This has certainly been a great year to visit Iceland. With direct flights from several U.S. cities and airfare sales, my trips this year have been easy ones. And as visitors to Iceland we’re assured of having a unique adventure on arrival.
Although flights have been relatively affordable, one of the greatest expenses of a trip to Iceland is lodging. We’re big fans of cutting lodging expense costs by using hotel loyalty points or free night certificates … and that was certainly my strategy when returning to Iceland this fall.
On a previous trip earlier this year, I discovered the Mr & Mrs Smith brand of hotels due to its partnership with IHG. I stayed at the Kvosin Hotel in downtown Reykjavik, the capital city, and instantly became a fan of the brand.
Mr & Mrs Smith has 3 properties in Iceland, and during a recent return visit, I was able to experience the Sand Hotel, also in Reykjavik. Best of all, I was able to use hotel loyalty points, once again, for my stay.
Let’s start first with some background on the hotel, its location, and how to get there. Then I’ll review how I booked the hotel, my experience during the stay, and a snapshot of what there was to do in the immediate area around the hotel.
About the Hotel
The Sand Hotel (also known as Sandhotel), part of the Keahotels hotel chain in Iceland, is a small boutique hotel with just 66 rooms and 11 suites. While housed in a formal townhouse complex, the hotel has additional historical significance.
The historical connections within the walls of the hotel stem from the Sandholt Bakery, a city institution dating back to 1920, and a gentlemen’s store also established in the 1920s. The triangle of history continues within the hotel complex with the 1920 birth on-site of Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness. The hotel is very proud of its baker, tailor, and writer connections and is sure you’ll feel the historical connection during your stay.
The city of Reykjavik is not anywhere near Keflavik Airport, the main arrival airport on the island. Reykjavik is about a 45-minute to 1-hour ride away, so transportation is necessary. But upon arrival at the Sand Hotel, I was in the heart of everything the capital city had to offer and it was a good base for exploring the surrounding area.
Located on the main Reykjavik shopping street of Laugavegur, the Sand Hotel offered access to restaurants, bars, shops, the waterfront, and main attractions, all within walking distance.
Flying to Iceland
I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve® to book my flights using Ultimate Rewards points. I found a flight on United from Northern Michigan using the Google Flights tool for $838 flight round-trip and was able to secure it via the Chase travel portal for about 55,900 points — each point is worth 1.5 cents when used for payment in the portal.
Booking with Ultimate Rewards points also ensured I’d earn Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) and Elite Qualifying Points (PQP) toward United elite status. And, since I was participating in a United 1K status challenge, the choice would serve a dual purpose.
I had already selected my hotel and made sure it was available using points prior to booking the flights, so now it was time to finish the booking.
Booking the Hotel
Booking early offered me the best availability using IHG One Rewards points to book the Sand Hotel. Reward nights disappear quickly as peak season (summer) gets closer. I logged in to my IHG One Rewards account and indicated Reykjavik as my destination to find a room at the Sand Hotel.
For the nights I selected for my stay in September 2022, I paid 57,500 IHG One Rewards points per night. We value IHG One Rewards points at around 0.5 cents per point, so, in fact, I used approximately $262.50 worth of points for each night.
The cash price for the nights I selected was €394 per night for a standard double room, so I was happy to receive better value by using my points. I could have also used a combination of points earned on my IHG-branded credit card with cash.
Hot Tip: If you are considering booking a cash rate, have a look at our recommendations for the best credit cards for IHG One Rewards loyalists.
Transportation to the Hotel
Chances are unless you’re arriving from another city in Iceland (or possibly Greenland), you’ll be landing at Keflavik International Airport (KEF), the main airport on the island for international arrivals. To reach the Sand Hotel, you’ll need to secure transportation into the city of Reykjavik. Fortunately, there are several options.
First, if you’re renting a vehicle, it will take approximately an hour to reach the hotel. However, you won’t need a vehicle to navigate the city, so if you want to spend a couple of days exploring Reykjavik, you may save money by waiting to rent a vehicle.
If you do drive to the hotel, there is a parking structure just a short walk from the hotel. Here are some additional tips and prices for parking in Reykjavik.
You can also opt for a taxi, but it is the most expensive option starting at around $160 (~ kr. 21,947). The hotel is also happy to arrange transportation for you, also for a fee.
One of the best options for transportation to the city, and the Sand Hotel, is to take a bus. FlyBus and Airport Direct, the most prominent options, offer comfortable direct bus transportation to the central bus station where you can connect to a hotel shuttle or take a taxi.
