Fuel Your Hike with These Delicious Icelandic Desserts

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Hikers climbing up to a viewpoint
Hiking is a hungry work

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Hiking is hungry work, and eating is one of the best things we do on the trail, as we all know. But don’t worry; Iceland is famous for its tasty, energy-giving snacks that will power you up to the most challenging ascents.

In this blog, we’ll navigate you through some of the tastiest Icelandic desserts to take on the trail, across a glacier, to the top of a summit, or any of the adventurous activities Icelandic Mountain Guides offers.

So what’s the deal with Iceland’s desserts? And why choose sweet snacks for a trek? First of all, Iceland’s famous cakes, sweets, and pancakes will give you a quick boost of energy when you’re flagging on an ascent.

They are easy to pack, portable, don’t take up too much space in your rucksack, and are quick to consume when you need to keep moving - especially with Iceland’s famously challenging weather. Knowing you’ve promised yourself a delicious sweet snack at the top of the next rise is for sure a great motivator.

And a packet of Nammi pick ‘n mix sweets in your pocket will spur you on when you must keep moving. Pancakes with skyr and fruit make for a great celebratory meal when you reach your goal for the day, while Iceland’s much-loved deep-fried doughnuts - kleinur - are great mid-morning or afternoon when you’re having a coffee stop. When the going gets tough, have a traditional Icelandic cake like vínarterta or an energy-boosting Icelandic chocolate muffin, Súkkulaðibollur.

What could be a more perfect moment than when you pause for a well-deserved break and drink in some of the best scenery worldwide while eating one of Iceland’s famous desserts?

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Icelandic Skyr

How far back in history do you have to go to find the origins of skyr in Iceland? Well, if you go to the National Museum of Iceland, you can spot three jars filled with a grey substance, a leftover meal of skyr from over a thousand years ago.

It may not look very appetising in the museum, but don’t let that put you off. Thought Greek yoghurt was good? You need to try skyr! The extremely tasty dessert, brought to Iceland by the vikings in times of yore, is as popular today in Iceland as it was back then.

So what exactly is skyr? It looks like yoghurt - even tastes a bit like yoghurt, but it’s actually made from pasteurised skimmed or low-fat milk. The repeated draining process makes it particularly thick and creamy- in short, delicious.

While this ancient Norse dish has largely disappeared from other Scandinavian countries, you’ll find it all over Iceland, from grocery stores and petrol stations to the dessert menus of cafes and restaurants. Skyr served with fruit, jam and oats for breakfast will set you up for a day of hiking. It’s also great for bringing up the mountain with you as it’s high in protein but low in sugar.

Rather than giving you a short sugar rush, its goodness and nutritional value will sustain you to the top. Skyr comes in various flavours, from plain, coffee and vanilla to peach, blueberry, cloudberry, strawberry and raspberry.

Buying it in Iceland, you know you’re buying authentic Icelandic skyr, which is, of course, the best. Skyr is also available in a convenient pouch format: easily portable and re-sealable for handy on the go.

Icelandic skyr in hiker-friendly poach form
Photo: www.iseyskyr.com
Icelandic skyr in hiker-friendly poach form


Vínarterta is the Icelandic version of Viennese Torte. Adopted by the Danes, the Austrian ingredients were either too expensive for Icelanders or were not readily available, especially the fresh fruit Austrians used in their recipes. Instead, Icelanders created their own version with more accessible ingredients, especially dried plums - prunes - which could easily be shipped to Iceland and preserved.

So, what exactly is vínarterta? It’s a distinctive-looking dessert with seven cake layers with the prune (dried plum) spread between each layer. The sticky layers of fruit between the drier cake are a delicious combo and a filling one - the perfect energy-giving snack when hiking in Iceland’s uplands. It’s dense, filling and easy to pack. You’ll find it in most bakeries, supermarkets and cafes in Iceland.

The Icelandic version has its origins in the 19th century. It has a special place in the hearts of Icelanders, particularly for Icelandic descendants living in North America wishing to hold onto their Icelandic heritage. Through good times and bad, vínarterta has been associated with treasured memories.

