Five Ways to Make the Most of a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

Jodi Ettenberg March 7, 2013 90

“I’ve got a few days in Iceland and I want to make the most of it.”

This is the usual request I receive from friends and readers alike, many of whom are stopping in Reykjavik on a quick layover with Icelandair. So I thought I’d provide a longer answer than usual for the Looptail, replete with some photos, for the best things to do during the weekend layover. Assuming you have three days, you can get a lot of ground covered and still join locals for drinks late into the night on the main streets of the capital – which is exactly how you’re expected to spend your weekend evenings.

Driving on the open ring roads outside the capital

Driving on the open ring roads outside the capital – photo by Jodi E.

1. Rent a car instead of doing a day tour. It’s one thing if you are there on a longer trip and can take your time exploring, but if you’re going to be there for a weekend, definitely rent a car at the airport and use this to see the sights. Parking is easily found in the capital, and having your own transportation means that you can navigate your way around the region at your own pace.

Tip: Pick up a SIM with data from and use your phone as a GPS to get around. Data rates are reasonable, and if you don’t have a favourite GPS programme, try Waze (this is what I did and it worked great).

Gullfoss Waterfalls

Gullfoss Waterfalls – photo by Jodi E.

2. Use your rental car to stop at the Blue Lagoon on the way to or from the airport. The Blue Lagoon is situated 20 minutes from the Reykjavik airport, but close to an hour from Reykjavik proper. To maximize your time in town, definitely stop in the lagoon on the way to or from the city (for directions, see their website). Opening hours are until 8pm, 9pm or midnight, depending on the time of year. Bonus points for the awesome feeling of a crazy steaming lagoon in the night hours – it’s surreal. (Photos don’t turn out well, though.)

Fish restaurant, near the Bonus supermarket

Fish restaurant, near the Bonus supermarket, photo by Jodi E.

3. Take a day to see Reykjavik itself. For one day, run around town by foot to take in the port, the sights, and the amazingly colourful buildings.

Some tips:

  • Don’t miss the 871 Settlement museum, which has interactive exhibits about the history of Iceland, centered around a Viking longhouse they’ve dated back to 871.
  • There’s a fish restaurant right across from the Bonus supermarket that makes a great fish soup. Tourists will recommend Seabaron near the port, but locals recommended Fish. (Seriously, that’s what it’s called). Just ask anyone for the Bonus grocery shop, then walk across the street to the tiny storefront with the fish sign hanging above it.
  • The same Bonus supermarket is good for snacks and eats if you are going to be needing provisions for your car ride.
  • On the weekend, check out the Kolaportid fleamarket.
  • For the Northern Lights, check forecasts online before deciding whether to hop in your car and drive out to see them. If you do, be sure your phone is topped up and you have blankets and snacks in case your car breaks down (make sure you have an emergency number to call as well).
  • Don’t miss the main Hallgrímskirkja church, looming up over the city. You can take the stairs to the top, too. Worthwhile.
Reykjavik's colourful houses from above

Reykjavik’s colourful houses from above – photo by Jodi E.

4. Don’t go to bed early on a weekend. Reykjavik on a weekend night is…raucous. Locals partake in “the Rúntur” – what my friend Inga explained as a late-night bar crawl on and around the main drag, Laugavegur street. Residents drink at home with friends first, then head out at midnight or later to overtake the bars, ending around 5AM.

Tip: after the bar-hopping ends, locals will be found eating hot dogs on the street, most notably at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

Seeing a geysir in Geysir

Seeing a geysir in Geysir – photo by Jodi E.

5. Visit the Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss and Pingvellir. See a geyser in Geysir, gorgeous roaring waterfalls in Gullfoss, and the place where continents meet and clash with crumbling stones and green grass as far as the eye can see. Iceland’s magic scenery isn’t to be missed, but if you only have a weekend the best way to get a “best of” is to do the Golden Circle in a day. This is easily undertaken because the ring road makes it hard to get lost. Just be sure you head back to the city before it gets too dark, as lighting is almost non-existent on the roads once you leave the capital.

For more photos from Iceland, please see my Legal Nomads post, Instagramming Iceland.



