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Iceland on a Whim

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 paradise.

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.


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 277.

Downtown Reykjavik

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 about US$360.

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 US$138.


Blue Lagoon

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 equipment.

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.

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* Hideaways Aficionado Club is a registered trademark of Hideaways International, Inc.
Copyright © 2017 Hideaways International, Inc.
All Rights Reserved