Carpet design

The Definitive Design Lover’s Guide to Reykjavik

The Rock Village district, known locally as Grjótaþorpið, is ​​the oldest in the Icelandic capital. This handful of houses were originally made of stone, then replaced by Danish wood in the late 1800s and finally by the colored corrugated iron we see walking around today.

After a fire in 1915 burned down 20% of Reykjavik, wooden houses were banned and corrugated iron became the design of choice. Perfect protection against the strong wind and rain that sweeps the city, it is also easy to change the color of the iron. Bright yellows, deep reds and green pastels are common hues around Reykjavik juxtaposed against its always gray skies. Designer and author from NYC and Reykjavik Sheila Bridges describes Reykjavik as “lots of dark, earthy tones with bursts of color drawn from the environment. This is the land of fire and ice. Think volcanoes, northern lights, glaciers, black sand beaches, mossy lava fields and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Start or end a trip to Iceland in Reykjavik, one of Europe’s most popular destinations, with its quirky museums, farm-fresh restaurants and rainbow-lined streets. Here, we have the scoop on the eclectic capital.

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Where to stay

Just off bustling Bankastræti, one of the city’s main streets, is a modern hotel with flair. Its brutalist concrete exterior gives way to an underground lobby with black leather furniture and tranquil water features. Rooms have black crocodile-patterned tiles and soft-touch cowhides to match the white and black leather decor. “Centre Thingholt has a nice spa in the basement, which is quite nice and cozy,” says the Reykjavik designer Hanna Olafsdottir. “It has raw elements, like exposed concrete walls.”

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hotel kvosin

Hróbjartur Sigurðsson

Kvosin means “center” in Icelandic. Appropriately named, this historic building sits in the middle of the city. Each of the rooms is named after a bit of Icelandic culture like Björk and Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. “The Kvosin is a very cute and stylishly relaxed hotel. I love the downstairs bar and its colorful mosaic tiling,” says Bridges. Its spacious rooms have high ceilings and tons of natural light bouncing off the herringbone parquet floors. Large bathrooms are outfitted in white subway tiles and a glossy black skirt.

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reykjavik consulat hotel, curiosities collection by hilton

Courtesy of Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel

Once home to Iceland’s first department store, the Konsulat Hotel is now part of Hilton’s stylish Curio Collection. The hotel’s classic design has Scandinavian touches throughout, with herringbone wood floors, brown woven wallpaper, and pops of blue in pillows and rugs. The bathroom’s mosaic tiles reflect Icelandic knitting patterns, and the bedrooms are decorated with historic department store photos shared by the former owner’s grandchildren. “I love going there for an afternoon drink with clients or colleagues in their lovely lobby,” says Olafsdottir. “The breakfast room is also one of the nicest in Reykjavik.”

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Where to eat and drink

Whale steak is on the menu at this beloved upscale steakhouse. Spread over two floors, there are striking Icelandic design features like basalt columns and cylindrical hanging basalt shades. “They have this grand staircase with the cascading lights by Tom Dixon, which is a really nice feature,” says Olafsdottir. “Also walls covered with Icelandic fish skin and tree bark.” Food-wise, the langoustine tempura, prime cuts of beef and award-winning cocktails are not to be missed.

The interior of the Marshallhúsið building in Reykjavik’s trendy harbor district is a local favorite. “Love the location and how this former fish storage house has been transformed into this amazing restaurant and art space,” says the Reykjavik interior designer. Hafsteinn Juliusson. The modern space has polished concrete floors, exposed concrete rafters, and an expansive wooden bar with a pink neon sign reading “Scandinavian Pain” above. The menu here is constantly changing, but Júlíusson says great pasta dishes, bufala mozzarella and veal steak are not to be missed.

Reserve a table next to the ROK’s floor-to-ceiling windows for stunning views of Hallgrimskirja, Reykjavik’s famous basalt-columned church. This popular spot has a vibrant atmosphere with exposed beam ceilings and oversized basalt brickwork. “It has a black wood exterior and a traditional living turf roof,” says Bridges. “This is one of my favorite places for Icelandic small plates. Try the Thai prawns with corn and cilantro.


Or buy

A mainstay of the Icelandic design world for nearly 50 years, EPAL sells Scandinavian classics recommended by both Júlíusson and Bridges. Sourced from Icelandic and Nordic designers, the various stores sell everything from elegant matte pendants to locally made alpaca clothing.

Icelandic fashion is contemporary, cool, edgy and retro all at the same time. You’ll find that in spades at Kiosk Grandi. “It’s a cooperative store of five Icelandic fashion and jewelry designers who sell their creations in a quirky little fisherman’s hut,” says Olafsdottir. From handmade jewelry to soy wax candles to cotton terry towels, this is one of the hippest shops in Reykjavik’s harbor district.

Drawing its influences from Japan, Scandinavia and Iceland, this new spot presents itself as both a concept store and a creative space. Júlíusson likes the store for its small emerging brands, while Olafdottir enjoys looking at its “various curious objects”. Mikado sells 18-karat gold-plated teaspoons, designer-printed artwork, perfumes, and just about everything in between. Whether you’re browsing or shopping, it’s a stylish store worth exploring.


Where to explore

rainbow road

iceland, seydisfjordur, people walking along rainbow colored asphalt road in middle of remote town

Westend61//Getty Images

Brighten up your day with a stroll down Skólavörðustígur, also known as Rainbow Street, stopping at women-owned ceramic shops, art galleries, and quirky cafes. At the end is the city’s most famous landmark, Hallgrimskirja Church. On a clear day, purchase an $8 ticket for the elevator and take in views of the entire city from its highest point.

Icelanders love a good bath. For the chance to mingle with the locals, there are seven public hot spring pools in the city, most of them outdoors. Icelanders come all year round to exercise or relax in the geothermal water. Fees here are minimal, so they’re a great alternative to more expensive spas frequented mostly by tourists outside the city center.

reykjavik art museum

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Known for its unconventional and carefully curated museums, including one of a phallic type, Reykjavik has more than 60 museums, exhibition spaces and art galleries to explore. Juliusson insists that the Reykjavik Art Museum always has something nice to see. The country’s largest art museum showcases both historic and contemporary Icelandic art, making it a great window into this ancient culture.


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