I’ve had more than one layover in Iceland. On my way to London, I did my own self-guided walking tour of the city. On the way home, I slept in the airport. I also had a brief stop when I travelled between Toronto and Frankfurt in December. Oh, and then there was the emergency landing (irate passenger) in Keflavik that led to an overnight stay on my way home from Hamburg last year!
Long story short, I’ve made several trips to the Land of Fire and Ice, so I know a thing or two about making the most of a short time! Here are 3 ways you can spend your short layover in Iceland:
1. Self-Guided Walking Tour of Reykjavik
The first time I landed in Iceland, I only had 9 hours and I just wanted to get a feel for the place. It was late September and freezing but I walked around the city anyways. The harbour, the colourful buildings, and the views of the mountains are worth it! These are some of the things you can see in just a few hours:
Feed the birds at Tjörnin Lake
Tjornin Lake is hard to miss — it’s situated in the city centre, close to several museums. You’ll notice people seated around the lake, taking a break from like to feed the birds. There are statues around the lake as well, so you can learn a little bit about the history of the area.
Admire the Harpa
The Harpa concert hall left quite an impression on me — thousands of glass pieces were used to create the facade, offering sweeping views of the landscape around the building. The Harpa is free to explore and it was also the location for an episode of Netflix’s Sense8!
Check out the street art
In the last few years, the city cracked down on the random and unruly graffiti that were popping up on the walls of Reykjavik. Now, artists are commissioned by building owners to create pieces — this has allowed for a uniquely Icelandic style of street art to emerge.
Fuel up at a coffee house
Reykjavik has an excellent coffeehouse culture, with several cafes dotting the capital city. They’re welcoming places with great coffee, homemade cakes, and occasionally beer on tap. I stopped at Stofan Cafe — they have board games, internet, and unlimited filter coffee all day!
Other Places to Stop:
- National Gallery of Iceland
- Laugavegur — this is shopping area of the city and home to the Lebowski Bar!
- Hallgrimskirkja — it’s the tallest church in Iceland and for 900 ISK, you can head to the top for panoramic views of the city.
2. Treat yourself at a Geothermal Spa Day
The tradition of bathing in hot pools started with the vikings — long before Instagram made the concept popular for tourists! These volcanically heated pools are said to cure many ailments, from wrinkles to arthritis. But the famous Blue Lagoon isn’t your only option for a relaxing spa day during your layover in Iceland. These are a couple other hot spots to check out:
The not-so-secret Secret Lagoon is about a two hour drive from Keflavik Airport, but it’s well worth the trip. This pool in Flúðir is the oldest in Iceland and is quickly becoming a popular alternative to the Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is open late in summer so you can experience bathing under the midnight sun; in winter you might even get a chance to see the Northern Lights!
Nauthhólsvík Geothermal Beach
Two hot tubs filled with steaming sea water on a white sand beach probably isn’t the first thing you think of when someone mention’s Iceland! Nauthhólsvík beach is open year-round and offers the opportunity swimming, sailing, and other beach activities. Bring a sweater though — the air is even cold in the summer!
3. Take a Trip Around the Golden Circle
Want to see everything? Book one of the fantastic Golden Circle trips so you can experience a ‘best of’ day trip around Iceland. Here are some of the magical sites you won’t want to miss:
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site — the only one on the mainland — with a unique historical and geological significance. It’s the place where the nation of Iceland as we know it today was born: an assembly representing the entire country met here to set laws and settle disputes. Furthermore, the park is in a rift valley — it’s the site where the tectonic plates housing the North American and European continents part ways!
Geysir is home to — you guessed it! — Iceland’s great geyser! The geyser first appeared in 1294 when an earthquake shook the valley and created a large hot springs. You’ll see multicoloured hotspots and maybe even an eruption where jets of water shoot into the sky. Keep your camera ready!
Iceland is known for its untouched beauty and Gulfoss Waterfall is a great sample of the country’s uninterrupted natural landscape. You have to walk along a narrow path, but it’s worth it to persevere. The two-tiered cascade falls 32 metres into a canyon lined with jagged black stone — its dark colours and rising mist only add ambiance to the greenery that seems to go on forever.
You’ll need at least a 9-hour layover in Iceland to get the most of this tour without missing your connection!
You don’t have to spend your layover in Iceland cooped up in a hotel or sleeping on a bench at the airport. Plan ahead and you’ll be able to experience some of the incredible sights, sounds, and flavours Iceland has to offer!