The hot destination offers sweeping views of dramatic landscapes (think lava fields and volcanoes), no shortage of geothermal baths, and several world-class museums. We asked designer Claire Hung, who recently ventured on a five-day trip to Iceland with her husband, to share her itinerary for a design-inspired Icelandic getaway.
Where to Stay
1. Oddsson Hotel: Grandar, Reykjavik
I was immediately drawn to the modern, colorful interior design and 80s nostalgia. The vibe here is fun with young travelers frequenting the hostel and enjoying the cafe and bar downstairs. Our private room had a large window overlooking the bay with sweeping teal velvet blackout curtains—perfect for sleeping through the perpetual summer dusk.
2. Hotel Hofn: Höfn
We chose this boutique hotel for its original Mid-Century Modern architecture and recently renovated interiors. Built in the 1960s by two sisters, it pioneered high-end tourism in Iceland and was heralded for its design. Be sure to check out the main building with its slender two-story rectangular windows and interior details, which were revived during the 2016 renovation.
3. Airbnb on the Black-Sand Beach: Reynisdrangar
This little adventure spot is steps from the Black-Sand Beach with its incredible basalt column-adorned cliff caves. Our host Ragnar’s family settled the land generations ago and previously farmed it before turning it into an Airbnb destination. He is a wonderful host and regaled with stories of his childhood (be sure to ask him about his puffin hunting days in the cliffs above our little cabin). The best treat of all: having the beach to ourselves at midnight. With an overcast feel to the light at this time, it almost felt like morning.
4. Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon: Öræfi
We didn’t stay at one of these hotels, but we found the architecture stunningly minimal. They have multiple locations—several in Reykjavik as well as others scattered throughout the country—with similarly styled structures.
5. Hotel Geysir: Geysir
We came for the Geysir and stayed for the in-progress sneak peek. Hotel Geysir is slated to open in 2019. Their restaurant was prepping for a private event, and we got to peep inside where we found the preserved structure of an old gymnasium within a newly modern dressing. The architecture is dramatic, yet subtle. The windows of the new building seemed to puncture the skin in a nearly brutalist way, but the wood cladding softened and balanced the aesthetic beautifully.
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Where to Shop
1. Spuutnik: Centre, Reykjavik
Head here for a wonderful collection of curated vintage, much like the 10ft Single in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
2. KronKron: Centre, Reykjavik
KronKron is a purveyor in mostly brand name vintage and quirky finds. Keep an eye out for the extensive collection of leather jackets and silk dresses, which were on full-display during our visit.
3. Kolaportinu Flea Market: Centre, Reykjavik
True to its name, this quaint little flea market is filled with vintage clothing, fur coats, and home goods, along with carved tusks and bones shed from local animals.
4. Akkurat: Centre, Reykjavik
This was the last shop we hit, and it did not disappoint. I got a chic hand-knit contrasting wool sweater by Rykjavik-based clothing line Magnea and the Stockholm Sunglasses in all-black from the Swedish eyewear brand Nividas. Worth every penny!
What to See and Do
1. The Marshall Husid’s The Living Art Museum: Old West Side Harbour, Reykjavik
The Marshall Husid was our first experience after landing in Iceland, and filled us with wonder, as it features local and revered Icelandic artists. The art was refreshingly modern. It’s easy to see the influences of the natural landscape.
2. Harpa Concert Hall: Centre, Reykjavik
The undulating glass skin of the Harpa hall is a glittery reflective coat of color that mirrors sky and water. Step inside to find an inner atrium that appears to subtly mimic a volcanic glacial cave, much like those found along the interior of Iceland. The best part was the surprise complimentary Philharmonic playing in one of the atrium balconies.
3. Hallgrímskirkja Church: Centre, Reykjavik
We made it inside to see this beautiful modern gothic cathedral just before it closed for a musical performance. The naves of the church are soft and delicate, despite their towering scale which was complemented by glowing column pendants. Juxtaposed against this gorgeous backdrop is a modern marble sculpture installation in the lobby.
4. Reykjavík Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir: Nordurmyri, Reykjavik
The Reykjavik Art Museum offers a return to Reykjavik’s early roots within a classic Mid-Century Modern structure. Here, you can take in paintings by well-known Icelandic explorers who artistically chronicled their expeditions. It offers a great historical review of the landscape, which we had just experienced along the South Coast and Golden Circle.
5. Reykjavík Art Museum Ásmundarsafn: Teigar, Reykjavik
On our way to the airport, we had just enough time to walk the perimeter of the cubist sculpture museum, designed by Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. His former residence and studio is now a testament to an extensive collection of his work, both inside and out.
6. Fontana Geothermal Spa: Laugarvatn
My trés chic girlfriend, wellness expert Marina Trejo, recommended we ditch the Blue Lagoon for her favorite lesser-known spa tucked away on a lake in a sleepy Golden Circle town. Not only is the architecture of the spa modern and comfortable, but the design takes full advantage of the natural geothermal pools to heat the water and steam rooms. The coolest part is when you sit in one of the varying temperature steam rooms, you can hear the bubbling of the geothermal pools beneath your feet.
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Where to Eat and Drink
1. Grandi Mathöll: Old West Side Harbour, Reykjavik
Stumbling upon this food hall was a fluke! We found it on our way back to our little Jeep after parking way too far from Marshall Husid. It was our first meal in Reykjavik, and consisted of food from three different vendors: Fjárhúsið (a wonderful introduction to the local meat), Fusion Fish & Chips (super fresh, tasty comfort food), and Vietnam (a great way to try more of the local fresh caught from the sea). All in all, this spot offers a relaxing way to slip into vacation mode after red-eye travel and enjoy some beer and cider with the locals.
2. Cafe Paris: Centre, Reykjavik
We basically lost track of the time since it never gets completely dark there during the summer. So we were left with a few options, and landed on Cafe Paris for some late-night mussels and a refreshing citrus salad—a perfectly light meal after digging in at Grandi Mathöll earlier that day.
3. Ósinn Restaurant at the Hofn Hotel: Hofn
We arrived around midnight and decided to pop in for a nightcap. Four fresh ginger Moscow mules later, and we were sufficiently relaxed from the long day of driving in the rain from Reykjavik. This is a great place to enjoy the delicious complimentary breakfast in the restored main dining room, which offers 180-degree views.
4. Icelandic Street Food: Centre, Reykjavik
I recommend the traditional lamb soup in fresh baked bread bowls, which comes with free soup refills—delicious and perfect for the cold day! Plus, they were offering free waffles with peanut butter, syrup, and other sweet fixings. Stay as long as you’d like—it’s their grandmother’s recipes, and they want you to feel at home.