If you ever fly on Icelandair, you’re going to end up with a layover in Iceland. Because that is their country of operations, they are required to go to/from there from other countries. It’s actually a great tourism opportunity for Icelandic communities, and it will actually work out well for you too!
Last summer, B and I had a 10 hour layover going from Paris to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We decided we wanted to make the most of our layover and head out to see as much as we could. We stored our bags at the airport for a nominal fee and headed out on our *pre-planned* journey.
First, it’s important for you to know that the airport is actually in Keflavik, NOT right in Reykjavik. The city of Reykjavik is actually about a 45 minute drive from the airport. Fortunately, a couple of companies have got it right and offer buses to/from the city and are always waiting at the airport. Once a bus is mostly full, it leaves. We pre-purchased our tickets online with Flybus, but you can purchase them right in the terminal and then board a bus. There is also another company called Gray Line Iceland which offers similar services for pretty much the same price.
Second, you actually have two options for buses from the airport: one into Reykjavik and one to the Blue Lagoon. We chose to go to Reykjavik first, then to the Blue Lagoon. For this option, purchase a one-way ticket from the airport to the city and then the Blue Lagoon tour including admission. The two of these together will set you back approximately 11,900 ISK or currently close to $130 CAD ($95USD, 84 euro) but it is totally worth it! I highly suggest going to the city first, grabbing lunch, and then catching the bus to the Blue Lagoon to relax before your flight.
I have to tell you up front, Iceland is expensive. I mean, it makes sense – an island out in the Atlantic Ocean with a total population of just under 325,000 people with low temperatures year-round isn’t going to be cheap! Two small sandwiches and one cappuccino set us back almost $30 Canadian. Anyway, it’s worth it and here is a suggested itinerary:
1. Walk from the BSI or Gray Line bus terminal
From the BSI terminal, you’re going to want to walk west on Gamla Hringbraut to the roundabout, then head right on Njardargata. This is one of those quaint roads with colourful houses – plenty of photo ops! Head to the end of the street until you get to your next destination.
2. Visit the Hallgrimskirkja
At the end of Njardargata (street?) is Hallgrimskirkja – a beautiful and obviously Icelandic church that offers an elevator to the best views in Reykjavik. You can purchase a ticket for the church tower at the office/gift shop on the left for 900ISK and then (likely) wait in line for the elevator to the top. Walk all the way up when you get there and take in the 360 degree view of Reykjavik and the surrounding area. It was truly breathtaking to see.
To the east – surprisingly large mountains and more city. Take your time and enjoy the view. It will be a little chilly, but again – worth it!
3. Visit Cafe Loki
Cafe Loki is located directly across the street from the church. We had a coffee, but they offer plenty of Icelandic specialties for you to try!
4. Check out the “Viking Ship”
Ok, so B and I are a little obsessed with the show “Vikings”. I KNOW that it’s not about Iceland, and I know that wasn’t the only place they were, but something about Iceland and Vikings just goes well together. You’ll be able to see a statue of Leif Eriksson (which had information that was apparently inaccurate according to my history teacher husband who did his thesis on Vikings) just in front of the church, but down by the bay is a great piece of art of a viking ship. From Cafe Loki you should head North (or left, if you’re coming out of the cafe) on Frakkastigur and head all the way down until you get to the water. Just across the rather busy street you’ll find the “Solfar” or Sun Voyager piece.
5. Shop and Eat on Hverfisgata
If you backtrack a few blocks from the Sun Voyager, you’ll hit the cross street named “Hverfisgata”. This is like the main street of the city, full of cool shops and restaurants. We were unfortunately a little early for some restaurants, as we tried to go into a few advertising Icelandic specialties but they were closed. We ended up at a cute little corner cafe called Durum (where we had the $30 sandwiches and cappuccino). If you’re running short on time, this was a great little spot, but there are a few other restaurants I had pinned to my map I would have liked to check out – Kaldi Bar and Cafe, Old Iceland Restaurant, and Iceland Bar – but we just didn’t have the time! I would have loved to try some traditional Icelandic food as we try to do that wherever we are.
After a bite, explore the shops on Hverfisgata – there are so many! You’ll find many opportunities to purchase traditional Icelandic sweaters and local gems and jewelry. We didn’t get a chance to pop into any shops, mostly because our budget was blown by the time we got to Iceland at the end of our European adventure.
6. Catch a Bus to the Blue Lagoon
After 2-3 hours in Reykjavik (obviously spend a bit more time if you have it), walk back to the bus terminal by turning left at the west end of Hverfisgata onto Laekjargata. You’ll wander past a pretty pond and some beautiful homes with the metal siding – quite an interesting site compared to Canadian (or American or European) buildings! Make sure you check the bus schedule from Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon so that you don’t waste any minutes on your layover! The Blue Lagoon is about 35 minutes from the city. If you’ve purchased ahead, check in at the BSI terminal and they will give you your “ticket”, and if you haven’t you can purchase right at the terminal.
7. Relax at the Blue Lagoon
When you arrive, you’ll wander down a boardwalk through some beautiful volcanic rock. This alone is picture-worthy. You’ll have to line up to check in, and they’ll give you the option to upgrade your package. We upgraded to the “premium” package for 14 euros more each as we got a robe, towel rental, free drink (who doesn’t want a beer in a geothermal pool?), and little package of samples (I took them both). It seems like this package got even better since we went as it now includes sparkling wine at the restaurant. You’ll get this cool electronic bracelet that controls your locker and allows you to purchase extra beverages or food while at the Lagoon. This place is actually more like a resort – swim-up bar, spa treatments, fancy restaurants.
Once you’ve changed and rinsed, head outside and find a spot to set your stuff down. If you’ve got a GoPro or waterproof camera, I’m sure you’ll want to bring it with you! Billy went back to get his cell phone so we could take photos. Anyway, just relax! Float around the pool and find the bucket of weird silica mud and slather it on your face. Then, when in Rome, dip your face in the geothermal waters and rinse it off. We could actually SEE the difference in our skin immediately.
Wade over to the bar and grab a Gull – a local beer that probably tasted delicious because we were drinking it in what felt like heaven. Stay as long as you can, and when you’re ready you can shower and use the amenities to get ready. We stayed for nearly an hour and it really capped off our European adventure. You’ll have to return your bracelets and pay for anything extra you purchased while wearing the bracelet. You can also check out the gift shop (and use the discount coupon that came in your little sample bag) – I wish I would have purchased some of that mud mask to take home. I STILL regret it!
8. Sadly – Head Back to the Airport
Keflavik airport actually has a lot to offer. Their duty-free is filled with Icelandic specialties including beer, liquor, make-up and jewelry. They also have restaurants to grab some food while you wait for your flight. It seemed as though they closed relatively early which really surprised us. Again, our meal was very expensive and we just had sandwiches, but what can you expect from Iceland AND and airport?
If you can, you should take advantage of Icelandair’s “free stopover” and stay up to 7 nights. I wish we could have, but we had a wedding to return to Canada for. Icelandair also is great for Iceland’s tourism industry as they offer a selection of videos that take you on tours of the many different regions of Iceland to get you interested in visiting. Next time, I’d love to do the Golden Circle among other things.
We only had 10 hours from gate to gate in Iceland. Have you ever been? What would you recommend for tourists with layovers, stopovers, or lengthy Iceland vacations planned?
Thanks for reading!