The ultimate hotel guide to Reykjavík
Explore a variety of bases for discovering the Icelandic capital, from design-focused boutique hotels to a rejuvenating retreat next to the famous Blue Lagoon.
The Icelandic capital has long been a jumping-off point for the country’s superlative landscapes, but in recent years Reykjavík has upped its own game. Galleries and museums continue to pop up in the trendy Grandi neighbourhood, there’s an ever-evolving food scene celebrating local ingredients, and the nightlife is famously hedonistic. Despite a crop of new hotels, the city is still trying to catch up with the increased number of visitors, meaning prices in the summer can be sky-high. What is available, however, is of impeccable quality, whether it’s a sleek design hotel or a no-frills backpacker hostel. And wherever you stay, know that the radiators will be warm and the beds soft after a foray into the vast, unspoiled wilderness on the city’s doorstep.
1. 101 Hotel
Best for design gurus
Stepping into 101 Hotel — one of Reykjavík’s top boutique hotels — is like undertaking a whirlwind arts degree. Set within a former 1930s office building, this hotel is unapologetically stylish, with stark, glossy, black-and-white spaces full of sculptures and paintings. The glossy decor extends to the rooms as well, where oak floors add a touch of warmth to the monochrome spaces, and the beds are heavenly. There’s an excellent restaurant and bar with glass ceiling and a cosy fireplace, while the sauna below is ideal for recharging. Rooms: From 40,715ISK (£250).
2. The Reykjavík Edition
Best for gourmets
Cool Nordic style meets the theatrics of designer Ian Schrager at the latest of Marriot’s uber-luxurious Edition hotels, The Reykjavik Edition, which opened last November. Located beside the Harpa Concert Hall, it cuts a dash, with a char-black timber exterior that pays tribute to local lava fields. Rooms feature warm ash wood and woolly throws strewn across sleek furnishings, while the restaurant, Tides, is, ahem, making waves in the city’s culinary landscape. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason’s menu goes big on Icelandic produce and bold pairings, including salmon grilled with habaneros, and rye bread-flavoured ice cream with foraged blueberries. Rooms: From 54,000ISK (£332).
3. Loft Hostel
Best for solo travellers
Keen to meet other travellers? Loft Hostel'’s calendar of events has everything from karaoke and Eurovision parties to vegan food pop-ups and game nights. It all goes down in the expansive common room, which features a buzzing bar and rooftop terrace overlooking one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Interiors, meanwhile, are stylish and flooded with natural light, and the clean, prim dorms pop with a blue-and-red colour scheme. Rooms: Dorm beds from 6,555ISK (£40), bed only; private rooms from 23,275ISK (£143), room only.
4. The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon Iceland
Best for wellness warriors
Located next to the famous Blue Lagoon, The Retreat is the epitome of Nordic chic. Suites are decked out in subdued basalt-blacks and forest-greens, which enhances the views of the lava fields outside, framed through floor-to-ceiling windows. The big selling point is the private Retreat Spa and Retreat Lagoon. After an array of rejuvenating treatments, guests can dine at restaurant Moss, where chef Agnar Sverrisson takes inspiration from the fjords, fields and farms of Iceland for his tasting menus. Rooms: From 189,000ISK (£1,162), B&B.
5. Exeter Hotel
Best for urban explorers
On the edge of the city centre and on Reykjavík’s historic harbour, the Exeter Hotel is an ideal spot for those looking to make the most of the city. The decor has a gritty, industrial feel, but it’s not without its modern comforts. Rooms feature sleek furnishings, striking stone walls contrasted with warm-hued hardwood floors, and abstract pieces of art. Add in a rooftop patio, a sauna, a bakery (Deig) and a restaurant (Le Kock), and you’ve got yourself a great little base from which to explore. Best of all, the reception staff have some excellent insider tips on local events, from gigs to art shows. Rooms: From 22,411ISK (£138).
6. Fosshotel Reykjavík
Best for beer buffs
With beer only legalised in 1989, Iceland has had a lot of catching up to do in the brewing department. No hotel in the city does better beer than centrally located Fosshotel Reykjavík. Iceland’s largest hotel has 320 spacious, light-filled rooms with a business feel, but it’s all about Bjórgarðurinn, Iceland’s holy grail for beer. Featuring the largest collection of Icelandic and international beers in the country, this bar is where you’ll be able to get a handle on Iceland’s thriving beer scene, with food pairings to boot. Indulged a little too much? There’s an onsite gym, too, should you need to sweat out your sins. Rooms: From 16,111ISK (£99).
7. Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel
Best for green travellers
Icelandic couple Linda Jóhannsdóttir and Ellert Finnbogason are behind this lively, 65-room boutique hotel on the fringes of downtown Reykjavík. The decor in Eyja Guldsmeden Hotel departs from the classic Icelandic palette of black and grey and focuses instead on warm wood and rattan furnishings that create a wistful, boho vibe, but its approach to reducing its carbon footprint feels entirely in tune with a country in which sustainability is the norm. The strong eco focus — spanning an organic restaurant and making biofuel from food waste — has earned the hotel group Green Globe sustainable tourism certification. Rooms: From 20,114ISK (£124).
8. Bus Hostel
Best for backpackers
It might be located in a former bus terminal near Reykjavík’s domestic airport, but Bus Hostel makes up for it by being one of the city’s most affordable places to crash. There’s a bit of a hiker vibe to the hostel — muddy boots at the front door, weatherproof jackets strung over bed frames, backpackers swapping stories in the kitchen. There’s also a lounge and an onsite bar, but best of all is that buses leave from right out the front door, making it a breeze to suddenly find yourself in the Blue Lagoon or exploring the Golden Circle. Rooms: Dorm beds from 4,512ISK (£28), bed only; private rooms from 14,500ISK (£89), room only.
9. Hotel Viking
Best for Vikings & Valkyries
Don’t be too alarmed if growling, axe-wielding Vikings board your tour bus — it’s all part of the fun on a prearranged excursion with this unique hotel in Hafnarfjörður, around 20 minutes from the city centre. After being ‘kidnapped’, you’ll be carted off to the restaurant to tuck into a hearty feast of lamb shanks and mead, accompanied by traditional songs. Inside Hotel Viking, artworks combine with fur-lined armchairs and simple wooden furnishings to recreate the Viking age (sans the violence). There’s also a hot tub to enjoy, perfect for a dip after you’ve finished feasting. Rooms: From 17,627ISK (£108), B&B.
10. Kex Hostel
Best for arty types
Occupying a former biscuit factory overlooking the harbour, Kex Hostel is one of Reykjavík’s most fashionable places to stay. The glorious bar, restaurant and general chill-out area is a wonderful space, with walls adorned by large maps, shelves overflowing with books and antiques, and retro leather couches. Upstairs dorm rooms are pared-back yet comfortable, but it’s the social aspect of the restaurant and bar that makes Kex a winner. Regular live gigs mean you’ll be rubbing shoulders with as many locals as visitors; the lively calendar ranges from jazz to hip hop. Rooms: Dorm beds from 3,040ISK (£19), bed only; private rooms from 12,255ISK (£75), room only.
Published in the December 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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