If promises of seeing the Aurora Borealis or bathing in wild hot springs aren't enough to make you want to visit Iceland, this article might. Iceland is home to some of the best ice cream in the world. If you're planning a trip to Reykjavík, the capital city, make sure your itinerary includes eating ice cream.
Credentials: I've been in Iceland for over two months and I've eaten ice cream at an average rate of twice weekly.
Ice cream is everywhere.
When you think of gas station food, chances are your reaction is pretty negative. That's not the case here in Iceland. You can get ice cream at nearly every gas station in the country. This is because ice cream is as much of a part of Icelandic culture as coffee is of American culture.
Traditionally, Icelanders have mostly consumed soft-serve ice cream, but with the influx of tourists over the past decade more and more hard ice cream and gelato shops have been popping up. The type of experience you want will determine which place you go.
Fun fact: the Icelandic word for Iceland (Ísland) translates to both "ice land" and "ice cream land."
Soft serve is tradition.
For a taste of classic Icelandic ice cream, check out Ísbúð Vesturbæjar. If you are only going to have ice cream once during your stay in Iceland, go here. This is the only place in Reykjavík that still sells "gamli" (old) ice cream. Icelanders prefer milk-based gamli to the newer cream-based ice cream, so even in the dead of winter there's a line out the door.
I recommend getting cream-based ice cream with a milk chocolate dip, pictured below. This is another thing I love about Icelandic soft-serve—where I come from, we have one type of dip: boring chocolate. Here, you can get boring chocolate if you want, but you can also choose from milk chocolate, caramel, or a caramel/chocolate blend.
Another place to try is Kjörís og Pylsur. It's a hotdog and ice cream stand located in downtown Reykjavík. This place is often flooded with tourists, but for good reason nonetheless. It's a bit pricier than Ísbúð Vesturbæjar and they only have cream-based ice cream, but it's closer to the touristy area of downtown and easier to find.
You can also go to literally any gas station in the country for soft-serve. Fun fact: Kjörís, which manufactures most of the soft-serve you'll find at gas stations, makes their soft-serve using skim milk powder and hydrogenated coconut oil as opposed to regular ol' milk. This is because MS, the major dairy producer in Iceland, holds a monopoly over the dairy industry and keeps the prices of raw milk very high. Kjörís has gotten around this by concocting their own formula for soft-serve that doesn't involve spending a fortune on MS raw milk.
You can't not try their hard ice cream, too.
My go-to place for hard ice cream is Paradís. It's got the best atmosphere and is rarely crowded, likely due to its off-the-beaten-path location. This stuff is like a cross between gelato and hard ice cream—it's soft like gelato but not quite as creamy. My favorite flavors are Oreo and coconut. Paradís also makes vegan ice cream that can't be beat.
Eldur & Ís (literally Fire and Ice), located just off the main street in downtown Reykjavík, comes in close second. Try the Hazelnut ice cream—it tastes like the hazelnut gelato I had in Italy, but this one's got gobs of Nutella inside.
The most popular place in Reykjavík has to be Valdís. Located in the up-and-coming foodie district Grandi, Valdís offers gelato-style ice cream in innovative flavors like carrot cake and tyrkisk peber (salted liquorice). I recommend the vanilla Oreo flavor.
Bonus points: if you have a car, don't miss Erpsstaðir creamery. This quaint farm just an hour from Reykjavík makes ice cream with milk from their own cows, who you can see through a window in the farm shop. This is by far the best ice cream I've had in Iceland (I had salted caramel, my greatest weakness). Plus there's a cat that will sit at the table with you while you're chowing down.
When you visit Iceland (or should I say Icecreamland?), don't make the mistake of thinking it's too cold for ice cream. I promise you won't regret that second scoop.