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Ultimate Guide: Your Layover in Iceland

How to make the most of a short visit

|December 18, 2023
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Have a layover in Iceland? This is the ultimate chance to explore the land of fire and ice during your trip to Europe.

Iceland has an advantage when it comes to layovers: it is ideally situated between Europe and North America. Adding a quick visit to Iceland on your holiday has never been as easy as it is now. IcelandAir, Iceland's oldest airline, began offering long stopovers at the same price a few years ago, and they have become increasingly popular. 

Many people are intrigued by the fact they get to visit Iceland in combination with another trip. But how long do you need for a layover visit to Iceland to be worthwhile? How do you make the most of it? In this ultimate guide, we’ve broken down how to spend a few hours, a day, or even two or more, in Iceland.

4-8 Hours in Iceland

If you only have a few hours to spend in Iceland, that’s not a problem. You might be surprised by the number of options for things to do in this amount of time.

Iceland’s international airport, Keflavík, is conveniently located on the beautiful Reykjanes Peninsula. It is only about 20 minutes by car from the Blue Lagoon and 40 minutes from Reykjavík. If you want to make the most of your time in Iceland, you might want to book an admission ticket to the Blue Lagoon in advance, as it tends to fill up. Jump onto one of the bus transfers from the airport, which will take you to the lagoon and back.

Woman in the Blue Lagoon wearing a skincare face mask in Iceland.

Aerial view of Reykjavík Iceland

If you aren’t interested in visiting the Blue Lagoon, how about learning about Icelandic culture? There are several fascinating museums in Keflavík (the town closest to the airport), including The Museum of Rock and Roll and The Viking World Museum.

You could also take the bus to Reykjavík and explore our colorful capital for a few hours. There are numerous restaurants and cafés to try as well as some unmissable attractions. Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland, is a famous landmark. For a small fee, you can purchase a ticket to go into the church’s tower and see excellent views of the whole city. Other Reykjavík landmarks worth visiting on a short layover are:

  • The Harpa Concert Hall
  • Laugavegur shopping street
  • The Sun Voyager sculpture down on Sæbraut
View over Reykjavík in the morning.

1 Day Layover in Iceland

If you're stopping over in Iceland for one day, staying in Reykjavík is recommended. Just a short drive from the airport in Keflavík, Iceland’s capital is a perfect base with tours, trips, and adventures starting centrally. From whale watching to exploring the Golden Circle, you’ll have plenty of options for filling your day in Iceland.

However, the city itself is also worth exploring. If you are into art, history, and culture, there are numerous museums to visit, including the National Museum, The Whale Museum, The Perlan, the Icelandic Phallological Museum, and the Safnahúsiðe - the culture house. Throughout the city, there are fantastic cafés and places to try authentic Icelandic food. And if you want to have an expert guide to show you around, try a Reykjavík food walk

Looking for some live entertainment? ‘How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes' is a fantastic comedy show in the Harpa Concert Hall. The Tjarnarbíó independent theater often has performances and stand-up comedy in English.

Take a walk, stroll around, get lost. The good thing about the city center is that the incredible and towering Hallgrímskirkja Church will always stand out, so you can easily find your bearings.

Food halls are an up-and-coming attraction in Reykjavík, appearing across the city. A few worth checking out are Hlemmur Mathöll, Grandi Mathöll, and Skeifan Food Court for traditional and tasty delicacies.

Friends having fun at a restaurant.

2 Day Stopover in Iceland

If your stopover is two days, then there is plenty of time to get to know Icelandic culture in  Reykjavík and head out into nature, witnessing the landscapes that Iceland is truly famous for. To make the most of your two days, staying in the capital will allow you to explore the city during the evenings and soak in the nightlife on your layover, all while adventuring by day.

Since you have a full day to explore Iceland, you can decide on what route you'd like to take. These are some of the most popular locations to head to on a stopover because they are near the airport and capital.

1. Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Known for its otherworldly landscapes, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula offers a mix of mountains, glaciers, and black sand beaches all within a one-day trip. After a roughly two-hour drive, you can explore the picturesque Arnarstapi and Hellnar coastal villages, witness the impressive Snæfellsjökull Glacier, and visit the Kirkjufell Mountain, a particular favorite among photographers.

A Snæfellsnes day tour from the capital would be ideal for experiencing everything the area has to offer.

Gullfoss Waterfall in Winter, Golden Circle Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall in Winter

2. The Golden Circle

This classic Icelandic route includes three major attractions. The route conveniently starts and ends in the capital and can be completed in a day. This means you can experience the erupting geysers at the Geysir Geothermal Area, discover where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet at Þingvellir National Park, and marvel at the powerful Gullfoss Waterfall before heading back to the city at the end of the day.

Booking a space on an eight-hour Golden Circle tour means you can relax knowing everything from pick-up to parking is organized for you.

3. South Coast

If you are happy being on the move all day, then a tour of Iceland’s South Coast should be at the top of your list. Iceland's legendary South Coast is home to mesmerizing waterfalls and unique black sand beaches. The two most famous are Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall you can walk behind, and Skógafoss, known for its powerful cascade. Explore the unique black sand beach of Reynisfjara, featuring basalt columns and towering cliffs.

4+ Day Stopover in Iceland

Stopping in Iceland for more than three days will provide you with the opportunity to get to know the country, its nature, and its charisma. Although you can easily have a wonderful time staying for a short period, a longer stay will definitely give you the advantage and allow you to step out. 

Drive deep into the outskirts and explore the fjords, the highlands, or peninsulas all around the country. Visit the incredible national parks and increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights when traveling in winter. Take on different adventurous tour activities, or simply relax and enjoy.

Car driving on a beautiful scenic road in Iceland.

If you are looking to leave Reykjavík and get to know the island, there are a few ways around it. Nevertheless, before you start planning, you’ll want to make note of a few key points:

  • It takes around five days to travel around the Ring Road properly, so keep in mind that the more time you have for it, the better sights you get to see.

  • In winter, you need to make sure to come back in time for your flight as roads are often closed due to poor weather.

  • To get the most out of your trip, a good itinerary made by an expert or a guided tour is ideal.

  • Layers, layers, and more layers are essential when dressing for Iceland.

How to Spend 4 or More Days in Iceland on a Layover

You have a few options for your four or more-day layover in Iceland. To help, we've put together the ultimate itinerary factoring in the most famous stops on the route.

Exploring the South Coast is an unforgettable trip and best done in a few days. Start with the Golden Circle, featuring the historic Þingvellir National Park, the astonishing Geysir hot springs, and the powerful Gullfoss Waterfall. Nearby are the Kerið Volcanic Crater and Flúðir geo-village, home to the Secret Lagoon, Iceland’s oldest pool. Skálholt church site and Efsti-Dalur Dairy Farm are all great extra stops to make.

Once you've completed the Golden Circle, which typically takes a day if you are taking your time, your next stop is Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls. These are a must-visit whilst exploring the South Coast. Right next to Seljalandsfoss is also a hidden gem, Gljúfrabúi Waterfall, which is concealed within a gorge. It is a must-see while at Seljalandsfoss.

Reynisfjara beach in the south of Iceland.

Reynisfjara beach in the south of Iceland

Next, head to Reynisfjara black sand beach, another must-visit on the South Coast. This volcanic sand beach is well known for its strong currents, beautiful basalt columns, and towering sea stacks.

Further along the coast is another one of Mother Nature's incredible creations: Skaftafell National Park, home to glaciers and amazing hiking trails. Find Svartifoss Waterfall in the park or join the people who gather from all over the world to meet up with a glacier guide, taking them on an epic adventure on Vatnajökull’s many glacier tongues.

If your schedule allows, then you must visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where you can go glacier kayaking or take a boat tour. Once you've finished exploring here, head to Diamond Beach, where you'll find washed-up icebergs glinting on black sand.

Black, white and blue ice floating in a glacier lagoon.

Depending on how much time you have left, you may decide to head west to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This place has often been nicknamed “Iceland in miniature” because it's one of those places where you will find awe-inspiring landscapes and extreme contrasts all in one small region. Snæfellsjökull Glacier and Mt. Kirkjufell are some of the area’s most popular attractions. For a taste of classic Iceland, you’ll want to visit the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar, the pebble black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur, and the seals of Ytri-Tunga.

If you have a little more time to spend in Iceland but aren’t sure how to use it, you might find our itineraries helpful. We've created the perfect holiday agendas full of adventure and relaxation, no matter the length of your visit. So, whether you are coming for a week or 10 days, plan your trip today.


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