Want to buy something to remember your trip to Iceland? Here’s a quick guide to ten types of creative, uniquely Icelandic souvenirs (and how to avoid the pretty crappy ones).
Iceland is home to a vastly creative community. Wandering around the shops of Reykjavík, you may be drawn to the more touristy shops full of puffin plushies or viking tee shirts. These mass-produced souvenirs aren’t Icelandic or authentic. So why not purchase something uniquely Icelandic, while also supporting local artists? Here’s a quick guide to some of the more creative souvenirs you can find while you’re here. I’ve included a range here of more expensive, handcrafted items, and other cheaper but still unique products that won’t take quite as big a bite out of your wallet. So from lopapeysa to liquorice, let’s take a look at some of your options!
While wandering around town, you may notice a lot of shops selling mass-produced, touristy jewelry options. Did you know that Iceland is rich with talented artists who create their own handmade jewelry designs, though? This is, of course, a very expensive souvenir, but if you have the budget and would like to treat yourself (or someone special), keep an eye out while wandering around town! There are plenty of shops on Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík, that boast beautiful silver jewelry, often directly influenced by the Icelandic landscape. You’ll find plenty of jewelry incorporating lava rocks, for instance.
The shop Skùmaskot, for example, offers jewelry by Eddo Design, influenced by nearby mountain ranges and specifically Icelandic natural objects, such as seaweed and kelp. I also know that when I stayed at the Icelandair Hotel in the Harbour, they sold Icelander-designed jewelry in their lobby. There’s also Orrifinn Jewels at Skólavördustígur 17a which features distinctly unisex designs by Helga Friðriksdóttir and Orri Finnbogason. Guðlaugur A. Magnússon, located on Skólavörðustígur, has been a family-run business since 1924. For some handmade lava jewelry in particular, you can check out Skartgripir & Úr. Since something like a piece of jewelry is a particularly expensive purchase, definitely take your time and explore the country’s many shops to see which piece is perfect for you.
Most travelers have that one thing that they prioritize. For instance, some people collect formal maps, others keep coins, some people grab a bottle of wine. For me, instead of typical souvenirs, I always look for a piece of pottery. There’s something about a handcrafted piece of art (plus the epic challenge of the delicate pottery surviving my flight home!) that I just can’t resist. When I first visited Iceland, I went on the hunt for a piece of pottery, and was absolutely floored by the beautiful work being created here. I went for a piece of lava ceramics, which is absolutely beautiful. You can find this style of pottery as well as more contemporary styles around many shops.
Since these, again, are quite expensive, you do have other options if you’re interested in Icelandic design. Perhaps you are interested instead in home goods that aren’t particularly ceramics. You may have heard of DesignMarch, an annual Icelandic Design Festival that is globally acclaimed.
Keep an eye out for the unique designs of Icelandic artists and creatives – you can find shops that sell these again on Laugavegur. In particular, check out Hrím Hönnunarhús at Laugavegur 25, Akkúrat at Aðalstræti 2, or the lovely shop Epal on the ground floor of Harpa, one of my favorite places to window shop and drool at the beautiful Icelandic design. Museum shops such as the one at the National Museum are also a good place to look - though of course these shops are pretty pricey.
Did you visit the Blue Lagoon while you were here? How relaxing was that? Soaking in a gorgeous geothermal pool while your skin takes in a silica mud facemask is the perfect stopover experience.
You may notice that you can buy some specifically Icelandic beauty products around town, including a lot of facial masks. These make for lovely, indulgent souvenirs or gifts for those who weren’t able to come and experience Iceland for themselves. If you want to recreate the glamorous feeling of soaking in a geothermal pool with a facemask, pick one up to use in a bathtub back home.
There are plenty of scrubs, masks, soaps, and toners available in shops, all created with specifically Icelandic ingredients, such as algae, kelp, or silica mud. You can check the packaging before you buy to see where the ingredients are coming from. As a note, as in any country, these beauty and self care products tend to be very pricy! You can find these in various souvenir shops while during the rest of your souvenir window shopping in downtown Reykjavík, and you can also of course buy masks, oils, and more directly from the Blue Lagoon.
Feeling adventurous? I know plenty of travelers whose favorite souvenir is actually a tattoo. What better way to remember a great trip, after all, than having the memory permanently etched on your body? Iceland’s got a great tattoo culture, and in particular you can visit the shops Íslenzka Húðflúrstofan at Ingólfsstræti 3, Irezumi Ink at Laugavegur 69, and Reykjavík Ink at Frakkastígur 7. Head to their websites for artist information and portfolios. Also, there’s even an Icelandic Tattoo Convention held yearly that you can check out!
You may have noticed that the weather in Iceland can be a bit brutal at times. A good idea for a practical souvenir that you can use during your travels as well as in future winters is a good anorak or parka. A high quality coat is going to be a bit expensive, of course, but you’ve got plenty of options to choose from – Cintamani, Icewear, and 66° North being a few big names. Are you an animal lover? I know that 66° North in particular offers vegan options for their coats.
Also, hey - want to grab something from the famous 66° North, but don’t want to shell out a bunch of ISK on a coat? Their sweatshirts and beanies are wildly popular choices!
But hey, maybe you’re here in the summer, or you already have a great coat, or you live in a warm place and so the investment wouldn’t be worth it. There are plenty of other clothing designers for you to enjoy that aren’t limited to outerwear. Geysir and Farmer’s Market are great shops to check out, though also quite expensive. Also, there are plenty of thrift shops around town, if you’re a vintage lover. Here, you can check out this comprehensive guide to Reykavík’s thrift shops!
