My impressions of the unique ION Adventure Hotel near the Golden Circle. Find out if it’s worth it or not.
Do you have a hotel bucket list? Well, I certainly do and the ION Adventure Hotel in Iceland has always been on it. Nestled into the Icelandic moss at is, it always felt like the perfect base to explore the famous Golden Circle and everything that lies beyond.
This summer I finally had the chance to stay a couple of nights at the unique luxury hotel and saw all the amazing highlights on the ring road. As always, when I stay at spectacular hotels, I penned down an honest and unbiased review of the ION Adventure hotel. So, keep reading if you are wondering whether it’s worth spending around 350 – 600$ a night or not.
Disclaimer: I had no association with ION Adventure hotel at the time of writing this review whatsoever. I stayed 4 nights at one of their deluxe rooms at the beginning of August 2017 and, as always, fully paid for it myself. That being said, there are a couple of affiliate links in this article and I earn a commission if you book through these links.
The ION Adventure Hotel (<- click for current prices and booking opportunities) is located some 40 miles away from Reyikjavík, very close to the Golden Circle and the Thingvellir National Park (both a must visit on any trip to Iceland). The hotel has a huge focus on sustainability and also won a couple of design awards. On top of that, it is one of only three luxury hotels in Iceland and thus your only true alternative, if you want to see the green islands without sleeping in bunk beds (okay, that’s an exaggeration).
And let me tell you, the ION hotel certainly looks extremely pretty on pictures. The spa in the basement is a very welcome haven after a long day on the road exploring Iceland’s fantastic sites. But what most pictures don’t show you: A geothermal plant is right next to it. While the plant does literally nothing but pumping hot water from the earth, there is a pervasive sulfurous smell all about the hotel.
If you are unlucky, you will get a room with a view of the plant, instead of the valley below. From a certain point of view, the billowing clouds of super-heated water do have their own aesthetic, but personally speaking, they could have built the hotel in a more secluded area & escape the smell.
The rooms at the ION Adventure hotel are not too large, but sufficient. I’d say roundabout 20 square meters all in all. The mattresses were rather hard (which I love), and there was a lovely view from my room.
The bathrooms of the deluxe rooms don’t have a tub, only a shower. The toilet is squeezed in between shower and sink (seems to be very popular in Iceland) and I’d imagine people not as skinny as I will actually have minor problems with it. There was an unusually loud ventilation unit installed, but I do confess that this is one of my pet peeves.
The shower is quite nice, though. Weirdly enough, Icelandic hotels seem to prefer open showers (had them in all hotels I stayed here). Looks nice, but the bathroom turns into a lake after each shower. Could have gotten a bigger shower head as well.
Sadly my room was located right atop the spa and right behind the bar (see below). So, it was quite the loud affair and no place to relax. All in all, the hotel appeared to be quite loud. That’s probably a result of people only staying a night or two and something that probably cannot be helped. Housekeeping also could have made use of a vacuum cleaner once or twice, and they didn’t bother to clean my room on the last day at all (just to get this right, I mean the last day, not the checkout day!).
There are only three hotels (I know of) in Iceland with a spa worth their name, and the ION Adventure Hotel is one of them. Still, it’s no grand affair. The pool measures perhaps 10 times 2 meters and is only 60 centimeters deep.
Why they didn’t decide to build something bigger, is utterly beyond me. As close as the geothermal plant is, a large outside pool could be (in my opinion) easily and cheaply added to the hotel. As it is, the pool is frequently very crowded and it gets very loud.
There is also a tiny sauna, where about 3 people will fit in. Again, I don’t understand why they didn’t get a bigger room for so many guests. They wasted a lot of space on changing rooms and showers but didn’t install the facilities to support them. Also, the pool malfunctioned on 3 out of 4 days – it was either too hot or too cold or closed for maintenance.
There is also a silent room meant for relaxation after the sauna or pool. While there is a tea kettle (and two cups *lol*), I am not entirely sure why they don’t offer a wider range of refreshments and snacks (like dried fruits, nuts, etc) to the weary travelers.
My well meant tip: Get a good architect, built a proper infinity pool to one of the sides and a lava grotto as a big steam room.
Breakfast at the ION is an austere affair, to say the least. They don’t really offer you a selection of freshly brewed coffee, there is no egg menu and only a tiny variety of bread. There are no fresh juices and nothing that really spells out sustainability either. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of hostels offering you better breakfast than the ION. I’d give it 2 out of 10 possible points. And that is ignoring the staggering price, they charge for ham, three preserves and a box of cereals (that is literally the whole breakfast buffet on the picture).
I am not sure who is in charge of it, but I’d fire the guy. Either bring breakfast up the international standard OR do something authentic Icelandic, with quality products from selected farms and tell that story.