Also known as ‘Icelandic Celebration Cake’, vínarterta is baked to mark special occasions, including weddings, birthdays and significant holidays such as Christmas. Icelanders and their descendants abroad stick by and large to the 19th-century recipe - at least, that’s what they claim. Some may add cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, wine or even vodka, but there’s no question it’s the combination of almond cake or a more buttery shortbread and thick prune layers make it unique.

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Kleinur - Icelandic Doughnuts

Versions of Kleinur are found all over Scandinavia, but Iceland has its own take on the slightly sweetened fried dough rolls, usually served with coffee. And unlike the rest of Scandinavia, kleinur are not a Christmas speciality; Icelanders love to eat their version of doughnuts all year round.

This extremely popular snack is found everywhere nowadays in Iceland, from service stations and grocery stores to cafes and restaurants. You could say Icelanders love them!

Kleinur have been eaten in Iceland for around two centuries. They are sometimes called doughnuts but they are quite different from the American-style doughnuts in consistency: dense, bready and less sweet with the flavour of cardamom and vanilla coming through.

Sometimes they are covered in chocolate, occasionally with caramel or powdered sugar. Mostly they have no glaze. In America, they are called ‘angel wings’ as the knotted mixture has the appearance of celestial beings.

The dough is cut into diamond shapes with a kleinujárn, a cutter used especially for the job, then a thin slit is cut into the middle of the diamond shape, one end pulled through to make the distinctive kleina form. The mixture of flour, sugar, butter, raising agents, spice, and kefir (a bit like buttermilk) is then deep-fried.

Kleinur are extremely more-ish at the best of times, but after a hard slog up a mountain, they taste divine! Even better, they’re light, portable and filling, perfect for a day out in the hills. Before heading into the uplands, you can stock up from supermarkets like Bónus and Krónan.

They taste even better, however, if you grab freshly made Kleinur from one of Iceland’s excellent bakeries nearer to your hike. There are three branches of Almar Bakari along the ring road in Hveragerði, Selfoss and Hella, with kleinur on offer.

Here you can find the recipe if you'd like to make Icelandic doughnuts yourself.

Icelandic doughnuts on a plate
Kleinur alias Icelandic doughnuts

Pönnukökur - Icelandic pancakes

Very similar to British pancakes or crepes, the basic batter is made with flour, sugar, butter, eggs and milk. It’s the filling that sets it apart from the British version; rather than using lemon and sugar, Icelanders eat it plain or with some slight sugar filling on the go.

But you can add fillings such as jam - often rhubarb, blueberry, and whipped cream. Rhubarb grows well in Iceland, and blueberries grow in profusion in parts of Iceland in the summer - the perfect excuse for Icelanders to get the pan out.

So you’re on your way to Hveragerdi to hike up to the hot springs of the geothermal river? Drop into Litla Kaffistofan on the ring road between the capital and the hot springs to fuel up with pancakes at the petrol station and diner - if you’ll excuse the pun. It has some of the best pönnukökur going.

Making your way to the Laugavegur Trail? Again Litla Kaffistofan is on the way - or drop into the N1 petrol station in Hvolsvöllur closer to your destination.

Whether you feast on pönnukökur at a sit-down breakfast or pack the pancakes into your rucksack, they will help power your hike. These pancakes are a great filling snack to keep your strength up. Moreover, they’re light and versatile.

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Nammi, Iceland’s pick ‘n mix are the nation’s favourite sweets, whether you’re a child or a child-at-heart. They’re the perfect treat for getting you up the mountain.

Nammidagur - or nammi day - is synonymous with Saturday when Hagkaup, a well-known supermarket store in Iceland, offers 50% off all pick ’n mix. It also fits with the dentist’s recommendation that you only eat nammi once a week and clean your teeth straight after! Yes, the pick ‘n mix is packed with sugar, but the sweets will give you an energy rush to help you up those more challenging ascents.

