I recently got back from a sojourn to Iceland. Known for its glaciers and volcanos, Iceland is often referred to as the land of fire and ice. Thanks to these natural wonders (and crazy deals from airlines like Wow and Icelandair) it seems like these days Iceland is a destination on just about everyone's lips. According to Iceland Review, 2.3 million tourists are expected to visit the island nation in 2017. That's a 30% increase from 2016. This boom can be seen throughout the city - with construction and cranes quite literally around every corner in capital city Reykjavik. The country is doing it best to keep pace with its heightened profile and influx of visitors.
Iceland's design future is unfolding in the streets before us, but it was glimpse at the country's design legacy which is most illustrative. From old rural churches situated in the shadow of moss-covered volcanic hillsides, to the colorful corrugated metal row homes in Reykjavik's city center, Iceland is filled with landscapes and silhouettes to delight the senses.
I decided to put together a travel guide to the Iceland. I’m sharing some of my favorite spots across the Iceland so you can use this post as a Iceland travel guide for a trip of your own to this gorgeous nordic island of fire and ice.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb - There are no shortage of incredible homes to be had within walking distance to Reykjavík's city center. I would start here. Just make sure you score an airbnb with a sauna or hot tub. That shouldn't be too difficult a task given the country's chilly temps and the sauna culture that is prevalent throughout Nordic Countries. When it comes to Airbnb-ing versus hotels, keep in mind that Iceland is an incredibly pricey city - if you're looking to save resources anywhere, lodging is your best bet.
101 Hotel - As a member of Design Hotels and recently featured on Surface Hotels you know that Reykjavik's 101 Hotel comes with a certain design pedigree. It's where rustic meets refined. An aesthetic which is expertly defined by the use of an achromatic color palette for its interiors (something I noticed a lot around Iceland).
WHERE TO EXPLORE
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash - There's something so majestic about the wreckage of this white DC-7 aircraft amid the desolate black sand landscape of Sólheimasandur beach. As the story goes, in 1973 the US Navy aircraft ran out of gas over Iceland and crashed on the island's south coast. Everyone on board survived, and the wreckage has loomed amid this barren, windsweps landscape for the last 40 odd years.
PRO TIP: Visiting during summer? Take advantage of Iceland's midnight sun and hit up Sólheimasandur late to better capture photos without worrying about the crowds. Also, be prepared for a 45 minute walk to and from the plane with no bathroom in sight.
Hallgrimskirkja Church - Perched on a hilltop above Reykjavik's city center is the Hallgrimskirkja Church. It was designed in 1937 by architect Guðjón Samúelsson's. The building's design is meant to be reminiscent of Iceland's trap rocks and their stratification (see photo below). At 244 feet tall it is is one of Iceland's tallest structures. Visit the clock tower at the top for an epic view of the city.
Kirsuberjatreð - This design collective run by 11 female makers is situated in Reykjavik's city center. Featuring goods that range from ceramics, to bags, to music boxes, jewelry and more this quaint shop will give you the dose of Icelandic design you're looking for.
Laugavegur Street - Want to do some more shopping? Hit Laugavegur Street for a mix of whimiscal design, hidden bookstores, specialty wool purveyors, and yes your Icelandic trinket shop. Shops like HRIM, with their design-forward home goods and accessories, will have you wondering just how much you can fit in your suitcase.
PRO TIP: Keep your eyes open for the area's prevalent street art.
Blue Lagoon - Even if you've been lucky enough to travel to some of the world's most pristine beaches I guarantee you you've still never seen water quite like the color of the blue lagoon's. The visual is stunning, and hits you as you drive up - a milky pool of icey turquoise waters in a black lava basin. What's more, the silica in the water has turned the bottom layers of lava rock stark white, creating what looks like a perma snow-laiden appearance for this Icelandic landscape.
PRO TIP: Pre-book. Arrive early. Once you're in, you're in and can stay and play all day so naturally by the afternoon the lagoon is packed. To enjoy a more serene experience book your arrival time for an 8, 9, or 10 am slot.
WHERE TO EAT
Kaffihus Vesturbæjar - This cafe is located just 2 blocks from my airbnb. It was clearly a neighborhood favorite. Regardless the time of day it was always bustling: parents with stollers, folks quietly reading the newspaper, friends catching up over a cup of coffee. It's easy to see why Kaffihus Vesturbæjar is so popular. Its bright, simple but homey vibe creates a communal atmosphere that's oh-so-inviting. From my experience, bistro chairs are super popular in Iceland. I saw them everywhere from this coffee shop, to actual bistros, to my airbnb. That's a design choice I'm more than ok with.
ROK - ROK was what I had imagined (read: hoped) all Icelandic establishments would look like. Stark black interior and exterior, mossy green roof, rustic woods, exposed stonework - the restaurant had this serious viking / Game of Thrones thing going for it (Iceland is the filming location for GOT's Westeros beyond the wall). The food was equally amazing as the decor. The Icelandic cheese appetizer, the langoustin, swiss mokka, the no-bake blueberry cheesecake... small plates make this restaurant ideal for group sharing.
PRO TIP: Ask for seating upstairs (ideally on the balcony if its a nice day) for great views of the city and great people watching.
Stofan Cafe - If you ever wanted to watch grown men knit over a good cup of coffee, Stofan is the place. It's like grandma's living room - with a pub in the basement.
101 Hotel - Great modern, Scandinavian design. Great modern cuisine. Incredibly friendly and helpful staff. Our waiter was kind enough to offer some amazing tips on some off the beaten path things to see, including a waterfall adventure and secret hot springs.
PRO TIP: Start your evening right next door (literally) at Petersen svitan for a rooftop happy hour that provides 180 degree views of Reykjavik.
// Photography by Marni Epstein-Mervis