You can also opt for a direct mini-bus, offered by each company, that will take you and the accompanying passengers from the airport to your Reykjavik hotel without making the transfer at the central station. Expect to pay about $50 for direct service.
For transport to the city, and to my hotel, I chose FlyBus. For ~$32 one-way, I secured a ticket to the central bus station that included an ongoing shuttle to drop me off close to the hotel.
The city of Reykjavik has a unique bus stop system for tourist transport that incorporates numbered bus stops strategically located near hotels and landmarks throughout the city. The Sand Hotel is located near Bus Stop 14 – Skúlagata. This is the stop at which many tour companies and airport shuttle buses will drop off and pick up.
The final option I’ll mention for transportation to the city is the public bus. The public bus system, called Strætó, runs from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik via Line 55. The ride will cost between $13 to $15 and will take in excess of an hour.
Hot Tip: Always allow plenty of time for travel to and from the airport to the hotel, especially if you’ll be staying in the city and need to catch an early flight out of Keflavik Airport. The bus companies recommend leaving Reykjavik about 4 hours before your flight if using bus transport. If you have an early morning flight and want to stay near KEF airport, the Courtyard by Marriott Reykjavik Keflavik is a good choice.
As you walk down the sidewalk toward the hotel, you’ll probably notice the Sandholt Bakery sign before you find the Sand Hotel. The bakery is attached to the hotel, but you will need to enter the space that is open between the buildings to find the hotel entrance.
Between the Sandholt Bakery and the Sandbar, look for the alleyway between the buildings for the sign that will lead you to the hotel entrance.
As soon as you turn the corner, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
The hotel is made up of several buildings attached to each other, therefore the multi-dimensional layout.
We’ve arrived! Now it’s time to check-in.
Many flights arrive early in the day, so it can be a challenge to check into your hotel room prior to the official 3 p.m. check-in time. Also, Reykjavik hotels sell out in the summer, which makes it difficult for properties to accommodate early arrivals.
I arrived at the hotel around 11 a.m. and my room, as expected, was not yet ready. However, a priority request from the front desk was made to housekeeping and I was in my room by noon.
The normal check-in time is 3 p.m. and checkout is at noon.
While I waited for my room to be ready, I was offered coffee, which I gladly accepted. There was no recognition of my IHG status, and none was expected, as Mr & Mrs Smith hotels have only a partnership with IHG and are not IHG properties.
I received a welcome amenity of handmade chocolates, created by the Sandholt Bakery, located within the building.
Although located on the lower level of the hotel, the skylights added light to the room. The fitness center was small but seemed more spacious due to the layout.
Additionally, there was a collection of free weights.
Sanitizing supplies and fresh cold water were available at the station by the door.
The hotel didn’t have a separate business center, but the front desk staff said they were happy to print out any needed documents.
The hotel had 4 specially-adapted wheelchair-accessible rooms. Baby cots, high chairs, buggies, and child-friendly books were available for complimentary use. Roll-away beds were available for a charge of kr. 6,500 (~$46) per night.
The front desk staff members were very knowledgeable and happy to book a tour or transportation.
Approach and Entrance Area
There was nothing exciting about the hallway leading to my room, but it was well-lit and clean.
Entering the room, the entryway was quite normal, but what I liked most about it was the full-length mirror attached to the outside of the bathroom door.
Bedroom and Sitting Area
The room, a typical size as far as I’ve seen in Iceland, was elegant and nicely decorated. The room was also bright with lots of outdoor light coming in.
Although I booked a standard double room, the bed was a generous queen-sized bed. There was also a nice comfy leather chair in the corner.
The bed had nice crispy clean linens and I found it to be extremely comfortable.
The nightstands were traditional but updated with 2 USB ports at each nightstand.
I needed to move a nightstand and remove an existing plug to access an electrical outlet. Not a huge deal, just worth noting as my rapid charger did not have a USB connector, only a standard plug.
There were 2 other available electrical outlets in the room. I found 1 in the bathroom and another behind the leather chair.
The stand-alone closet structure had space for hanging clothes, storage, a hair dryer, robes, slippers, a coffee station, a small refrigerator, a safe, and a vintage-looking Bluetooth speaker.
Behind the small door were the safe and the small refrigerator.
The coffee station had nice earthenware mugs, real spoons, napkins, various teas, instant coffees, condiments, Nespresso coffee pods, and a Nespresso machine.
