Many years ago, on vacation, my partner and I passed through what I now know is the neighborhood of Grandi in Reykjavík. I remember it so clearly because the houses are so cute. They’re built with corrugated metal siding and painted in cheerful colors, featuring trim and details that are a nod to historical design trends.
This post is part of a paid series for Pursuit but all opinions and images are my own.
- Revisiting Grandi in Reykjavík
- A Guide to Grandi in Reykjavík
- A Most Surprising Activity in Grandi
- Other Things to Do in Grandi in Reykjavík
- Where to Eat and Drink
- Where to Shop
- Where to Stay
- My Top Tips for Visiting Grandi in Reykjavík:
- Best time to visit Grandi in Reykjavík:
- Parting Thought
Revisiting Grandi in Reykjavík
So when I recently found myself on assignment in Grandi for Pursuit, I was thrilled to discover the neighborhood is beloved by locals. And it’s so much more than just the cute houses that I remembered.
Though why there are so many in Grandi – and in Reykjavík in general – is a story worth reading. Check it out on Bloomberg!
In fact, Grandi has become a part of the city that locals love. Which does make me feel a little guilty in writing about it now. After all, I never want to be part of any negative effect on a place I visit. But I’m also not one to believe my little blog is going to be singlehandedly responsible for an increase in tourism anywhere. AND I know my readers are savvy enough to operate responsibly when they visit other countries and to be respectful of those who live where they visit.
A Guide to Grandi in Reykjavík
However, keeping in mind a sense of balance – this should by no means be looked at as a complete guide to Grandi. Rather, this should be your starting point in which to get to know this perhaps up-and-coming part of Reykjavík. Always with respect to it being a place people live and work.
A Most Surprising Activity in Grandi
…for me, was: FlyOver Iceland. Part of it could be called a ride because you are strapped into an apparatus that takes you for a ride.
For this reason, it may cause you to struggle if you have motion sickness. I do but I took Dramamine and that made it a pleasant experience for me.
In every sense, though it is something that has to be experienced to be understood. The ride portion makes you feel as if you are literally flying over Iceland’s most beautiful landscapes. But they’re captured at the most optimal times and on the most optimal days of the year. They look better than they ever could in any other scenario. Many of the locations featured are inaccessible. So you would never be able to see them, except via FlyOver Iceland.
It’s So Good
…that what kept it in business during the pandemic was locals. Icelandic people went multiple times, so they could appreciate the beauty of their country that they would otherwise never see. I know that because completely unprompted in half a dozen interactions with locals, I was told that. And if the locals love it isn’t convincing enough for you, I don’t know what would be.
But I said, “Holy sh*t!” during the film and “I want more!!!” when it was over.
And when it was, we all spent time in the gift shop that features Made in Iceland gifts.
Then we enjoyed the café where Tony and his colleagues make excellent cocktails and coffee drinks like an Icelandic take on the Irish coffee. Which was far and away the best “Irish Coffee” I have ever had.
Other Things to Do in Grandi in Reykjavík
Walking tour with Marteinn Briem of CityWalk
I was so entertained by all that Marteinn shared. And impressed that his tour was free. As a small business owner myself, I don’t know how he can afford to do that. However, Marteinn and CityWalk also offer private group tours that do cost and I would highly recommend that for those visiting Reykjavík as part of a group.
I supported Marteinn by buying one of his homemade cozies that is perfect for keeping your hands warm while drinking a cold beverage!
Noztra is a warm and inviting space right on the harbor in Grandi. In it, you have your choice from hundreds of styles of undecorated pottery that you can sit and decorate as the boats go in and out. My mother was once involved in a small venture just like this and I can’t tell you how lovely it is to sit and do this. Even if you don’t consider yourself “artistic.” It makes for a nice personalized gift or a great souvenir to take home.
Visit the Museums
Go on a Harbor Cruise to see Puffins or Whales
My friend Jackie and I did this straight off the plane. It was a great way to combat any jetlag and to stay awake before our first group activity. And it was a nice way to see the town from the water. We did not see any puffins or whales. Which we were told happens less than 5% of the time on these cruises. Especially in May which is part of the season for whale watching. But, alas, it does happen. Just set your expectations accordingly. It’s a nice boat ride either way! Lots of options are available in Grandi. Find them via the wood huts along the harbor. Walk over and choose a place that looks good to you.
Marshall Húsið and Þúfa
This historic herring factory has become an arts hub. It was updated by Kurtogpi Architects. Their Instagram is a good source for current programming. While you’re there, take a walk past the current fishing facility to Þúfa. It’s a hill with a spiral pathway leads visitors up to a petite structure. It’s by artist Ólöf Norda and not unlike FlyOver, has to be experienced to be fully understood!
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre
As Harpa is one of Reykjavík’s more well-known landmarks, it probably needs no introduction from me. It is a remarkable structure by Henning Larsen Architects. Even if you don’t go for an event, go inside the building when it’s open to enjoy its architecture. That’s what I did this time with my friends Codie and Jackie.
Where to Eat and Drink
Héðinn Kitchen & Bar
Héðinn is the lobby restaurant and bar for Grandi by Center Hotels. We were able to meet the team that runs it. We learned of their expansion plans and the fact that one of them had been involved with founding Omnom. Having met them, it’s no surprise the food is excellent. They’ll be a team to watch. The cocktails by bartender Zbyszko were superb. Stop by for a drink even if you don’t dine at Héðinn. And leave room to trust him to make you a drink that’s not on the menu. That’s how I got to try a Rhubarb Sour. It was one of the best cocktails I’ve had; made with Icelandic gin and homemade rhubarb syrup.
My good friend Spencer recommended we get drinks at Slippbarinn in the lobby of the Icelandair Hotel near the harbor. He was not wrong! Ordering “off the menu” didn’t work out. However, the barrel-aged Negroni was superb, as was the “I Wanna Be a Dog.” That is on their menu and it’s made with Icelandic Brennivin. It features wild thyme, used frequently in the culinary world and in beauty products all over Iceland.
It’s a street-food hall that reminds me of Grand Central Market in LA or Gotham West Market in Manhattan. This one has Icelandic cuisine in the form of a stall selling lamb dishes that pair well with local beers and ciders. There is also fish n chips, pizza, Indian, Mediterranean, Italian and Korean food. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. If it’s warm enough, make sure to eat outside watching the boats come and go as you do. Follow them on Instagram for the latest.
Omnom Ice Cream Parlor
Their chocolate bars are the best in Iceland. Now they also have an ice cream parlor. The menu features flavors and elements that are important to Icelandic cuisine. Licorice and corn flakes are just two examples. Make sure to go with people who don’t mind you trying a bite of theirs, so you can get a taste of different styles in one visit!
If you like gelato, you will love Valdís. It was started by an Icelandic actress who loved Italian gelato and wanted to bring that style of “ice cream” to Reykjavík. It’s located close to the water, in one of the former fisherman huts that are painted bright white with a cheerful turquoise door.
Where to Shop
Farmers & Friends or Farmers Market Flagship Store
This is a super hip boutique across from Marshall Húsið and near Omnom that sells clothes, home goods, jewelry and more. I don’t think anyone in my group managed to leave without purchasing something. It’s a particularly good place to buy an updated version of the classic sweater made with Icelandic wool called lopi. Many have the classic Loki diamond in the pattern.
Sóley is LGBTQ+ friendly, women-owned and available in dozens of Icelandic spas. Yet when you walk into the shop with the pink facade, it gives off a far more intimate vibe. More like a secret you’ve stumbled upon. The healing balm is particularly incredible. I’ve been putting it on of my most prominent scars since I bought it two weeks ago [as of this writing] and it’s already fading. I did that at the recommendation of one of the Icelandic women who was like a guide for us. She was so right! What Sóley, and Icelandic women, make with the herbs and plants that are native to Iceland might be nothing short of miracle products. At the very least, they smell wonderful and feel incredible on the skin.
This outdoor outfitting brand was “founded in 1926 by Hans Kristjánsson with the purpose of making protective clothing for Icelandic fishermen and workers braving the North Atlantic elements.” The level of water and weatherproofing shows in everything from their sweaters to their bags. And the look is chic. Wear it and you’ll fit right in with well-to-do Icelanders who splurge on the brand’s goods because they last. Forever.
This bag is currently on my Christmas list. And I really enjoyed getting to take home a sample of their new fragrance, which you too can learn about and purchase at the store. It was made in collaboration with Fischersund. You might not know that name but I did as one of my favorite musicians, Jónsi from Sigurrós, is part of it. The story behind the creation of the fragrance is a truly Icelandic story.
Where to Stay
Grandi by Center Hotels
This is where I stayed to visit in May 2022. Grandi is part of a complex that’s still under construction as I publish this. So be prepared for that to be part of your experience. I was privvy to the expansion plans and they’re going to make it amazing!
It’s a comfortable hotel, for a good price with funky design elements. And centrally located; if you’re in Reykjavík for the purposes of exploring Grandi or going on a harbor cruise before leaving the city.
This opened in November 2021 and if you’re familiar with the brand, you don’t need me to say more. For those who are not, The Reykjavík EDITION is hip and design-forward. It’s well located for exploring Grandi, going to an event at HARPA, or seeing the rest of Reykjavík if you’re willing to walk a little further.
My Top Tips for Visiting Grandi in Reykjavík:
Stay up late or rise early! Take advantage of empty streets that are already well lit, to just wander and make a note of places you want to return to later. You’ll get to see a different side of the neighborhood. The water in the harbor will be calmer and the surface will become like a mirror.
Bring an eye mask! Depending on where you stay, there may not be true blackout curtains that block enough light.
If you’re not renting your own car, don’t take a taxi from Keflavík airport to Grandi. It will be over 100 USD. It may even be as much as 200 or more. Taxis in Reykjavík are some of the most expensive I have ever encountered in all my travel. Instead, book tickets on the Flybus shuttle by Reykjavík Excursions. Prices begin at 3,449 ISK. Equal to less than 37 USD in May 2022. You will have to transfer once between the airport and Grandi from a larger bus to a smaller shuttle. And they run only once per hour. However, the money saved makes this so worth any potential stress.
Best time to visit Grandi in Reykjavík:
I recommend the long hours of daylight that last from May to July. It will be warm enough to enjoy dining outside. And you’ll have the most amount of time to explore every day.
Leave time for a visit to Sky Lagoon during your stay in Grandi. You can get public transportation to the lagoon from Grandi. Read my review here. And see a teaser video of what it’s like here on my YouTube.