Iceland – the land of Fire and Ice is an exciting country which Tina and I got the opportunity to visit recently on a short break holiday (November 2017) and we can thoroughly recommend it as a tourist destination – even if you are Coeliac!
It’s a relatively short flight (2.5 Hours) from Belfast International Airport to Keflavik Airport which is about 48 Km (30 miles) from the Icelandic Capital, Reykjavik but we didn’t need to worry about hotel transfers as we had arrived as part of a Tour organised through the Belfast Telegraph Travel Department.
We arrived in Iceland around 6.30 pm on the Monday, spent the following three days touring Reykjavik, experiencing the Golden Circle tour and exploring South Iceland before catching an early flight home to Belfast on the Friday morning.
This was a short stay and means we can only report on what we found while taking part in the tours but we reckon it will give you a fairly accurate picture of Gluten Free travel in Iceland in 2017.
Before talking about the Gluten Free scene let me give you some general positives and negatives about Iceland (in our humble opinion!).
- English is widely spoken so you don’t need to struggle with Icelandic!
- It’s a relatively short flight from Northern Ireland (2.5 hrs from Belfast International Airport).
- The people are friendly and welcome Tourists
- Reykjavik is a small city and very clean (as is the rest of Iceland that we saw).
- Lots to see and do and the scenery is superb (even in the snow!).
- The snow and “bad” weather doesn’t seem to prevent the Icelanders running their bus tours or going about their normal business!
- There is lots of Tourist information available in Hotels, attractions etc as well as in the Tourist Offices. www.inspiredbyiceland.com/things-to-do
- Everything is expensive so be prepared – (£5 sterling for a cup of Latte coffee in one café – £1.50 to use a public toilet! That’s roughly 200 ISK so it’s always useful to have a few 100 ISK coins in your pocket)
- When travelling, Icelandic street and place names are quite challenging to say the least!
- The weather can be very variable ranging from sunshine to rain to snow/sleet and all within the same day in Winter. It can be very cold and the wind chill factor makes it feel worse.
- A pair of Crampons to strap on to your boots will be invaluable to help avoid falls when walking on Ice or snow.
- Distances on the tours can be long and the time available at each stop is limited so it can be hard to see all you want to see.
- Don’t self-drive in Winter unless you are really competent driving in snow.
- The island is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity so listen to tour guides etc and if you go to the famous black beach at Reynisfjara (outside VIK on the South Iceland Tour) pay very close attention to your Tour Guide’s warning about “sneaker” waves which have killed unwary or foolish tourists! https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/extremely-dangerous-waves-by-reynisfjara-and-kirkjufjara-in-south-iceland
The Gluten Free Scene
The term “Gluten Free” was understood everywhere we enquired but it has not yet become as mainstream as it has in the rest of Europe.
Some staff had more knowledge than others.
GF Options were very limited in cafes, restaurants and in our Hotel (The Grand).
Cross contamination is a potential problem as not every establishment recognised it as a threat so if you are very gluten sensitive you need to ask plenty of questions or carry food with you.
There was a shortage of GF bread everywhere we visited.
Wrapped products usually had the ingredients listed in several languages (including English) as in the rest of Europe.
If no English is available here are the words to look for on wrappers –
- Wheat – Hveiti
- Barley – Bygg
- Barley Malt –Bygg MaltExtrakt
- Rye – Rúg
- Oats – Hafrar
In some places ordinary Oats were thought to be GF so be careful.
Supermarkets like Krónan stocked some GF products such as Rice Cakes, Nakd Bars and GF Flour but very little of use for a snack on a bus tour. Fortunately any café we stopped at had GF Lamb or Turnip Soup on the menu but again – no GF bread!
Other supermarkets to try in Reykjavik are Bónus, Nettó and Hagkaup.
Locations on Our Trip with Gluten Free Food
- Belfast International Airport
- Fed & Watered – Salad or Ham based meal
- The Strangford – Brownie or Nakd Bars available.
No GF sandwiches at 13.30 – the ones they have go very quickly according to the staff!
- Keflavik Airport –we had no time to find food on our arrival as our Tour Guide was waiting for us and on the way home we tried a couple of cafes in the airport but found no GF food on offer.
- The Blue Lagoon – No GF bread available so Tina had a Skyr Banana Smoothie, a Fruit Salad, a packet of Lay’s Potato Crisps and a cup of tea. (For the record, that came to 2,450 ISK = £18.84)
Grand Hotel, Reykjavik – we stayed in The Grand – (www.grand.is) where they have a Breakfast Buffet with a wide selection of food but, with the exception of Cooked Ham and Hard Boiled Eggs, it was off-limits to Coeliacs because of the risk of cross contamination.
There was also an “Organic” Buffet Table at the opposite side of the breakfast room providing fruit juice, a range of cereals including a GF option and some GF bread which Tina said was like a “brick”. It might have been edible if toasted but there was no facility to toast the bread without risking cross contamination.
The “Organic” breakfast buffet table in The Grand.
We had Dinner one night in the Grand but the GF options on the menu were very limited as were the Dessert options with a Sorbet the only GF one available.
City Tour of Reykjavik
The Pearl is a very interesting building but here again their café had no GF options and a Latte coffee was £5 a cup!
We visited the Whales of Iceland exhibition which had no GF options in their café.
Old Iceland Restaurant in Reykjavik
Nothing marked as GF on the Menu but the Waiting staff (Turkish & Spanish) were able to provide Tina with a GF meal after consulting the Chef. Lovely meal but the Crème Brulee dessert came as GF but partly coated with toasted Oats. The Spanish Waiter didn’t know that Oats can be a problem for Coeliacs.
Cafés etc on the Golden Circle Tour
We only had time to go and see part of the Gullfoss Waterfall before boarding our Tour bus again so we have no information about the menu. However, here’s a link to the Café –
At Geysir we had time for lunch and found Lamb Soup in the Kantina Café which the Chef confirmed was GF but again, no GF bread.
The other Café in the Geysir complex – Supa – had Brownies and a Dime Bar cake but the Dime Bar cake was sitting uncovered on the bottom shelf of the display cabinet leaving it open to cross contamination from crumbs falling from the top shelf.
Shops etc on South Iceland Tour
At the Black Beach Café I had the Lamb Soup and Tina tried the Turnip Soup which was confirmed as GF but again, no GF bread!
Supermarkets in Reykjavik – Krónan
We spent a short time in one branch of Krónan in Reykjavik where they sold GF Flour, Rice Cakes, Potato Crisps and some Schar products but nothing of great use to someone looking for a snack on a tour bus.
Other useful websites:
- We used this webcam to check up on the weather in Reykjavik: www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/reykjavikurtjorn/
- Gluten Free themed Websites:
- General Icelandic Websites: