Layover in Iceland | The Complete Guide

19. May 2019 |10 min read
 
 
 

Iceland is a major transportation hub for airlines flying between North America and Europe, and trips that include a layover in Iceland are a popular option on transcontinental flights.

While direct flights between the two continents are common, there are a number of airlines that offer stopover flights at a discounted price. Airlines including the country’s own Icelandair also offer free extended layovers in Iceland at no extra cost.

Iceland is a country filled with breathtaking activities and natural wonders to be explored. So whatever the reason for your stopover in Iceland, this article has everything you need to know to make the best of it.

How to Add a Stopover in Iceland

Want to score a free trip to Iceland? The simplest way is to book a flight that includes a stopover in Keflavík. But if your itinerary doesn’t already include one, there are a number of airlines that offer this option when flying between Europe and North America.

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Icelandair is a popular airline that offers a stopover option in Iceland. The Icelandair stopover pass is available when booking your trip right on their website.

Stopover options in Iceland can be from several hours to about a week and can be added at no additional fee. When booking an Icelandair stopover pass, you have the option of up to a 7-day layover. This means you can basically get a free trip to Iceland!

Do I Need a Visa for a Layover in Iceland?

Iceland is a part of the Schengen Agreement, so standard Schengen-zone travel rules usually apply when visiting Iceland on a stopover.

For citizens of countries within the Schengen-zone, you usually won’t need a visa when flying into Iceland. For countries outside of the Schengen Agreement like the United States, Canada, and Australia, travellers can enter the Schengen zone for up to 90 days in a six month period.

Visa requirements differ depending on what passport you hold. Be sure to confirm if a visa is required before arriving in Iceland.

Regnbogi by the Icelandic artist Rúrí, on display outside the terminal.
"Regnbogi" by Icelandic artist Rúrí, on display outside the KEF Airport terminal building.

What to Do on a Layover in Iceland

When most people think layovers, they think hanging out at the airport bar. On a layover in Iceland however, it’s worth getting out of the airport.

Airlines flying through Iceland usually include a stopover landing at Keflavík International Airport (KEF).

While Keflavík sits about 50 km southwest of Iceland’s capital city, the airport is well-connected to a variety of transportation options. This includes shuttle buses, excursion buses, and public transportation. Keflavík is also conveniently close to some of Iceland’s most popular attractions.

Whether you’re on a short layover or have a couple of days to spare, there’s plenty to do around the country’s stunning Nordic surroundings. What you can do, however, will depend on the amount of time you’ll be spending on your Iceland stopover.

Short Layovers in Iceland

Don’t be discouraged if you only have hours to spend between your flights. It’s definitely possible to get out and see some sights during a short stopover in Iceland.

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Relax at The Blue Lagoon

If you only have a few hours to spare, you can head southeast of Keflavík near Grindavik to see the famous Blue Lagoon. Known for being one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is conveniently located about a 20-minute drive from Keflavík International Airport.

This geothermal spa in Reykjanes UNESCO Geopark is one of the most famous spas in the world, built within a mesmerizing volcanic landscape. Visitors can treat themselves to one of three relaxing experiences at the spa to shake off some jetlag.

Each package has the option to include transportation to and from Keflavík airport and other locations around Iceland as well. Due to its popularity, tickets to the Blue Lagoon must be booked in advance.

Meant to be a naturally relaxing experience, visitors to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland spend an average of two hours taking in the water. Be sure to give yourself some extra time to unwind and get to and from the location.

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Explore the Capital City of Reykjavík

Iceland’s capital city is very well connected to the Keflavík Airport sitting about 45-minutes east of Keflavík. Reykjavík may be one of the smallest capital cities in the world, but it’s the best place to dive into Icelandic culture on a short layover in Iceland.

While it is a bustling city, it still has a small village feel, making a short layover in Iceland one of the best times to go to Reykjavík. This city is filled with Icelandic history dating back to the 7th century, now a unique combination of modern and traditional architecture, booming with Icelandic and Scandinavian culture.

Get a taste of Iceland and head to some of the best restaurants in the country serving up local cuisine. If you're short on time, travellers can check out Reykjavík's street food scene to get a taste of authentic Icelandic dishes like lamb and fermented shark as well as a famous Icelandic hotdog.

In addition to cafes, world-class restaurants, museums and galleries, Reykjavík has some of the country’s top landmarks. These include the architecturally contrasting and visually stunning Hallgrímskirjka Church and Harpa Concert Hall, both great stops on your short layover in Iceland.

If you have a bit more time to spare, there are a wide variety of tours and excursions from whale-watching to horseback riding departing from Reykjavík.

How to Get from KEF Airport to Reykjavík

Getting to Reykjavík from KEF is convenient thanks to the variety of options available to travellers on a layover in Iceland.

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Shuttle Busses

There are a number of shuttle buses leaving from Arrivals at KEF heading towards Reyjkavík. Shuttle buses from Keflavík airport make stops at hotels, B&Bs, and hostels in town, depending on the ticket you book and are a convenient option for getting to your accommodations.

Popular companies with shuttle buses from KEF include Fly Bus and Airport Express costing between ~2400 to 5500 ISK. Some shuttle buses also have stops at other popular destinations like the Blue Lagoon.

Public Transportation

Local public transportation is also available from the Keflavík Airport. This is the cheapest option, but also takes the longest amount of time to get to Reykjavík (about 90 minutes).