When I asked for a hot chocolate (I neither drink tea or coffee), they wanted to charge 600 króna (~6 US-Dollar) for it. Needless to say, I totally declined. Not that I can’t afford it, but when rooms cost 550 US-Dollar a night, I feel it’s kind of insolent to add a fucking price tag to a hot chocolate or a cappuccino at breakfast. While they offered toasts, the waitress kindly informed me that no toaster was available.
The bar & restaurant
The ION Adventure hotel has a fantastic bar. In my opinion, it’s actually nothing short of stunning. I sadly visited in summer and couldn’t watch the northern lights from here, but I’d imagine it to be a beyond fantastic experience (we did saw a couple of polar fox cubs tho!!). The interior design is very balanced. They might have tried to squeeze in more seats, as it fills rather quickly, but that is criticising a very high level.
I also dined at the restaurant and really have to admit that I ate my best seafood soup in Iceland here. While dinner is served in the same room, it had nothing in common in terms of quality and taste with breakfast. Naturally, prices are quite steep, but that’s something you really have to plan for in Iceland. In fact, I’d rather pay 40 US-Dollar for a spectacular seafood soup than 20 US-Dollar for one that tastes like fresh from the can (generally speaking I found the good restaurants in Iceland to be less overpriced than the very cheap ones).
Either way, I can really recommend the restaurant from the bottom of my heart and I’d say they offer quality food for a decent price.
Finding out about the Adventure in ION Adventure hotel
When entering our room, or at the reception, I could find utterly no hint that this was, in fact, an adventure hotel. There was no brochure, the somewhat inexperienced lady at the reception didn’t mention it at all. <I think> there are tours to be booked, but God alone knows which.
What’s even funnier: Directly in the vicinity of the hotel, you will find one of Iceland’s best geothermal fields (Myvatn might be more spectacular; find more pictures here). It’s just a short hike around the corner, and nobody even mentioned it.
You also got a lot of spectacular hiking options branching off directly from the hotel entrance, but it seems you really are meant to find out yourself. There is a tablet in the room for your convenience, but it must have been too hard to load some meaningful information on it without googling yourself.
But the list goes on: There is even a climbing parkour about 500 meters away from the hotel, but naturally these are not mentioned either. I really couldn’t find any meaningful information (& forecasts) for the Northern Lights (a simple tv screen at the reception or even a blackboard would so easily do).
So, yes there is a lot of adventures to be had, but you kind of have to actively ask them about it. It feels they are catering to a lot of tour companies and sort of grew complacent over the years.
Note: You get a complimentary ipad in your room, where you can access the hotel homepage, where the adventures to be booked can be found. Again, you are supposed to find out yourself.
Summary of my ION Adventure Hotel review
As far as luxury hotels go, Iceland really has a lot of lessons to learn. They are very far away from the international standard, and the ION Adventure hotel is only a first step towards a sound concept for accommodating demanding travelers.
The hotel is located in an odd place, is ridiculously expensive and only offers mediocre service. The staff is attentive but lacks charm and international schooling. There are a million little things that make a stay truly pleasant and the ION hotel really doesn’t take the concept of hospitality beyond the reception. Rooms are quite small, as are the other facilities of the hotel, and housekeeping really is slack.
Unlike the title of the hotel, there really is not much organized adventure to be had in the direct vicinity. They could have their own horses, motor bikes and maybe even a moss trail for older people. You can book excursions, sure, but that always means driving, and in my opinion that is not the point of a true luxury hotel. It just doesn’t feel very integrated.
That being said, you really don’t have a lot of alternatives in Iceland. The ION is one of the best hotels in the country, and as of now you really gotta swallow the bitter pill of booking it – unlike you prefer hostel style rooms. There are a couple of interesting new projects being developed currently that really focus on a holistic approach in terms of activities and sustainability. So, it is my sincere hope that this will help to improve the rather low standard of the ION Adventure hotel.
I am also aware that getting qualified staff is probably quite hard in Iceland these days. Tourist industry just can’t keep up with the ever increasing influx of tourists. Still, on our last day, when we wanted to check out, they kindly informed us that there was something wrong with the bill and they will need half an hour. So, we went to dinner. After dinner, they presented us with a bill, where dinner (which we paid in cash) was listed and an odd number of breakfasts.
When I complained they said they’ll check it and would came back another 30 minutes later. Then, they still couldn’t get it right, and I told them we’d go to the bar wait there and they should send some complimentary drink while we wait. 45 minutes later they still hadn’t gotten it right. And at some point, they informed us that we didn’t have to pay for breakfast and any extra. I guess that was a nice touch and the least they could do. Still, you should expect them to get a bill correct and invest in experienced staff that is up to the task.
Would I go again? I dunno. Most of the other hotels are worse, so probably I would. Did they convince me? Probably not. So, only a half-hearted recommendation from me.
Got any questions or you would like to add from your own experience? Feel free to comment below. Liked my review? Pin it to your Pinterest board!