How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland


Flying to Iceland from Paris is a highly disorienting experience, especially if done at night.

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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, 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

How to Spend a Layover in 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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

I pass closed shops, hotels and restaurants and dream of a longer stay.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

We reach the Blue Lagoon.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

Mist rises from the faint blue water and rocky ravines surround the entrance.

How to Spend a Layover in Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

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This Post Has 12 Comments

    1. Lauren

      Hi Michael! Thanks for your comment. Iceland was so beautiful I definitely want to visit for longer so I can take in all of the natural wonders. Thanks for sharing your guide!

    1. Lauren

      Lauren it was by far the best layover I’ve ever had! Happy travels!

  1. Tony Altimari

    What a pleasure to see the very nice young lady once again I met in Florence. Lauren, enjoy, enjoy and enjoy. Be safe and keep in touch when you can.

    Your new friend,

    Tony Altimari

    1. Lauren

      Hi Tony. Thanks for stopping by! I will never forget meeting you in Florence. 🙂

  2. Kiernyn

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’m going to be in a very similar situation this summer (22 hour layover in Reykjavik, not planning on booking a hostel), and this post has given me a lot of great ideas. One quick question: How long did it take you to go through security back at the airport? I’d love to maximize my sightseeing, but I also want to make sure I give myself enough time to get to my flight, especially since it will be an international one. Thanks!

    1. Lauren

      Hi Keirnyn. So glad to hear this post was helpful! I’d recommend departing Reykjavik for the airport at least 3 hours for your departure. Transportation from the city center to the airport took me slightly longer than I had expected. Security wasn’t too bad for my flight, but it is international so its best to arrive 2 hours in advance. I hope you have a great trip!

  3. Wendy Krs



    1. Lauren

      Hi Wendy!

      1. Yes, you will pay for luggage on WOW Airlines – they are a low cost carrier, so while you may pay a lower rate, you should expect to pay extra for baggage.

      2. Yes, there were many people sleeping because of layovers. I was far from the only one.

      Hope this helps and happy travels!

  4. Deena

    My 18 year old son is traveling Lax to Reijkavik with a lay over for 19 hours on wow. Then on to Berlin on wow where he changes planes and heads to Moscow on Aeroflot. Do you know if he has to pick up his bags during the layover or will they be checked through to Moscow or st least Berlin due to carrier switch. He has sports equipment etc that would be a pain to drag around for 19 hours in iceland

    1. Lauren

      His bags should be checked through to Moscow so he can explore luggage free!

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