The Best Cafés in Reykjavik & Icelandic Coffee Culture

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Where can you find the best  coffee  in Reykjavik? How much coffee does the average Icelander drink a year and what is unique about coffee culture in Iceland?

Where can you find the best coffee in Reykjavik? How much coffee does the average Icelander drink a year, and what is unique about coffee culture in Iceland? Read on to learn everything you need to know about cafés in Iceland.

Welcome to Iceland! Now, where's the coffee... The miracles of the coffee bean have been well-known to mankind since at least the 15th century. Collectively, we have drunk so much of that black, inky beverage that coffee is now the second most widely used commodity on the planet after oil.

In Reykjavik, you will find many great cafés, mainly located downtown, which you can visit while staying in Reykjavik. Despite the sheer amount of coffeehouses, there is no sign of the larger international chains such as Starbucks or Costa Coffee (Dunkin' tried and failed), meaning coffee drinking here is a thoroughly Icelandic experience.

Relaxing at a café is a good way to wind down after going on a day trip from Reykjavik or after exploring the surrounding area on a rental car in Iceland. Most cafés in Iceland also serve light food such as soup or savory pastries, making it a good stop for fuel during your travels.

We also realize that sitting down at a café is about more than just the flavor of the coffee. The atmosphere, location, and overall character of the coffee house play a large part in what makes a satisfying cup of coffee in a pleasant environment. So the cafés we have chosen to highlight in this article all bring something different to the (coffee) table, making them all worth a visit.

A Short History of Coffee in Iceland

A vintage Icelandic ad from the 1930s for O. Johnson & Kaaber coffee

An Icelandic newspaper advertisement for coffee from the 1930s.

The first Icelander confirmed to have tried coffee was Árni Magnússon (born in 1663), a prestigious Icelandic scholar who spent much of his life in Copenhagen, collecting and preserving old Icelandic manuscripts. He was known to send coffee beans to his friends and family back in Iceland, where this mysterious beverage was all but unknown.

However, as global trade opened up and the price of coffee came down, it quickly became popular in Iceland and has been historically central to the culture since the late 18th century. Anyone who has read Independent People—the most famous novel of Icelandic Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness—will remember the wedding celebration scene, where each character enjoys four or five cups of coffee just as international counterparts might celebrate with beer or wine.

A display of coffee beans and powdered milk in Iceland, 1932

A display of coffee and creamers from a merchant's fair in Iceland, 1932.

The popularity of coffee rose alongside the popularity of tea in the 18th century, but as the 19th century went by, coffee quickly started overtaking tea as the hot drink of choice for Icelanders. Reverend Tómas Sæmundsson wrote in 1835 that coffee was so popular among farmers that some of them were willing to starve themselves just to afford it! Now, that's a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but it gives you an idea of how popular it had become.

Today, Iceland is among the top 5 consumers of coffee in the world per capita. It is a staple of Icelandic hospitality to offer guests coffee when they visit. In workplaces around Iceland, coffee is always available for all employees for free, no matter what kind of job it is. Coffee is very important in Iceland, and that's why cafés are important as well, which you will find out while reading this article.

The 10 Best Cafés in Reykjavik

Below is a list of our ten favorite cafés in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik. Some of them are brand new on the scene, while others have been mainstays for decades. We tried to highlight coffee houses that have a unique character, so you will have an incentive to try them all! Of course, the quality of the coffee itself is also important, as well as the pastries, cookies, and other delicious things served at the café.

Café Babalú | The Quirky One

One of the first things people notice about Cafe Babalu is its bright facade.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Viko van Dijk. No edits made.

Café Babalú can be found along Skolavordustigur, the road leading directly to downtown from the iconic church, Hallgrimskirkja. The coffee house is immediately recognizable by its bright yellow and blue paint job and playful artwork on its exterior.

Stepping into Café Babalú is a trip unto itself. Vintage postcards, Icelandic flags, colorful flower baskets, vinyl records, ancient maps, dusty old books, board games, tropical ornaments, and an extensive collection of Flintstones toys. Going to Café Babalú is like stepping into the home—or imagination—of some bizarre and confused grandma with a hoarding problem, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Café Babalú offers a wide variety of beverage options, as well as free refills for black coffee and plenty of choices for cakes and desserts. They also offer a soup of the day and savory crépes if you're looking for a light meal. The café has a somewhat DIY approach to waiting on tables, so don’t be surprised to find yourself pouring your own coffee refills in a colorful mug of your choice. I personally like the one that has the entire periodic table of elements on it!

