Make the Most of Your Layover in Iceland

Ewan Maccormick
11 min read

First, we must say, a big thanks to Icelandair for including a layover in any flights from the US to Europe. It gives so many people the chance to explore our incredible country, boosts the economy, and allows us here in Iceland to meet some truly delightful people. One of the best initiatives by any Icelandic company ever.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are doing just that, so thank you. Here in Iceland, we are quite happy to be hidden away, to not get overly involved in world politics and just to look after ourselves. However, that doesn't mean that we don't love visitors!

Our biggest problem is making sure that all you lovely visitors that come are well looked after and get a true flavour for the beauty of our country. So, we have put together some ideas for you so you can maximize your time on our beautiful island nation. Let's dive in!


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It's all about timing!

Just like great comedy, a trip to Iceland is all about timing, and to make this blog as useful as possible we are going to split it down by how long you have to spend in Iceland, so rather than reading the whole thing, you can just scroll to the relevant part.

See. We are nice people here in Iceland. I promise!

We are here for a day (or less)

Image of The Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik and Geysir Golden Circle. Iceland Car Rentals.
Visiting for a day or less.

Believe it or not, there is a lot you can pack in, even if your stop-off in Iceland is only a couple of hours! Keflavik Airport is ideally positioned on the Reykjanes Peninsula which is within reach of a couple of great sites.

The Blue Lagoon

It's the one everyone knows about and for good reason. This large, ice-blue lagoon is a gigantic natural spa, with warm water powered by volcanoes and filled with healing silica mud. It is such an iconic spot, with clouds of steam drifting off the blue waters, dotted with the bodies of happy bathers, that if you only have around 4 hours, you can still make it here from the airport for a quick dip.

However, because of its proximity and its cultural standing, The Blue Lagoon Spa gets crazy busy. We would advise booking as soon as your air tickets are confirmed, if not before, just to make sure that you get booked in.

Reykjavik

Check out our How to get to Reykjavik from Keflavik Airport blog post.

Getting to and checking out our relaxed, welcoming capital city takes a little longer, so a stopover of 6-8 hours would be best for heading to Reykjavik. You can easily travel here by coach from the airport, but to save a little time on your trip, you can easily hire a car, cheaply and easily from our website before hand and it is only a 45-minute drive to the centre of the city.

In a remarkable setting, right on the Atlantic coast, in the shadow of the towering Esja mountain, the world's most northern capital city is a very cosmopolitan place, despite still retaining its village-style feel. There are a number of enticing and forward-thinking architectural wonders like the Harpa Concert Hall and the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran church, and these combine effortlessly with the traditional buildings which still retain the feel of a grown-up fishing village.

Reykjavik is great at creating things with love and the arts here are paramount. So indulge yourself in some world-class cuisine, head to a bar to hear the countless examples of great live music or check out some of the unique and wondrous examples of Icelandic design in the variety of chic stores in the capital.

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The Golden Circle

Sounds enticing, doesn't it? With not a single sliver of gold in sight, this is an incredible whistlestop tour of some of the most powerful highlights in Iceland. Car hire here is essential though! There are tours you can jump on, but they often take too long and arrive at the same time as all the other tours going in exactly the same direction, which makes the experience quite busy and impersonal.

So, grab your Icelandic car hire, preferably from the lovely people here at Northbound and head off to visit this trio of incredible sites. Feel free to do this in any order you like, but first stop for us is Þingvellir National Park, only an hour and twenty minutes from the airport.

Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not only is it entirely beautiful but it is one of the few places on earth where you can actually see the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates standing proud from the earth. Moving around 1mm per year, this is active geology and quite an overwhelming thing to see.

Next up in the circle of gold is Haukadalur Geothermal Valley. This is your massive geyser, shooting water high into the air! Never a bad thing to see. This is actually the genesis of the word geyser, with the largest, and sadly no longer active, one here being called Geysir. However, its friend Strokkur is still active and will not disappoint as it shoots boiling water 25 metres into the air every five to ten minutes.

And finally, you need to see a bit of waterfall action if you are coming to Iceland. Simply drive your hire car over to the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall. This is a big testament to the power of nature, something that we tend to deeply respect in Iceland. Gullfoss is a magnificent 32 metres of thundering white angry water dropping dramatically into the depths of the Gullfossgljúfur canyon.

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Staying for a few days

If you have opted for car hire, Iceland's beauty spots are just going to be able to pile on top of each other. We have recommended that you visit for a couple of days though, as you want to make sure you are not too pushed for time.

