerful, intelligent creatures during a wildlife or whale watching tour….then enjoy that same animal for dinner without any hesitation. But hoards of tourists do that every day. The Reykjavik Grapevine has a good article about this (read: Whale Watching Tourists Eating Whale).

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Another thing that can make Iceland a particularly tricky destination for vegans is that its fruit and vegetable supply (particularly in the more rural areas) can be pretty meager. Since Iceland is an island destination with a cold climate and the majority of the country’s land mass is mountainous and volcanic, only a fraction of Iceland’s land is arable. Most vegetables are imported or grown in greenhouses, so the selection isn’t always great and prices very drastically.

From Some Magazine I Found

Despite some of the obvious obstacles Iceland poses for veggie travelers, it is definitely a place worth exploring and vegan and vegetarian travelers will do just fine.

Sign at Kaffee Hjomalind

Iceland is certainly no vegan paradise, as it is not well known for its veg-friendly cuisine. But most places can at least adapt one menu item to be made vegan. Foods incorporating locally grown barley are pretty common. And fresh rye (rúgbrauð) is popular throughout the country. Brennivín, another local specialty, is a traditional liquor made of potatoes and flavored with caraway seeds. Crowberries, blueberries, rhubarb, Iceland moss, wild mushrooms, wild thymelovageangelica, and dried seaweed are also local ingredients that make up Icelandic cuisine. Locally grown vegetables most commonly available in markets are the more hardy vegetables that can survive cold climates (things like cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and potatoes). Good travel foods like tomatoes, cucumbers, paprikas, and avocados, can often be found too. But they can often be quite expensive.

In the larger cities like Reykjavik and Akureyri, there are actually quite a few restaurants and health food stores that cater to vegetarians (listed further down in this article). Since you likely won’t spend all your time in Reykjavik though, you’ll want to stock up on supplies while you’re there.

In more isolated areas (which is basically most other places)…it becomes a bit more difficult to find fresh ingredients. And you’ll have to be more creative and resourceful. This isn’t difficult to do – it just requires a bit more work. I have a more general list of vegan travel tips that will probably be useful as well, but here are some tips that I think apply specifically to vegan travel in Iceland.

Tips for Being a Happy & Healthy Vegan in Iceland

  • Stock up in Reykjavik. Any trip you go on will probably start from the capital city, so use this opportunity to visit some specialty stores or large supermarkets and pack what you can based on the details of your itinerary. You won’t find this variety anywhere else in the country. Reykjavik has several health food stores (listed here) with a large selection of vegan and vegetarian products (including veggie burgers, marmite, vegan cheese, tvp, tofu, vegan pestos, peanut butter, dried fruits and nuts, instant veggie mixes, grains, seaweeds, and much more). Obviously some of this stuff won’t last during a long trip if you don’t have a cooler, so keep that in mind. But a lot of it (like dried soya chunks, red lentils, granola, and shelf-stable, travel-sized soymilk cartons) are perfect for a backpacking trip.

Veg Products in Reykjavik

Granola, Bananas, Berries, and Soy Milk

  • Plan ahead. Make a list of all the veg-friendly shops in an area and circle them on your map (this only applies to the capital and a few of the larger cities) and find out where the large grocery stores are. If you spot a small supermarket along the road, it’s probably best to stop and get what you can from there. It’s unlikely you’ll see another one for many many kilometers (unless you know for sure that you’re near a relatively larger town). The selection of fresh produce will probably be limited, but most small grocery shops at least have some grains, spreads, breads, and a selection of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Self cater. Pack some things from home if you want to save money or think you’ll  miss them, bring a few trusty spice mixes to spruce up otherwise boring meals, and choose foods that can be tossed into a backpack and eaten raw as snacks. It’s obviously easier to gather a large food supply if you’re traveling by car. But if you’re busing and backpacking your way around the country, you’ll have to put more thought into what you pack (think lightweight, versatile foods that can be combined in many different ways). You should also bring a few basic travel utensils (like a compressible bowl, a spork, and a knife at the very least).

Quick Snack for the Road

Quick Snack for the Road

Eating Orange Paprikas with Sauces

  • Custom order. Eateries in smaller, rural settlements will often serve Icelandic specialties or typical fast food items like hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and pizzas. While these types of places aren’t vegan havens by any means, they might be the only places around if you don’t plan ahead. In this case, it’s usually possible to custom order something or get a pizza without cheese and add whatever vegetables are available on the menu (sometimes there aren’t a lot, so this is when it’s nice to have packed a few veggies and spice mixes to flavor things up). English is widely spoken in Reykjavik and most other cities, but in the really rural areas of Iceland…this won’t be the case. You’ll probably have brought your own food in these situations anyway, but if you get stuck in a place like this with nothing to eat…you’ll have to play charades, draw pictures, or better – learn some basic Icelandic words.

