A Travel Guide to Iceland for Design Enthusiasts

Enjoy the view from Hofsós Swimming Pool towards the ocean and the island of Drangey, Iceland
Enjoy the view from Hofsós Swimming Pool towards the ocean and the island of Drangey, Iceland | © Iceland Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Sarah Lumley

Icelandic design is internationally renowned for its ingenuity, creativity and unique style, and Icelanders are justly proud of their aesthetic culture. The agency Iceland Design and Architecture focuses on this cultural pride and highlights some of the design delights that can be enjoyed throughout the country. From hotels to cultural venues, we look at some of the greatest sites that Reykjavík and the rest of Iceland have in store.

1. KEX


Kex hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland.
© Icelandic photo agency / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in the old Frón biscuit factory by the Reykjavík seafront, KEX (Icelandic for biscuit) is one of Reykjavík’s newest hostels. Injecting antique charm to the buildings inherent industrial chic, KEX’s décor is an eclectic collection from all over the world: an old US court office desk for the reception, 1930s East German school tables to study your guidebooks by and old maps covering the walls. And, in the true spirit of the building’s history, they even bake fresh biscuits to dunk in your coffee.

2. Hofsós Swimming Pool by Basalt Arkitektar

Swimming Pool

Although not in Reykjavík, but actually located in Northern Iceland, the Hofsós Swimming Pool is such an icon that it had to be mentioned. Designed by Basalt Arkitektar and completed in 2010, the Hofsós municipal swimming pool is delicately integrated into the landscape, cutting itself into the site and opening up towards the view of the ocean and the island of Drangey – where, according to the Icelandic sagas, outlaw Grettir the Strong took refuge. Not equipped with a boat, he had to swim to it across the icy cold fjord. When in the infinity pool, the swimmers will get to re-live Grettir’s swim – though safely in the lukewarm Icelandic geothermal water. The building creates protection against both the strong northern wind as well as disturbance from the road and the surrounding village. The main construction of the building is made of cast concrete, clad with industrial glazing elements.

3. Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Natura


Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Natura is one of the oldest hotels in town, a lovely 1960s pearl that has recently been renovated from top to toe. Surrounded by nature, yet within a walking distance from the city centre and with views across the runways of the close-by Reykjavík City Airport, Reykjavík Natura is the perfect place to rest after a day full of design. The geothermal beach of Nautholtsvík is close by, or, for a less adventurous bathing experience, visit the Sóley Natura Spa located in the hotel. The spa uses Sóley Organics, a collection made of wild Icelandic herbal ingredients and essential oils, mixed and tailor-made to the individual needs of different body and skin types. Also, keep an eye on Restaurant Satt (Icelandic for ‘true’ that, here, stands for fresh, local, organic and wholesome, healthy food), located in the first floor of Reykjavík Natura.

4. Reykjavík Harbour Path

Architectural Landmark

It is a rare treat to have an operating fishing harbour right in the centre of the capital, and in recent years, the harbour area has become more and more interesting and alive. The Harbour Path is a beautifully simple work by architect Massimo Santanicchia and his team (Mattia Gambardella and Ragnar Már Nikulásson). According to architect Hildur Gunnlaugsdóttir from the city of Reykjavík, the project aims at connecting the harbour and to revive some of its dead spaces. Using yellow, white and blue quick-dry paint, also used for marking road surfaces in Iceland, Santanicchia and his team connected the entire harbour area with a 1.4km-long(0.86mi) path that reaches from Harpa to the Grandi. Most people did not realise that it was possible to walk through this area, thinking that some of the areas were fenced off and inaccessible. Hildur Gunnlaugsdóttir said she felt that a strong graphic connecting path would address the issue.

5. The Nordic House by Alvar Aalto

Building, Library, Shop

The stunning Architecture of Nordi House Designed by Finnish master architect Alvar Aalto; Home to Michelin Star Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik Iceland.
© Christina Simons / Alamy Stock Photo
Masterfully designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, The Nordic House in Reykjavík is a cultural institution, opened in 1968 and operated by the Nordic Council of Ministers. It has the goal to foster and support cultural connections between Iceland and the other Nordic countries. To this end, the Nordic House organises a diverse program of cultural events and exhibitions. The house is the venue for front-row activities in the Icelandic cultural calendar: Reykjavík International Film and Literary Festivals, Iceland Airwaves and The Nordic Fashion Biennale – launched by the Nordic House and now on its way to the runways of Copenhagen and New York. The house maintains a library and the Nordic Region in Focus information service. In addition, you’ll find a shop for Nordic design and food products, exhibition space and auditoriums here. The house also features a restaurant serving New Nordic food. Restaurant Dill is run by chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason, captain of the Icelandic culinary team.

6. Reykjavík City Harbour

Architectural Landmark

The area of Reykjavík downtown harbour plays an important role in the city’s master plan for the years 2010 to 2030. As the harbour’s storage buildings have emptied, designers and creatives were the first to follow the competitive workspace rents. In just a few years, gaming companies, custom bike shops, coffee houses and galleries have followed. With new hotels and housing planned, the area is constantly changing. The aim is to re-establish its original role as one of the city’s most vibrant areas. Luckily, the new plans also back away from the pre-financial crisis plans of rebuilding everything from scratch. Rather, the plan is to mix new and old buildings with respect to the old. First steps will be taken on the currently empty slot between the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavík Marina and the Reykjavík Maritime Museum.

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