Okay, you’ve all been waiting for this one: the famous lopapeysa, or Icelandic wool sweater. Yep, it’s cold here, and there are plenty of sheep. This has resulted in some absolutely beautiful wool products, from sweaters to blankets to scarves. In particular, I’m a huge fan of the beautiful blankets created here. Not convinced? Check out this quick article about lopapeysa culture here! You can see how beautiful these handcrafted and incredibly cozy sweaters are.
Honestly, you can find them all around in countless shops, so I won’t list any particulars here but rather suggest you explore a bit on your own. In fact, you can even purchase them second-hand, for instance at the Red Cross store in Laugavegur. Each sweater is unique, after all, so you’ll have to find the lopapeysa that truly speaks to you, ha! Also, hey, maybe you yourself are a knitter? You absolutely must check out the Handknitting Association of Iceland, which is dedicated to supporting this traditional knitting culture and is a great way to support local knitters. Located at Skólavörðustígur 19, which offers not only sweaters and blankets but also yarn, for my more ambitious readers.
Aside from ceramics, my other personal favorite souvenir to buy is books. Iceland in particular has a vibrant literary culture – did you know that Reykjavík is a Unesco City of Literature? This vibrant writing (and reading!) scene is actually one of the things that drew me here in the first place. Definitely be sure to stop in bookshops, such as Mál og Menning and Penninn Eymundsson Laugavegi, both in the capital city’s shopping district. These shops offer Icelandic classics, from the Sagas to contemporary works, both in their original Icelandic and also translated into several languages. You may have heard of Jólabókaflóð, a tradition in which Icelandic publishing companies release new books just before the Christmas holidays. Did you know that books are actually traditionally given as Christmas gifts here? Why not take part in this great tradition, and pick up a gift or two for you and your loved ones?
Aside from the literary culture, my other favorite part of Icelandic culture scene is definitely the music. You absolutely have to attend a concert or a free show while you’re in the country – the music here is otherworldly. So hey, while you’re here attending a music festival such as Iceland Airwaves, why not pick up some merch for a souvenir? For the 2018 festival, which also happened to be the 20th anniversary of Airwaves, Cintamani sold some great tee shirts, sweatshirts, and even… parkas? Yep! That’s Iceland.
Maybe you don’t have time to attend a festival or a gig, though, and you still want to get a music-inspired souvenir. Well, you’re in luck, because there are plenty of record shops around town. By the way, 12 Tónar actually recently named one of the best record shops in the world in this article on NME! You can find it on Skólavörðustígur in Reykjavík’s centre.
The first time I traveled to Iceland, I had no idea what to bring back as gifts for my friends and family. What I wound up doing was grabbing little bottles of Icelandic liquor from the duty free shops in Keflavík International Airport… and trust me, these were a hit. Iceland has a vast alcohol culture – the country is home to countless craft breweries, for beer lovers, and also arguably the greatest Vodka, Reyka. There are some specifically Icelandic drinks such as Opal and Tópas, both liquorice shots, the infamous brennivín, and even Flóki, the country’s first single-malt whisky. As a tip, a particularly beautiful and uniquely Icelandic drink is birch liqueur, Björk or Birkir. This earthy alcohol – either a liqueur or a schnapps – is bottled with an actual birch twig inside, making it truly a lovely souvenir. You can find these either at the airport or at the state-owned liquor shops, Vínbúðin. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this quick guide to Icelandic Drinking Culture.
Okay, let’s be honest here. Traveling is just too expensive as it is, and buying souvenirs on top of that is oftentimes just not feasible. I totally get it. If you really want to treat yourself or your friends back home, but can’t spend a bunch of money (I mean, the flight here already cost enough, right?), I definitely recommend picking up some candy instead. Everyone loves when you come back from traveling abroad with a bunch of strange snacks, right? In particular, Icelanders areincredibly fond of liquorice. Remember that Opal vodka I mentioned above? It is actually based on the incredibly popular liquorice candy of the same name.
Chocolate fan? You may have noticed the absolute stunning chocolate bars by omNom. A bit pricier, this small batch chocolate shop is based in Reykjavík city and is uniquely Icelandic – you can find their products in many shops and in the airport as well.
What I tend to do when I travel is hit up the grocery store – in this case, I would recommend Bónus, as it is the cheapest option by far. Take some time and peruse the candy aisle, and grab whatever catches your eye. There’s nothing like getting back home and opening your luggage to find some randomly chosen candy to try with your friends and family, after all.
As you can see, Iceland has plenty to offer. What’s great about most of the souvenirs listed here is that they are things that are practical, that you can use them often even when you return home, and that they directly support the local creators of Iceland. After all, a parka isn’t going to collect dust on a shelf, and a book is something you can enjoy again and again. And candy and alcohol? I mean, of course these will always bring a smile.
In the end, the only way to truly immerse yourself in the art, design, food, and music products here in Iceland is to hop around town and see what you find. Just know that there are plenty of unique souvenirs you can buy that support local Icelandic artists and creatives, so keep your eye out for something special. And remember – traveling is about the experience, not the souvenirs! Don’t stress yourself out thinking about what material goods you want to purchase and bring home. The best souvenir is, after all, a memory or a photograph.
Photos: Mae Kellert