(& where not to stay in Reykjavik!)
We did something on our Iceland south coast road trip we’ve never done before: stayed in a different hotel every night. This meant for a bit of a chaotic daily packing/unpacking situation, but also meant that we saw so much more of the country than if we had only stayed in one or two places.
Honestly, my expectation for hotels was pretty low on this trip: as you know, I’m a huge hotel geek & love all the little things that play into a truly luxurious hotel experience. I knew going in that there are actually very few luxury hotels in Iceland & that the numbers drop dramatically once you get outside Reykjavik. But the majority of the hotels we stayed in were fantastic, with the exception of our hotel in Reykjavik.
All of our rooms were booked through our package with Extreme Iceland, with the exception of our second night, which I booked on my own. Because of the busy time of year when we traveled, the majority of the places we stayed were actually not our first, second or sometimes even third choice, but were what was left when we booked in April (tip: book early! I had no idea that we actually should have booked lodging in January when we booked our plane tickets). Here’s the scoop:
Night 1: Stracta Hotel Hella
The Stracta Hotel in Hella was one of the nicer hotels we stayed in & definitely offered the best amenities. It is in a great location if you’ve been exploring the Golden Circle for the day & are headed east, which is what we did, although the town of Hella is smaller than we expected it to be (okay, most towns in Iceland were smaller than we expected them to be!). Built in 2014, this modern property has a welcoming lobby covered in warm wood tones that pays homage to the nature surrounding the property. Inside the lobby is a funky-tiki-hut style coffee bar/regular bar, serving snacks & light meals. Outside the lobby is a real gem for the property: several large hot tubs & saunas. I’d imagine this outdoor space is very popular during northern lights season!
The rooms are off the main lobby building in long rows of metal buildings, which looked somewhat like a hen house from the outside. Our room, a standard double, was pretty small: two twin beds pushed together, two small nightstands, a “desk,” a chair & a bathroom barely big enough to spin around in! The Stracta Hotel does get credit for having good storage, with an open closet area with ample shelving for all our stuff. While the window did have a curtain, this was the only night we slept with a sleep mask & ear plugs, as we could clearly hear conversations happening in the next room over & it wasn’t very dark in the room (&, well, we were exhausted!).
Breakfast was the best & most ample of any hotel we stayed in, with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurt, pastry, oatmeal, all the fixins for a traditional English breakfast &, most importantly, coffee. As we were finishing up breakfast, we noticed a little sign advertising packed lunches to go, which would have been perfect for our journey. Unfortunately, they have to be ordered a day in advance, so if you’re interested, make sure to get your order in (I wish they would move the sign to the front desk!).
Overall, our stay at Stracta Hotel was great. The owners are hoping to expand the Stracta name around Iceland & I wouldn’t hesitate to stay with them again. I hope they can make a run at it against the Icelandair hotels which are in many small towns. If you stay, make sure & pop next door to say hello to their neighbors: Icelandic horses!
Night 2: Seljavellir Guesthouse
When I booked the Selijavellir Guesthouse it was solely because of its location: close to Höfn &, more importantly, the closest available hotel to the meeting point for our early morning kayaking tour on day 3. Imagine our surprise when it became our favorite hotel of the trip!
We were greeted by the smiling owner, who welcomed us to the 20 room guesthouse, which is situated on land that is part the farm she grew up on. She beamed with pride, as she told us about running the hotel with her son & the farm’s (which is now run by her brothers) first potato harvest of the season. After dinner in Höfn, we settled into room 11 for the evening. One of the largest rooms we stayed in, it consisted of two twin beads pushed together, two nightstands with cute little sconces over them (perfect for reading), a long desk extending across one wall, a bar for hanging clothing (although no closet), & a small but well designed bathroom. We fell asleep watching a documentary on Abraham Lincoln in Icelandic with English subtitles. The view from our room was sprawling & beautiful: the farm off to the left, soaring mountains off to the right.
The next morning, we were up early to head out on our kayaking trip, but not before grabbing breakfast. We were the first ones there, but everything was all set up at the appointed time, including freshly baked bread (with Nutella!), pancakes, fried eggs, fresh veggies, yogurt, coffee & tea.
Seljavellir Guesthouse was the only place on our trip we wished we had stayed for more than one night & one of the times we truly felt Iceland’s hospitality. I’d love to go back & explore more of the east of Iceland & I definitely know where we’re staying when we do.
Night 3: Hotel Geirland
The very small town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (population: 120) has a surprising number of hotels, probably due to its location almost exactly half way between Reykjavik & Höfn. Hotel Geirland was in full party mode when we pulled in, as a huge tour bus of Italians was checking in with the Iceland vs France soccer game blaring in the background. Iceland was already down 2-0, but spirits were still high.