The bathroom was compact, but beautifully outfitted completely in granite. A nice touch I always appreciate is heated floors, which this room had. I also liked that the subtle night light automatically came on at night when I entered the room.
I really liked the bathroom.
With great lighting and high-end Mandarin & Clark Sage amenities from London, the space was bright and slightly fragrant.
The shower was outfitted with a rain shower head and shower wand.
Full-size amenities were mounted in the shower and consisted of shampoo, conditioner, and hair/body wash.
The desk was of adequate size, but the nearest electrical outlet wasn’t close and the chair was comfortable for only a short period of time. I don’t suppose many travelers come to Iceland to sit and work at a desk, however.
Internet speeds were powerful enough for me to work seamlessly.
The huge TV, I’ll guess 48 to 54 inches as I didn’t bring my measuring tape, had 34 channels, of which several were English language channels, plus some additional radio channels.
There weren’t any options for syncing my own devices, but there were plenty of options to watch TV. Hopefully, you’d be too tired from the day’s Icelandic adventures to watch too much.
The windows were about 6 feet tall and opened just a narrow amount. This picture of my view from room 317 was taken through the glass.
Looking further to the right, the view was simply of the surrounding buildings. And, although the views weren’t great, few hotels in the city have spectacular views. Plus, my room was well-protected from street noise and loud bar music, which were negative comments mentioned in several of the hotel’s online reviews.
While there was no rooftop deck, on each of the top floors 3, 4, and 5, I could step outside on a balcony and look about.
Bottom Line: Although my room was compact, it was comfortable, clean, and very elegant. Plus, breakfast was included.
Food and Beverages
There were 3 options for eating and drinking at the hotel. While the hotel did not have a full-service restaurant, I didn’t go hungry between the Bistro, Sandbar, and Sandholt Bakery. Here are the food and beverage options you’ll find at the hotel.
Bistro and Sandbar
The Bistro and Sandbar venues were in the same space. Breakfast was served in the space in the morning and the bar opened in the late afternoon.
Located on the ground floor of the hotel, breakfast was served in the Bistro space from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. each day and was complimentary for all guests.
I was greeted immediately upon entering the room, walked to my table, and asked if I wanted coffee or tea.
The Bistro, located in the front of the hotel, was a great spot to people-watch as it was right at sidewalk level.
Breakfast began at the sanitizing station where I picked up my silverware, plates, and napkins.
Starting out, there were several homemade breads and pastries from which to select. Guests could request a gluten-free option as well. Also offered were 2 types of cheeses, 1 of which was local.
Next up, there was a selection of 2 types of smoked salmon, with herbs and without, and assorted sliced meats, including local ham.
As per usual, the Icelandic vegetables and fruits were fresh, colorful, and tasty. There were plenty of salad fixings, herring, tuna salad, surimi salad, spreads, eggs, and Caprese salad.
I asked the servers about the foods, as some were labeled as local but others were not. When I saw a tray of unbaked croissants and rising bread, it prompted me to find out if any of the other items on the buffet were local. The salmon, although not marked, turned out to be from nearby waters, and some vegetables were from local greenhouses.
There were a lot of choices of yogurt and cereal toppings, but also notice the tray of croissants in the background waiting for the oven.
There were cereal, muesli, and yogurt selections, but no hot oatmeal.
It’s common to find several milk choices on an Icelandic breakfast buffet. Here I found oat, soy, whole, and skim. Juice choices included apple, orange, and grapefruit.
Finally, no Icelandic breakfast buffet would be complete without cod liver oil. There was also a nice selection of teas, natural sweeteners, and lemon wedges.
Normally, a hotel breakfast is planning time for me. I like to anticipate the activities of the day, work out the logistics, and shore up any last-minute details. But today I simply enjoyed my pot of coffee (that stayed hot in the container right until the end) and documented the experience to share with you.
Bottom Line: While there were no hot items on the breakfast buffet, the choices were varied, fresh, and tasty. Plus, the buffet was provided complimentary to all guests, allowing everyone to start their Icelandic day with the energy they’d need.
Sandbar was open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Happy hour started at 4 p.m. and went until 6 p.m. Specialty beers were kr. 1,100 (~ $7.63), house wines were kr. 1,000 (~$6.93), and a cocktail of the day for kr. 1,600 (~$11.00).
Unfortunately, there were no snacks or food available in the Sandbar, but I could easily grab something from the Sandholt bakery adjacent to the bar as it was open until 6 p.m. The Sandbar was very busy during happy hour.