Stræto bus number 55 has scheduled routes to the BSI Bus Terminal centrally located in Reykjavík. Note that public transportation is limited so be sure to plan ahead if you intend on using this option.

Taxi

Taking a taxi from Keflavík Airport is the most expensive option to get to Reykjavík. That being said, it is the best option if you’re in a hurry.

A taxi from KEF to Reykjavík costs around 15 000 ISK but can differ greatly depending on a flat rate and metre costs.

car rental in Iceland

How to Rent a Car on a Stopover in Iceland

If you want a more flexible schedule, renting a car for your stopover in Iceland might be an ideal option.

For maximum convenience, you can rent a car in Iceland directly from the Keflavík Airport in Arrivals. You can also book ahead and reserve a rental car online before arriving.

Travellers can also opt to rent a car in Reykjavík or other Icelandic towns. This doesn’t have to be a less convenient option either since transfers from the airport are available from varying companies.

What to Do on a 10 Hour Layover in Iceland

While a short layover in Iceland gives you enough time to see some sights, adding a few extra hours or more opens up your itinerary to more Icelandic wonders.

Drive the Famous Golden Circle

If you have longer than an 8-hour layover in Reykjavik, you’ll have enough time to tour the famed Golden Circle. You can find tour providers in Reykjavík with scheduled excursions to the Golden Circle highlights, but you’ll need at least 8 hours for these experiences.

If you’ve rented a car, however, you can head out on your own self-guided tour and cut travel time by a few hours. This gives travellers enough time to see at least some of Iceland’s famous sights if you have an 8-10 hour stopover.

The Golden Circle is conveniently close to Reykjavík making it an easy drive from town, allowing you to get up close and personal to Iceland’s landscape.

Along the Golden Circle, you'll be treated to the breathtaking Gullfoss Waterfall, UNESCO World Heritage Site Thingvellir National Park, and an active geyser in Geothermal Valley.

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Gullfoss, a prominent waterfall on the Golden Circle route.

 

What to Do on a 1-Day Layover in Iceland

Not only does having a full day in Iceland allow you to take a full Golden Circle excursion from Reykjavik, but you’ll have the time to extend your route to another stunning Icelandic landmark.

The Secret Lagoon

Whether you choose to add this to your Golden Circle tour or see it on its own, Reykjavík is also close to Iceland's Secret Lagoon.

The Secret Lagoon is known as the oldest pool in Iceland, featuring a hot spring in the village of Flúðir along the Golden Circle route. Surrounded by geysers in a geothermal area, the Secret Lagoon invites travellers to laze under the Northern Lights in Iceland’s natural landscape.

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Expect the Secret Lagoon to be less crowded than the Blue Lagoon near Keflavík, and entrance is offered at about 3000 ISK per adult.

What to Do on a 2-3 Day Layover in Iceland

If you have a 2-3 day layover in Iceland you’ll be at a great advantage. You can fit the Golden Circle into one of your days, as well as a trip to see other breathtaking Icelandic sights.

Taking a trip to the south coast is a popular choice for travellers who have a 2-day layover in Iceland or more. Excursions can be booked from Reykjavik, and the south coast is also easily explored when you have a rental car available.

Below are some of the top recommended sights on the south coast of Iceland.

See More Stunning Waterfalls

Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls are two stunning and popular sights on any Iceland south coast tour.

Start your tour with a mesmerizing backdrop at Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This picturesque location is a favourite in the country, with a path that allows visitors to circle right around the waterfall in the summer.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland

 

Next, head to the towering Skógafoss waterfall, sitting 62 metres high above the Skoga River. Travellers can take in views from both the bottom and top of the waterfall, with a scenic hike giving up-close views of the river’s flow.

Both misty sights are full of beauty and photo-ops and can be easily reached from the main roads.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Iceland is known for being home to glaciers. In fact, Iceland has over 200 glaciers, and about 11% of the Nordic island is covered by these large bodies of ice. Sólheimajökull is one of the easiest glaciers to visit from Reykjavík.

Sólheimajökull glacier is a popular sight to visit on a layover in Iceland thanks to its convenient access off the main road. Falling from the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Sólheimajökull is one of a number of glacier outlets from Mýrdalsjökull, decorated with interesting crevices, icy holes, and caves.

Sólheimajökull glacier

To explore deeper into the Sólheimajökull glacier, visitors can book hiking excursions in advance or on-site.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Located near the quaint fishing village of Vik, Reynisfjara is known worldwide for its unique black sand.

This beach is one of several volcanic beaches in the country, however, it might be the most famous featured in international television, and ranked as one of the top non-tropical beaches in the world.

Getting to the Reynisfjara is easy by car or you can book a tour from Reykjavík. Travellers will be greeted by roaring ocean waves, and visitors will also be able to see Reynisdrangar, an impressive rock formation just off Renisfjara’s shores.

If you have an extra day to spare, travellers can also spend the night in the town of Vik and see what other natural sights the area has to offer. From basalt columns to breathtaking cliffs, Reynisfjara is an adventure on its own.

Is 1-Hour Too Short For a Layover in Iceland?

Keflavík airport may be smaller than airports near to bigger metropolises, but it’s an efficient one. While a 1-hour layover in Iceland won’t give you enough time to check out any local sights, you’ll have enough time to make it to your next flight.

It’s best to stick with one airline when transferring through Iceland since you won’t likely have to go through baggage claim.

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