How To Make The Most Out Of Your Stopover In Iceland

February 25, 2010 by Anil Polat  

Icelandair, one of my favorite airlines (here’s my review), doesn’t charge you extra for a stopover in Iceland on your way to or from North America and Europe. It’s a route that many travelers neglect and others think is an expensive idea. You can add another great destination to your trip across the Atlantic and with a little bit of planning, stick to a simple travel budget on your way to the next city.

mountains of iceland

Getting Into Reykjavik From Keflavik International Airport

The best way to get into Reykjavik from the airport is to take a shuttle that will take you into town for around $9. You’ll find stands for airport shuttles inside Keflavik International Airport. (Don’t get a taxi which will cost you five times as much.) Also, keep your eye on the right side of the bus on your way into Reykjavik, you’ll be able to see the steam rising from the Blue Lagoon.

The city itself is small enough to navigate easily by foot; otherwise the local bus is good enough to get you most anywhere you need to in Reykjavik.

  • Reykjavik Backpackers is a very clean hostel in an excellent location on Laugavegur, a lively shopping district with a good selection of restaurants and bars. Here’s a quick primer on what is a hostel if you’ve never stayed in one.

Hallgrimskirkja ChurchSites In and Around Reykjavik

  • The Hallgrimskirkja Church Tower – The tallest building in Iceland, it helped prevent me from getting lost many times since I could see from most of Reykjavik. Getting in the church doesn’t cost anything and a lift up to the tower for a look around town is about $2.
  • The Blue Lagoon – It costs about $40 for a round trip bus ticket and entrance to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a bit pricey but one popular tourist destination that won’t disappoint you. Save some money by bringing you own towels (and of course bathing suit). There is a small cafe on site but the food is overpriced, bring your own you can leave in a locker.
  • Whale Watching – There were a number of package deals for $45-75 for a day out on the water to look for orcas, humpback whales, and you can go all year round.
  • Party…Hard – The nightlife in Reykjavik is one of the craziest I’ve seen. Bars open late and people head out at midnight to party the night away until the early morning hours. You’ll find drunk people littered in the streets around 5am on the weekends, school breaks, and on holidays. If that’s your idea of a good time, you’ll have a lot of fun after midnight.
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There are some other options, like going to see the Northern Lights during the winter months. They tend to come and go so check the University of Fairbanks Geophysical Institute for a forecast the day before booking.

Venture Out Of Town

You can climb glaciers, see a live volcano, or go whale watching in Iceland. Check with your hostel and see if they are working with any of the local tour guides and compare a few deals before booking. You can also rent a car, fairly inexpensive for a European country, and drive to most parts on the island around Highway One. “The ring road” is approximately 1,500 kilometers and a scenic drive. Here is a section of the highway in Myvatn snapped by Stephanie Yoder.

car in icelandRenting A Car In Iceland

If you do decide to rent a car, get one for early in the morning for an entire day to make the most of your time and money. It’s advice that’s very obvious but many don’t plan for it until they get to Reykjavik. Get your rental company in mind and find out where the offices are beforehand (and reserve in the summer months) so you’re set without missing a great opportunity to see more of Iceland.

  • Keep in mind that if you sign up with Icelandair’s frequent flyer program, Hertz and Sixt Rent A Car will earn you miles as well.
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Glacier climbing will cost you around $100 and visiting the Hekla volcano and hiking to the summit around $230 – both can be done in a single day from Reykjavik. If you’ll be booking through a tour group, ask around the hostel or where you’re staying to see if anyone wants to go as well. Almost all of the companies offer discount rates for larger groups.

Plan To Enjoy

A stopover of 2, 3, or 4 days doesn’t have to be a frantic run to see as many things as possible. You can take time to relax (free), stroll around by the water in Reykjavik (free), look around the shops (free), and enjoy one of the many restaurants and cafes (doesn’t have to be expensive). I’d suggest having a list of 2-3 things you absolutely want to do and budget to see of those what you can. You can always plan another stopover in Iceland and after the first you’ll probably want to.

[top photo by: Stuck In Customs, (car) Stig Nygaard]

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  1. Earl says:

    This is just one of those methods that few people take advantage of but that can offer an entirely new, unique dimension to one’s travels. And considering that few of us would probably ever include Iceland in our general plans (due to the difficulty in getting there), this deal is perfect.

    I used to work on cruise ships and ended up visiting Iceland several times over the years and I agree that the $40 for the Blue Lagoon is well worth it…I was mesmerized by that place!