Eating with Couchsurfers

  • Use a kitchen. Iceland has quite a few guesthouses (old houses converted into bed and breakfasts) and guests are usually provided with their own room and access to a shared bathroom/kitchen. Obviously if you have the means to prepare your own food, you’re set.
  • Bring a travel stove. This is my preferred way to travel, as it allows me all the flexibility and independence I want. With a travel stove, you can cook wherever/whenever you’re hungry and you don’t have to rely on anyone else to eat. I own the MSR Whisperlite International, which I’ve used quite a bit on other trips. For this particular trip though, I borrowed a travel stove and other camping equipment from some couchsurfers (Couchsurfing.org is a valuable global travel network and an indispensable resource for vegan travelers).

Camp Food

Quick Roadside Meal

Veggie Goulash with Dried Onions

Homemade Veg Meal in Iceland

Chili with TVP and Veggies

Snack Made of Camping Leftovers

  • Forage food. It’s fun when you find your own food in the wild! On a hike through Ásbyrgi, we managed to find huge fields full of wild blueberries. Mushrooms also grow everywhere in Iceland (many of which are edible). If you aren’t sure which ones to pick, try to find a walking tour of edible wild plants (there was a free mushroom picking tour offered when I was in Reykjavik).

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Handpicked Blueberries

Wild Mushrooms

  • Meet other vegans. As mentioned above, Couchsurfing.org is a great resource for this. So are other hosting/hospitality sitesVegan Around the World Network, and various forums mentioned on tip 4 of this page. With Couchsurfing, you can do a keyword search for “vegan” or “vegetarian” to see if there are any other like-minded folks in a particular area you’re going. You’ll probably find some new friends to hang out with and might even find some travel buddies or a free place to stay. In Reykjavik, I stayed with a vegan couchsurfer I met earlier that year in Japan. He was a very generous host. We made tasty meals every night, he let me borrow his camping equipment, and he introduced me to the Reykjavik chapter of Food Not Bombs (a worldwide, global activist organization that shares free vegan meals to protest war, poverty, and environmental destruction). 

Vegan Couchsurfing in Reyjkavik

Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs

  • Speak up! Vegans and vegetarians who travel to Iceland should not be apologetic and timid about speaking their minds. They should instead be honest and upfront about their dietary needs, but speak up in a polite and non-confrontational way. This will help set a good example for other vegetarians, but it will also show local establishments that there’s an increasing demand for veg-friendly foods and activities that don’t harm the local wildlife. Along the same lines, you should make absolutely sure that you boycott any places serving whale meat (the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has a handy list here and you can learn more about how to support their anti-whaling campaign here).

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Golden Circle (Pingvellir, Geysir, Strokkur, Gullfoss)

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Vegan/Vegetarian Food in Iceland

Iceland has several restaurants that specifically cater to vegans and vegetarians. A more extensive list of vegan-friendly restaurants & health food stores in Iceland can be found on the Happy Cow Web site (with reviews, price ranges, etc.) but mentioned below are the few I managed to check out while I was there.

Veggie Places I Visited in Reykjavik

Please Note: I wrote this years ago and some of this info may be outdated. Always double check the actual Web sites before visiting these places.

A Naestu Grosum

Address: 20b Laugavegur (the main shopping street)
Tel: 552 8410
Mon-Fri: 11.30-14.00 and 18.00-22.00
Saturday: 11-30-21.00
Sunday: 18.00-22.00

Vegetarian whole foods restaurant with daily vegan specials, hearty rye bread, hummus, and chutneys.

A Naestu Grosum

Veg Food in Reykjavik

Graenn Kostur

Address: Skolavordustigur 8B (Reykjavik) Tel: 552 2028.
Open: Mon-Sat 11-30-21.00.
Sunday: 16-00 – 21.00

Healthy, whole foods vegetarian restaurant with great wheat-free and vegan options and pitchers full of fruit-infused waters.

Graenn Kostur

Veg Food in Reykjavik

Veg Food in Reykjavik

Kaffihusid Gardurinn (Ecstasy’s Heart Garden)

Small vegetarian cafe with daily soup and entree specials each day and always at least one vegan option. Soup is served with homemade bread and hummus.

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Veg Food in Reykjavik

Cafe Babalu

Skolavoroustigur 22a, City Centre
Reykjavik Iceland
+354-5522278

Cozy cafe with wifi and some great veggie and vegan options (like vegan carrrot cake, chamomile soy latte, soups).

Kaffi Hjomalind

Cozy vegetarian coffee shop with vegan baked goods, nice coffee, wifi, community computer, a book library, and a room downstairs reserved for various classes/workshops/meetings/meditation. Good stuff!