Nammi - meaning something sweet or delicious - includes a variety of sweets, from chocolate bars and caramel to gum sweets and mints. Liquorice usually comes in some shape or form. Wherever you find yourself in Iceland, you should have no problem stocking up on supplies: Nammi is sold in grocery stores, petrol stations and sweet stores throughout Iceland.

Colorful pick ‘n mix sweets
Icelandic pick ‘n mix "nammi"


Muffins - or cupcakes - come in all sorts of delicious flavours, from salted caramel and pecan to blueberry, banana and nugget. Súkkulaðibollur - chocolate muffins are the ultimate in delicious decadence. They’re the perfect energy-giver when traversing a lava field, glacier or tackling a challenging trail.

Light and filling, they won’t add much weight to your rucksack either. Don’t miss the muffins at Skool Beans Micro Rooster, an old bus with a log burner, the occasional resident cat and a mix of outdoor and indoor seating on the edge of Vik.

The Icelandic Hjónabandssæla - Blissful marriage cake
Photo: www.lifepatisserie.com
Hjónabandssæla - Blissful marriage cake


So here’s the thing: if you can make hjónabandssæla, you’re set for a blissfully happy married life. Indeed the cake means ‘wedded bliss’, also known as ‘happy wedding cake’ or ‘marital bliss cake’. But don’t worry, you don’t have to wait for a wedding, and you can eat it anytime, regardless of your marital status.

Hjónabandssæla is a mouth-watering combination of buttery oaty pastry combined with blueberry or rhubarb paste or thick jam - a culinary marriage made in heaven you could say. It also fits well with a day in the Icelandic uplands: filling, hearty and very satisfying, it will give you the energy to conquer that glacier or mountaintop.

It looks pretty as well. The top is sort of latticed with oaty crumble and is served again with Icelanders favourite hot drink - coffee. It comes as a pie to share or as individual tartlets. It’s usually served with whipped cream - another favourite Icelandic ingredient.

Like vínarterta, it’s thought the origins of hjónabandssæla finds its roots in Austrian cuisine - specifically Linzertorte and eventually made its way to Iceland via Denmark. Check out the ‘marriage cake’ at the colourful Brauð & Co bakery in Reykjavik or Cafe Vatnajökull at the base of the national park (with all its great trekking opportunities) on the ring road.

Here is how to bake your own Hjónabandssæla.

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And your Bonus: the Icelandic Ice cream

The best of all Icelandic desserts is something you can't take with you on the trail but after a long day of adventuring, there's nothing better than indulging in a delicious scoop of Icelandic ice cream. It's the perfect way to cool off and refuel for your next adventure!

This creamy treat is not just a tasty delight, but a cultural icon: locals eat it all year round whatever the weather!  In Iceland, where the cows roam free and graze on lush green pastures, the milk they produce is of the highest quality, resulting in ice cream that is rich, velvety, and bursting with flavour. But this is not your ordinary ice cream; it's an adventure waiting to happen!

The unique flavours of Icelandic ice cream are not to be missed, from classic vanilla and chocolate to adventurous options like liquorice, skyr, and even seaweed. And let's not forget the toppings! You can choose from an array of delicious toppings like fresh fruits, crunchy nuts, and sweet sauces.

So whether you're a daring explorer or a playful adventurer, Icelandic ice cream is a must-try experience. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds and embrace the wonders of Iceland's culture and cuisine with each lick of this icy treat.

A wall in Reykjavík with "It"s tome fore ice cream" written on it
Ice cream "street art" in Reykjavík

So energise yourself with a hearty breakfast of skyr, fruit and pancakes before your hike - they’ll set you up for the day. Before setting out on your hike, grab some of Iceland’s best-loved sweet snacks: Vínarterta cake, Kleinur deep-fried doughnuts or chocolate muffins. Stick a packet of Icelandic pick ‘n mix sweets in your pocket - nammi - to encourage you up the toughest rise.

Pick out and book your favourite hike with Icelandic Mountain Guides. When you’ve done that, grab a pot of Icelandic skyr from the supermarket and enjoy a ‘taste of the Icelandic mountains’ before you go. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about hiking in Iceland with our blogs and comprehensive guides to the uplands.

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