    • Anil P. says:

      Without the stopovers I doubt many people would plan a trip around Iceland – at least not a first trip. The place has a terrible name, “Iceland” – I guess most people figure that sums up all there is there.

  2. Priyank says:

    Holy duck Anil! You’ve been blogging and traveling like crazy!! Awesome! I’m here after a month or so so there’s lot of catching up to do. I’ve been reading about Iceland and it looks like a seriously good place to visit, esp now that there is a direct flight from Toronto! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Sherry Ott says:

    Great info on the stopover – I wish more airlines would do that. Whenever I go to Asia I always look for great stopover cities that I haven’t been to before in the hopes of seeing another new place! That’s actually how I ended up in Tokyo!
    I think I’ll wait for winter for Iceland though as I’d love to see the northern lights!

  4. Anil; You give the ultimate travel reports! I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland (well I have been to Reykjavik, but only at the airport passing by (With Iceland air of course) from Oslo to Boston, US). You describe all the reason why you know – thanks for sharing!

  5. Ooh, when we fly back we will have to try to fly through Iceland. What a great tip! I agree that first photo is awesome!

  6. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this list! I’ll be heading to Iceland in September on a stopover from the UK. I’ll only have two full days in the country, so this was exactly the kind of information I’ve been looking for =)

  7. ayngelina says:

    I had no idea about the stop over, before I left Toronto I noticed they had increased their flight schedule for that path so I may just use this tip!

  8. Anil: An amazing post that I am going to save for when I get around to Iceland. Thanks for this most valuable information.

  9. Like the tips here, combining some free stuff and some that’s worth spending money on – I always think you should relax & enjoy the free stuff but budget for one larger expense each day for either a paid attraction or a great meal out.

  10. David says:

    A stopover seems perfect for Iceland. Enough there to fill 2,3,4 days then you get to Europe without being totally wiped out. I’ve seen this deal before and it’s always intrigued me. Just gotta do it I guess.

  11. What a moving photo – so much so that it is now my desktop background. We will be heading out, with our dogs, in our RV in a few weeks to start traveling in the US and Canada. I always had this image of us dry camping by a lake – with no one around – enjoying nature’s beauty. This photo is now my inspiration, and I will use it to visualize our goal for GoPetFriendly. All the best!

    • Anil P. says:

      I can’t wait to read about the trip – do you have a route up online somewhere?

      Iceland was full of so many of these spots, quiet without a person in sight. Have fun and happy travels, glad I could contribute a bit with an image for inspiration!

  12. Adam says:

    I was there for just 3 full days and we were able to do a lot and still have a relaxing time. I’d suggest a lazy morning (perhaps with a hangover?) at one of Reykjavik’s public swimming pools. That was one of the best things I did.

  13. stina says:

    The first picture looks awesome!! … did you take it yourself????

  14. Bethany says:

    Cool post Anil. This is somewhere that I def. want to visit. I am waiting for my next trip abroad so that I can look into flying IcelandAir.

  15. Melvin says:

    Iceland looks more alienish than European?

  16. JoAnna says:

    Great suggestion on stopping over in Iceland. Granted, I’m not going to Europe while the dollar is in its current condition, but I would like to go to Iceland some day anyway. The more pictures I see of it and more I read about it, the more determined I am to make it happen.

    • Anil P. says:

      Iceland is getting more expensive but parts of Europe are surprisingly expensive. (I wonder how people get on since the average salaries aren’t so high.)

      Hopefully you can get to Iceland before it gets too, too outrageous!

  17. anjuli says:

    Absolutely LOVED the first picture- just wanted to keep staring at it. Also, enjoyed this post- would have never imagined there was so much to see and do in Iceland. Great write up!

  18. To prepare for the ultimate Icelandic experience, throw the coolest Icelandic band ever on your ipod: Sigur Rรณs. In 2007, they released a DVD about their tour in Iceland called Heima. The film maker captures the native scenery beautifully, just enough to whet the appetite.

  19. Stephanie says:

    Great post and thanks for mentioning my posts! It’s definitely worthwhile to get out of Reykjavik if you have the time. Even half an hour out of the city the landscape changes drastically and it’s easy to drive for hours without seeing anyone but sheep.

    If you have the time to rent a car I highly recommend checking out the town of Vik on the southern coast. Very cute and they have a cool discount souvenir and wool shop.