The Old Harbour was once the beating heart of Reykjavík, and Exeter Hotel is right at the centre of this reviving – and already thriving – waterfront district. The concrete-dominated interiors tick most of the boxes on any converted warehouse check-list, with a cool colour scheme of charcoal and gun-metal grey. Although the hotel is distinctly urban in look, feel and location, you’ll also be well placed (and well rested) to discover Iceland’s many natural wonders on land and by water. And, with the promise of hearty street food in the hotel’s casual eatery, and freshly made sweet treats from the in-house bakery, there’s all the more reason to work up an appetite on your glacier-scaling, geysir-crossing adventures.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of sparkling wine and locally made chocolates
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £170.69 (€198), including tax at 11 per cent.
Rates include a continental buffet breakfast, plus home-baked doughnuts, bagels, and Icelandic pastries.
All rooms are wheelchair-accessible and some have specially adapted bathrooms.
Exeter Hotel is open all year round.
At the hotel
Bakery, lounge, courtyard, sauna, gym, charged laundry and dry-cleaning services, plug adaptors, and free WiFi. In rooms: Bluetooth speakers, TV, Nespresso coffee machine with Sjöstrand coffee capsules, tea-making kit, mini-fridge, ironing board, bathrobe and slippers, and Sóley Organics bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Take a moment to pause when drawing back the curtains from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the hotel’s Harbour Suite. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula unravels in all its lava-encrusted, basalt beauty before you, and Mount Esja looms in the distance. This spacious, upper-floor suite brings the volcanic views to you, so it’s tempting to spend an extra few minutes sightseeing from the terrace or the low-slung bed (and the mattresses are remarkably comfy, by the way).
Hitting the sauna is practically a rite of passage in Iceland, and is a tried-and-tested way of warming up from the wintery wilderness. Work up a sweat without raising a finger in the hotel’s wood-panelled wellness area, or do some heavy lifting in the small yet sleek fitness room.
Swimwear might not immediately spring to mind for sub-zero temperatures, but it will come in handy if the Blue Lagoon is on your list. You’ll also see locals wandering the streets in ski-gear during the winter, because it’s just that cold (and windy).
The works of Reykjavík-born artist Hrafnkell Sigurðsson add a vibrant pop of colour to the concrete walls. Ask the hotel staff about where to view his photography, as it’s often on display in some of the city’s off-beat galleries.
The Exeter crowd is young, but you’ll generally find it’s cosier for couples than little Smiths here.
The hotel has taken great care to prioritise small, Scandinavian brands when sourcing its artwork and amenities. The bathrooms are stocked with sustainably packaged products from Icelandic clean beauty brand, Sóley Organics, which combines pure Icelandic water with Uva Ursi, a natural brightening agent from wild, handpicked Icelandic bearberry. The in-room coffee capsules are compostable, courtesy of eco-conscious Swedish coffee-machine makers, Sjöstrand.
It’s a bit of a free for all, but that adds to the fun of it. Grab one of the booths for a bit of extra room.
Layer up but dress down – the temperatures are as cool as the crowd that hangs out here.
The hotel’s quirky restaurant LeKock is always abuzz with locals swapping stories over street food (the ‘smashburgers’ and sesame-sprinkled chicken wings live up to the hype). The all-day menu is unpretentious yet delicious, and the chef strives to put his childhood memories on a plate. Stock up on the homemade pastries from the hotel’s bakery Deig, where you can build your own bagels and dunk doughnuts in your piping hot kaffi.
Evenings tend to spill over next door into the hotel’s casual bar, Tail, which has a cool-as-it-comes craft beer selection on tap, along with a tongue-in-cheek ‘kocktail’ list.
Breakfast is from 7am to 10am, with all-day dining options from 11.30am to midnight.
None, but there’s plenty to keep your appetite in check downstairs.
Exeter Hotel is just an anchor drop away from Reykjavík’s Old Harbour, an up-and-coming neighbourhood within walking distance of both the waterfront and the city centre.
Keflavík International Airport is just a 45-minute drive away, and the hotel can help to arrange taxis and private transfers for an additional charge – or organise a shuttle service.
There are no public railways in Iceland, but the capital’s bus services run regularly and are easy to navigate.
Lunar-like glaciers, bubbling blue lagoons, and thundering waterfalls draw adventurous day-trippers out from Reykjavík – making a car a must for exploring the Golden Circle. The hotel has eight underground parking spaces (for €35 a day) which guests staying in Junior Suites and the Harbour Suite can use free of charge.