There are so many incredible spots in Iceland and many are pretty close to each other. This can lead to you discovering ?just one more' highlight and then running out of time to get back to the airport, so, apart from the Golden Circle, here are some beautiful spots to visit, still pretty close to Keflavik airport.

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Image of Kerid, Secret Lagoon and a horse in iceland. Car Rental Iceland.
Staying for just a few days.

Kerið

Kerið is how all volcanic craters should be. So incredibly picture perfect, with its vibrant red earth banks, punctuated by glowing green grasses, with an almost perfectly round, shining blue, water-filled crater in the middle. A true site to behold. You can park your hired car really close, so there is not a huge walk, but if you want to get closer you are welcome to descend the banks to the lake itself.

The Secret Lagoon

Ok, first things first, it is not really a secret anymore. Like its big sister, The Blue Lagoon, this is an outdoor natural spa, replete with healing waters, incredible scenery, bubbling mud pools and bubbling hot springs. Just as with the Blue Lagoon, it is definitely advised to book in advance here, as it is much more popular with locals and does get booked out quite far in advance.

Get on Highway 1 and explore the South Coast

Icelandic car hire is ideal for really exploring the country a little and there is no better way than jumping on Highway 1 and travelling along the south coast. There are a ton of natural wonders on this stretch of coastline and no Icelandic car hire adventure is truly complete without doing it.

Let's talk about waterfalls first. Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are the two best-known waterfalls on the South coast. Both stand around 60m high and cascade in an impressive fashion, casting up rainbows and stunning mists, adding to Iceland's already overpowering mythological feel. The waters of Seljalandsfoss are not too powerful and this allows you to walk into the cave behind the falls and take some unique photos.

Then we have a pretty unique beach. We are not talking about swaying palms and powder-soft sands, in fact, completely the opposite. Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is like something from a dark fairytale, but has such overpowering ethereal beauty, that it is hard not to be drawn in by it. Dominated by the giant sea stack, Reynisdrangar, there are perfectly round black pebbles and geometric columnar basalt erupting from the ground. But if you want this beach to stay with you, just close your eyes and listen and the sound of the black pebbles being pushed around by the waves will stick in your mind forever.

One of the greatest sites in Iceland is the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. So incredibly photogenic and beautiful, the colours of this lagoon are enchanting, the azure waters punctuated by enormous icebergs that have broken off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier.

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Longer than a few days

If you are hiring a car in Iceland for longer than a few days you open up a whole world of choice. This is proper vacation territory, where you can choose to spend a few days enjoying the culture and nightlife of Reykjavik, driving to some of the even more unknown geological wonders of the country, or driving around the whole country on highway 1. Here are a couple of gems of Iceland that you couldn't reach without your trusty hire car.

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Image of Thjorsardalur, Fjadrarkljufur Canyon and Kjölur F-35 Road. Car Rental Iceland.
Staying for longer then just the few days.

Þjórsárdalur Valley

This valley is a treasure trove of incredible waterfalls, all crammed into a multi-layer geologist's dream of a canyon. You will see Háifoss, the third-highest waterfall in Iceland, but there are several others within walking distance that make this an incredible place to visit.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

This is one for the Game of Thrones fans. This stunning canyon was used as a backdrop for Jon Snow's first dragon flight and it is one of the most beautiful canyons in the country. Sharp slate-grey cliff walls are tempered by electric green, with a deep turquoise river running beneath it.

Kjölur F-35 Road

For this one, you need to rent a 4x4 vehicle, but we promise you it is worth it!

The Kjölur road is an F-road or highland road through the centre of the country. Surrounded by powerful, rust-coloured mountains, covered in patches of snow, with steam rising from the hot springs that flow through the mountainside, this is one of the most unique landscapes on earth. It is highlight after highlight as you drive through this stunning area and on top of the natural wonders, there are some amazing hot springs where you can stop and recharge in the heart of nature.


Now, we are going to say this, because we are Iceland's best Car Rental agency, but hiring a car in Iceland is by far the best way to see it. And you can believe us, because at the heart of Northbound, are a group of good-natured, real Icelandic people and we don't believe in bullshit.

Our pricing is honest and transparent, our dedication to helping our customers get the best from their trips is open and honest and we genuinely want you to get the most out of your time here. We don't believe in competing to be the best in everything, we believe in being excellent, and treating our customers like good friends and through this, an excellent time will be had by all.

Check our Guide to Kjölur F-35 Post to know more.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out Northbound.is the next time you are laying over in Iceland.

Northbound logo, a car rental agency in Iceland.


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