Flying over Iceland
Flying over Iceland

I was moving to London and I wanted a comfortable flight where I could take two pieces of luggage without paying through the nose. I was going to take Air Canada, but with the extra baggage fee I was looking at close to what I spent on the return flight to London in June. So I called a travel agent. I know, I can’t believe it either – they’re not extinct!

Luckily, the agent I spoke to suggested taking IcelandAir because two pieces of luggage is included in the flight cost. It was only slightly less expensive than Air Canada + extra luggage, but there was also an opportunity: a layover in Keflavik.

I’d never been to Iceland before so I booked a 10-hour layover in the hopes that I could leave the airport and do some fast slow travel before returning to my journey. Just an FYI – IcelandAir will let you lay over for up to a week for long-haul flights – just give their customer service a call.

Some people really dislike layovers – getting off the plane, waiting, getting on another plane. It’s just a time-waster. But if you can extend a layover to a stopover (and if you don’t know the difference like I didn’t five minutes ago, read this) then it may make it a little more enjoyable. So how can you get the most out of your experience? Here are some tips:

Research, research, research!

To be honest, I when I booked that stopover, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to leave the airport and how it would work. I may have had to sit in Keflavik Airport for 9 hours, bored out of my skull.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case. But to avoid that ‘oh-shit-did-I-just-do-something-idiotic’ feeling, be sure to do your research beforehand.

Tjornin Lake, Reykjavik
Tjornin Lake, Reykjavik

Before you book your flight, check the airline – and airport – stopover policy. You don’t want to spent all night in an airport because they don’t allow you to leave the airport when you have a connecting flight.

Check whether you need a transit visa. I actually didn’t do this either. In fact, I never check whether I need a visa because I have a Canadian passport and I tend to assume they’re like Mastercards – accepted everywhere. Excuse me while I check my privilege, dammit.

Look for airlines that are more forgiving about stopovers so that it doesn’t add to the cost of your ticket. Some airlines will simply charge you for two one-way flights, which can get to be pricey.

Make sure the things you want to see will be open when you’re going to the destination. You don’t want to turn up somewhere in September that’s only open in June!

Think about what you really like to do, especially if you don’t have much time

Now that you have the official stuff sorted out, it’s time to plan the itinerary!

When I started talking to people and looking into what I’d like to do,  a lot of people recommended going to the Blue Lagoon. Apparently it’s one of those things you have to do once – even though the Planet D thinks it’s overrated, they agree. At first, I was convinced. I was going to book the bus and spend the morning there before taking the bus into Reykjavik.

A couple weeks later, I changed my mind. It’s seemed expensive for what it is, there are plenty of other thermal pools around and I don’t really go to spas and such – so why would I spend all that time at a tourist hot spot because people say I should?

If you wouldn’t normally do something, don’t inconvenience yourself to do it just because other people highly recommend it.

Remember: it’s your trip.

I like meeting people, exploring, visiting museums and eating local food, so that’s what I made a plan to do.

Think about what your ‘ritual’ is when you visit a place, or what really interests you – and do that.

Research again – preparation is key

When you only have a short amount of time one screw up and your trip could go out the window.

Organize what you want to want to do and know how you’ll do it.

Will you rent a car or take the bus? I weighed the pros and cons (and prices) of renting a car versus taking the bus into Reykjavik.

Does the airline hold on to your luggage? If it’s more than a day’s stopover, then be sure to bring the items you’ll need for an overnight.

Is there somewhere you can store your carry-on items? Because of the weather – and the fact that I was moving my life to another country – I ended up having to lug 9kg (~20lbs) around Reykjavik all day!

What’s the weather like and how will you travel? Pack your luggage accordingly. I was coming from somewhere relatively warm and going somewhere effing cold so I packed my carry-on with plenty of warm things. Are you going to a warm place from somewhere cold? Wear layers and leave extra space in your carry-on.

Organize and make firm plans. I researched the times of the buses and the opening times of the places I wanted to visit to make sure they would be open.

Even if you’re not into planning, at least look at a map. I like to use Google Earth to get a feel for the place if I haven’t been there before. Don’t do what I did my first year in Martinique and hope that someone would be there to take you to a place you haven’t arranged to at yet. 🙂

So, what did I do for my stopover in Iceland? First a took a bus into town using Flybus. I bought my ticket at the airport and it cost 3.500  ISK (~ $30 CAD) for a return. You can book online and save 10%. Children are also free or 50% off (12-15).

