Reykjavik is a city experiencing a tourist boom. The capital of Iceland is a popular short-break destination in its own right but with airlines such as Icelandair and Wow offering it as a stopover destination on routes to and from the US, visitor numbers continue to rise. Hotel rates in summer are high – we’ve quoted lowest/winter rates – but in line with a government-backed initiative to promote the country as a year-round destination, prices do fall outside of peak “land of the midnight sun” months. To cope with increasing demand, many hotels are adding extra rooms and improving facilities, while a US company has revealed plans for the country’s first five-star hotel on a harbour-front site close to Reykjavik’s distinctive Harpa concert hall.
One of the newer additions to Reykjavik’s accommodation options, Alda is a stylish, contemporary hotel where the Nordic-inspired design will have you in a quandary over whether to luxuriate in your spacious room or idle in the stylish bar-lounge-lobby area. The hotel, which opened in June 2014, benefits from a prime site – at the eastern end of the city’s main shopping and nightlife street, Laugavegur – and many of its 65 rooms also have views over Faxaflói bay and to Mount Esja. The rooms have wooden floors, deep, warm colours and a minimalist layout – including bedside Anglepoise-style lamps – and powerful walk-in showers. A neat touch, for Reykjavik newcomers especially, is the smartphone loaned to you at check-in loaded with apps to help you explore the city and to make free local calls. There’s even a barber’s shop in the lobby, if you find it’s time for a trim.
• Doubles from £117 room-only, Laugavegur 66-68, +354 553 9366, aldahotel.is
Not only is Kex one of the smartest hostels you’ll come across, it’s also one of the coolest places to hang out in Reykjavik – whether that’s listening to bands playing in the bar (or on the terrace), eating in the superb bar or relaxing in the lounge. The hostel has room for 142 guests, including three women-only dorms, but entering it requires a leap of faith: the sign outside is minimal and the stairwell is barren. For the owners, this bafflement is a deliberate ploy to enhance the wow factor of reaching the lively reception and bar. The look of Kex is, in part, down to Hálfdan Lárus Pedersen, a film production designer. His industrial-led design, with flashes of humour, is maintained throughout: pinball machine displays are room indicators, war bunker lights illuminate corridors and school lockers act as storage in rooms. Lamps, desks and signs come from the hostel owners’ trips across the US. The accommodation is spotless, spacious and idiosyncratic. It’s also adaptable because dorms, family rooms and doubles can be reconfigured to suit guests’ needs. And regardless of whether you’re in a private double or a 16-bed dorm, all receive the same high-quality mattresses and bedding.
• Doubles from £80, 16-bed dorm from £15pp, 10-bed dorm £16.50, six-bed dorm £24.50, four-bed dorm from £34, Skúlagata 28, +354 561 6060, kexhostel.is
Art is a core appeal of this family-run hotel on a peaceful residential street near the city centre. It boasts the largest privately owned art collection in Iceland and has more than 400 paintings, installations and sculptures, many from prominent Icelandic artists. No two rooms feature the same artworks, though they do boast similar classic coffee-and-cream colour schemes (with dashes of colour) and sumptuously comfy beds. There is a range of accommodation (single, double, superior, and suites with fantastic leather armchairs and sofas) among the 41-room assortment and some have views over Tjörnin (the lake on the fringe of downtown). The dark, decadent-feeling bar, intimate lounge and private dining area plus friendly staff and a fine-dining restaurant add to the warm embrace of what is a decidedly old-school gem.
• Doubles from £105 room-only, Bergstaaastrati 37, +354 552 5700, holt.is
Its austere, grey, pebble-dashed exterior may not be that welcoming but venture inside the Arnarhvoll and you’re en route to a treat. The hotel’s top floor is home to the Sky Lounge and Bar (open to all) and its views of the adjacent Harpa concert hall, Faxaflói bay and nearby mountain range are superb. You can grab a light bite, main meal or a cocktail and revel in the changeable Reykjavik weather; and should the sun arrive there’s a patio to check out, too. The hotel staff are chatty and affable; double rooms can be a bit snug but are bright, minimally designed, and if you have a sea view you’ve plenty to gaze out at. Arnarhvoll’s rate includes a buffet breakfast and the hotel has a sauna and hot tub in its spa area.
• Doubles from £110 B&B, Ingólfsstræti 1, +354 595 8540, centerhotels.com
The building that houses Apotek was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson – the former state architect of Iceland – in 1917 and was once a popular pharmacy and local landmark. Before opening its doors to guests in December 2014 it also served time as a restaurant and a club. Now it’s a tasteful boutique hotel, owned by the Kea group that also owns the nearby Hotel Borg, and has 45 rooms, as well as an air of refinement and relaxation. Lovely black-and-white photos of the building and locale adorn bedroom walls painted in muted, peaceful tones; the beds are divinely comfortable with stacks of plump cushions and individual duvets (a popular offering in Iceland). Pristine white tiling is a signature-style in bathrooms, as are the illuminated mirrors and invigorating Icelandic birch-scented gels and soaps. Breakfast, which costs €18 extra, is served in the independently run restaurant-bar (apotekrestaurant.is) – where you can sample (and buy) tempting macarons, chocolates and desserts made by award-winning pastry chef Axel Thorsteinsson.