Worth getting out of bed for
Slightly set back from the main coast road, Exeter Hotel’s Old Harbour location invites guests to get a little bit wet (and wild) by diving into the port’s water-based activities, including whale-watching and puffin-spotting cruises which depart from the pier just across the street. Back on dry land, the glittering, glass-fronted Harpa Concert Hall, the city’s cathedral, and the rainbow-painted Skólavörðustígur Street are all just 10-minutes away on foot. Urban sights aside, Reykjavík stands as the gateway to Golden Circle adventures, and the hotel’s hands-on reception team have all the most knowledgeable local guides up their sleeve. If you don’t mind the crowds, the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon are worth a soak, but the clifftop Sky Lagoon is far less of a tourist hotspot and guarantees a quieter geothermal experience – plus it boasts a swim-up bar. Also within day-trip distance are Skógafoss Waterfall, Langjökull Glacier, and the Great Geysir in Haukadalur Valley, and longer Icelandic itineraries should include the black-sand beach at Reynisfjara, and going off-grid in the Snæfellsjökull National Park.
The bountiful Icelandic waters have long supplied locals with daily fish dishes, but the Fish Market adds an extra splash of freshness to Reykjavík’s seafood scene, where just-off-the-boat catches are prepared in an open kitchen which is equipped with the country’s only robata grill. The same culinary creatives are behind the Grill Market, who are passionate about the provenance of their predominantly Icelandic ingredients, and are all about the raw factor of their meat and fish – cooked and smoked over wood and coal. The burger selection is likely to raise a few eyebrows, with minke whale and grilled reindeer on the menu, but you’ll be off to a good start with the freshly baked bread basket, topped with whipped butter and Icelandic lava salt, followed by the lightly smoked Arctic char with pickled fennel. Housed in the former Landsbankinn bank in downtown Reykjavík, Eiriksson Brasserie infuses traditional Icelandic dishes with the flavours of Italy – mull over the next morning’s hiking routes in the old money vault’s bottle-stuffed wine cellar.
The trendy Grandi district is right on Exeter Hotel’s doorstep, home to the FlyOver Iceland experience (a simulated flight ride which uses state-of-the-art technology and wrap-around screens) and its eatery, Kaffi Grandi. Soar (virtually) above Iceland’s otherworldly landscape before popping back down for a handcrafted cappuccino and kleina (deep-fried, cardamom-dusted Icelandic doughnuts).
It’s not that alcohol is in short supply in Iceland, but you can only buy booze in state-run stores – so it’s worth drinking up in bars and restaurants. Step into subtropical-styled Jungle Bar for exotic cocktails and some far-flung foliage (ideally time your visit for Mondays to take advantage of the all-day happy hour). Housed in a former pharmacy, Apótek prescribes artisan concoctions labelled as ‘painkillers’, ‘stimulants’, and ‘tranquillisers’ (some even have a ‘placebo’ effect). End the night with a shot of chilled Brennivín, an Icelandic spirit with the fiery translation, ‘burning wine’. You’ll soon discover another meaning to the land of fire and ice.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this slickly converted storage unit in Iceland and unpacked their well-worn waterproofs and Lopapeysa knitwear, a full account of their braving-the-elements break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Exeter Hotel in Reykjavík…
The impossible-to-ignore smell of freshly baked bread wafts down the Tryggvagata, luring hungry locals into Deig for their morning caffeine kick and to raid the stockpile of sugary treats. There’s usually a queue down the street for the in-house bakery, and as soon as you bite into one of the maple-glazed, bacon-infused doughnuts, you’ll understand why. It’s not immediately obvious that you’re entering a hotel, and that’s what gives Exeter Hotel a bit of an edge. Not that it’s short on edges, with its concrete walls, dark metal railings, and exposed wood – nodding to its industrial past as one of the harbour’s warehouses. Clean lines and neutral colours run through the compact yet cleverly designed rooms, in which space-saving measures (such as open hanging spaces standing in for wardrobes) add to the stripped-back style – and more importantly, up the functionality factor. Despite the minimalist and clutter-free interiors, there’s a relaxed, lived-in feel which makes you want to kick off your walking boots and hole up in your moodily-lit room. Though you’ll no doubt be drawn back downstairs by those oh-so-good pastries in the time it takes you to say kanilsnúðar (Icelandic cinnamon rolls).