Reykjavik Roasters | The Connoisseur

Reykjavík Roasters is a fantastic café in Reykjavik, IcelandIf you’re a true connoisseur, Reykjavik Roasters is probably your surest chance to taste some of the most precious coffee in the country. The café was initially founded as Kaffismiðja Íslands in 2008 with an emphasis on providing top-notch small-batch coffee for Icelanders. They rebranded in 2013 and changed the name to Reykjavik Roasters, but keeping that same mark of quality. They now serve as a coffee retailer, café, and educator. 

Reykjavik Roasters continues to invest a lot of time and money in their coffee, picking out the best coffee farms around the world and importing only from the most ecological and humanitarian bean producers on the market. The café imports coffee beans from Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Brazil.

Reykjavik Roasters also offers brewing and roasting workshops, ideal for those who want to improve their barista skills. Currently, they have three locations in Reykjavik, all in the city's central area. All locations have big, tall windows, allowing you to enjoy the view or people-watch while enjoying your nice warm beverage.

Flóran Garden Bistro | The Floral One

Flóran Garden Bistro is a beautiful café located within the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens in IcelandFlóran Garden Bistro is located five minutes drive from downtown in the Reykjavik Botanical Gardens. Situated in and outside a greenhouse, the bistro is strongly inspired by the surrounding beauty and grows much of its own produce in the restaurant garden.

This relationship between the environment and the food culminates in Flóran’s ultimate goal: to provide a unique experience where both parties bring out the best in each other. This has been the establishment principle since it was founded in 1997 and is still going strong.

The bistro is located just opposite Reykjavik Family Park & Zoo, which exhibits Icelandic farm animals and has a number of amusement rides. The bistro’s surroundings make Flóran one of the most aesthetically beautiful places to eat and drink in the city. The company also offers catering services, and readily accepts large groups and parties to enjoy its delicious menu and gorgeous scenery. The one downside of this café is that it's only open during the summer, from May 1st to September 20th.

Kaffitár | The Barista Spot

Kaffitár is a chain of cafés in Reykjavík, offering various delicious espresso drinks and whole sale coffee beansIn 1990, Kaffitár was founded on the principles of compassion and expertise. Since then, they have nurtured the company to become one of the leading coffee providers in Iceland, fostering a strong focus on environmental protection, customer satisfaction, and quality coffee. 

Kaffitár is the closest you can get to a true espresso bar in Iceland, serving frappuccinos and other sweet espresso-based coffee drinks. It's an excellent place to get seasonal coffee drinks, such as the popular pumpkin spice latte in the fall or a cinnamon and almond Christmas drink during the holiday season.

In addition to having four coffeehouses, Kaffitár is also a wholesale provider of coffee, selling beans and ground coffee in a wide variety of flavors. You will find their coffee blends in supermarkets around the country if you want to take some with you and give them to your friends and family.

Mokka Kaffi | The Original

Mokka Kaffi is the oldest café in Reykjavík, founded in 1958 and remaining a staple of the central areaMokka Kaffi is Reykjavik's oldest cafe and remains a great place to enjoy a nice cup of coffee. For decades, it was a destination for artists and writers to come together to discuss their art and write poems, usually in a smoke-filled room, back when smoking inside was still allowed. In fact, it was the first establishment in Iceland to own an espresso machine and the first to serve coffee in the Italian tradition.Mokka kaffi on a beautiful dayFounded in 1958 by husband and wife team, Guðný Guðjónsdóttir and Guðmundur Baldvinsson, little has changed in more than half a century; the red, wooden, and sophisticated decor stays the same, as does the family who owns it. You can even see the outlines of the café's patrons on the walls throughout the decades, as ghostly shapes have become imprinted on the wood panels after years of people rubbing against them (as seen below). It should then come as no surprise that Mokka Kaffi has a loyal customer base, with many of its patrons having kept it as a makeshift second home for decades.

Mokka Kaffi is also a transient exhibition space for local and international artists alike. These exhibitions change every month and can be purchased, making visiting the cafe a new experience each time. Aside from the fantastic artwork, the cafe's classic Icelandic hot chocolate and famous waffles with rhubarb jam and whipped cream are a must-try!

Hús Máls og Menningar | The Music Lover

Hús Máls og Menningar is a great café in downtown Reykjavik with regular live musicThis café is centrally located on the main street of Laugavegur with an emphasis on live music. As soon as you step in, you will notice the place is filled from top to bottom with books. This is no coincidence as "Mál og menning" was one of the major bookstores in Reykjavik for decades. However, since 2021, the building has transformed into one of the best live venues in the city, while keeping its bookish past.

During the day, it's a great place to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the cozy presence of vintage books everywhere. Most of the books are in Icelandic, but upstairs, there is a section with books in English. You will also find chessboards and various games to play with your friend or partner while enjoying the atmosphere.

As the day goes on, it gets more and more crowded in anticipation of the live show in the evening. This café's slogan is "Live music yesterday, today and tomorrow" to illustrate that they don't take nights off. You can reliably go there every night and know there will be a quality live show or event taking place.

