Occupying a wooden, century-old building, the Kvosin Downtown Hotel, as its name implies, offers the most central of locations from which to ramble leisurely through Reykjavik and take in the city’s main sights.
Originally a row of private houses then a series of businesses, this four-star aparthotel opened only two years ago underwent further renovation within the last few months to extend the number of rooms it offers to twenty-four.
Standing on Kirkjutorg (Church Street), it is close to city hall with a sizeable lake known as ‘The Pond’ behind it and the National Museum of Iceland a 15-minute walk away. Laugavegur Street, a busy hub filled with cafes, stores and restaurants, is a stone’s throw in one direction while the National Gallery of Iceland is the same on the other.
Even the short ferry trip to historic Videy Island, where food and supplies were transported during the formative days of the city’s development, is convenient – the departure dock is ten minutes walk away, beside Harpa, Reykjavik’s largest and most modern concert hall.
A young and helpful staff, under the guidance of manager, Snorri Valsson, welcomes guests warmly upon arrival and offers enthusiastic advice about where to go, what to do and how to get there. With its Alpine-style façade and whimsical interior, the hotel leaves one with the impression of being in frontier territory, so much so you half-expect to see horses, or at least, large-antlered reindeer, tethered up outside when you go out strolling. We found this sense of homespun authenticity, devoid of ultra-modern chrome, metal and glass architectural elements, most refreshing.
For convenience, all 24 rooms, located along several lightly painted wooden walkways, feature kitchenettes with refrigerators and stovetops, Nespresso machine and free pods, plus complimentary WiFi and LED TVs with satellite channels and MP3 docks. The Kvosin also has a downstairs bar off the spacious lobby while excellent breakfasts are served just around the corner in the rustic, Scandinavian-style Bergsson café. Try not to overdose on the delicious fresh bread and homemade granola.
Being so central means hotel guests can see a lot in a very short time. For example, on our first day, we headed first to the National Museum, a pleasant walk along the lakeside. Reflecting life in Iceland from the medieval days of the Vikings to current contemporary culture, the museum grants comprehensive insights into the nation’s development. Artifacts range from ancient runes carved on rock to a 12th century spade, a wood block and axe-blade used in the last Icelandic execution in 1830 and the ornate Valthjofsstadur door featuring elaborate medieval engravings depicting scenes from the legendary 12th century knight’s tale, Le Chevalier au Lion.
In the afternoon, for something entirely different, walk in the opposite direction to visit the unique Icelandic Phallological Museum. Founded by Sigurdur Hjartarson, a University of Edinburgh graduate and teacher for 37 years and now run by his son Hjörtur Gísli, the museum houses the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts from all mammals in Iceland, including whales, reindeer, seals, polar bears, walruses and dolphins, all dried or pickled in preserving alcohol. The exhibition is actually quite scientific and educational, balanced by a quirky sense of humor. The most imaginative items in the souvenir store are lampshades made from ram scrotums and bow ties in soft whale penis leather.
Needing a hot bath after a day’s city walking, rather than return to the hotel, set off for one of Iceland’s most popular gathering points, neighbourhood thermal pools. In this respect, while the picturesque Blue Lagoon is a well-known tourism attraction 30 miles outside the city, there are other such pools within Reykjavik offering not only the chance to relax in warm, communal open-air waters but to speak to local people and learn more about the cultural nuances.
Refreshed and clean, we attended a classical music concert at the Harpa followed by a fine meal at Kolabrautin, its fourth-floor restaurant overlooking the harbor.
Next morning you can walk to the National Art Gallery, which houses 11,000 works (we didn’t managed to see them all) and take the 30-minute ferry ride to Videy Island for an afternoon’s exploration.
When in Reykjavik try the Kvosin, it’s a no-frills hotel that emanates a rich sense of heritage and is extremely convenient for discovering the best the city has to offer.