Iceland’s tourism industry is booming. Last year alone the tiny island nation’s visitors increased by 40% compared to the previous year (a great read on that here)! The massive surge in numbers has left infrastructure somewhat lagging – with that I’m talking about luxury hotels. In fact, you can probably count the number of luxury hotels in Iceland on one hand. Ion Adventure hotel by Design Hotels is one of them.
Ion Adventure Hotel Iceland Review
The hotel has been featured in many “top hotels of the world” type lists, mainly due to the incredible location and minimal design of the hotel that’s such a stark contrast to the surrounding environment. This place really makes you feel like you’re on a different planet!
Along with the increasing demand for luxury stays in Iceland, the price of hotels have gone through the roof. Ion Adventure hotel is no different, average prices are $600+ a night, and this was also the case when I booked our Christmas getaway back in July.
This hotel has been on my bucket list for some time. The location is unique and very remote. Even though it’s only about an 80 minute drive to the airport and 50 minutes to Reykjavik, once you turn off the main highway you are literally in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived it was snowing heavily, and the road leading to the hotel and the nearby thermal power plant was fully snowed over.
The road winds through a set of hills with some steep drops next to it, so if you’re not comfortable driving in these conditions, you may want to seek transportation to the hotel. At this time of the year the sun comes up and 10:30 AM and sets at 3:30 PM so when we reached the hotel (after snorkelling between the continental rift) it was pitch black.
The reception had anticipated our arrival, and we were warmly greeted and offered a glass of sparkling wine while the front desk took care of formalities. Ion only has 45 rooms, and at the time of booking there were two still available. If you collect SPG points, you can redeem these for a stay here but get organised well in advance.
Rates range from 20,000 to 25,000 Starpoints per night which equates to 50,000 American Express Membership Reward points when transferred (expensive in my book!). If you want to learn more about how I booked our Iceland trip using points check out this post.
All the 44 rooms at the Ion Adventure Hotel are pretty much the same and are advertised as Deluxe or Standard. The main difference I noticed from the hotel website was the floor to ceiling windows in the Deluxe rooms. We had booked a deluxe room, and after finishing our drinks in the lobby, we headed to the room to have a look before jumping straight into the outdoor natural spa/pool.
The rooms are tiny but cosy which is perfectly fine. Ion Adventure hotel receives mixed reviews from guests, and I can see why. For the price you pay, the room is really substandard and definitely not luxurious. The luxury part of this hotel comes from the location and architecture which you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
The concept of the property is sustainability through design and by using only locally sourced elements which can be seen throughout the property. Room locations can be hit and miss, our room was at the start of the hallway which offered great views from the second level. But when walking around outside, we noticed that some rooms offered zero privacy from what would be relatively high foot traffic areas, and we could see straight into peoples rooms. Then there is the fact that on one side of the hotel you can see the view of the local power plant, which can be cool or annoying depending on your preference. Personally, I prefer a view of the landscape.
I’m not sure if this was the norm throughout the whole hotel, but our bed came with two sets of duvets, both placed horizontally on the bed which meant we had one to cover our feet and 1 to cover our body. Having two duvets is common in Germany and Switzerland, but at least they’re designed to be used vertically, in any case I was too tired both nights to bother complaining about it.
The bathroom is tiny (even though described as “large” on the hotel website) but the shower was big enough and had good pressure – it’s all you need really. Amenities such as shower gel and shampoo all came in big reusable pump bottles which kind of grosses me out, but the products themselves were very nice.
All rooms are accessed via the main corridor, and there are two levels of rooms all leading to the lounge/bar area at the end of the building with vast views of the surroundings. Unfortunately, we were out and about exploring all day so only got to see the hotel in the dark!
The Spa and naturally heated pool are on the ground level and one of the major draw cards for this hotel. There’s just something magical about sitting in a 40-degree pool heated by volcanic activity while snow is falling down on you. The pool is accessed through 2 large changing rooms (one for the ladies and one for the gents) with a relaxing lounge room in the middle which I assumed was intended for before or after spa treatments. The spa itself we skipped as prices were astronomical.
The hotel’s location is both a blessing and a curse. Due to the remoteness, the hotel’s Silfra Restaurant is the only dining option within a 40 min driving radius. Outside of the restaurant opening hours, there is zero to none availability when it comes to food. Pro tip: take some snacks!
We booked dinner at the Silfra Restaurants for both nights. Before heading to dinner, we enjoyed a few drinks at the Northern Light Bar (ps. unfortunately we didn’t see any northern lights on our trip…a good reason to go back!). The hotel has some happy hour prices on beers and wines which is a 50% reduction, making the prices “normal” when a regular glass of wine will set you back $20. Although the staff were very friendly, they lacked basic bartending knowledge, and even though Old Fashioned was listed on the cocktail menu, they failed in the execution of this basic cocktail.
Onto the restaurant and it soon became clear that being the only dining facility it meant they had a license to charge as they pleased. The menu was a set course of either 2 or 3 options which consisted of: soup, main, dessert. Simple, and so was the price. The three-course menu was around $180 and the two-course option around $120. Looking at the menu as I write this post, I think the pricing and options available must have been limited and increased due to the fact we were there for Christmas Eve and day.
The wine was also in excess of $150 for a bottle so after my dessert never showed up (1 hour after finishing my main), I questioned the manager as to why she thought it was appropriate to charge such exorbitant prices but fail to deliver on basic service. Her response was professional, and the next evening we dined for free!
Breakfast is served in the same area as the restaurant and is a dire affair, to say the least. It was an absolute disappointment compared to my epic breakfasts from the Canopy Hotel we stayed at a few days prior. Food was kept at a minimum with the eggs and bacon being somewhat cold under the “heating lamp”, pastries were definitely not fresh, and neither was the coffee.
The worst part was that it wasn’t included in the room rate and charged at approximately $33 per person! Even as a gold or platinum SPG member you won’t be getting this for free…
Overall I have mixed feelings about my stay at the Ion Adventure hotel. It’s a beautiful place and the stark, minimal setting against a backdrop of ice and snow is just out of this world. Unless some other interesting luxury hotels open up in more remote areas of Iceland, I would probably stay here again, simply because it is one of the best hotels around.
There are definitely some improvements that could be made to bring this hotel up to standard and worthy of its outrageously overpriced room rates. I think it will take a few years for Iceland to catch up with the crazy demand. Once the number of true international luxury hotels increases, we should see a slight easing on the prices as hotels like this will need to shape up to compete.