Iceland is a place worthy of a feature on an aesthetic Pinterest board. That’s why, when an airline offers a stop in the country, you should snap it up with immediate effect. A short layover in Iceland might seem overwhelming, but we’re breaking it down to the basics to help you out.
Need recommendations for a car rental company? Curious whether Keflavík airport is the same as Reykjavík? Wondering just how cold it really is? On this post, you’ll find useful FAQ’s followed by a section on the best things to do in Reykjavík. You know, for when you don’t have time to venture out too far in the countryside. Spoiler alert though, even in the city centre you’ll find elements of rural life.
Now, Iceland definitely isn’t the type of destination you’ll want to cram into 24 hours, but you’ll be able to get a taste of the island within a short space of time. Just know what to expect, to avoid wasting both time + money. This is where my personal experiences come in handy…
Popular Iceland Travel FAQ’s
Which Airline Offers A Short Layover In Iceland?
Whilst there might be a few out there, from experience I’d recommend Icelandair. Dependant on ticket type, you can actually choose up to 7 days in Iceland either before or after a long-distance flight. You’re also given a generous cabin-bag allowance, which makes all the difference for backpackers or fans of the ‘hand-luggage only’ travel method.
Thoughts: I decided on two days in Iceland prior to my NYC trip. Now, in hindsight, I would have opted to pursue an Iceland layover AFTER New York. So, on the return flight. This would have meant I could go into the Blue Lagoon, after roaming the streets of Times Square, without fear my hair would look visibly crispy from the minerals in the water. A very real thing people don’t tell you about…
Is It Worth Renting A Car For A Short Layover In Iceland?
Yes. Renting a car in Iceland is the best way to maximise every second of a layover. After extensive research on the topic of car rentals, so you don’t have to go through the boredom, I finalised my plans through ‘Blue Car Rental’. The real selling points were zero deposit fees, the ability to pay with a debit card, as opposed to credit, and a smooth check in/check out process.
Is Keflavík Airport The Same As Reykjavík?
No, which can cause some confusion.
You’ll actually find Keflavík (KEF) to be the airport dealing with international flights. To help with planning, I’ll attach a photo of the distance between Keflavík airport and the capital city of Reykjavík.
Is Iceland An Expensive Country To Visit?
I’m just going to give it to you straight up. Iceland currently sits at the top spot for the most expensive place I’ve visited out of the 25-odd countries I’ve travelled to…
However, to lower costs, the best thing you can do is prep + plan. Something which my spontaneous energy didn’t grasp. If you’re on a layover longer than 24 hours, read my post on how to do Iceland on a budget. You’ll find out about the multiple travel mistakes I made, and what I would do differently if I went back.
Is Iceland Really That Cold?
Whilst very much reliant on individual month, I can tell you that early March saw temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius. Yup, you read that right.
This is also another reason why I’d advocate for renting a car in Iceland, as you’ll appreciate warming up every now + then. If you’d prefer to rely on transport for a short layover in Reykjavík, definitely pack layers. A thick ski coat isn’t going to cut it.
Would 24 Hours Be Enough Time?
It depends on the type of travel experience you want, however 24 hours is enough to get a feel of city life in Iceland. Funnily enough, some of my most memorable scenes occurred in the city centre. Pink sunsets? Crystal clear waters? Stargazing by the rocks on the edge of Reykjavík? Postcard moments.
Thoughts: My advice? If you’re on a layover with 24 hours, stick to exploring Reykjavík. If you’ve got a full weekend, head out further into the countryside.
What You Must Know About Iceland If Visiting For The First Time
There’s various pieces of information I wish I knew, prior to my visit.
Some landmarks look much better in photos, and for the highest chance of seeing ‘The Northern Lights’ you need a cloudless sky. Keen to read about the other 8? I’ve recently published an entire post on 10 things everyone should know before travelling to Iceland. Go have a browse, as it will make your layover more enjoyable. Trust me.
One of the biggest surprises, or takeaway points, was just how much the capital had to offer. If you only go to Iceland for a city break, I’m pretty confident you won’t feel underwhelmed. There can be pressure to tick-off all of the ‘popular’ experiences, like ‘The Blue Lagoon’, but travel isn’t just about bucket-lists. Once you seek joy in small moments, you’ll start looking at travel with different perspectives.
Suddenly, that random café where you chatted with locals becomes more significant.
5 Things To Do In Reykjavík, Iceland
By now, you’ve probably got the message that Reykjavík is a must-see. I mean, you’d be forgiven for thinking the below pictures were taken somewhere in rural Iceland, but nope. That’s Reykjavík for you.
So, what now? Well, a good start would be dropping 5 spots which should be on your list if your layover is longer than a few hours.
Omnom Chocolate Shop:
Omnom chocolate in Iceland is what Cadbury chocolate is to the United Kingdom. In other words, iconic.
Inside, you’ve got the much-loved bars to purchase, an ice-cream parlour and samples of unique flavours. Some good, some questionable lol. Make this location your place to grab souvenirs, as there’s free postcards alongside the confectionery.
Address: Hólmaslóð 4, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
Grandi Mathöll Food Court:
While you’re at the harbour, visit ‘Grandi Mathöll’ as it’s around the corner from ‘Omnom’. You’ll be able to try out Icelandic street food, sip on cool beverages and admire the boats out the back. A quirky little place fuelled by good vibes and epic eats.
Address: Grandagarður 16 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
‘Hallgrímskirkja’ is one of Iceland’s most photographed landmarks, given the somewhat interesting exterior. The church offers free admission, but you can purchase a ticket for a 360-view of the city if you’re intrigued. Rumour has it, on a clear day you can see Greenland in the distance?
Note: From here, you’re close to ‘Rainbow Road’, which is another popular area in Reykjavík.
Address: Hallgrímstorg 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
The Sun Voyager Sculpture:
Right by the waterfront, you’ll notice a steel sculpture in the shape of a boat. The very spot where handfuls of photographers set up tripods every evening, in hope of witnessing the notorious green lights.
Regardless of the hour you stop by, you can bet your last dollar, pound, euro (etc.) that you’ll pick up an impressive snap of the water. Night mode on iPhone is insane, by the way.
The Closest Waterfall To Reykjavík?
Finally, if you’ve got your heart set on seeing a waterfall while in Iceland, you’ll be over the moon to know ‘Glymur waterfall’ is just over an hour from Reykjavík. Meet you there!
If you’re still torn whether to book the layover option on your next long-distance flight, and want a quick answer, I’d say you have nothing to lose, but potentially a lot of core memories to gain. Let’s go.
Want to see more visuals from my Iceland travels? Head over to my socials for travel inspo + vlogs.