Iceland is a country known for being hewn from Ice and Fire. Mountainous glaciers erupt in fountains of lava, towering cliffs give way to miles of black sand beaches and everywhere you turn, vistas offer views like nowhere else in the world. In the last decade, Iceland has used its incredible nature to become one of the hottest (and coldest!) travel destinations in the world.
Now that Iceland is on everyone’s map, the luxury market is catching up with a number of name-brand shops on Laugavegur, the main pedestrian-friendly shopping thoroughfare in the capital city of Rekjavik. Though for the distinguished traveler, there remain a few one-of-a-kind souvenirs to be had while you’re in the land of ice and fire. Here are the top 5 souvenirs you can find only in Iceland.
For the distinguished horophile
Almost hidden among the large shops dotting Laugavegur is the J.S. Watch Company. This is one of the smallest watchmakers in the world and the only one in Iceland. Gilbert, the resident watchmaker, has been making watches for decades, giving each carefully assembled piece a personal character and true feeling of exclusivity. All J.S. watches are made with the highest quality Swiss movement, using ETA and Soprod. Each watch is a special limited edition with many series inspired by the Icelandic sagas as well as their national soccer team’s first ever inclusion in the World Cup. For the distinguished horologist, there is no question that a fine time piece from the J.S. Watch Company is a must-have souvenir.
For the music connoisseur
On the corner of Brautarholt and Nóatún just on the outskirts of Rekjavik’s downtown, you will find Örn Custom Guitars. An electric guitar isn’t on everyone’s list to take home for a souvenir, but for the musicians, this is an epic find. Gunnar Örn Sigurðsson, the resident guitar maker since the late 1990s, typically fashions his electrics from mahogany and walnut using Seymour Duncan pickups imported from California.
However, what truly makes an Örn guitar special is that Gunnar personally dips each guitar body into a hot spring that is about 90 degrees Celsius. After its baptismal plunge, hot spring mud is then rubbed into the guitar’s wood while it is still wet, this process transforming it into an alluring work of art. As a pièce de résistance, metal engraving inspired by Viking lore dubbed “Myrnir” (named after Thor’s hammer) is placed decoratively over the wood. Örn guitars are used by bands such as Of Monsters and Men and The Vintage Caravan.
For the fashionista
The Icelandic Lopapeysa (wool sweater) is not only a symbol of national pride, but it is also one of the coziest, most fashionable pieces for a winter wardrobe. Though there are many designs with the most popular and iconic being the star-shaped design around the neck.
Icelandic wool is unique in that it remains unspun and thus is better insulation against the winter cold. Icelanders understand intimately the roll the Lopapeysa had in the economic recovery. Many Icelandic women were able to feed their families throughout the recession because of their knitting facility, something which they continue to use today. In Reyjavik, the Handknitting Association of Iceland on Skólavörðustígur is one of the best place to take home your own piece of this most iconic of Iceland fashions, though you kind find them throughout the country in different small shops and gas stations.
For the beautician
The Blue Lagoon has long been known for its healing properties. Specifically, in the silica found resting at the bottom of its calm, geothermally-heated waters. From around the world, people flock to the Blue Lagoon for a chance to slather its white clay over their face, arms and chest, letting it stiffen into a wonderful and 100% natural beauty mask. Jars of the silica are easily available and sold at the Blue Lagoon as well as many souvenir shops and spas around the country as well as in the airport. The perfect gift to pick up before departure.
For the adventurer
The word “souvenir” comes from the same French word meaning “memory.” Souvenirs, more than anything else, should be a memory of a special time spent in a special place. The best souvenirs are often not a thing, but an experience and Iceland is, more than many other places, a destination to experience. Whether you ride an Icelandic horse through the picturesque countryside with Viking horses or mount a glacier on a personalized expedition, the best souvenir to take from the land of fire and ice is the memory of an unforgettable adventure.