  1. karen March 7, 2013 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    My mind is buzzing after looking at all if the pictures, take me to each and everyone, what an experience that would be…

  2. Barbara Young March 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I’ve just seen this site & it seems very interesting. I’d like to explore all the various tips etc. Thank You.

  3. SCOTTY March 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm - Reply


  4. audrey smith March 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    absolutely amazing would be a dream come true to visit iceland

  5. Jodi March 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Yay! Glad you’re finding it useful. Really it was a total accident that I ended up there for the weekend – I was looking to get from London to NYC and I didn’t realize that Iceland Air offered this stopover. So I thought why not put a guide together in case others want to do the same. As you can see: WORTH IT!

  6. Freya March 7, 2013 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    Iceland is definitely on my list. I always wanted to go to the Blue Lagoon and wow that photo of the Gullfoss Waterfalls is awesome, very beautiful.

  7. marilyn palfreman March 8, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    i need some of this magic in my life, lease sprinkle some of this dust on me

  8. Gen March 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Thank you for helpful tips and appealing photos!! I’m adding Iceland to my bucket list.:-)

  9. Andrea McIsaac March 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    With 5 days leave the city and head east along the south coast and see the Iceberg lagoon .

  10. Marlene March 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    From winter Iceland here to Iceland there. Fantastic places to see and faces to meet.

  11. Lynn Aschendorf March 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Now I have another wonderful place to add to my bucket list. Best wishes!

  12. Lynn Aschendorf March 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I just added another place to my bucket list. Thanks and best wishes!

  13. MALLORY PROVERBS March 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm - Reply


    What are the rules for Canada to enter especially Quebec?

  14. Randal Rhoades, Sr. March 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Iceland is definitely on my list.

  15. Fatmir March 9, 2013 at 3:00 am - Reply

    I heard a lot about extreamly interesting places in Iceland. You confirm them all. Thanks Jodi. I will add it to my bucket list.

  16. Don Gunn March 9, 2013 at 4:25 am - Reply

    Iceland is fantastic. If you don’t want to drive, you can arrange an airport transfer that includes a few hours at the Blue Lagoon. Reykjavik is an easy walking city. Don’t miss the harbour and the Harpa Centre – take a tour of this magnificent building.

  17. Peter Woodthorpe March 9, 2013 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Love to go

  18. DReid March 9, 2013 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    I have been to Iceland twice — both for New Years.
    Excellent time, excellent scenery, great time in Blue Lagoon and in the municipal pool in Reykjavik. I want to go back for the 3rd time.

  19. bren March 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful informative report. Iceland is definately on my “bucket list”

  20. Beverly Rebmann March 11, 2013 at 12:33 am - Reply

    I was quite taken by the “crazy steaming lagoon in the night hours – it’s surreal”. I’d take in the geyser and waterfall in the Golden Circle too. Interesting article for sure.

  21. Ehren Rebmann March 11, 2013 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Volcanoes and ice make for interesting phenomena. Beautiful nature shots.

  22. Bev Rebmann March 11, 2013 at 12:55 am - Reply

    The interesting awesome feeling of a crazy steaming lagoon in the night hours” is on my list of things to see. Geysers and waterfalls are a close second.

  23. lily.lodi March 11, 2013 at 11:15 am - Reply


  24. Vivian Basaraba March 11, 2013 at 11:26 am - Reply

    The pictures are fantastic, would love to be able to visit those sites and have the experience of a lifetime.

  25. Emilia March 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    my daughter went to Iceland she loved it, she flew from London Uk

  26. Sam Fox March 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    I went to Iceland last year and it is one of my favourite places. The landscape is unreal and the clear air feels amazing in the lungs. I was very impressed how they have harnessed the geothermal energy to power the place. No pollution at all.
    The blue lagoon is a must!

  27. Colette Laventure March 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    It would be nice and very interesting to visit Iceland.

  28. John March 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    great article,awesome pictures

  29. Carolyn Johnson March 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    Mom and dad had both been, and marveled at the beauty. Now I am as much in awe, and hope one day to be able to see it for myself!

  30. Pamela Katkin March 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Have been to Iceland and reading and seeing these pictures brought back great memories! Thanks !!

  31. Paul Sirois March 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    It looks like a fantastic place to visit

  32. Carol Conerly March 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    Wish I could go and make each and every stop

  33. Jan M March 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    Iceland has been on my list of places to see for over 20 years. These photos have moved it to the top.