I walked around Tjörnin Lake…

Tjornin Lake, Reykjavik, Iceland in Autumn

I visited the Harpa…

The Harpa, in Reykjavik, Iceland
Really cool architecture

I met up with a really nice Couchsurfer/student/blogger named Romina at Stofan’s Cafe

Stofan's Cafe in Reykjavik, Iceland

And generally just took in the sights…

View from the pier in Reykjavik
View from the quay
Iceland homes
On the drive from Keflavik to Reykjavik

Tjornin Lake

I spent enough time there to realize that I want to spend more time in Iceland! I think I might book a longer layover next time I get the opportunity to go home to Canada!

Oh yeah, and if anyone could explain to me what these are – I’d greatly appreciate it!



Did you find these tips useful? Subscribe to Alyssa Writes by adding your email address to the form on the right. You’ll be the first to hear about the latest travel tips and tricks!


18 thoughts on “Making the Most of Your Iceland Stopover”

  1. I did a 3 day stopover in Iceland on my way to Scotland a few years ago. I took Flybus into Reykjavik, got a hotel right in the middle of town. The hotels typically provide/arrange excursions with bus service that coordinates with other hotel arranged excursions. I went to the Blue Lagoon (yes touristy and I’m not a spa person but it was an extremely unique and cool experience) and I also went horseback riding on a “troll hunt” through the lava fields/hills in southwest Iceland. If you don’t know about Icelandic Viking horses – Google it. They are exquisite. So about the “troll hunt”… Nearly 60% of the population of Iceland believes in “hidden people” – Huldufolk and elves and trolls. The stone pile in your picture is likely linked to the elves but it is basically what we would call a Cairn.

  2. I have an 11 hour layover in Iceland next week, enroute from Amsterdam to Boston, however, it is overnight. I am alone, so I don’t want to go far and have little money. Is it safe for me to walk a bit, not too far from the airport?

    1. Hi Laura,

      A few things here. Technically, yes, it is safe. But what’s important to know is that 1) The airport is in Keflavik and there isn’t much to see there, and 2) KEF is technically closed after the last flight until the morning. So if you leave the airport, they won’t let you back in. You might even get a bit of hassle if you want to sleep in it. Bottom line is, you either have to stay in the airport or book a hostel for the night and take the Flybus into Reykjavik.

  3. Alyssa, Did you take a bus into the city or some other type of transportation? We have 3 in our party and will have a similar length layover and want to see as much as we can in our limited time.

  4. I am thinking about doing a stopover on my way to Paris. Did the airline keep your checked bags while you left the airport?

    1. Hi Christen,

      Yes, they kept my luggage. Sounds like fun – I can’t wait to go to Paris again!

  5. Iceland has never really been on my radar but I have been seeing a lot of posts on it lately. It looks absolutely beautiful and is most defiantly now on my bucket list. It’s suppose to be really good place for extreme sports and outdoor adventure. Can’t wait to go!

    1. Hi Tana,

      There are always more places to put on your bucket list. I generally just want to go EVERYWHERE. I should probably just narrow it down 🙂

  6. I love long layovers like this. Like you said, it gives you enough of a taste to know whether you should come back and spend a lot more time there. When I took an Iceland Air flight, unfortunately I didn’t have time to leave the airport…darn it! We are doing this next week, though, a stopover for 26 hours in Doha….yay!

  7. You know, I’ve seen flights with Iceland Air pop up before, but have yet to fly with them. How were they?

    And yay to layovers! I have a 16-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur when I head to Taipei in January. Luckily I have friends there, and have been to the city before, so know the layover is feasible. My main objective? Eat delicious food. Sleep. Then back to the airport for a morning flight!

    1. Sounds like a success and a half. I look forward to that foodporn friday post!

      IcelandAir was actually awesome! They give you a little water bottle, a pillow and a blanket (for long-haul flights anyway). They all have little Icelandic phrases and jokes on them! I slept the whole flight though, so that’s as much as I can tell you!

  8. Looks like you made the most of the short time you had there! Good work! I’d love to go to Iceland… one day it will happen! 🙂

    1. Soon soon soon! It’s not too bad a flight and the prices seem good from UK to Iceland. Plus, you can see a lot in a few days, so it’s good that way too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.