Iceland is shrouded in ice, fire, and mystery. With vast plateaus of black volcanic rock, snow-capped mountains, glaciers that shimmer in an ethereal blue, and countless steaming hot springs, Iceland seems to hold many magical secrets. If a trip to Iceland is something you’ve always wanted to do but never seem to have the time, here’s a cool tip: Iceland Air offers FREE stopovers in Iceland for up to 7 days for flights from North America to Europe!
Layovers don’t have to be dreary affairs, sitting in sterile airport lounges, counting down the time till your flight is due to depart. Beyond the doors of the airport, a whole new icy world awaits!
If you’ve decided to make full use of the free stopover or are ‘fortunate’ enough to have been allocated a long layover in Iceland, here are some of the best things to do during your time:
From Keflavik International Airport
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is only a short 30 - 40 minutes drive from Keflavik International Airport (KEF). Once you’ve touched down, head straight to the city or stop by the famous Blue Lagoon first. You could rent a car at the airport, or simply make use of other transport options listed below to get to where you want to go.
To Blue Lagoon:
From Keflavik International Airport, there are hourly bus transfers to and from the Blue Lagoon starting from 7.30 am. You can also take a taxi, but it will cost you a lot more than the bus. For total convenience, Reykjavik Excursions offer a Blue Lagoon tour package that will take you from the airport to the Blue Lagoon and either back to the airport or to Reykjavik city. Don’t worry about having to lug your suitcases or carry-on baggage around; the Blue Lagoon has a luggage storage facility for you to store your bags at a cost of 600 ISK (5.20 USD).
Blue Lagoon Day Tour
Departs From: Keflavik International Airport
Price: 11,700 ISK (101 USD), admission to the Blue Lagoon is included
Tour Availability: Daily departures from 7.30 am - 5.30 pm
Duration: Around 2 - 3 hours required
Contact: +354 580 5400
To Reykjavik city:
If you’re heading straight into Reykjavik city, the Airport Express, run by Gray Line Iceland, has guaranteed departures within 45 minutes after the arrival time of each scheduled flight. A return trip starts from 3,800 ISK (33 USD). Flybus is another option, but may be slightly more expensive, at around 4,000 ISK (34.70 USD).
You can also choose to take the city bus NR 55 to Reykjavik, but the route may be slightly more complicated as the bus stop names are all in Icelandic. At around 3,300 ISK (28.80 USD) for a return trip, the price savings are also not very substantial. You can plan your journey online.
Airport Express (Gray Line Iceland)
Route: From Keflavik Airport to Bus Terminal: Holtavegi 10, Holtagarðar, 104 Reykjavík
Price: 3,800 ISK (33 USD)
Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm. Closed on public holidays
Duration: Around 45 minutes required
Contact: +354 540 1313
Route: From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) to Reykjavík BSÍ bus terminal or vice versa
Price: 4,000 ISK (34.70 USD)
Duration: Around 45 minutes
Contact: +354 580 5400
Bus journey planner
Website: Bus journey planner
Arriving in the day
As day breaks over Iceland, the majestic landscape of the country is slowly revealed as sheaths of sunlight illuminate it, rock by rock, and glacier by glacier. Depending on when you visit Iceland, daylight can last for a short few hours or seemingly forever. Make the most of the available sunlight and get exploring!
1. Soak off your weariness at the Blue Lagoon
Just 20 minutes away from the airport, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most-visited attractions in Iceland. Soak off the fatigue from your long flight and ease into the warm milky aquamarine waters of the geothermal baths. Surrounded by a wide open sky, hazy mountains in the distance, and wafts of steam giving an enchanting and ethereal quality to the lagoon, you’ll find yourself recharged in no time at all.
Pre-booking is required and you can do this directly at the Blue Lagoon website or via a tour company.
