I left Paris at 11 p.m. only to arrive in Reykjavik at 12 a.m., 2 a.m. Paris time, 7 p.m. New York time if you judge based on the light in the sky as the plane lands, which is faint pink with the last slipping rays of the sun.
I find myself in Iceland, bag gathered, just past 12:30 a.m., with no bed to sleep in. It’s my own choice not to have booked a hostel for the evening, but with Iceland being one of the most expensive countries in Europe and my total in-country time being just 16 hours total, doing so seemed like a meaningless waste.
How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland
Sleeping in Reykjavik Airport
I’m a nomad. I’m tired. I pass signs in the airport lobby that warn vagrants like me that “sleeping, camping and cooking” are not allowed in the airport. Good thing I left my cooking stove back in Madrid.
I find an empty opening on a metal bench, pull out my travel companion Bun Bun, and curl up to settle in for the night. I awake in a panic hours later to find the sun is rising. What time is it? How much of the day has been wasted? I check my phone. It is 4:30 a.m. The sun sets late and rises early during summer in Iceland.
The airport is freezing. I pull out all the layers in my suitcase, which aren’t many as its summer, and they barely keep me in as the cold air seeps in through the drafty floor-to-ceiling pained windows.
I drift back off to sleep, along with an entire row of vagrant airport sleepers like me. I awake again later to the sound of a loud, valley-girl voice sitting near me.
“Oh my goodness,” the girl shouts in a voice that must wake everyone in our metal bench row out of their sleep.
“Travel is exhausting. I’m exhausted. This trip was so tough.”
The girl is going into a diatribe about her rough travels through Rome, Athens and Paris, but I want nothing of it.
It is only 6:30 a.m., but my time is Iceland is quickly ticking away, and so I decide to take a bus into the city of Reykjavik.
I flew back to the United States after my year in Europe via Iceland Air, a purposeful move as the airline offers complimentary stopovers in Iceland. The country is extremely well set up for stopover tourists. There are even daytrip stopover pamphlets in the airplane seat pockets. I decided during my few hours in the country I would take the bus to explore the capital and then visit the famed Blue Lagoon.
I exit the airport to find the bus and, despite it being July and me wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt, I shake from the brisk air.
Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland
The ride to Reykjavik is 45 minutes and the scenery out the window is rocky and volcanic. Green cliffs greet the blue sea. Rocks are piled and scattered. It looks like the moon.
From the Reykjavik bus station I walk into the city. The first sight I see is the dominant presence of Hallgrímskirkja church. This Lutheran church pays homage to the Vikings and even has a statue of Leif Erickson out front.
I walk through the small, pedestrian friendly city to the harbor and am greeted by the sight of a large opera house. Fishermen gather near their boats and signs welcome tourists to whale watch tours.
I pass closed shops, hotels and restaurants and dream of a longer stay.
The Blue Lagoon
After an express tour of the capital, I board the bus for the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that seems to be the perfect last-sight-to-see after a year in Europe.
From the city center, the journey is another 45 minutes. We pass miles of rocky, volcanic landscape. The scenery is nothing like anything else I’ve seen in my year in Europe thus far. I might as well be on the moon.
We reach the Blue Lagoon.
Mist rises from the faint blue water and rocky ravines surround the entrance.
I change into my bathing suit and sink into the warm water of the lagoon, letting the minerals sooth my tired body, covering my face with the mud available in wooden pots to the side. In the cold air the warm water is a welcome respite. The lagoon has a swim up bar, and I enjoy a beer while talking to several contented ex-pats, also on stopovers from Europe.
I spent a few hours at the Blue Lagoon and then it is time to change clothes and board the bus back for the airport.
Farewell to Iceland
I leave some of the healing mud on my body. Knowing its there as I fly back to the United States makes leaving less painful somehow. I breeze through security and board my flight. I may have only visited for 16-hours, but my time in Europe was magical indeed.