How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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My first stop on my 3-month Eurotrip in the Summer of 2015 was Iceland.

Actually, the original plan was to visit Amsterdam first, but I saw an extremely cheap flight on Icelandair ($300) from NYC to Amsterdam with a 24 hour layover in Iceland’s capital city — and I just had to take it!

And holy crap – I’m glad I did!

Over the past few years, Iceland has exploded in tourism because several airlines have been offering cheap flights connecting Iceland with North America and Europe.  And it makes perfect sense, because Iceland is conveniently located almost exactly in between mainland USA and mainland Europe.

Icelandair offers layovers in Reykjavik for 1-7 days long for no additional charge.  So it’s in your best interest to look up this airline for the cheapest flights! It’s one of the best airline experiences I’ve ever flown on, with very friendly staff and a welcoming journey on board.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Iceland, and didn’t do much planning – so I went in with an open mind and an strong urge to explore.

Little to say, this country blew my mind.

I was there in early July, just after the summer solstice, so it stayed daylight 24 hours. It was insane.

Just look at this photo that I took out the airplane window at around 11PM.

The natural beauty all around Iceland is breathtaking — sparkling white glaciers, crystal clear coastlines and beautiful earth tones. The air is so refreshing and brisk that I made me never want to leave the outdoors.

The only buzzkill about Iceland is that it’s very expensive, just like London or Copenhagen.  But it can be done cheaply, as I’ll explain later in this post!

Okay, now you’ve landed on your layover and you only have 24 hours or less to explore.  What are you doing to do? Here are some suggestions:

What to do in Reykjavik in 24 hours

1. Visit the Blue Lagoon – Without a doubt, this is the biggest tourist attraction in Iceland.  The Blue Lagoon is a hot geothermal spa located only 12 kilometers away from the airport!  It’s rich in minerals and good for your skin to bathe in.. If you only have a short layover, then you can get to the Lagoon and back within 2 hours!

2. Go to the Viking Museum – This museum, called Viking World, is just 10 minutes from the airport.  It looks boring from the outside, but it covers the settling of Iceland by Vikings and the culture of the settlers through an amazing audio tour guide.  Everyone inside is so kind (as all Icelandic people are) and it’s just a great experience.

3. Walk Around Reykjavik City – Reykjavik is such a beautiful and colorful city.  Wander around the old city and see many cute cafes, colorful buildings and a nice atmosphere.   It’s noted as one of the safest, greenest and well-kept cities in the word.

I’m not kidding when I said colorful — here’s a photo that I took from the top of the main church.

4. Rent a Bike – The best way to explore the ins and outs of Iceland is by bike! You can rent one for as cheap as $10 per day, and use it to explore all the hidden alleyways and outskirts of Reykjavik.

Alright, so now that you know which things to do, the next questions is what are you doing to eat? If you’re like me, then you always want to enjoy the local cuisines.

So, here are my top food recommendations:

What to Eat in Reykavik:

1. Icelandic Lamb – Iceland is most famous for their delicious lamb, and if you ask any Icelandic person, they’ll tell you that it’s the best in the world.  It’s probably because they let their sheep roam freely in the highlands and valleys and munch grass and herbs before being corralled in the winter. The result of such a luxurious life is very tender meat with a gently gamey flavor.

2. Icelandic Salmon – You can’t visit Iceland without trying some seafood! After all, Iceland isn’t a big island and it’s completely surrounded by fresh ocean water with LOADS of Salmon.  There’s no need to explain how good and fresh it tastes — just try it for yourself 😉

3. Polar Beer – NO – I’m not talking about “Polar Bears” — I’m talking about a local beer called “Polar BEER!”  You have to try it, it’s great and it’s actually pretty cheap.

And lastly, you need to decide where you’re going to sleep for the night.  Here is my advice for a quick accommodation in Iceland:

Where to stay in Reykjavik?

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Keflavik airport is located about a 45-minute drive away from the capital city Reykjavik, in the neighboring town of Keflavik.

There are very few hotels/hostels near Keflavik airport (I searched for hours online).. And most hotels are expensive —  you’ll be lucky to find anything cheaper than $120/night, but they are of good quality and worth spending a few extra bucks.

I recommend looking into Air Bnb for some other great deals! If you’ve never used it before, Air Bnb is a website that connects travelers (like you and me) with hosts who have open rooms in their house for you to rent.

My friend and I found an Air Bnb place for $60/night near the airport, and the host lady was so nice that she picked us up from the airport and made us dinner. There are loads of places that you can find near the airport and in Reykjavik city. Air Bnb is really the best option.

So that’s about it! I highly recommend taking a layover in Iceland if you are ever flying from North America to Europe. It’s a great way to explore another country and check it off your bucket list!

If you have any further questions or concerns, please comment below or contact me!

9 thoughts on “How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

  1. Halló… I’m also a fan or just a curious human being. When I’m not travelling myself I read travel blogs and yours is just so easy to read. Thanks for that.

    BUT, that’s not what I meant to say. What I originally meant to say was; well done on this article, I’m from Iceland, born and raised. I could relate to everything you just said. The only thing missing is that when Icelanders get drunk, they get DRUNK!


  2. Hey Drew, big fan of the blog here. I am going to Europe in June and I found a flight home that stops in Iceland for no charge as well, so I took it! I noticed that the airport is far away from Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon…. what is the best way to get to the town and any other advice on including blue lagoon and exploring the city in roughly 10 hours. Thanks.

  3. Hey Drew! Awesome blog! My husband and I are doing Iceland and Bergen Norway as our honeymoon next May. Your posts just validated that it’ll be an awesome experience. Cheers and keep on traveling!

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