Get out of that puffin shop! There are so much more to Icelandic souvenirs than plastic horned helmets and stuffed animals (I’m not knocking the stuffed animals – if there was a collective noun for polar bears then that’s what I’d have), you just have to look past the “Ég tala ekki íslensku” tshirts. What are the best souvenirs from Iceland? Here are my recommendations for Icelandic gifts that your friends and family will just love!
The traditional Icelandic sweater or lopapeysa
Loppi is unspun wool, peysa is a jumper. The singular is lopapeysa, and plural lopapeysur and Leifur Eiriksson was definitely not wearing one of these on his Vinland voyages – they were actually only invented in the middle of the last century when nationalistic design was in vogue. Auður Sveinsdóttir Laxness, the wife of the Nobel Prize author Halldór, is credited with introducing this to the Icelandic wardrobe, either inspired by Greenlandic national dress or a book of Native South American design. Whatever, just about every Icelander has one of these. Probably knitted by their granny who doesn’t need fancy patterns or measurements or stuff. They are durable. Last forever (possibly with darning). Are ridiculously warm. And – best of all – don’t need to be washed. They are slightly water-resistant due to the oils in the wool too. The best places to buy genuine handknitted ones are in The Handknitting Association of Iceland shop, Kolaportið Flea Market or the Icelandic Red Cross. Outside Reykjavík try any small shops stocked by local women. Yes, they are expensive but if you think of the hours that go into them, and minimum wage being about 1500 ISK – they’re actually not. I have three and I live in them. I want to make one myself at some point but it’ll probably take me months and a lot of swearing.
If you are anyway handy with a set of needles you can also download patterns online, buy them in any supermarket or wool shop like Þingborg or Hespa across the country, or try a workshop if you need a bit of help! If you’re abroad you can even order Lopi (affiliate link) direct from Alafoss on Amazon.
This link is an affiliate link. This means if you click on the Amazon link and purchase an item, you are not charged any extra, but I get a small commission that helps me stay in business. I only link to products I have tested myself and am not paid to advertise these unless stated. You can read more about my policies here.
66º North and Cintamani outdoor gear
Like just about everything in Iceland this stuff is expensive (I’ve been wanting one of 66º North’s Paddington Bear-type retro rain jackets for months but it’s 17000 ISK!) but it’s also pretty good and durable. Head to the 66º North or Cintamani outlet stores where you can pick up a bargain for up to 30% of the original price. Still expensive but totally justifiable I reckon.
If anyone wants to get me this that would be just fine!
Ok, I am a bit biased on this as I make fishskin bracelets and fish-scale earrings (available in Ireland at Criostal na Rinne in Co Waterford – there’s my plug). But I do own a few pieces that I actually bought, and there’s some really funky horsehair jewellery in Kirsuberjatréð, gorgeous silver stuff at Aurum, seaweed beadwork (below) or check out my friend Ásta’s Norse chainmail designs.
Forget the expensive Blue Lagoon mud masks – there’s a couple of brands like Soléy and Purity Herbs that are cute, affordable and effective and I use daily to keep me reasonably human looking in all this wind and cold. You can pick these up just about anywhere in Iceland but also at the dutyfree in Keplavík and save a few krona.
Icelandic food and drink
Hopefully you’ve tried out some local cuisine when you visited and you want to bring a taste of Iceland home. In Keplavík duty-free you can stock up on Brennevín, Skyr, Reyka Vodka, Icelandic beers, hákarl, and more. If you’re buying liquorice (though I’ve no idea why anyone would want to and I cannot understand Icelander’s obsession with this stuff but hey, that’s just me) or Nói Síríus or Omnom chocolate (this I understand completely) then pick it up in a supermarket – it’s miles cheaper. The nicely packaged bars with photos of Iceland taste the exact same as the regular ones. Icelandic beers also go down well – just be careful you don’t go over the airlines’ super strict weight limits or you’ll have to drink the excess – darn.
Sheepskin rugs and stools
I. Want. These.
The Fuzzy foot-stool by Sigurður Már Helgason are gorgeous, as are any of the sheepskins or reindeer skins that will keep you warm in the winter you can find in a lot of souvenir shops though I recommend Atlantic Leather in the north, Iceland’s only tannery and a great place to pick up fishskin too.
Update 2020: I have actually tried my hand at a few more of these! You can see how it went when I made an Icelandic lopapeysa, and now I also have a fluffy sheepskin stool, so you can also try making these yourself.