Kaffe Hjomalind

Veggie Places I Visited in Akureyri

Vegiterian Restaurant in Akureyri

Vegiterian Restaurant in Akureyri

More Info For Vegans Traveling To Iceland

Guides and Articles:

Iceland for Vegans

The Idiot’s Guide to Being a Spendthrift Vegetarian in Iceland

Restaurants and Stores:

HappyCow – Health Food Stores and Vegetarian Restaurants in Reykjavik

Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants and Health Food Stores in Iceland

Vegetarian/Veg-Friendly Restaurants in Iceland

Blogs & Articles:

Veganlicious – A Vegan in Iceland

Lola’s Vegan Blog – Vegan Vacation: Iceland

Bod’s Blog – Vegetarian Iceland

Fredric Patenaude – Eating Raw, Vegan, and Vegetarian in Reykjavik, Iceland

The Reykjavik Grapevine – Vegan Iceland?

Veg Dining – Land of Contraditions: Veggie Traveling in Iceland

Vegan World Trekker – Sights, Sounds, and Vegan Tastes of Iceland

Vegetarian Travel Companies

IcelandVegetarian.com

Phrases for Vegans in Iceland:

Ég er grænmetisæta (I am a vegetarian)

Ég borða ekki kjöt (I do not eat meat)

Ég borða ekki _______ ( I do not eat _____)

kjukling (chicken)

mjolfurafuroir (dairy)

mjolk (milk)

smjor (butter)

ostar (cheese)

skyr (yogurt)

kjot (meat)

fiskur (fish)

Leave a comment

19 Comments

  1. Dee

     /  February 28, 2012

    Thank you so much for this blog. I am heading to Iceland in March 2012.

  2. Alexis

     /  March 15, 2012

    Very good blog with a lot of useful informations. I’d like to go to Iceland next summer (as a volunteer in a workcamp), but I’m still scared I won’t be able to eat easily.

  3. This is a wonderful post, thanks!

  4. rod henderson

     /  May 6, 2012

    Thankyou for your post and information. I plan to travel with my wife in July and this has alleviated some of our fears of starving! We will use your links provided.

  5. Celine

     /  May 15, 2012

    This information is useful for our trip !
    Thank you…
    Celine, France.

  6. Hello, we provide customized programs and tours for vegetarian, vegan and raw food travelers going to Iceland and we wanted to ask if we could refer to your blog post on our site.

    Regards,
    Gardar

  7. Hi Gardar – Sure, you’re welcome to refer to my blog post. I’ll create a link to your service as well. Thanks for letting me know about you!

  8. Orri

     /  July 9, 2012

    Which threatened species can be found in restaurants in Iceland?
    The ones you mention, minke and puffin, are not considered threatened.

  9. Melody

     /  March 28, 2013

    Thanks for this helpful info. My family of 5 (4 vegetarians) are biking/ camping the ring road the month of June 2013. I have been dehydrating meals for us to take, but I know we will want to eat out on occasion.

  10. ásdís þula þorláksdóttir

     /  August 29, 2013

    kaffi hljómalind and Á næstu grösum does not exist anymore… but where Á næstu grösum used to be there is now a restaurant called Gló. They do have chicken but also lovely vegan/vegetarian and raw food dishes.. i think it rocks! (minus the chicken)

  11. Alyssia Dryer

     /  September 7, 2013

    Thank you so much for this blog! I’m heading to Iceland in October, I feel at ease now knowing I have options. :) And I refuse to support any place that sells Whale meat, thank you for that information also.

  12. Thank you for this. Will be checking out your suggestions! Very helpful to the vegan community :-)

  13. janet west

     /  October 12, 2013

    I’m going this Monday, so very pleased to see that there are some places I can go…. I’m smuggling tracker bars. Lol any tips ease email me. Thanks.

  14. lori

     /  December 5, 2013

    Thank you so much! I’m going to Iceland next year and I’m already looking for vegan places :-)

  15. Sarah

     /  February 13, 2014

    HUGE help. I have been vegetarian for years, recently vegan, and am travelling to Iceland at the end of June. I am excited to try these places! Great tips about stocking up in Reykjavik. I am a heavy traveller so I don’t think I can easily fit any extra food in my suitcase!

  16. Sam

     /  April 6, 2014

    This was an excellent help. Thanks for all the tips and references.

  17. Thank you. I am a whale-watcher and have wanted to travel to Iceland this summer to see whales. When I saw on another website, ‘minke whale’ on the menu–I freaked and almost bolted from my lifelong dream to make this trip. Your blog post is the only thing that kept me from giving up on it entirely. Thank you for a well-thought out, practical and inspiring blog post. Aloha and Mahalos, Namaste, Peace.

  1. VEGAN RESTAURANTS, VEGAN FOOD, VEGAN STORES, VEGAN CLOTHES, VEGETARIAN | matchmyspirit.com Blog

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