Address: Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Price: From 5,054 ISK (44.93 USD)
Opening Hours: Mon to Wed 8 am - 8 pm, Thurs to Sun 8 am - 10 pm (dates differ per month)
Duration: 1 - 3 hours
Contact: +354 420 8800
Website: Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon Day Tour (Reykjavik Excursions)
Price: 11,700 ISK (102 USD)
Opening Hours: Click here for schedule
Contact: +354 580 5400
2. Head to Reykjavik city for lunch
What is Icelandic cuisine like? Well, head to the city and find out!
You won’t go wrong with a crispy golden plate of fish and chips, which can be found on almost every restaurant’s menu. After all, the country is surrounded by the ocean, teeming with marine life.
If you’re in the mood for meat, have a dish of flavourful Icelandic lamb. In a country where the sheep outnumber humans, the sheep are not fed with grain or hormones.
It might seem strange, but Iceland does a mean hot dog. The hot dogs in Iceland are made with a combination of lamb, pork, and beef, and are topped with a tantalising range of sauces and onions. Get your hot dog fix at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates to the Best Hot Dog In Town. The kiosk is popular with both tourists and locals, and the line is always long but moves fast.
If you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, stimulate your taste buds with fermented shark (Hákarl). Warning: your taste buds might never recover from this dish.
For dessert, buy a tub of Skyr, Iceland’s version of yoghurt. This cultured yoghurt-like dairy product is low fat and eaten every day by the locals. It also comes in a creamy smoothie form.
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Address: Tryggvagata 1, Reykjavik 101, Iceland (there are 5 other outlets too)
Opening Hours: Sun to Thurs 10 am - 2 am; Fri and Sat 1 0am - 4.30 am
Contact: +354 511 1566
Website: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
3. Stroll around the city and down to the waterfront
Reykjavik is a very walkable city with colourful houses of every shade cutely dotting the landscape. After satisfying your tummy, stroll around the old town and make your way to the old harbour, where boats bob on the water and the Esja Mountains sit serenely in the distance. Look out for the Sun Voyager, a gleaming skeletal sculpture of a dreamboat, symbolizing hope, progress, freedom, and a dream of sailing off into uncharted waters.
City Walking Tour
Starting Point: Austurvöllur, Parliament (Alþingi)
Tour Timings: Daily at 10 am and 2 pm
Duration: Around 2 hours
Contact: +354 787 7779
4. Go up Hallgrímskirkja Church
You’ll probably have seen this white concrete structure standing tall in the distance no matter where you are in the city. Hallgrímskirkja Church is the largest church in Iceland and is Reykjavik’s main landmark. The design was apparently inspired by the flow of basalt lava that created many beautiful patterns across Iceland’s landscape. Go up to the top by elevator for the best panoramic views of the city and mountains.
Address: Hallgrímstorg 1, Capital Area, 101
Price: Adults 900 ISK (7.90 USD), Children 100 ISK (0.90 USD)
Opening Hours: Oct to May 9 am - 5 pm; June to Sep 9 am - 9 pm
Contact: +354 510 1000
Website: Hallgrimskirkja Church
5. Shop at Bonus Supermarket
A supermarket is like a window into the life of the locals and a great place to stock up on groceries and food souvenirs. Bonus Supermarket is probably the best supermarket for budget buys and cheap deals.
Address: Kjörgarður, Laugavegur 59, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Opening Hours: Daily 11 am - 6.30 pm
Contact: +354 562 8236
Website: Bonus Supermarket
6. Get your dose of caffeine
When the jet lag starts to set in or you’re simply in need of a pick-me-up, Reykjavik will set you right with a steaming or iced cup of aromatic goodness. Icelanders drink a lot of coffee, so you can be sure that they take their coffee seriously.
Two places you should definitely check out are Reykjavik’s Roasters, known for its high quality speciality coffee, and Mokka, one of Iceland’s oldest cafes and the first to install an espresso machine in Iceland.
