Destinations · Things to Do · Iceland
October 18, 2022 Words: Katie Altman

Bring Back the Best of Iceland

From sweaters to licorice to spirits, find your favorites.

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Iceland is the land of fire and ice. But it’s also the land of artisanal products and unforgettable finds. It’s no wonder more and more visitors are arriving in Iceland with a “must-buy” list in addition to a “must-see” list.

Of course, it’s hard to leave Iceland without one of their iconic wool sweaters, known as lopapeysa. The colorful patterns on the round yoke, first popularized in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, are said to be inspired by the traditional Greenlandic woolens. You'll see this quintessential wardrobe staple everywhere you go, and for good reason — Iopapeysa are the perfect combination of warm, comfortable, and stylish.

A longtime symbol of national identity, Icelandic lopapeysa are distinct to the country for several reasons. First, designers often incorporate Icelandic flora and fauna into the yoke pattern. Second, the wool fibers from Iceland’s sheep have two layers — an outer layer called tog that helps keep you dry, and another called pel that helps keep you warm. That unique quality is the result of the sheep’s evolution in isolation for over a thousand years. Just be sure to check labels carefully to ensure that your sweater was made in Iceland and is 100% Icelandic wool, also known as lopi. And if you know any knitters back home, consider getting them an Icelandic knitting kit so they can make their own lopapeysa.

Aside from sweaters, Icelanders are truly wild about licorice — from the chocolate-covered variety to licorice shoelaces and even salty licorice. In fact, 75% of all candy in Iceland includes licorice. It’s so popular that you can find it virtually everywhere, in food shops big and small around the country. Keep your eye out for licorice almonds, licorice marzipan and even licorice salt, if you’re looking for more unusual gifts to take home. If you’re not sure you’re ready for Icelandic licorice, start with one that’s milk chocolate-coated. You might soon find yourself going for the stronger stuff!

Speaking of candy, there’s an Icelandic chocolate that’s worth stowing in your carry-on for the trip home. Omnom is an artisanal bean-to-bar chocolate maker based in Reykjavik. Owners Kjartan Gíslason and Óskar Þórðarson use only single-origin beans and pride themselves on the brand’s sourcing and sustainability. You’ll find unusual flavors like Black N’ Burnt Barley and Lakrís + Raspberry (there’s licorice again), special seasonal flavors and Krunch, an addictive chocolate malt ball.

To accompany all that licorice and chocolate, you might want to buy some Icelandic spirits such as Brennivín, the country’s national drink. Brennivín roughly translates to “burning wine,” but it’s not wine at all, it’s an unsweetened schnapps made from potato mash and flavored with caraway. It’s also commonly called The Black Death, a nickname from the days when the drink was put on the market in 1935 following a partial repeal of prohibition and has a whopping alcohol percentage of 37.5%. Its harsh-looking label was designed to make the drink less than appealing, but it only grew more popular, and remains so today. Brennivín is served very cold on its own or used as a replacement for gin or rye in cocktails. Give it a (small) try at one of Reykjavik’s wonderful restaurants or cafes, such as Tapas Barrin or Café Loki. If Brennivín is your drink, you’ll definitely want to check if you can bring home a bottle of Black Death for yourself or a friend.

Beyond Brennivín, look for Reyka Vodka, which is made from arctic water filtered through a lava field and is considered by many to be one of the world’s leading vodkas. Plus, it’s produced entirely with volcanic geothermal energy, so you can feel good about your vodka purchase. For a different kind of green, pick up some Fallagrasa Moss Schnapps, which is flavored with Icelandic moss and even has a piece in the bottle. Lastly, Björk (no, not that Björk) is a relatively new entry to the Icelandic liquor scene. It’s made from birch (björk) sap, giving it a delicious woodsy taste.

Other Icelandic gift ideas to bring home include local salts (from black lava salt to kelp salts and more), the popular dried fish called "hardfiskur" and handmade fine jewelry inspired by the dramatic landscapes.

It’s never to early to start making your shopping list or planning your Seabourn ultra-luxury voyage to Iceland.

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Laugavegur shopping street
Omnom Chocolate, Reykjavik
Bottle of Brennivín, clear, unsweetened schnapps

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