Who would have thought Iceland is a go-to destination for ice cream lovers? Whether it is a fine summer night or the middle of a winter storm, you will find Icelanders queueing up for delicious ice cream. We Icelanders mostly chomp on luscious soft-serve ice cream but ‘bragðarefur’, a mixture of ice cream and whatever the mind desires, is also a favourite of us locals. The romance between Icelanders and this delicious treat is a love affair that has lasted for decades. In fact, many relationships in Iceland started with a date to an ice cream parlour. It was a make or break moment when your date picked his or her bragðarefur ingredients. We highly recommend going native and trying out our ice cream in Iceland. If it is an all-in Icelandic experience you crave, it is best enjoyed after taking a plunge in one of our geothermal swimming pools. Let’s see what the world of Icelandic ice cream has in store for us!
What to get
Delicious soft serve vanilla ice cream covered in a dip (get lúxusdýfa! See below) with a topping of your own choice. It is too good. Daim and liquorice pebbles are always a solid choice for the topping. Many places give you a choice of ‘gamli ísinn’ (the old ice cream) or ‘nýi ísinn’ (the new ice cream). ‘Gamli ísinn’ is more milk based and its devout supporters swear by it, but ‘nýi ísinn’ is a creamier version. ‘Nýi ísinn’ people will tell you that the old-style ice cream is somewhat watery, and not tasty enough. To each his own! Pro tip: Get the ice cream served in a cone but in a box as well – unless you want things to get really messy!
Italian gelato style shops have been popping up all over town recently, as Icelanders have taken a metropolitan turn in increased numbers. Oooh, look at us with our fancy Italian scoop ice-cream. No, but honestly, there are a lot of fantastic options in Reykjavík for scoop ice cream. The best part? The scoops are actually quite sizeable! We’re not skimping when it comes to our ice cream.
Shake your booty
Traditionally a solid choice for the driver of the group, milkshakes have a steady following. Thicker than milkshakes elsewhere, we have a number of options for tastes here as well. Obvious choices such as chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla rule the waves in this ice cream ocean. People like to try new stuff and the weirdest one I have heard mentioned so far is pineapple and lemon. Try at your own risk. Pro tip: Try out cherry and chocolate. Get funky!
Get lúxusdýfa wherever and whenever you can! It is an inviting mixture of chocolate and caramel that fits very well both on top of your soft serve, as well as in your bragðarefur! It seems like such a basic innovation, yet it was mind-blowing one when it showed up in the ice cream scene. Since then, it has been the go-to dip for Icelanders.
How to “bragðarefur”
The literal translation of ‘bragðarefur’ is taste-fox, however, it is known as a blizzard in some countries. A delicious mix of ice cream, candy, fruits, and dips. Pick whatever you desire. But how does one do it? It all starts with picking the size. Let’s be honest. No ordinary human being can finish a whole large one by himself (Some say that large is even too large for sharing). So, you really should get either a small or a medium. Next up is the “base”, which you can either skip or, alternatively, go for a fruit and berry base (strawberries are always solid and bilberries have a steady following). Now on to the best part. The candy selection! Where to start?! Þristur, a chocolate and liquorice candy, is always a solid option in your taste-fox. There are a plethora of candy options for you as you will see a table full of Icelandic candy heaven. Namedrop time! Olsen Olsen, Tromp, Hitt, Daim pellets, and “spicy” candy Tyrkisk Peber. Oh man, I really need to go and get a bragðarefur now!
- Þristur – strawberries – liquorice pebbles
- Strawberries – Snickers – Mars
- Hitt – Gummy bears – bilberries
- Strawberries – Daim pebbles – Gummy bears
- Tyrkisk peber – lúxusdýfa – Mars
- Oreo – bilberries – Þristur
Anything you can think of. You can do no wrong in the bragðarefur department!
Step-by-step guide to buy Ice Cream in Iceland
If you’re standing by the lake (Lækjargata) in downtown Reykjavík, there are eight ice-cream parlours within a 3-kilometre radius. Whether you prefer the old-school feel of Ísbúð Vesturbæjar, or the relative novelty of Valdís, the unwritten rules of ice-cream shopping in Iceland, in winter, remain the same:
Upon arriving at the parlour, take a number from the queuing system.
Elbow your way to the display counter and consider your options:
There is “soft-serve” ice-cream, the classic variety, which you can order on a cone or in a box, and which you can garnish with candy pebbles (Daim, liquorice, etc.) or with dip (chocolate, liquorice, etc.).
There is Italian-style gelato ice-cream, sometimes available with a uniquely Icelandic twist.
There are milkshakes, which are commonly a tad more viscous in Iceland than elsewhere, and which sometimes come in bizarre flavours (pineapple and lemon, anyone?).
