KEX Portland: Iceland Comes to the Pacific Northwest

Dottir Restaurant, KEX Portland, Oregon

Dottír Restaurant and the library lounge at KEX Portland

From Iceland to…Portland?

Based in Reykjavik (and included on our list of The Best Hotels in Reykjavik for Around $200 or Less), KEX Hostel has opened its first location outside of Iceland, in the up-and-coming Central Eastside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.

Why Portland? KEX Founder Kristinn (Kiddi) Vilbergsson scouted several locations until he reached Portland, where he decided that the city’s cool, laid-back vibe matched his plans for a second KEX lodging.

Housed in a rehabbed brick building, KEX Portland opened in late 2019. It’s part good-value hostel and part eclectic boutique hotel.

Exterior, KEX Portland, Oregon

KEX Portland is located in a rehabbed 1917 building.

Please note: Due to the coronavirus situation, KEX Portland is currently closed until spring 2021, although Dottír Restaurant is slated to open later in 2020. Check their website for updates. In the meantime, we’d like to tell you about this new property for your future travels.

Here’s the scoop:

Lobby, KEX Portland, Oregon

Salvaged signage creates art in the lobby.

Hálfdan (Dáni) Pedersen, the designer of KEX Iceland, designed the Portland property, sourcing a variety of repurposed materials and furnishings from across Europe. Banquettes in the dining room are covered in material from Vietnam War tents, while an aquarium in the lounge has become a container for plants and for a quirky light fixture the designer found in Prague. 

King room, KEX Portland, Oregon

Headboards made from repurposed fireplace mantles

The guest rooms are divided between 14 private rooms and 15 shared dorm units, the latter with four, eight, or 16 beds. One dorm is reserved for women only.

Most of the private rooms aren’t large, with one king or one queen bed topped with a wool coverlet; many of the headboards are made from old fireplace mantles. Some of these rooms have private baths, while others share facilities in the hall. A nice bedtime perk is chocolate made by Ranger Chocolate Company (which you can also sample at the Cup + Bar Cafe next door, which is both a cafe and a chocolate factory).

KEX also has two “family rooms,” a two-room + bathroom unit with a queen bed tucked into a nook on one side and dorm beds on the other, a space that would work either for a family or for a group of friends who want to bunk together.

Dorm, KEX Portland, Oregon

Bunk beds in the KEX dorm rooms

In the smartly designed dorms, each of the sturdy bunk beds has a lockable drawer for storing gear, two wall hangings with pockets for phones and other small stuff, outlets for charging your electronics, and individual reading lights. Thick curtains in front of the bunks provide some privacy.

On the basement level, guests can prep meals or snacks in the communal kitchen. And as in any good Nordic-style property, there’s a wood-lined sauna.

The sauna can accommodate up to 12 people at one time. Guests need to request access at the front desk.

Sauna, KEX Portland, Oregon

KEX has a sauna on the lower level.

On the 3,000-square-foot main floor, there’s plenty of space to hang out, whether you’re huddling over your laptop in the library lounge, having a craft beer at the bar, or dining on the Nordic-meets-Northwest plates at Dottír Restaurant.

Breakfast, KEX Portland, Oregon

The “Morning in Reykjavik” plate: smoked fish, cured meats, and lots of pickles.


Dorm beds at KEX Portland run about US$40 per person. Private double rooms range from US$90-240. Rates include good Wi-Fi that’s available throughout the building. Some packages offer breakfast at Dottír; check the hotel website for details.

Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Travel Portland, in partnership with KEX Portland, hosted my stay for review purposes.

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