Iceland on a Whim
By Hideaways President Mike Thiel
This past May, acting on little more than a few days' notice, we decided to fly
to Iceland for what essentially was a long weekend. This island nation sits on
the Arctic Circle and had been on my bucket list for years, though honestly not
very high up on it. Interestingly, when we spoke with friends about our trip, I
was astounded at how many had Iceland high up on their respective lists.
So, what is the big attraction? Primarily, it's the great outdoors, including
Iceland's fantastic scenery and the many ways to enjoy it--hiking, biking,
horseback trekking, and more. This island country sits at the northern end of
the collision line between the North American and European continental shelves,
on the Atlantic "Ring of Fire." The subsequent mashing together of two tectonic
plates has created dramatic landscapes with active volcanoes, abundant
geothermal activity, major glaciers lodged between high mountain ridges, rift
valleys, broad volcanic washout valleys, crystal-clear rivers, and beautiful
waterfalls--all part of a mesmerizing blend. It's an outdoor photographer's
We also discovered that Iceland's tourism infrastructure is really good, with
well-organized tour operators offering a wide variety of excursions to all the
places, and for all the experiences, you might want to enjoy. Beyond that, the
country has a vibrant arts scene and an interesting history, which you can
learn about in various museums throughout Reykjavik, its bustling capital city.
Iceland's innovative cuisine, especially when it comes to seafood and lamb, is
a fantastic treat, and its people are warm and welcoming. We certainly had a
wonderful long weekend escape there.
HIDING AWAY IN ICELAND
We visited a variety of lodgings during our quick stay in Iceland, and were
impressed enough with one (see Hotel Rangá, below) to invite it into The
Hideaways Collection. Any of these hotels can be booked through Hideaways
Travel Services; just call 800-843-4433, or email
Two hotels in Reykjavik stood out for us, predominantly because of their
locations, charm, and the welcoming attitudes of their staff members.
The Hotel Borg shares an attractive park square with Iceland's
parliament building. It's just steps away from the waterfront and most
everything in town. Built in 1931, the Hotel Borg combines old-time elegance
with modern style and an Art Deco feel. At 56 rooms, it felt quite intimate,
though soon the hotel will be adding 43 rooms in an annex. Accommodations
looked comfortable, of moderate size with small- to medium-sized baths, and all
rooms were nicely furnished in sleek, contemporary style. Rates start at
The Radisson Blu 1919 is in a low-rise building that dates
back to its namesake year and formerly served as offices for a large shipping
company. It also is close to the waterfront and convenient to everything, with
extensive and attractive public spaces. It offers 88 spacious, handsome rooms
and suites with modern decor, large baths, hardwood floors, and ample artwork.
Rates start at €124.
Other hotels worth considering: The Radisson Blu Saga,
where we stayed, was nice enough and had good service, but it's a pretty
standard business hotel. It also is about a 15-minute walk from the center of
town. Rates start at €108. The 101 Hotel
is a well-located 38-room design hotel, which bills its style as "unapologetic
Nordic coolness." Its rooms and facilities were nice, however, it exuded that
"We're-so-cool!" attitude that so many design hotels seem to. Our impressions
of the service, or lack thereof, only confirmed this attitude. Rates start at
Note: Reykjavik is known as a noisy, partying town on Friday
and Saturday nights, so if you're staying in one of the downtown hotels and
noise is an issue for you, be sure to ask for a top-floor room and probably one
set well away from a main street.
Around the island: We had heard good things about the Hotel RangáTHC
well before arriving and were looking forward to sampling it. We weren't
disappointed, and now this stunning hotel is a new addition to The Hideaways
Collection®. It's a low-slung log lodge that looks very much like
it was plucked from the range in Montana, fitting perfectly on the banks of the
pristine East Rangá River. It enjoys sweeping vistas across rolling fields
to mountains and the sea. Behind the lodge, but at a non-threatening distance,
the Hekla Volcano and distant snow-capped peaks rise dramatically above the
horizon. This is the only 4-star resort on the scenic South Coast, and it's the
perfect base for exploring Iceland's glaciers, volcanoes, black-sand beaches,
fishing villages, magnificent waterfalls, hot springs, and nature preserves.
Hotel Rangá has just 51 rooms, including seven highly unique suites, each
themed for one of the world's continents, plus the Royal Suite. Its glassed-in
dining room projects out from the river side of the lodge, offering panoramic
views, gourmet dining, and excellent service. Also nestled next to the lodge
are three outdoor hot tubs, great places for stargazing and in winter, for
enjoying an evening display of the Northern Lights. Overall, we found the
rooms, facilities, dining, and, most important, the service to be excellent. Rates
start at €181.
At the Airport: With an early-morning flight home, we spent
our last night at the Hotel Keflavik in the little town of
that name, proximate to Iceland's international airport. It's a nice but simple
three-star hotel in a cute fishing town, just five minutes from the airport.
Beyond being convenient to the airport and the Blue Lagoon, it's a good base
for exploring the scenic Reykjanes Peninsula. Its dining, with a focus on fresh
Icelandic ingredients, was quite noteworthy, though the menu was a bit limited.
It also offers free airport pick-up and drop-off. Rates start at about
ACTIVITIES & TOUR OPERATORS
There is so much to do in Iceland, especially for the outdoorsy, that you may
have a difficult time deciding on a program. The below list certainly is not
comprehensive, but it includes some of the providers we used and can vouch for.
Blue Lagoon :
No visit to Iceland would be complete without spending some time at the Blue
Lagoon, a natural hot spring feed by geothermal water and offering a very
complete spa experience, including modern changing facilities, snack bar,
cocktail bar, gourmet restaurant, and even a boutique wellness hotel. Its
location is convenient for a quick flight layover or a longer Iceland visit.
Gray Line Iceland :
This company provides shuttle service to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik (about
a 45-minute ride) and a very comprehensive menu of excursions around
Iceland--including the de rigueur Golden Circle--using modern, comfortable
Special Tours: Offers
whale- and puffin-watching tours, sea angling, the Northern Lights by boat, and
a variety of other excursions aboard comfortable, seaworthy craft.
Reykjavik Excursions: This is
one of the largest tour operators in the country, offering a full menu of day
tours on land and sea, bus tours, off-road touring, snowmobiling, and more.
Helicopter Tours: This is the best way to see and experience
lots of what scenic Iceland has to offer in short order, including erupting
volcanoes, glaciers, pounding waterfalls, and lava fields. We flew with
Nordurflug, Iceland's largest helicopter company, out of their convenient
base at Reykjavik's in-town airport. They offer a variety of tours, with
some--like flying over exploding volcanoes--depending on what's happening at
the moment. Their craft are modern and well maintained, the pilots
accommodating and informative.
Jeep Tours: This is a great way to tour the South Coast,
checking out volcanic washout valleys and glaciers in big-tire, 4-wheel-drive
vehicles. I recommend Super Jeep and
SouthCoast Adventure. Both operate a fleet of rugged 4X4 vehicles of
various sizes that are ideal for getting you around the Icelandic landscape.
IceLimo Luxury Travel:
This company provided us with excellent transfer service from
Iceland's Keflavik International Airport to Reykjavik, complete with an
informative driver/guide, and in a comfortable Mercedes limo.