It was a real sweet treat, both visually and tastefully, to visit the Sandholt Bakery on the ground floor level of the Sand Hotel.
The Sandholt Bakery was also responsible for the chocolates I received at check-in.
In addition to fine baked goods and chocolates, the Sandholt Bakery served handcrafted sandwiches and breakfast. Check out its menu online.
The bakery also had a pantry market with a collection of takeaway items such as jams, mustards, cheeses, meats, nuts, candies, yogurts, assorted drinks, and more.
Items were available for takeout or dine-in. The bakery had both indoor and outdoor seating.
The Sand Hotel made for a perfect base for exploring not only the city of Reykjavik, but touring the surrounding areas. Here are some of the sights and activities available nearby.
- Supermarkets — With a few blocks is a full-service Bonus supermarket 200 meters to the right when exiting the hotel, and a corner store about the same distance when exiting to the left. Note that supermarkets do not sell alcohol in Iceland, but have most other necessary provisions.
- Iceland’s Tallest and Most Famous Church — Just a short walk from the hotel is Hallgrimshirkja church. Stop in to see the modern pipe organ and climb the tower for an impressive view of the city.
- Geothermal Pools — The Sundholl Reykjavikur was opened in 1937 and is the oldest pool in the city. Most geothermal pools are located outdoors, but the Sundholl is unique in that it also has indoor pools enjoyable year-round. There are 18 pools in the surrounding area.
- Sun Voyager — Every major city has its identifiable sculpture. The Sun Voyager represents Reykjavik, so be sure to walk along the waterfront and snap a photo.
- Famous Hot Dogs — Bill Clinton and the Kardashians can’t be wrong when it comes to hot dogs. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is world-famous and within walking distance of the Sand Hotel. Its lamb-based hot dog is also one of the best food values in Iceland.
- Window Shopping, Real Shopping, or People-watching — The hotel is on the city’s main shopping drag, so indulge in your surroundings.
- Happy Hours — Alcohol is expensive in Iceland, but there are a multitude of happy hours throughout Reykjavik — they’re everywhere. Use the AppyHour app, available for Android and iOS, to find one near you.
Hot Tip: Alcohol is expensive in Iceland, but you can minimize the expense by picking up a few bottles of your favorites at the Duty-Free store on arrival before leaving the secure area at KEF airport. Additionally, you can download the Reykjavik Appy Hour app for IOS or Android via your phone’s app store to find out where the nearest happy hour is near you.
- Whales and Puffins Tours — The nearby harbor is the base for several boat tour companies, so it’s an easy walk to start a tour.
- Island Tours — Reykjavik’s designated bus stop system for tour pick-ups allows for day tours without needing to rent a vehicle. Both Reykjavik Excursions and Viator (using local vendors) offer affordable and accessible tours from the city bus stops, but there are several others. The hotel can also assist in booking tours from the city.
- Museums — Many of the top museums in Iceland are walkable from the hotel, including the Saga Museum, Punk Museum, Reykjavik Art Museum, and The National Gallery. Icelandic museums are generally not free.
- Traditional Icelandic Food — There are dozens of restaurants in the area around the hotel. For traditional Icelandic food in a casual atmosphere, try Cafe Loki. It’s a short walk from the hotel, across from Hallgrimshirkja church.
- The Blue Lagoon — The famous Blue Lagoon is just 20 minutes away and transportation is easy to arrange.
Hot Tip: The Sand Hotel is located in the heart of everything there is to do in Reykjavik. Here are some additional tips for things to do while you’re in the city.
The service I received at the Sand Hotel was cordial and helpful. I appreciated the extra effort to accommodate my early check-in and get me into my room promptly. I was also pleased with the pot of fresh coffee during my short wait.
Additionally, the front desk staff was able to grant my request for a late checkout even though the hotel was full.
I didn’t have any problems as things went smoothly, so it was a very pleasant stay.
I enjoyed my time at the Sand Hotel. I especially liked the location with everything right outside the door. I would stay there again if I could secure the hotel with IHG One Rewards points or a free night certificate, as I felt I received great value.
If you have a lot of IHG One Rewards points in your account, check out the Mr & Mrs Smith properties on the IHG website as a nice boutique alternative to IHG-branded hotels.
If you haven’t already, you may also want to consider an IHG-branded card that has complimentary elite status, elevated earnings, and a free hotel night certificate each card anniversary year.
Also, if you’re planning to visit Iceland, check out these additional hotel reviews from my previous visits: