Who wouldn’t want to frolic in an epic geographical wonderland filled with waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers, and green pastures that are straight out of a fairytale? Iceland may have earned a reputation as a place where carnivores rule, and a lack of domestically grown produce means plant-based food is hard to come by, but this unlikely Nordic island has become the newest vegan hotspot. So bundle up and prepare to see those storied Northern Lights. We’re touring you through the very best of vegan Iceland.
In Reykholt, 100 miles east of Reykjavík, you’ll find an enchanting community of greenhouses that grow organic tomatoes year-round, despite the cold, using natural geothermal heat. In this tiny town, 10,000 plants are protected from Iceland’s biting wind and freezing temperatures. Visitors can take refuge at Friðheimar, a special greenhouse containing a restaurant where you can eat amongst the tomato plants. The buffet is renowned for its warm and comforting homemade plant-based tomato soup, served up with fresh-baked vegan bread.
Based in Reykjavík, you might say that Gló started the vegetable movement in Iceland. Its founder, Sólveig Eiríksdóttir, opened the first vegetarian restaurant in Iceland in 1994, and today owns and oversees this chain of super-hip cafés where vegetables dominate the menu, offering a wealth of vegan options. Eiríksdóttir—who studied at the organic, raw vegan training program Living Light Culinary Institute in California—has actually earned the title of Best Raw Chef in the Word, twice.
For a fantastic splurge on a lovely night out in Reykjavík, indulge in an eight-course, all-vegan tasting menu at Nostra. You can opt for fewer courses, but you may want to have it all to be sure to taste the restaurant’s Icelandic carrot cured for 12 hours, confit leek and onion broth, and lemon thyme and bay leaf sorbet. Though this menu will set you back around $120, it’s an experience you aren’t likely to forget. Pro tip: Be sure to call at least a day in advance to book your reservation.
Lamb Street Food
Though the name Lamb Street Food makes it an unlikely vegan destination, this popular restaurant in Reykjavík has an incredible cruelty-free selection. In fact, they make their own vegan falafel, served with unusual plant-based sauces built on ingredients including dates, apricots, coriander, turmeric and coconut milk. Their homemade vegan flatbread also serves as the foundation for build-your-own wraps filled with options including beet and carrot salad, sweet potato and kale salad, roasted turmeric potatoes, and hummus. Top off your custom-built plant-based assemblage with dips such as tahini, roasted red pepper, and mango chili, and you’ll be in vegan heaven.
This all-vegan hipster hangout combines a café, bar, and record shop in the heart of Reykjavík. At Kaffi Vinyl, feast on an eclectic array of plant-based options including roasted cauliflower and chickpeas with tahini or tamarind-glazed tofu with a carrot and sweet potato puree while you peruse the 12-inch musical offerings. On your second trip (because there will definitely be one), perhaps you’ll opt to indulge in the vegan sushi, or the pasta with cashew cream sauce, mushrooms, and thyme. Pro tip: Don’t forget dessert! The peanut butter cashew cheesecake is particularly decadent.
Egill Jacobsen is a vegan-friendly spot in the heart of Reykjavík that offers overflowing plates serving plant-based comfort foods including burgers, lasagna, and a vegan breakfast of champions with baked beans, pancakes (with chocolate butter), tofu scramble, potatoes, and hummus-topped avocado. Take refuge in here on a chilly day, and the abundant portions of all the things you crave are sure to warm you up.
If you’re feeling adventurous, travel by boat to Heimaey, the only inhabited spot in Iceland’s Westman Islands. There you’ll find Slippurinn: a former ship workshop-turned-restaurant run by the immensely talented Chef Gísli Matthías Audunsson, gifted in the art of preparing vegetables. Audunsson’s vegetarian tasting menu features sophisticated vegan dishes, including a sunchoke and celeriac nut steak with grilled peppers, raw celeriac, and pine. Slippurinn’s offerings rely largely on foraging (the kelp chips are fantastic), and many of the island’s weeds make for stunning cocktails. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the tiny pink Arctic thyme that grows mostly in Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, you’re in for a treat when you taste the way it is made into a simple syrup and mixed with vodka and pear cider.
Stefanie Ellis ia a pastry chef, and food and travel writer in Seattle, who is a big fan of olives, Iceland, and The Princess Bride.