How to spend a 20 hour layover in Reykjavik Iceland

I’ve been MIA the last week or so because we’re on VACAY! Thomas and I are here for 2 1/2 weeks with a jam packed schedule of side trips, visiting with friends and family, and a wedding. Of course we’re fitting a few naps and A LOT of good food into that schedule 😉 On the 20th, my family landed in Oslo and we spent a week all together with Thomas’ family. It was so amazing spending time with everyone – Sharing laughs, good food, and exploring Norway.

On our way to Europe, Thomas and I had a direct flight from Portland to Reykjavik Iceland. It was only a 7 hour flight which seemed so quick! It takes me longer to get to Florida from Portland which is crazy! We knew we wanted to explore Iceland a little bit, so we chose to do a 20 hour layover. To promote their routes from North America to Europe, Icelandair created a “stopover” campaign to tempt people to stay in Iceland for up to seven days and split the journey from North America to Europe (or vice versa) without paying any additional fares. How amazing is that?! Two vacations for the price of one – I’ll take it! 

We wanted to get to Norway, so we didn’t want to spend more than a day in Iceland, but I would love to go back one day to visit Lake Mývatn, go whale watching, explore Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and do the Golden Circle!

Here’s our recommendations for visiting Reykjavik and what we did on our layover!

Arriving at Keflavik Airport // Keflavik airport is the largest airport in Iceland and the main hub for international transportation. When we landed it was gray and cold outside, and it was the middle of July! So you can imagine how cold it is during the winter season. We had a checked bag that stayed at the airport waiting to go to Norway and a carry-on backpack. If you’re just doing a layover, I would recommend carrying a light backpack since you’re going to be walking around all day. Definitely pack a rain jacket just in case!

Currency // Everywhere in Iceland takes credit cards, but it’s fun to take out a little cash as well for small purchases! $1 dollar is roughly 100 Icelandic Króna’s. 

Bus transportation // I didn’t do my research on this part before the trip, so we ended up probably spending a lot more than necessary. We went to the ticket counter at the airport and bought all of our tickets for the day. Thomas and I paid around $140 dollars all together for bus transportation from Keflavik to Blue Lagoon, Blue Lagoon into the city center in Reykjavik, and Reykjavik back to the airport. Ridiculously expensive. It was still a lot cheaper than taking a taxi, but if I were you I would definitely check out a few websites and find the best prices. 

Blue Lagoon // We arrived in Iceland around 6 AM, and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon – One of the most visited attractions in Iceland. We booked our tickets ahead of time and I’m so thankful that we did because we found out that if you don’t book ahead there’s a good chance you won’t get in at all. It was AMAZING to relax in the warm waters after a long flight. 

What you should know about the lagoon! 
1) It’s situated on a lava field, but The lagoon is man-made and fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant – Which I wasn’t aware of. I knew it was a man-made spa, but I wasn’t expecting to see a factory close-by which ruins the ambiance a little. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still  a very cool experience! 
2) There’s different packages to purchase, but I would recommend bringing your own towel and paying for the basic standard package (4800 ISK). You get your own locker and access to the Lagoon, saunas and showers. 
3) The geothermal water features three active ingredients: Silica, Algae & Minerals. All of which are amazing for your skin! The water has proved to help people with different skin problems such as psoriasis. You’ll find as much free silica mud as you want located in convenient swim up buckets around the Lagoon! You’ll see everyone swimming around with a mud mask on their face 🙂 
4) Alcohol is expensive. There’s a great swim-up bar, but you’re going to pay around 8.50 for a draft beer. I got a small bottle of prosecco and paid around $13.
5) Protect your hair from the silica! Especially if you’re a blonde, the silica in the water can make your hair very brittle and cause breakage. To prevent that, wet your hair before you go in and lather on a coat of conditioner. If you don’t do that it will be fine – your hair will just be extra crunchy once it dries. 


Exploring Reykjavik

After swimming and relaxing in the Blue Lagoon for a couple hours, we headed into Reykjavik to do a little exploring!

Where to Eat

Thomas and I only ate at Sægreifinn and Betzu Pylsur, but I had an entire list of places I wanted to try! Here’s the must-stop spots!

  • Sægreifinn: We were starving when we left Blue Lagoon, so our first stop was Sægrefinn for lobster soup and fresh fish skewers! I had read reviews that this “no frills” seafood spot had some of the best lobster soup and they were right! It’s a small little shack on the water with limited seating. We picked fresh cod right out of the display case and had it grilled right  then and there, and we devoured two bowls of lobster soup. 
  • Bæjarins Betzu Pylsur: Translates as the “best hot dog in town”. It’s been open since 1937, and a fun fact I learned from Condé Nast is that seventy percent of the country’s 300,000 residents have eaten at this hotdog stand! They are topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs. There are variations, but you haven’t eaten a hot dog like an Icelander until you’ve had “one with everything.”
  • Kaloportid Flea Market: The best place to buy traditional Icelandic foods as well pastries and other good treats! The food vendors offer a ton of tasters as well!
  • Reykjavik Roasters: Rated the best coffee in Iceland and Its co-owners are internationally award-winning roasters.
  • Coocoo’s Nest: Great weekend brunch menu where everything is made from scratch!
  • Gló: The best vegetarian restaurant in town.

Where to grab a drink on your layover 

  • Kaldi Bar/Café: Cozy beer bar only featuring Icelandic microbrews 
  • Kex Hostel: An abandoned biscuit factory turned into a chic hostel, bar and eatery.
  • Snaps: This spot feels like a cozy greenhouse! Great for a beer break while you’re out exploring. 
  • Tíu Dropar: A small basement bar on Reykjavik’s busy main shopping street Laugavegur.

Sites to explore

  • ‘Climb’ the tower of Hallgrimskirkja: One of the most iconic landmarks in Reykjavik. Head to the top of the church to get a picture of the city!
  • Explore the street art: In the past years Reykjavik has become famous for its colourful murals and graffiti
  • Hang out at Harpa: A modern concert hall down by the water
  • Go whale watching: If you have the time, take a whale watching excursion!


  1. Mary Ann Rogers
    August 4, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    Beautiful, Hillary.. I so enjoy you travels and enjoy the read as well..

    • Hillary Harper
      August 6, 2017 / 5:22 pm

      Thanks so much Mary Ann!

  2. Carol
    August 4, 2017 / 5:58 pm

    I enjoy your posts as well. You have a wonderful way of feeling that your in the experience with you

    • Hillary Harper
      August 6, 2017 / 5:22 pm

      Thank you Carol!

  3. August 4, 2017 / 8:11 pm

    This is a dream trip to go to Iceland for me – definitely bookmarking your advice and picks for that one day trip!!

    • Hillary Harper
      August 6, 2017 / 5:22 pm

      It’s such a wonderful place! I really want to go back and explore more one day 🙂

  4. Leslie
    March 10, 2018 / 12:49 am

    My husband and are planning on doing a 20 hr layover in Iceland too. Our flight isnt until 6 am, What did you do about sleeping? I don’t think we can go without

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