Bespoke Luxury: Reykjavik
Classy, creative, cool: the Icelandic capital isn’t simply a jumping-off spot for adventures further afield – though it IS good for that. No, Reykjavík is one of Europe’s most original, vibrant and free-spirited cities, which has retained hints of its fishing village roots while evolving into a small but thriving artistic and entrepreneurial destination. And standards are high: in the past decade, as Iceland’s popularity has boomed and locals have become ever-more inventive, the range of upscale hotels, restaurants, bars and boutiques has become truly world-class.
In short, Reykjavík is a prime choice for the most indulgent of city breaks – a city where you can stay in any one of a number of luxurious hotels and dine in the country’s best restaurants, with some of the planet’s most wonderfully weird nature on the doorstep.
Independent | 3 nights/4 days
From £2,100 per person
Do you want Nordic chic? Art Deco design? Uptown funk? Or a room with an eye-popping view? Reykjavík has retreats for every taste – and, with the city so compact and on-foot-friendly, all make excellent bases for exploring.
For a touch of bygone elegance, check in to the Hotel Borg, Iceland’s first luxury hotel. It’s preserved much of its original 1930s flair – from the glossy parquet floors to the decorative furnishings – only with welcome modern additions such as Bang & Olufsen gizmos and swish bathrooms underlaid with heated marble. The location – looking over Parliament Square – couldn’t be more central. For extra-special occasions, stay in the hotel’s Tower Suite, which unfurls over two floors and offers a 360° panorama of the city.
Those seeking a more modern vibe might try the Canopy by Hilton. Opened in 2016, and spread across a handful of houses that have variously served as a furniture factory, music venue and arts centre, it’s now a hip hideaway marrying Hilton standards with local quirk. Icelandic literature fills the bookshelves; Icelandic artwork fills the walls; there are record players to borrow so you can listen to old vinyl in your room while looking out over the mountains or ocean waves. Also, the hotel’s Geiri Smart restaurant is one of the most innovative in the city: chefs change their dishes daily, depending on what the farmers and fishermen have brought in.
Staying central means living central: select a luxe hotel and the whole of Reykjavík is your one patch. For instance, bed down at the understatedly stylish Sandhotel and you’re right on Laugavegur, the city’s oldest and coolest shopping street, lined with vintage stores, indie boutiques, cafes, bars and bakeries – not least the Sandholt bakery, right next door, which serves some of the finest cinnamon buns. Indeed, shopping in Reykjavík is always interesting. The 2008 financial crisis sparked a surge of entrepreneurship, resulting in a wave of interesting new businesses: spend time meeting artisanal sea salt producers and creative chocolatiers, musicians and microbrewers, rising-star fashion designers and knitters making digitally printed sweaters.
Virtually all of the city’s star attractions are within a walk: pretty Tjörnin lake, the scene-setting National Museum and National Gallery, towering Hallgrímskirkja church and the striking Harpa concert hall (which offers daily behind-the-scenes guided tours) can all be accessed on foot.
If you do want a ride, or to venture further, opt for a private driver-guide – more than a chauffeur, these local experts are full of insider knowledge; as well as escort you in comfort, they can take you to hidden gems and local curiosities, recommend restaurants, exhibitions and hot springs.
And even on a Reykjavík short break, there’s time to see beyond the city limits if you like. Some of the most iconic sights in Iceland are only a short drive away – doable in a bespoke day-trip if you have a dedicated guide.
Book a private excursion and you can leave Reykjavík at your own pace, maybe to marvel at thunderous Gullfoss waterfall and explosive Strokkur geyser, to roam Thingvellir National Park, where natural drama, Icelandic history and tectonic plates collide, or to spot a proliferation of puffins on the wild cliffs and black-sand beaches of Dyrholaey.
Alternatively, keep things supremely relaxed with a visit to the Retreat Spa, this exclusive wellness spot, tucked into the lava fields next-door, is a secluded oasis where you can simmer and steam in mineral-infused privacy.
Forget off-putting tales of fermented shark, Reykjavík is having a culinary moment. The idea of Slow Food isn’t a fad here – in a country this remote, eating local is a fact of life. Fortunately, the available produce is often top quality: exquisite fish and seafood, tender free-range lamb, farm-to-table veggies, delicious dairy products. Add to this a glut of experimental New Nordic chefs doing interesting things with unusual ingredients or old pickling techniques and your taste buds are in for a treat.
Where to start? Maybe Fiskmarkaðurinn – the Fish Market – which serves some of the best dishes in the city, with an Asian twist: red lanterns hang over platters of Arctic char sashimi, langoustine maki rolls, mountain lamb with shiitake mushrooms and coconut-creamy lobster soup. Fiskfelagid (Fish Company) is another seafood-lover’s must – within the old stone walls of this 120-year-old former store, chef Lárus Gunnar Jónasson does mouth-watering things with Icelandic cod, salmon and giant scallops.
Grillmarkaðurinn – the Grill Market – is heavily committed to local eating too, with lamb, beef, trout, quail, skyr and honey all featuring, and most of it ingeniously cooked up using fire and smoke. Even the decor – with its use of volcanic rocks, wood and moss – is quintessentially Icelandic.
Old Iceland Restaurant is equally focused on dishing up local fish, meat, herbs and spices, not to mention traditional kleinur (much-loved doughnuts) slathered with rhubarb curd, while Apotek is strong on small plates – nibble on everything from sea trout waffles to lamb tartar.
At a glance
3 nights in Reykjavik
Golden Circle day trip
South coast day trip
From £2,100 per person
Tailored to you exactly
We have been at the forefront of creating amazing holidays to Iceland for 37 years. If you’d prefer to visit different locations on private guided tours, we can arrange that. In addition to hotels, our portfolio also includes a selection of hand-picked, private luxury houses and villas in extraordinary locations.