  34. leah przada March 12, 2013 at 12:52 am - Reply

    In my wildest dreams could I ever think that I would experience places like those! Wow!| Just Wow!

  35. dq March 12, 2013 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Looks beautiful!

  36. Michael Williams March 12, 2013 at 4:49 am - Reply

    Iceland is so beautiful! I would love to go there someday! :)

  37. Dale March 12, 2013 at 10:49 am - Reply

    One day!

  38. Heinz March 12, 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Would love to win this trip

  39. Jennifer Pewsey March 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Printing this for a friend who is going to Iceland this August.

  40. Virginia Little March 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Iceland is fascinating….would love to go there someday!

  41. Marlene March 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Iceland has an allure beyond its city. A weekend can’t be long enough

  42. Joan LeVasseur March 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while now. After reading this article and seeing the pictures it is surely on the top of my list right now.

  43. Pamela H March 12, 2013 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Wow, the Gullfoss Waterfalls is just gorgeous and I’d love to experience it and the rest of Iceland one day! Thank you for the great photos and tips.

  44. Jeffrey Gilliland March 12, 2013 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    Wow, this looks a really memorable trip!

  45. Michael Williams March 13, 2013 at 4:13 am - Reply

    I would love to go to Iceland as soon as possible! :)

  46. John March 13, 2013 at 5:00 am - Reply

    Now that I’ve read the article, I’m adding Iceland to my bucket list.

  47. Terry Murphy March 13, 2013 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Looks like a great adventure!

  48. Virginia Little March 13, 2013 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Hope I win this trip!

  49. Cindy March 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    An adventure of a life time. A place where few would think about going. Sounds exciting.

  50. SM Joyce March 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Would love that trip to Italy

  51. kathy szmutko March 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    I can’t think of a nicer trip than Italy Thank you

    • Shannon Wilson March 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      I take it you won the trip Kathy? I thought we would get an e-mail saying that the draw is over.

  52. Suan March 13, 2013 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    OK – so I have read through this article 3 times, looked all over this page and I have not found any link or info on how to “Win a Trip to Italy.” Is this some BS scam to get people to read the article? Because no where are there instructions on the contest. Although the Icelandic article was interesting, the more I read, the more PO’d I became.

    • Andrew Hickey March 14, 2013 at 9:31 am - Reply

      Suan the Italy contest ended last week. Winner will be announced March 18th. Sorry for the inconvenience or confusion. However, stay tuned for more giveaways coming up this year on the Looptail!

  53. Andrew C March 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Definitely would love to visit Iceland, but Italy is good too!

  54. Michael Williams March 14, 2013 at 4:03 am - Reply

    I would love to visit Iceland! “Thanks for this great promotion!”

  55. Virginia Little March 14, 2013 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Would love to visit Iceland!

  56. Robyn Hale March 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Iceland looks lovely!

  57. Michael Williams March 15, 2013 at 4:34 am - Reply

    I would love to go to Iceland someday!

  58. Darlene Edwards March 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    Love to be there!

  59. Michael Williams March 16, 2013 at 4:43 am - Reply

    Iceland is where I want to be!

  60. Ronald Pitchen March 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I would love to visit Tuscany and of course Iceland will be very nice to visit too.

  61. wilson king March 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Great place to visit,

  62. Alicia Zemer March 17, 2013 at 1:45 am - Reply

    I think I want to see Russia.

  63. Melanie March 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the great travel tips for Iceland! I love the “must do” tips for a short visit.

    • Jodi March 31, 2013 at 3:26 am - Reply

      Thanks Melanie!

  64. Clayton Ehrenreich March 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Awewsome and beautiful

  65. Michael Williams March 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    After my trip to Iceland, I think I may travel to London, England.

  66. sharon howe March 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    i reall y want to go on a vacation somewhere awesome.

  67. Bayla Fishman March 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    Iceland: what an experience that would be. Met some Icelandic people in our recent G-Adventures Southern Cross trip and would love to go.

  68. Shane Anderson March 19, 2013 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    what a fantastic place to vacation!