After settling into our room, we headed back to the hotel’s lobby/restaurant/bar/common area to order dinner (despite the number of hotels in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, there are no independent restaurants), the mood had significantly dropped, but the hospitality was good, as was the food. Following our meal, we enjoyed a little walk where we met some Icelandic horses, discovered a beautiful waterfall & hunted down the mysterious Kirkjugólf (only mysterious because, despite being on the road on the way into the hotel, none of the staff were familiar with it).
Our room, while very simple, had the most stunning view of our trip: towering cliffs with a tranquil horse farm at the base. The sun slowly dipped behind the cliffs around midnight, before coming up again early in the morning. The room itself, a double room in the main building, was sparse but a decent size: two twin beds pushed together & a small desk/shelving unit. The bathroom was quite large, but in desperate need of updating (the poor exhaust fan sounded like it was on its last leg 20 years ago). Despite its age, we slept like a rock, at this point in the trip finally getting used to going to bed while it was still light out.
Hotel Geirland had the weakest breakfast of all the places we stayed, but it did include freshly baked bread, silver dollar pancakes, yogurt & a variety of meats & cheeses. We timed breakfast wrong, dining with the large tour group (this is the only hotel where we had this misfortune), but the staff was apologetic & tried to make things right for everyone.
Overall, Hotel Geirland’s great location & stunning scenery won me over, even if the rest of the stay was only average.
Night 4: Reykjavik
Ironically, of all the hotels listed here, the CenterHotel Plaza was the only one that was actually our first choice. And it was the worst – go figure. The hotel is currently undergoing a renovation & unfortunately, we were on the second floor which was in the thick of it: construction materials littered the hallway & our room was practically in a state of disrepair. If we had been staying for more than one night, I definitely would have requested a room change. The room, which consisted of two two beds pushed together, tiny nightstands, a desk, two lounge chairs & a small open closet, was one of the quietest we stayed in, but that’s probably because it looked out onto the roof of another building (not that we could really see out of the disgustingly filthy windows). The bathroom was definitely showing signs of wear, with the towel bar barely hanging on & the soap dispenser in the shower having already fallen off, not to mention the hole in the wall & the stains on the bathroom floor. At least the water was hot & the bed was comfortable!
The one thing the hotel does have going for it is the location, which is dynamite. Walkable to everything, it’s right in the middle of the touristy area, so there are lots of shops & restaurants around (it’s actually right next to the main tourism information center). However, being in the busy city center meant that we had a hard time even checking in, as we got scolded by a police officer for pulling into a taxi lane just to unload our bags (the hotel has no dedicated loading zone, parking or valet). So off we went to find a parking spot…
The other bright spot is breakfast, which takes place in the basement of the hotel – a space entirely in contrast to our room. Modern decor & travel quotes line the walls of this surprisingly welcoming space. Even though we arrived toward the end of breakfast time, there was still an ample selection of eggs, bacon, sausage, homemade oatmeal bars & several beverage stations. I can only hope that when the hotel completes its renovation, the entire place will be as nice as the breakfast area.
The staff at the front desk was welcoming at check-in, but not very helpful. We asked about where to catch the Flybus to the airport upon check-out & the front desk staff acted as if we were the first people to ever ask (I’d think this was a common question). When we told them how bad our room was at check-out, the desk agent seemed surprised & took down the laundry list of items that needed to be fixed. It was a disappointing end to our trip, especially since there are a number of other, great hotels in Reykjavik. I can only hope that the Extreme Iceland team can heed my warning & not send other travelers there, at least until after their renovation is complete.
3 out of 4 ain’t bad
Overall, my expectations for hotels in Iceland was very low. I’m happy to say that, much like the rest of our trip, those expectations were exceeded. Even though hotel prices were sky high during our trip, most of the places we stayed fit our needs perfectly, especially regarding location. When booking our next trip to Iceland, I’ll know more of what to expect.
Know before you go…
– complimentary wifi seemed to be standard (& speedy) throughout Iceland
– all the hotels we stayed in, & many of the ones we researched, included breakfast. We were surprised at how ample the breakfast was, expecting a traditional, smallish European continental breakfast.
– all of the hotels we stayed at had a combination shampoo/body wash dispenser in the shower, so bringing your own toiletries is recommended!
– one day I will get the hang of European showers… why is the shower never fully enclosed? What’s with the little half wall of glass? Does everyone else get water all over the floor too?