And then there’s the bragðarefur (literal translation: “taste fox:” roughly equivalent to the international “blizzard”). Choose your size (small, medium, or large), choose your ice-cream (“the old ice-cream,” more milk-based, or the “old ice-cream,” more creamy), and, finally, choose your candy (or fruit): Þristur, liquorice, strawberries, Tyrkisk Peber, the options are endless.
When your number is called, belt out your order.
Thankfully receive your ice-cream.
Insinuate yourself into your vehicle and get your ísrúntur on.
What Do You Mean by “Ísrúntur”?
As the Smithsonian noted, the Icelandic word ísrúntur denotes the “specific act of driving around and eating ice cream.”
The word ísrúntur is a play on the word rúntur, which roughly means “driving around for the sake of driving around.” But in the event that the drive revolves around ice-cream, the term ísbíltúr is apt.
This holy Icelandic tradition stretches back several decades. Older Icelanders may recall growing up during a time when there was no TV on Thursday, which meant that Thursdays were especially well suited to the ísrúntur.
Reykjavík ice cream!
A must visit destination as they have been a favourite of Reykjavík citizens for decades. It is a traditional joint, an institution if you will, which has its own peculiar and delicious blend of ‘gamli ísinn’, mentioned above. It is somewhat watery yet somehow extremely scrumptious! People flock from all over Reykjavík to Ísbúð Vesturbæjar to the tiny store which is still going strong on Hagamelur. It is a tiny bragðarefur heaven!
A relative newcomer to the scene but they have gained a lot of fans in a short amount of time. A countryside ice cream store that recently arrived in the city, it is innovative in terms of candy choices. They offer, for example, a special kind of Kinder egg dip which mixes white chocolate dip and ´lúxusdýfa´ together. Mind-blowing stuff. We know. The helpful ice cream artists (read: teenage girls) will assist you with making your perfect bragðarefur. They do offer anything and everything, though. So, don’t be afraid to try something new!
Oh, Valdís. The current sweetheart of Icelandic ice cream lovers and travellers alike, it offers a selection of delicious gelatos and sorbets. They make a fresh batch of ice cream and waffle forms each day so it is astoundingly fresh. Their sorbets are amazingly flavourful and they have an endless array of funky flavours. Spicy Danish candy Tyrkisk Peber is a favourite of regulars but the salted caramel ice cream is to die for as well. The menu changes each day and they even listen to suggestions from their Facebook friends! Like their page ‘Ísbúðin Valdís’ and try to see if you can influence their menu before you head over!
Vegan? For those of you that are, we have a sweet surprise! The ice cream store Joylato is right down and the ice cream is made in front of your noses, using liquid nitrogen! Joylato offers deeelicious ice cream where you select a nut or almond base and then all the flavours, dips, candies and fruits you can think of. Chocolate ice cream dip, liquorice pebbles, and fresh bilberries? Mmmmmm
A pop-up ice cream store which is situated in recently opened food market Mathöllin á Hlemmi (The Food Market at Hlemmur – a former bus station). They use liquid nitrogen to make the ice cream, and it is completely additive and colouring free. A delicious option for dessert after indulging in street food at the food market. They have a form of meringue ice cream which the ice cream artists burn right in front of your eyes. Delish stuff!
Countryside ice cream
Time to try something new! Efstidalur is a farm situated on the Golden Circle route that is well worth a stop. Not only do they offer fantastic ice cream but it also doubles as a restaurant (the skyr dessert is mouth-watering) and a hotel! You can see the cows that ‚assisted‘ in the making of the ice cream a couple of meters from where the treat is served. Visitors can pet the calves in a special booth and, furthermore, the farm dog is super lively. Ask the staff which flavour is the freshest upon your visit, as they collaborate with nearby farms to ensure that they have the freshest ingredients at all times.
Brynjuís is the backbone of ice cream culture in the north of the country. It is situated in one of the largest towns in Iceland, Akureyri, which has 18,191 residents. Every single one of them swears by Brynjuís! It is not only a beautiful place as it also hides delicious treats such as Brynjuís. Brynjuís is an old rival of Ísbúð Vesturbæjar – an extension of the ever-present countryside vs. capital debate in Iceland. A pro tip from a local: Get Hitt in your bragðarefur. (They just recently invaded the Reykjavík area so head on over there if you are more of a rural person, deep down inside.)
P.S. You can get ice cream in each and every gas station in the country. If you’re craving some soft-serve on a road trip, you’re in luck.
So there you are! Hop into the delicious world of Icelandic ice cream and don’t be afraid to try something new. We guarantee that your taste buds are going to thank you.