  69. Jenny March 21, 2013 at 11:43 pm - Reply

    Want to travel everywhere! Next destinations are Paris and Venice, Florence and Rome Any suggestions on how to save money while traveling there?

  70. Greta Bomberry March 23, 2013 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Wouldn’t mind stopping over to see the Northern Lights, but would love to go to Italy and as you say “eating my way around”. I would love to have the opportunity to taste the flavours of Italy.

  71. Simon March 23, 2013 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Well, I wouldn’t mind a layover in Iceland en route to Italy. What are cycling conditions like? Would it be worth assembling my bike and trailer for say 5 days – then repacking themfor the onward flight(s)?

    • Jodi March 31, 2013 at 3:26 am - Reply

      Hi Simon, it would depend on when you went. Definitely wouldn’t recommend it in winter months, but in the summer I suspect it would be gorgeous!

  72. Martin March 26, 2013 at 7:01 am - Reply

    Perfect for a layover in Reykjavik: Blue Lagoon, The Golden Circle tour and spending some time in the city as it’s a lovely place!
    Some impressions of this amazing and stunning country:!iceland/c1w1d

  73. Laurent Thibault March 29, 2013 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Iceland is definitely on my bucket list….

  74. Ronald Pitchen April 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    I would definitely like to visit Iceland which seem to be a very nice country.

  75. Doby May 26, 2013 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Great post. Sounds like Reykjavik is a great place to visit.

    Quick question: I will be flying through there in a few weeks. I have a 9.5 hr layover (7 am to 5 pm). Are there any tours that someone can take from the airport? I’ve been looking at the site and I can’t find anything on there.
    Or would you recommend just taking a cab into the city and walking around?

  76. Anne de Buck August 1, 2013 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Love your post! We had a layover of 48 hours last year on our trip to NYC and had a great time in Reykjavik. Love Iceland!

  77. Gyalkun April 10, 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Is it possible to cover Gullfoss, Geysir & blue lagoon if I rent a car from airport. I have 10hrs layover time at Reykjavik

  78. TRAVELDOLL1105 April 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Gualkun, yes, it is possible to cover all of these items in a single 10 hour layover….but get cracking!!! There is no time to waste!!
    I went to Iceland on a 5 day quickie trip (all the way from Los Angeles)….I loved it….I went on the Golden Circle Tour, went out at night in search of the Northern Lights, walked downtown Reykjavik, ate at some fabulous restaurants, went to Vik and hit the Blue Lagoon Spa on my way out… can be managed!!!!

  79. Chuck May 20, 2014 at 11:18 am - Reply

    What a great short article. Crisp & To the point. Have a couple questions :
    1) 3 days including the day we land. Renting a car? Does it give us better flex ability to see more? What is the daily rate compared to a couple tours.??

    2) Three Day Agenda. See Reykjavik, Spend Half day at Blue Lagoon, see the country side and sights listed. Enough Time?

    Thanks. Chuck

  80. Judith Falkins October 14, 2014 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    I have been to Reykjavik, and I would like to return to see the Museum, go on the bus tour of the old city, and then I would like to go to the northern capital city and to the eastern coast. Then onward to the Faroe Islands

  81. Louise Boyd October 26, 2014 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Have just returned on thurs from a 10 day visit to Iceland with my husband. Hired car drove ring road anticlockwise around island. Just beautiful. Did heli flight of glaciers and volcanoes, magic. Saw the sky glowing red at night from Bardabunga Volcanoe still going off. A beautiful little country that exceeded my imagination of how it would be. Loved the coldness, saw some snow and amazed at the magnificent waterfalls.

    Australian visitor.

  82. Moin February 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Jodi and all …
    I will be stopping over for 2-3 nights at Reykjavik in April 23rd – 26th.
    What do you think I should visit in those 2 full days to make the most out of it. I will be alone travelling, so I will have flexibility as well. Also information on nightlife and handout places would be really appreciated. Looking forward to visit Iceland for the first time … Moin

    • Jodi March 2, 2015 at 4:42 am - Reply

      Hi Moin, the suggestions above are perfect for that amount of time, and I also provided places to eat. I would try to rent a car and see the golden circle if the weather is good — it was so beautiful. For nightlife I cannot help you as I was not really out other than one night but we definitely enjoyed our visit to Lebowski bar.

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