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The Hotel(s) – Northern Light Inn, Grindavik and Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, Reykjavik


Four hotels in four nights; yes, it seems crazy and I certainly wouldn't do it again, but the choice to be so nomadic during our stay in Iceland was not just so I could sample four hotels.  Factoring in that the three of us were arriving on one, but departing on three different flights, (meaning a total of four flight transfers) that we were chasing the Northern Lights, that we had to visit the Blue Lagoon as a priority, and that many of the other activities we were trying to fit in were either based in or exclusively picked up from Reykjavik, and also that our top choices (this and the Blue Lagoon hotel) were only available for one night at a time for 3 people and you'll see that this itinerary actually made sense (sort of).  Having said that, this approach also led to a huge amount of time on coaches (after the first 2 hours of looking at frozen lava fields it gets a bit dull), and despite the heating being on full, waterproof walking shoes and two pairs of socks (one of them cashmere) very, very cold feet.


If you do choose to stay in just one hotel then this is the one.  Leaving aside all the perks of this hotel (which I'll come back to don't worry), what makes this hotel so special is its focus on the Northern Light, not… the Northern Lights plural.  This is what confuses many people as some hotels, usually the ones 3 or 4 hours drive from Reykjavik are great destination hotels for viewing the Northern Lights, but this hotel, although you can see the Northern Lights from here (and we did – although much weaker than the night before somewhere in a field between here and Reykjavik) frames the local scenery and the stunning effects of the daylight upon it.  We were actually spoiled by the light here, not only did we get a late night phone call to wake us up when the Northern Lights did make their appearance (see The Sight!) but the sun also did a little dance for us, shining pink and rainbow colours around the snow which I got to experience first hand from the wonderful observatory lounge on the first floor which has a 360 degree view and a balcony (if you are prepared to venture out on a frozen floor with frozen railings!)


After having spent the night before on a coach looking at the Northern Lights, and all day on a minibus exploring all kinds of geographic phenomena, this hotel was the perfect remedy.  As much as I enjoyed our city centre hotels and the Blue Lagoon they seemed to be built to conserve space, which seems a little strange when you consider the vast unpopulated areas of Iceland, the Northern Light Inn is built much more with sprawling in mind.  Not that it's a massive hotel, but as well as the spacious restaurant with picture windows, as you walk to your room you'll find many lounge areas, sofas in front of fires, books on coffee tables, all with equally stunning views of the frozen lava.  (I just wish that we had taken better advantage of the sofas on our next day here rather than attempting a walk in freezing winds.)


Our room was both the largest and the cosiest of our stay (and the girls let me have the double bed in our room of one double and two singles), the bathroom had the best shower and this is also the kind of hotel where you can make a lovely cup of hot chocolate or tea in your room before wandering off to a lounge or the 360 viewpoint "lounge" to relax in harmony with nature.


Another reason for choosing this hotel over the Blue Lagoon was the food.  I’d heard some sad reviews of dinner at the Blue Lagoon hotel, so for a night when we were planning a relaxed dinner together this was the perfect choice, although the food was a bit patchy in places with some dishes arriving cooler than we'd liked.  Starters and desserts were served buffet style which meant that I had a rather nasty surprise when what I thought was a chocolate mousse turned out to be some kind of brown raisin-y porridge – some of the local food just isn't to my taste!


However the breakfast more than made up for it with not only last night's chocolate brownies and other cakes added to the breakfast buffet, but also masses of local smoked salmon, creamy butter and fresh bread.  You really could eat your own body weight in salmon here.  The smoked salmon still smelled smoky and was a world away from the average supermarket taste.


If you are comparing hotel prices in Iceland then you also need to factor in what is and isn't included.  All of the hotels included good breakfasts and the usual hotel toiletries, the Blue Lagoon includes use of both the private and main lagoons, the Northern Light Inn includes transfers to the airport (as well as use of hotel towels for the Blue Lagoon – you can either walk or be dropped off by their complimentary minibus).  If you're going on an organised trip most will pick you up from any hotel in Reykjavik, so if it's a full day you're best off staying in the city, and for a good quality hotel with nice views of the Harpa building (which changes colour!) and harbour I’d recommend the Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, good value, great breakfast and also a bath tub – although the shower did seem to soak the floor, but I'd skip their bar – horrendous service as it's also a restaurant and you only seem to get served when all restaurant guests have been seen to.  There's also a mini spa in the basement, but you do need to give them notice to heat it up.


(The  Centerhotel Thingholt was also good in its fashion – uber design hotel, but when you find yourself saying to your room mate about the light switch "there's a knack to it", banging your head on lampshades (I'm only 5 foot 5),  worrying about flashing them through the window between the bathroom and the back of the cupboard – and having to ask the hotel staff how exactly you sit in a particular chair and they don't even know, I’d say it's over "designed"!)


All of the hotels we stayed at were wonderful in their own way but the Northern Light Inn comes out the top for me because of the views, and the feeling that, even sitting in a warm, cosy lounge you are out there in the ice, snow and smoke and northern light of Iceland.


Four person room (one double and two single beds) for three people

ISK 33,000, €198, £165 at the Northern Light Inn


Double room is €70 (£58) 11,661 ISK

Single room is €65 (£54) 10,828 ISK at Centerhotel Arnarhvoll booked through


Information correct as at March 2012

Northern Light Inn, Grindavik
Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, Reykjavik
Northern Light Inn, Grindavik, Iceland
Northern Light Inn, Grindavik, Iceland
Northern Light Inn, Grindavik, Iceland
Northern Light Inn breakfast

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