Address: Kárastígur 1, 101 Reykjavík
Opening Hours: Mon to Friday 8 am - 6 pm; Sat and Sun 9 am to 5 pm
Contact: +354 517 5535
Website: Reykjavik’s Roasters
Address: Skólavörðustígur 3A, Reykjavík, Iceland
Opening Hours: 9 am - 6.30 pm
Contact: +354 552 1174
Website: Mokka Kaffi
7. Tour the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a 300-kilometre (190-mile) loop that covers some of Iceland’s most stunning sights. The main sights include the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Strokkur Geyser. In a day’s layover, don’t expect to cover the entire trail, especially if you did not rent a car. (Most tours take up the whole day.) With a car, you’ll most probably find yourself stopping every so often to take in the dramatic landscape or take a photo. Every turn in the road reveals a picturesque postcard-like view of natural beauty. It is Iceland at its finest.
If you fall in love and have the means to extend your trip, Reykjavik Excursions offers a guided 8-hour tour around the whole circle.
The Golden Circle Tour
Price: 10,500 ISK (87.40 USD)
Departure Time: 7 am (1 May - 31 Oct); 9 am (all year)
Duration: Around 8 hours
Contact: +354 580 5400
Arriving in the evening or at night
If your flight arrives after sunset, don’t worry, there’s still plenty to do. If you’re in Iceland during the summer, you might even experience the midnight sun, where the sun never sets and daylight lasts for 24 hours. You’ll have no need to rush to see Iceland’s attractions before it gets dark, because darkness won’t arrive for quite a while!
8. Dinner at The Pearl
The Perlan (The Pearl) is a dazzling glass-domed landmark with a 360-degree viewing-platform-cum-revolving-restaurant. All of Reykjavik is before your very eyes as you dine on delicious cuisine and sip on fine wine. You also get magnificent views of the sunset through the glass windows and, if you’re lucky, the aurora will be putting on an enchanting dance in the velvety night sky.
Address: Perlan, Capital Area, Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavik
Opening Hours: From 10 am
Contact: +354 562 0200
9. Chase the Northern Lights
On a clear winter’s night, the black sky opens to reveal delicate flowing veils of light, dancing in swirls of luminous green, rose-pink, and crimson. Before your very eyes, the lights shimmer and dance with infinite grace, transfixing you, capturing your gaze, and taking your breath away. These are the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, that can be seen in Iceland, mostly during winter when it is dark enough. All notion of sleep will elude you once you see it, and you will be glad you braved the freezing cold for this amazing spectacle.
Northern Lights Tour
Price: 6,400 ISK (56 USD)
Tour Times: 7.30 pm / 9 pm / 10 pm
Duration: 3 Hours
Contact: +354 580 5400
10. Party in Reykjavik
If you can’t join the party in the skies, take part in the equally lively parties on the ground. On Friday and Saturday nights, the heat turns up in town, hot enough to melt the ice. Hang out with the locals at Kaldi Bar, a cosy haunt that serves a selection of 4 Icelandic beers (Kaldi) on tap. The unfiltered Kaldi beer is one of the most popular options so be sure to try that out. If you’re looking for something more to the tune of thumping bass beats and disco lights, check out Austur club.
Address: Laugavegur 20b, Capital Area, 101 Reykjavik
Opening Hours: Sun to Thurs 12 noon - 1 am, Fri and Sat 12 noon - 3 am
Contact: +354 581 2200
Website: Kaldi Bar
Address: Austurstræti 7,101 Reykjavik
Opening Hours: Thurs 8 pm - 1 am, Fri and Sat 8 pm - 4.30 am
Contact: +354 568 1907
Raw beauty, timeless wonder
Once you’ve set foot in Iceland, you’ll soon realise that 1 day in this magnificent country is simply not enough. This short taste of Iceland is only the tip of the iceberg, and will leave you addicted and hungry for more. Use your layover to get a brief overview of what Iceland is all about, then plan a longer trip so you can wade deeper into Iceland’s mysterious and alluring landscapes.