Design Destination: Iceland

Courtesy of Harpa

Springtime in Reykjavík showcases a host of shops, restaurants, museums and more that prove the capital city’s appeal.

Though Iceland might seem like a distant land and look like another world (the area beyond the Wall on HBO’s Game of Thrones was filmed there), Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, is actually only about a six-hour nonstop flight from New York and a seven-hour journey from Seattle—making it that rare travel destination capable of creating a frisson while simultaneously remaining a reasonable choice for a holiday weekend. (If you’re flying Icelandair to Europe, you can even stop over in Reykjavík for up to seven nights at no additional airfare cost.)

Tourists storm the city in the summer, causing traffic jams on the famed Golden Circle. But in the spring you’ll have it all to yourself. (The temperature is comparable to New York in a non-polar-vortex year; as we write this, it’s 14 degrees warmer in Reykjavík than in Manhattan.)

But one of the real draws is design. And for design-oriented travelers, the perfect time to visit is during HönnunarMars, or Design March (this year, March 27–30; icelanddesign.is). The charming, unpretentious design festival, now in its fifth year, coincides with low-key Reykjavík Fashion Week. Guests enjoy seminars (Calvin Klein is the keynote speaker this year), attend studio tours to meet the country’s star designers and shop for playful souvenirs.

Despite the country’s grand design tradition (just look at those Viking ships), its modern scene is only just emerging. As recently as the 1960s, there wasn’t even a word for “design” in Icelandic; now the whole country is behind the innovation, and its earnest enthusiasm for homegrown creativity is energizing. What could be more exciting than discovering a place that is still discovering itself?

From shopping to museums to places to eat, here are our picks for what design hounds shouldn’t miss in Reykjavík.