Curio Collection Local Guide, Reykjavik
We sent Reykjavik Yodeler Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson to Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton to create a Reykjavik, Iceland travel guide. This is where history and style meet. Once a 1900’s department store operated by Consul Thomsen’s family, this charming building has been renovated with modern amenities and nods to Reykjavik’s vibrant culture. It’s a quick walk from our city center hotel to Iceland Parliament, Harpa Concert Hall, the Laugavegur main shopping street, and top restaurants and nightlife. Gunnar created an incredible travel guide full of local secrets and destination tips just for you.
Name? Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson
Occupation? Photographer and Creative Entrepreneur
Preoccupation? Exploring Iceland and other cold parts of the world.
Place you live? Reykjavik, Iceland
How long have you lived there? 3.5 years and every day is an adventure.
Can you sum up Reykjavik? Reykjavik has a range of different facets and for a place with such a rich history, for decades it has remained fairly unchanged. The last 10 years, however, have brought immense opportunities for transformation and Reykjavik has taken advantage of that. Reykjavik is home to a unique creative crowd, nurturing all kinds of art forms, which fuels freedom of expression and feeling of empowerment. It is a city that doesn’t shy away from the need to change and readjust. It holds a perfect combination of local, global and traveler friendly environments, which are perfectly represented by everything from the architecture, food scene and street style to the captivating mountains and ocean surrounding the city from all sides. In my opinion, Reykjavik has the perfect balance between quality of life and adventure.
What is the best thing about Reykjavik? The best thing about Reykjavik is its openness to change and ability to adapt to new ideas while still embracing its history. It has this cozy, familiar feel of a small town that we often long for but at the same time boosts you up with so many opportunities which are energizing. I feel that the Reykjavik Konsúlat Hotel is a good example of this, as it strongly builds its presence on the heritage of the building while keeping up with the highest standards of the modern world.
Reykjavik is a city that is constantly reshaping itself as a response to the various needs of its inhabitants and visitors. This, in return, makes the city feel alive, vibrant and welcoming. It’s a cosmopolitan, diverse and free-spirited town, which brings the big world to a small place. Strolling down the main street of Laugavegur, you actually never know who you might bump into – it could be a childhood friend or even a celebrity from Hollywood.
I love knowing that at any time I can get into my car and within a short period of time, I will be surrounded by beautiful nature.
What is a perfect day in Reykjavik? Imagine combining the best outdoor adventure with a city atmosphere and you’ll have a day filled with inspiring culture, food and history. Along with a backdrop of the beautiful Esja Mountain Range, it doesn’t get much better than this!
From a local’s perspective, a perfect day would start by visiting Brauð & Co, the best bakery in town, for a steaming hot cinnamon roll and freshly brewed coffee from Reykjavik Roasters. With coffee in hand, I would take a stroll along the seaside. First stop would be the Sun Voyager, to take in the views, followed by a short tour inside the Harpa Concert Hall to admire the architectural genius there. Consider going to an evening show of “Icelandic Sagas, The Greatest Hits in 90 Minutes.” It is a hilarious and quick way to learn about the Viking history in Iceland. With plans for the evening arranged, I would leave Harpa and head back to walk along Laugavegur, the main shopping street of Reykjavik, for a pit stop at Geysir, on the corner of Skölavörðurstigur, for a bit of shopping. Geysir is a brand that designs its own collections at a downtown Reykjavik studio and all their pieces combine chic modern style with Icelandic and Nordic tradition.
With lunchtime approaching, I’d head towards the Hallgrimskirkja Church for an Icelandic landmark and lunch at the Hlemmur Food Halls nearby. The latter is a vibrant and hip place to enjoy a delicious meal with plenty of options that should fit whatever mood you’re in. After lunch, I would visit Sundhöll, the local swimming pool, which happens to also be the oldest public swimming pool in Iceland. Opened in 1937, it was renovated in 2017 when an outdoor pool was added to the incredible art deco building. A true gem in the middle of the city!
I’d enjoy a panoramic view of Reykjavik from the top of Mount Esja with a one hour helicopter tour with Nordurflug. You can enjoy a glass of champagne at the top of the mountain! Once back in town, it is time for a hearty Icelandic meal. I would visit either Kópar for a fresh catch of the day or Matur og Drykkur for Icelandic nostalgia with a new Nordic twist. After dinner, I would explore the repurposed industrial harbor area of Grandi, which has become something of a food and art mecca of Reykjavik. I would finish off the evening with a visit to the show at Harpa then a cold Icelandic craft beer, either at Skúli Craft Bar or Mikkeller and Friends.
What are the people like in Reykjavik? The people of Reykjavik are hip and cool in a friendly and forthcoming way. They are unusually diverse for the size of the Icelandic nation and full of creativity. Just like Icelanders in general, they aren’t too big on planning and like to take it easy in the mornings and are definitely more spontaneous rather than very well organized. All in all, it makes for a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere, which also means that the locals love interacting with travelers and getting to know new people.
If Reykjavik was a person or character who would it be? George Michael: a little bit wild, extremely creative, talented, a trendsetter who has its own style while not afraid to reinvent itself at the same time!
