Reykjavík-Keflavik International Airport (KEF) is located 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Iceland’s capital city, and is even closer to some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes.

Since KEF is rather small, we suggest getting out and exploring the Reykjavík area if you’re stuck with a layover that’s longer than five hours. If you’re interested in keeping things simple, join a group tour of some sort. But if you’re looking to go-it-alone, here are some places worth visiting during your Icelandic layover.

Photo by Adrián Cano
Photo by Norris Niman

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Before you head out of the airport, there are a few logistical details you should keep in mind.

  1. Visa requirements in Iceland change frequently and vary depending on what country you’re from. So be sure to check Iceland’s visa requirements before you go so you’re up-to-date on visa availability, cost, and procedures.
  2. Flight times often change as well. Know your connecting flight’s check-in time, and remember to connect to WiFi when possible so that you know exactly when you need to be back at your terminal.
  3. Although Keflavik International doesn’t offer 24-hour luggage storage for carry-ons, there is a separate facility called Bilahotel Luggage Storage located a five-minute walk from the airport’s departures section, between the Enterprise and Avis kiosks. If you’re planning to return to the airport after Bilahotel closes for the day, you’ll have to come up with another plan — though you can check their hours and pricing here. If this is the case, you can take your bag into Reykjavík and check it into the 24-hour storage at the BSI bus terminal.
Photo by Benny Bystrom

TRANSPORTATION

When you’re ready to leave the airport, there are a few transportation options to choose from. Main transit options include: taxi, bus (Airport Express, Flybus, Reykjavik Excursions, or city bus nr. 55 at Strætó), or rental car.

All buses depart outside the airport near P2, and connect the hub with Reykjavík several times a day. It’s usually easier to purchase your tickets in advance, and keep in mind that the journey takes approximately 45 minutes each way. Additionally, all taxis and car rentals are located outside the airport beside P2, across from the arrivals hall.

WHERE TO GO

Blue Lagoon

By far, the most popular layover experience in Reykjavík is offered at the nearby Blue Lagoon geothermal hot springs. Located just far enough away from the airport to avoid noise pollution, this natural spa is the perfect place to take a quick dip while enjoying the ethereal Icelandic atmosphere. Get a silica mud scrub before slipping into the naturally heated lagoon for some layover therapy. Spa treatments are also an option, but are an additional cost.

Photo by Chris Lawton
Photo by Jeff Sheldon
Photo by Connie Cao

Things to note:

  • You will need to bring a swimsuit.
  • Pre-booking is required.
  • Entrance tickets include a towel, a robe, slippers, and a complimentary drink.
  • The facility offers luggage lockers if you do choose to bring your carry-on with you.
  • Blue Lagoon is located just 20 minutes from the airport, and you can get there by taxi or bus.
  • Buses depart from Blue Lagoon every hour from the hot springs’ terminal.
  • You should give yourself a minimum of one hour.

If you’re pressed for time, take a bus back to KEF. Otherwise, continue on to Reykjavík — it’s about a 40-minute bus ride to the center of the city.

Photo by Gunnar Freyr

Reykjavík

Photo by Steinar Þór Ólafsson

Luckily, Reykjavík is an extremely walkable city. To make the most of your time, start by walking along the waterfront of Reykjavík’s Old Harbor. There, you’ll find fishing docks, whale-watching tour boats, shops with handcrafted goods, and plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafés. You can also explore the nearby Harpa concert hall or admire the area’s public Viking-inspired sculptures.

If you’re looking to visit a museum, head to Hafnarhus, one of the Reykjavík Art Museum’s three outposts. If you have time, your ticket includes entrance to all three, so go crazy! The exhibits of contemporary art change frequently, but one of the museum’s most visited permanent fixtures is the collection of comic-book-like paintings by postmodern Icelandic artist, Erro. But if you’re more of a history buff, check out the National Museum of Iceland. Slightly farther afield, it gives an excellent overview of Icelandic history through some 2,000 artifacts. Or, head into the center of Reykjavík to explore the Parliament House, the art deco Hotel Borg, and Reykjavík Cathedral — all gathered around a grassy square.

Photo by Carly Mask
Photo by Carly Mask
Photo by Jeff Sheldon

The square is only a short walk from the lakeside Reykjavík City Hall, which doubles as a café and visitor information center. Although the neighboring Lake Tjörnin is frozen for at least half the year, the area offers a striking view of colorful Nordic houses on the opposite shore. If you don’t feel like stopping at Reykjavík City Hall, head to the city’s main street instead. Laugavegur is home to basement cafés and restaurants with rooftop terraces, and also happens to be the city’s main shopping area. So feel free to pick up a few souvenirs while you’re at it!

When you’re done there, walk over to Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavík’s iceberg-shaped church, for the best 360° view of the city and its surrounding mountains and sea. It costs a few krona to climb the church’s 240-foot spire, but it’s more than worth it.

Photo by Nalan Gürsoy
Photo by John Salvino

If you still have time to spare before your flight, head to a bar or music venue to sample Reykjavík’s vibrant live-music scene. And if you’re not sure where to go, just ask a local! There are plenty of things going on at any time of the year.

Once you’re ready to head back to the airport, make your way to the bus terminal, or catch a taxi. Either way, take in the surroundings outside your window — nothing says “Iceland” quite like the black lava fields that lie outside the capital city.

Upon arrival, swoop your carry-on and catch your flight. Iceland will be waiting for your return.

Photo by Chase Davidson
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Hailing from the foothills of Northern California, Kacie is a writer and editor who's worked on everything from quarterly surf magazines to art books, zines, lookbooks, novels, and emoji style guides. She's a bit of a story junkie, but we forgive her for that. To view more of her work, creep her website and Instagram.