Kex Hostel, Reykjavik

Iceland is an expensive place to visit; a hostel can be a great way to save on the cost of accommodation. Kex, however, is so much more than a hostel.

Housed in a former biscuit factory (Kex translates to biscuit), this industrial building has been revolutionised by co-owner and designer Halfdán Pedersen. Opened in 2011 in downtown Reykjavik, Kex is now a destination for hip, thrifty travellers and a hangout for local creatives.

There is a choice of 43 rooms, from private doubles to large dorms. Many offer views of Faxaflói Bay and Mount Esja. Each room is individually decorated with quirky vintage furniture and stocked with informative second-hand books. We stayed in a guesthouse-style double room with a view of the ocean. The room was simply equipped with locker storage and a desk and lamp. Despite the large window I found the room a little dark, which was particularly noticeable in the evenings. Wifi is free and fast throughout the hostel which is a massive help to tourists needing information or email services. Shared toilets and shower facilities are located near to the bedrooms on each floor and we found these to be clean and efficient, with hot powerful showers.

The communal areas are very sociable and the big retro sofas encourage guests to use these spaces. Salvaged materials and found objects adorn the main reception area, lounge and dining area, giving Kex an eclectic but contemporary character. The design is beautifully arranged with thought and care; I could have spent hours examining every detail.  Men in need of a quick trim will be grateful for the tiny barbershop, which is found on the main floor of Kex. Open every Thursday, it costs about 4000 ISK (£20 approx.) for haircut and shave.

In the mornings guests can enjoy a simple Icelandic style breakfast in the main dining room. Hot coffee, freshly made bread and juices and jams are a welcome wake-up meal. Youngsters cram the wholesome food in, vital sustenance before exploring the cold landscape outside.

The fashionable hostel trend is growing at alarming speed and Kex Hostel is a prime example. The unique venue has become a destination for tourists and locals to sleep, eat and drink. A brilliant base camp for all your Icelandic adventures.

Book a stay at Kex Hostel here.

Many thanks to the Reykjavik Tourist Board for their help with this trip.

Snaps Restaurant, Reykjavik

When I asked the residents of Reykjavik where they liked to eat, Snaps restaurant was often first on their list. This casual neighbourhood bistro is always full of happy diners enjoying comforting and tasty food. Located in downtown Reykjavik, the eatery is close to many of the city’s main attractions. The menu shows a strong Danish influence, with dishes such as the range of popular open sandwiches.

The bar snacks made nice light starters; we tried the Grilled Zucchini and Goat’s Cheese, and the Calamari Fritti. The Calamari was wonderfully fresh with a soft texture and no unpleasant chewiness, it was coated in light batter and served with a delicious lemony aioli. The grilled courgette was disappointingly served cold, while the goat’s cheese was heavy with an almost citrusy aftertaste. The dish was topped with crushed nuts.

Our main courses were hearty and filling, Lamb Prime steak for me, and Duck with fried potatoes and salad for my guest. Both were served with airy béarnaise sauce. A fruity full-bodied red wine was brought to our table to compliment the meaty flavours. The meats were of a very high quality; the lamb particularly had a lovely velvety texture with a crispy grilled edge. The accompanying home cut French fries were addictively good, extra thin and salty. The duck pulled away easily from the bone and had a lovely crispy skin that reminded me of childhood Chinese takeaways. Silence fell over the table as we gorged on the feast before us.

We shared a rich and decadent chocolate brownie with ice cream for dessert. It was the perfect sweet treat to finish the meal. Snaps has a lovely atmosphere and a great reputation. Make sure you book a table in advance and eat as the locals do!

More information and book here.

Many thanks to the Iceland Tourist board for their help with this trip, more information here.

Things to do in Iceland

I have only just learnt how to spell Reykjavik correctly… and after my short visit I can assure you, Iceland’s capital city is as surprising and captivating as its name. This isolated country is a unique and unusual destination, an island out at sea between Europe and America, unlike anywhere else I have ever been. With miles of deserted volcanic land and natural phenomena to see it is ideal for adventurers and explorers. Back in the town of Reykjavik there are home comforts of every kind, cute coffee cafes, high quality meat and fish restaurants, cool art galleries and design stores to browse. Night life is exciting and the harbour offers boat trips out to see local wildlife. In just 3 days I experienced so many firsts I returned to London feeling rejuvenated and inspired.

To Sleep

Kex Hostel – Possibly the coolest hostel on the planet. Kex is located in downtown Reykjavik housed in an old biscuit factory. Rooms are basic but brilliantly designed with quirky furniture and vintage ornaments. The communal areas are always buzzing thanks to the trendy and comfortable décor, tasty food and reasonably priced drinks.

Ranga Hotel – Out in the wilderness Ranga Hotel is one of the optimum places to see the Northern Lights. If you fancy a night outside the city this lovely 4 star hotel is the perfect place to stay and marvel at the colourful sky.

To Eat

Snaps – This neighbourhood restaurant is a favourite with locals. Serving casual tasty cuisine in a cosy venue, it is always busy so book ahead – tables are very sought after.

Laundromat –  This American-style diner hails from Denmark. Guests can use the coin-operated laundrette in the basement to clean their clothes whilst tucking in to a hearty brunch. Admire the amazing maps and read a book from the rainbow display.