• Doubles from £130 room-only, Austurstræti 16, +354 512 9000, keahotels.is/apotek-hotel
The location may not be glamorous, being next to the city’s bus depot, but Hlemmur Square is on Laugavegur and close to the city’s nightlife. Designed by hotelier Klaus Ortlieb, it is perfect for the indecisive traveller because it’s a hotel and a hostel (and will soon open four apartments to rent, each sleeping 4-8). The 18 spacious hotel rooms occupy the fifth floor, boast king-size beds and feature vibrant splashes of colour in pillows, throws and cushions to complement the mostly neutral tones. Best of all, many include a terrace or balcony. The hostel rooms – including two women-only dorms – are on the third and fourth floors and are cosy (as opposed to cramped), scrupulously clean and repeat the hotel’s design touches. The kitchen areas are open to hostel and hotel guests, and there is a craft beer and cocktail bar in the lobby. Bonus points, too, for serving breakfast from 7.30am all the way to 11am.
• Hotel doubles from £120 room-only, hostel doubles from £74, dorm rooms from £15, Laugavegur 105, +354 415 1600, hlemmursquare.com
This four-star, 50-room hotel on quiet Odinstorg Square is perfect for those who want a touch of calm but don’t want to be miles from the action. Even if you don’t staying here, you should consider a trip to its exceptional restaurant, Snaps. Head chef Stefan Melsted’s bistro is a foodie hotspot serving baked salmon, beef bourguignon, steak bernaise and the catch of the day. The hotel rooms have clean, neutral colours and plenty of home-comfort amenities, although some standard doubles are on the small side. The management is proud of attracting regulars and allowing them to book favourite rooms and suites, as well as touches such as traditional room keys instead of swipecards. Odinsve has recently added a family room that can double as a business suite, and four luxury apartments in a nearby building.
• Doubles from £117 room-only, Thorsgata 1, Odinstorg Square, +354 511 6200, hotelodinsve.is
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina
It may not be in the heart of downtown but the Reykjavik Marina has a great location by the harbour, close to where the whale- and puffin-watching tour boats depart from. It’s also opposite an impressive-looking dry dock known as Slippur, which gives part of its name to the hotel’s fun, friendly and relaxed restaurant, Slippbarinn. Staff spin vinyl from local store Lucky Records and the menu has a catch of the day, as well as tasty, pizza-alternative, flatbreads. The rooms are bright and colourful and have lovely individual touches, such as Icelandic maps or fishermen’s knot designs on the walls. There’s a sense of humour, too, with fun language guides in the rooms, and even the smoker’s hut is known as Smoky Bay – the literal translation of Reykjavik. The hotel is adding 39 new rooms, due to open in June, as well as a refurbished fitness centre.
• Doubles from £99 room-only, Tryggvagata, +354 444 4000, icelandairhotels.com
On pretty Austurvöllur Square and opposite the Althingi (the Icelandic parliament), the grand art-deco Hotel Borg has been the prime destination for visiting dignitaries since it opened in 1930. The hotel was developed by Jóhannes Jósefsson – a wrestler and strongman who, 100 years ago, toured the US with the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth circus. His dream of a luxury hotel in the city centre is maintained at a property that is as stylish as it is expensive. The rooms are sumptuous affairs, with polished wooden floors, huge beds, immaculate bathrooms, high-end entertainment systems and a continuation of the art-deco theme in lamps, desks and chairs. The hotel is adding another 43 rooms, plus new gym and spa facilities, which are set to open on 1 September 2015. If you don’t fancy the cost of what is undoubtedly a splurge stay, you can sample the glamour at its cafe-restaurant, itself a popular meeting place.
• Doubles from £200 room-only, Posthusstraeti 11, +354-551 1440, hotelborg.is
Stracta Hotel Hella
Nature and some of Iceland’s most dramatic landscapes are right on your doorstep at this hotel co-owned by former Portsmouth FC footballer Hermann Hreiðarsson. While it’s just over an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, Stracta is a practical alternative to city-based accommodation: it’s an easy ride on Route 1 back to the capital for attractions and nightlife, while being in the village of Hella gives you a head start on tourist coaches visiting the nearby Golden Circle hotspots of Geysir, Thingvellir national park and Gullfoss. The hotel’s low-rise accommodation blocks spread out from a main “house” that has a cafe bar to relax in and an upstairs buffet-style restaurant with views of mountains and glaciers. The great-value rooms, which feature hardwood floors, Nordic design and natural colours, range from standard twins and doubles to studios and suites. Some rooms have their own hot tub, but if yours doesn’t you can take a dip in the communal hot tubs and saunas in the delightful hotel courtyard-garden.
• Doubles from £80 room-only, 4 Rangárflatir, 850 Hella, +354 531 8010, stractahotels.is
• The trip was provided by Wow air (0118 321 8384, wowair.co.uk) which flies Gatwick to Reykjavik on Monday, Thursday and Sunday from £49 one-way. The airline is launching flights to Washington via Reykjavik on 8 May from £99 one-way.
• Iceland’s people, wildlife and scenery is the subject of Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire, broadcast at 9pm, Friday, 1 May, BBC2
• This article was amended on 30 April 2015 to adjust the approximate amount of time it takes to drive between Hella and Reykjavik.
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