Quick. Easy. Inexpensive. These are all adjectives that have been used to describe Iceland, a European destination that has been on everyone’s bucket list, mainly because of its reputation as an exotic (albeit, certainly-not-tropical) outpost.
While the small Nordic country feels far flung, it certainly lives up to quick and easy with comfortable direct flights from NYC airports.
But, there are some new descriptors the jet set is using when discussing this Viking-esque fairyland: luxurious and magical. And, by the way, while inexpensive is certainly relative, everything from lodging, food, adventure, and art runs the gamut from budget to extravagance as more and more guests pour in seeking high-end, but location-appropriate understated amenities.
For sure, Iceland is the new “it” place, beckoning A-listers to pack their Monclers and head north. Many jet in for an adventure replete with glaciers, majestic mountain peaks, and vistas so magnificent, they remind one of a scene from, say, Game of Thrones. It’s not a coincidence. Game is one of dozens of TV shows and movies, including Thor, Fast and Furious, and Star Wars that recently have enticed entire production crews.
Not surprisingly, the stars and their friends are coming back for less intense work, like enjoying mindboggling meals of local fare reimagined by some of the most sensational French-trained chefs. Yes, our editors dined on such delicacies as puffin and reindeer. It may sound off-putting, but visitors quickly learn Icelandic traditions. Visitors also learn Icelandic priorities: sustainability and safety above all else. Police officers carry no guns, a need for a military is non-existent, and peace abounds. (Don’t get the Icelanders engaged in a conversation about world politics!)
Of course, at the center of it all is Reykjavik, a world class city of fewer than 100,000 that boasts exclusive restaurants and hotels. While less expensive than Paris, London or Tokyo, Iceland’s capital is certainly not cheap. Three days is all you need to take in Reykjavik-proper (although a week or two is necessary to get your full Iceland on), and just enough time to meander street after street of galleries and other high-end shops, eat to your heart’s content, take in a show or two, head to the iconic Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) for a soak and a treatment, and, yes, stay out all night. Note: the nightlife here is legendary, perhaps because, for many months, daylight is the exception and not the rule.
Our pick is Tower Suites for the ultimate in luxury, privacy, and pure heaven. Situated on the top floor of the country’s tallest building, Tower Suites confirms that Iceland has come into its own in a big way.
Upon arriving and depending on your needs, you may actually ascend to the Suites from an underground garage ― this is typically the route taken by celebrities who demand privacy and anonymity. In fact, many famous guests opt for a complete buy-out of the Suites, all eight exquisitely appointed rooms, each of them with a spectacular view of the harbor, city, glaciers, and mountains. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Entering from the elevator to the Sky Lounge, guests immediately get it: this is exclusive. Modern furniture and art are the backdrop for a bar and refrigerators well-stocked with high-end libations. As with all rooms at Tower Suites, nothing beats the view, and it is simply amazing to sit in the lounge and breathe in the city, mountains, ocean and the ever-changing colors of the sky. A refreshing welcome cocktail tops off the experience.
If it’s available, request the Esja Corner Suite. Exceptionally modern and spacious, Esja features panoramic views of the harbor, city, and Mt. Esja. Enter into a formal sitting area with widescreen TV and a large walk-in closet. None of this really matters, yet, as the views will stun.
A wine cooler can be carefully curated prior to your arrival by on-site wine experts. Always complimentary are Icelandic glacial water, Icelandic craft beer, soft drinks, and sweets.
The cloud-like king-sized bed may tempt you into not leaving the suite, and the nearby deep soaking tub will only reinforce this impulse. However, both the bed and tub (as well as every other location in the suite) is surrounded by floor to ceiling windows with beckoning vistas.
Enjoy your bath or shower with Soley Organics, a local luxury brand of all-natural suds and salves.
While breakfast, served by the HaPP restaurant, may be taken in your suite, our advice is to mingle with other guests in the Sky Lounge. This is generally one of the best ways to learn where and what is the hot activity. Don’t miss the avocado, rucola, and poached egg on a slice of HaPPbread, with a side of chia pudding with almond milk, blueberries, flaxseeds, and mango sauce.
To get a lay of the land prior to venturing out on your own, arrange for a private tour of Reykjavik and the nearby environs from Servio Luxury Transport. Well-known for their chauffeuring services for film stars and crews, visiting celebs, heads of state, and other VIPS, expert drivers like Marinó Árnason can provide an exclusive overview of the area as well as some insider info on local hot spots.
If you want to dine at Dill, the country’s only Michelin-rated restaurant, you’ll need to plan months in advance. Our pick is Fish Market (fiskmarkadurinn.is) in the heart of the old town. Opt for the tasting menu, which will likely include inventive preparations of local favorites like lamb, cod, and surprisingly fresh produce.
Be sure to check out nearby Skuli Craft Bar for a local brew and stargazing. This is the absolute best place to get a flight of Borg beers, a recent Icelandic institution (particularly considering that beer was only recently permitted in Iceland ― long story).
Depending on your age and constitution, you’ll either want to hit the clubs or the hay. Rinse with Soley. And repeat . . . with a new itinerary, which the experts at Tower Suites will be happy to provide.
Upon arriving at Tower Suites, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by Kristín Birgitta Gunnarsdóttir, the front desk manager. A native of Iceland, but a world traveler, Kristín ensures the comfort, confidentiality, and care of every guest. Kristin shares below what makes Tower Suites the new benchmark for luxury.
If you had your choice of any room at Tower Suites, which would you request and why?
That’s a tough one but a corner suite would be a real treat since it is bigger and has greater view. All of them are unique, but if you twist my arm I will probably choose Esja Suite
Who are some of the most famous visitors to Tower Suites ― hints will do!
Nice try! We’ve had well-known guests staying with us, but confidentiality is a big factor here at Tower Suites, so not even a hint ― sorry guys!
Is it true that you’ve had a number of visitors book the entire property?
Yes, that’s true and it’s actually a great option for many since the hotel consists of only eight suites. A buy-out opens up many options when it comes to service because it can be tailored to the guests’ wishes and needs.
In your opinion, what is Reykjavik’s best-kept secret?
That a real authentic and natural salmon river called Ellidaá (á means river) can be found within the city limits. Last summer 675 salmon were caught, but you have to be a member to get a permit. On a beautiful day it can be amazing to walk or jog in this sanctuary that is a favorite to many locals . . . and actually close to my house.