Tell us about your positive experience at Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton: The hotel really embraces the history and heritage of Iceland in a high-end and incredibly cozy way. It has a fair share of vintage influence yet it remains modern. The Konsúlat Hotel’s combination of Icelandic and Danish roots connects with my personal background. I lived in Denmark for many years, so I appreciate that the hotel took the effort to breathe history into its walls in a tasteful and inspiring manner. The building that houses the Konsúlat Hotel was once Thomsens Magasín, the first Icelandic department store owned by consul Thomsen, hence the name of the hotel. The original wall of the old department store building has been saved and runs through various spaces in the hotel which in my opinion gives a very special feel to the place. It also shows the attentiveness of the hotel design and its appreciation of the history of the place, which spoke to me as a guest and as a local.
Upon arrival at the hotel, it is obvious that the team members take pride in caring for every detail of the experience. Sitting and relaxing in the lounge area, which has been thoughtfully designed, is a perfect place to take a short break from your everyday busy schedule. It also fuels a wanderlust and desire to explore, which is a perfect match for any traveler visiting the hotel.
The remaining hotel décor including lights, lavish clothing goods, and old photographs of the Thomsen family life make you feel extremely welcomed and comfortable as if you were visiting a family member rather than a hotel. Since I am from Reykjavik, this was a staycation for me, but I definitely appreciated the feel of this hotel and now I am eager to plan even more adventures to satisfy my travel hunger.
I was visiting the hotel with my girlfriend and our year and a half-year-old son, and I can easily say that all three of us loved our stay. As a couple, we had the perfect amount of indulgence to feel well taken care of and spoiled. As a family with a young child, we felt the comfort and ease that young parents so often need. We stayed in a Suite which was extremely comfortable and we enjoyed the stylish interior design. The hotel team members were very professional and friendly, always greeted us with a smile and were very resourceful when we asked for help.
One of the highlights for all of us was definitely the hot pool, which relates so well to the hot pool culture of Iceland. For anyone new to the country, you should know Icelanders invented the “hot tub,” as our most influential Icelander to date, Snorri Sturluson, had an outdoor hot pool in a round shape in the 13th century.
What did you love about the Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton? The most prominent feature of the hotel is how well it fits into the city and how it incorporates the history, heritage and the direction that Reykjavik is moving towards. The building has been an important marker in building Iceland’s tourism and trade economies. Ditlev Thomsen was an entrepreneur and apart from doing well at the department store, he had a flair for hospitality, diplomatic services and art, and his actions influenced the development of the city so much that it’s dynamic growth put Reykjavik on the international map.
Restoring the grand spirit of such an important location in Reykjavik’s history is quite an accomplishment. The entire area around the hotel is being refreshed and reinvented, yet the building itself stands in something of an enclave. While in the heart of it all, it is tucked away to ensure very convenient quietness and intimate relaxation, which makes it one of the best spots in the city. The other thing that makes this building so special is a top floor terrace, as it offers a unique perspective over Reykjavik. Terraces and balconies in the city are a very rare sight, so having the chance to enjoy some sun rays like that is a treat even for a local!
If a friend was visiting for 24 hours what would you suggest they do? To start the day well fueled, I would recommend grabbing breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant – Gott. You will spend most of your day doing outdoor activities, so make sure you start your day right! Gott is a perfect place to try the hearty, healthy and local food. Originally coming from the Westmann Islands (off the South Coast of Iceland) the restaurant is a real gem. They have an amazing menu for children, too!
Now time to be on the go. Take a bottle of fresh Icelandic water from the tap. We have the most amazing water here, it would be a sin not to make use of it. Since the hotel is located centrally and in close proximity to the harbor, getting on a morning Whale Watching tour would be the best way to start the Icelandic adventure. After the beautiful views of Reykjavik (and the whales obviously) head out for lunch at the Grandi harbor, which is ten minutes walk from the pier. Coocoos Nest or Flatey are your best options for a delicious meal. At Coocoos I would order the soup and salad combo while at Flatey’s, the pizza is to die for! While you are at Grandi, you can visit some of the local art galleries and stores, or head over to the Saga Museum for a fascinating tour through the Viking times in Iceland.
Next up is the Hallgrimskirkja, as it truly is a must see place, and it is totally worth it to wait in line for the viewing tower! Once you are back on the ground, take a short walk through the sculpture garden behind the Einar Jónsson Museum. It is a perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment surrounded by art and nature in the middle of the city.
In the afternoon, you should meet the Icelandic horses. These animals are incredibly gentle, strong and beautiful. They are the perfect way to experience Iceland. There are a few options for horseback riding tours around Reykjavik but my all time favorite is located by the red hills (30 min drive out of Reykjavik) and its run by a company called Islenski Hesturinn.
In the early evening hours head back to the Reykjavik Konsulat Hotel to unwind and get a pre-dinner drink in the hotel lobby. For dinner head to the Fish Market. For dessert go to Ísbúð Vesturbæjar for ice cream which is undoubtedly your best option. Make sure to try the “old fashioned” ice cream dipped in milky chocolate called “luxusdífa” – it is simply the best!
Finish your evening with northern lights by Grótta in the winter time if the weather gods are in your favor or midnight sun views in the summer.