Grillmarket – The top place in the city for steaks, Grillmarket is expensive but well worth the spend. Most of the produce comes directly from the farm to the table, via the kitchen! We sampled the exemplary Beef tenderloin and rib-eye which had a fine flavour and silky texture cooked both medium rare and medium well. For fish fans, Fish Market is highly regarded, both run by chef Hrefna Rosa.

Hamborgarabullan – Many will know Tommi’s Burger Joint in London which, after receiving rave reviews has expanded to a second branch. This hang-out in Reykjavik is Tomas Tomasson’s original joint and still stands serving irresistibly juicy and delicious burgers. The venue is more like a hut, with a maximum of 20 seats, and scruffy notes and posters collaged over the walls.

Boejarins Beztu – On the corner of Tryggvagata and Posthusstraeti this tiny van serves the best hot dogs in Reykjavik, coated in sauces and garnished with crispy onions, it is just the kind of comfort you’ll need on a freezing Icelandic day.

Bada Bing – Ice-cream is a bit of a craze in Iceland despite the climate! This trendy new parlour serves creamy gelato in tempting flavours.

To Drink

Loftid – This upstairs bar is ornate and with a sense of vintage glamour. Loftid is one of the leading cocktail venues in the city serving up sensational strong but pricey drinks. My favourites were the Bourbon based Lofitd Old Fashioned and the fruity Forbidden Apple.

Mokka Kaffi – A lovely 1950s old-fashioned café and gallery space which serves good coffee and cake in a comfortable, cosy setting. The hot chocolate is excellent, topped with freshly whipped cream but most pop in for the famous house waffles with cream and jam.

Reykjavik Roasters – My favourite coffee shop we found was Reykjavik Roasters. Also known as Kaffismiðja Íslands this café serves the best speciality coffee in the city. The coffee is roasted on location and the coffee itself is bought directly from the farmers, predominantly from Colombia, recently they have introduced coffee from Nicaragua as well. The design-led venue is often filled with caffeine-fuelled locals working away.

Kol – A new venue in town Kol serves impressive food and creative cocktails. The head chefs, Einar Hjaltason and Kári Þorsteinsson have gathered over 20 years of experience at Reykjavík‘s best restaurants as well as working at several known restaurants in Europe, Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Dabbous and Noma.

Slippbarinn – Leading the cocktail movement in the city Slippbarinn makes fine concoctions with innovative flavour combinations. Regular visits from renowned mixologists from around the world ensures this bar stay ahead of the trend.

Tiu Dropar – Ten Drops is one of the oldest cafes in Reykjavik, offering great coffee during the day and transforms into a romantic wine bar at night.

To Do

Elding Whale Watching – I’ve always dreamt of seeing one of the world’s biggest animals. The Elding Whale Watching is an environmentally friendly tour which often catching glimpses of minke whales, harbour porpoises and other sealife. We spotted a fin soaring through the rough waves and a group of porpoises sailing past as we headed back to the harbour. The tours are brilliantly organised, with informative and friendly guides and affordable ticket prices. Add Elding to your Reykjavik itinerary for a truly memorable encounter with these giant creatures.

Hallgrimskirkja – Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland, and at 73 metres it is a striking sight from the streets of town.Pay the equivalent of £5 for a ticket to the top of the church and admire the views over Reykjavik.

Blue Lagoon – Mesmerising and magical these milky blue waters are an unmissable sight to see and experience in Iceland. Take a warming dip and coat your face in a deep cleansing mud mask. Before leaving make sure you head up to the viewing balcony to see the miracle from a distance, it really is breathtakingly beautiful.

Reykjavik Tours – The best way to see the sights of Iceland is with Reykjavik Tours. This efficient company are exemplary, organising sightseeing trips to all the major sights, picking you up from your hotel door. We experienced the popular Golden Circle and Fontana Spa tour with an exceptional tour guideHöskuldur Frímansson was funny, cultured and a brilliant communicator. On this one day tour we saw the epic Gullfoss waterfall, the unusual and sublime Geysirs, Thingvellir National Park and the parting of the tectonic plates and the Fontana geothermal baths. It was a great day seeing some of Iceland’s most spectacular sights.

To See

i8 Gallery – This tiny art gallery shows some of Reykjavik’s most prestigious shows. The gallery represents 18 artists, and the clean white space is a pleasure to wander round.

Reykjavik Art Gallery – The leading contemporary art gallery in the city close by to the harbour is worth a visit. I particularly liked the collection of Erro works, the renowned postmodern Icelandic artist.

To Shop

Hrim Honnunarhus – If you are interested in designer objects for your home, Hrím Hönnunarhús is the best place to start. It offers a variety of decorations and furniture by both Icelandic and international designers, as well as candles, jewellery, and fragrances.

KronKron – A shop for Reykjavik’s coolest fashionistas KronKron stocks a great collection of designer clothes and accessories. The shop is colourful and exciting to look round, I went in several times and fell in love with something new each visit.

Sputnik – Retro shops are plentiful in Reykjavik and Sputnik is one of the best for vintage clothes.

Suit – This shop has only recently opened, a Danish clothing brand for style conscious men. The retail space has been created by HAF Studio and suits the classic designs of the clothing.

Foa – Pick up an Icelandic souvenir from this pretty and untouristy shop. Less than a year old Foa is satisfying customers with its humorous postcards, quirky stationery and unique gifts.

Kolaportio – This indoor fleamarket takes place every Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm and is a great place to find a special Scandinavian item to take home.

Many thanks to the Iceland Tourist board for their help with this trip. More info here.