If it's not an international artist performing or an Icelandic performer, the house band the Honky Tonks will be playing covers of classic tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, such as ABBA, The Beatles, AC/DC, which guarantees to get everybody in a good mood.

Kaffibrennslan | The Hipster

Kaffibrennslan er a fun café that opens early and closes late, located right in the heart of downtown Reykjavik, IcelandIn this historic house on Laugavegur, built in 1884, you will find the excellent Kaffibrennslan. A big part of its charm is its old-timey interior, with an exposed chimney in the middle of the café and the floorboards creaking as you make your way to your table.

It opens early and closes late, so it's both a good place for a nice hot coffee and croissant in the morning or a glass of wine or beer in the evening. Their waffles are particularly good, you can get one with a classic jam and cream, or go for the Elvisian combination of bacon and syrup.

During the summer, when the sun is shining, they have a nice patio outside where you can sit and enjoy the day. If a gust of wind ruins the mood, no worries. You can step inside their small glass house and enjoy all of the sun, with none of that pesky wind ruining the fun. Even during the winters, it can be fun to have your very own see-through abode in the middle of Laugavegur to do some people-watching.

Te og Kaffi | The Tea (and Coffee) Lover

Te og Kaffi is an excellent chain of coffee houses in Iceland, serving great coffee and a wide variety of teasTe og Kaffi, named after the products it sells, tea and coffee, is Iceland’s largest coffee chain, boasting eight different cafés in the capital region. Since being founded in 1984, Te og Kaffi has tried to stay true to its humble, family-business origins, drawing together experience, innovation, and passion to bring customers the best coffee on the market. Many have even argued that the founding of Te og Kaffi sparked a coffee revolution in Iceland.

Te og Kaffi operates a roastery, as well as selling its own beans and coffee brewing paraphernalia wholesale. By involving themselves in the entire process (minus the actual growing of coffee), Te og Kaffi has proven itself to be one of the most sincere and unique chains in Iceland. In the same building as the roastery, the cafe also runs training courses for in-house baristas and customers looking to further their brewing skills and knowledge.

Like the majority of other Icelandic cafes, Te og Kaffi also serves food, including sandwiches, paninis, croissants, and savory soups.

The Phallic Café & Bistro | The Weird One

One of the most infamous museums in the world can be found in Reykjavik, Iceland: The Phallological Museum, also known as the Penis Museum. What started as a private joke between colleagues has, through the years, grown into an impressive collection that is one of its kind. At this museum, you will find the male specimens of the entire mammalian fauna of Iceland, including whales (and even humans!), as well as over 100 foreign species. Exploring the museum is definitely worth the trip, but that's not all. There's also a fun gift shop located in the museum, with various phallic souvenirs and art pieces for sale, as well as a fantastic café offering coffee, beer, and waffles.

The Phallic Café & Bistro has a nice selection of locally brewed beers on draft, each with its own punny name, referring to the male genitalia, with the handle of the beer tap handle being in the shape of a penis. The latte, of course, comes with a phallic-shaped cream on top of it as well. The waffles are a highlight of this café, which are in the shape of a penis as well (are you starting to get the theme?) and come with delicious chocolate, strawberries, and whipped cream.

If you prefer something more savory and filling, the duck confit comes highly recommended and will keep you satisfied.

Overall, what might be written off as a gimmick is actually a very nice place to enjoy a cup of coffee in a fun environment.

Café Loki | The Traditional One

Café Loki is a lovely coffeehouse and restaurant that serves traditional Icelandic foodLocated across the street from Hallgrimskirkja church in central Reykjavik, you will find Café Loki. Named after the Norse god of mischief, it is appropriately located in the small neighborhood of Ásgarður, a collection of streets in downtown Reykjavik named after the Norse gods. There, you can get typical coffee drinks such as café latte or Americano, but Café Loki's specialty, and what makes it unique, is its excellent selection of traditional Icelandic food.

Don't expect the fine dining affair of the many fancy restaurants in Reykjavik, but rather invite your taste buds to the cozy home of an Icelandic grandma, and enjoy some local comfort food. You will find classics such as rye bread with sliced smoked lamb or "plokkfiskur," which is Icelandic gratinated mashed fish. On a cold day, nothing beats the hearty taste of an Icelandic lamb meat soup, and for the sweet tooth, check out Loki's unique rye bread ice cream.

There is seating outside as well, where you can enjoy the iconic view of Hallgrimskirkja while enjoying a cup of coffee and homely Icelandic cuisine on a sunny day.

Which cafés do you most want to visit? If you have, what was your favorite? Which were your favorite cafés and beverages? Let us know in the comments box below!

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