The Ultimate Guide to the Icelandair Stopover
It’s been a little over a week since I was in Iceland, and as I finally feel the jetlag wearing off, I want to share everything I learned and loved about my time in this gorgeous country. The Icelandair stopover program has greatly increased the tourism and popularity of visiting the island. I truly believe the stopover is the best way to visit Iceland. Not only because you get to tack on another trip, but Iceland is also a great mid-point from the States to Europe, breaking up your trip nicely and easing you into time changes.
My boyfriend, Brett, and I booked a trip to Paris with a 2-night stopover in Iceland, placing us in Iceland March 24 and 25. Because Icelandair flies direct from MSP to KEF, we were able to book an overnight flight to Iceland on a Friday night to land in KEF on Saturday morning. Then, Monday morning, we took off directly to Paris and stayed for 5 nights. The flight from MSP to KEF was about 5 hours and 45 minutes, and KEF to CDG was about 3 hours. It can be a tad confusing to plug in your dates and play around with the stopover length, so here’s how ours looked (with different dates):
An important thing to note: Icelandair’s costs are reasonable, but this obviously comes with trade-offs. The in-flight entertainment was fantastic and the seats were comfortable. You get one free personal item and carry-on with their Economy class, but there is no free food or alcoholic beverages in-flight. I personally think a 6-hour flight without food or alcohol is completely feasible, but just be aware of this before booking!
Brett has some dietary restrictions that can make eating out difficult. We decided to stay in AirBnbs in both Iceland and Paris, so we could have access to a kitchen to cook our own food. AirBnb tends to be cheaper than a hotel, and we were able to stay in a more central location with more amenities. I had read about Hallgrímskirkja before booking, so we decided to stay nearby, and I highly recommend this! Not only is there a bus stop (#8) at the church for excursions and the Flybus, but it’s also the tallest point in the city, and acts as a great “beacon” if you need to find your way home!
Itinerary & Activities
With only 2 days in Iceland at our disposal, we knew we needed to prioritize. My boyfriend was adamant about going to a hot spring, and the obvious choice is Blue Lagoon. While this is the biggest tourist hot-spot in Iceland, we think it’s TOTALLY worth it. I knew I wanted to experience some of the beautiful landscapes in Iceland, so the Golden Circle tour was a no-brainer as well. These two activities were the center of our two days, and we’re incredibly happy with our decisions.
Here is the breakdown of how we structured our days:
6:30 AM – Land in KEF from MSP
7:30 AM – Catch Flybus to Blue Lagoon
8:00 AM – Arrive at Blue Lagoon at opening time
1:15 PM – Catch Flybus from Blue Lagoon to Reykjavik
3:00 PM – Began Reykjavik walking tour
6:30 PM – Dinner
8:00 PM – Return to Airbnb for an early bedtime!
9:00 AM – Wake up & breakfast (we cooked in our AirBnb)
12:30 PM – Head to bus stop for pickup of Golden Circle excursion
1:00 PM – Golden Circle tour
7:00 PM – Return to Reykjavik
7:30 PM – Dinner in Reykjavik
9:00 PM – Return to Airbnb for much needed rest!
Blue Lagoon was Brett’s favorite part of our trip. The water is milky blue, a perfect 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the view is amazing. The facilities are incredibly clean (nothing like a public pool), and the staff were professional.
We booked Comfort-level tickets from the Blue Lagoon website with round-trip bus fare. Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from the Keflavik airport, so we caught the Flybus from the airport to arrive at Blue Lagoon by 8 AM. Then, buses run every hour from Blue Lagoon back to the stop of your choice in Reykjavik. This all worked really slick, and I highly recommend it. You can store your luggage in a small building located right in the Blue Lagoon parking lot for a reasonable price, and getting right into a warm bath after a long flight feels amazing!
If you read other blogs about Blue Lagoon, you will see that you must shower naked before entering the baths. Let me assure you, I’m a fairly conservative person when it comes to nudity, and this is NOT a big deal. You just remove your clothes in the locker room, cover up with a towel, grab your swimsuit, and bring it with you to a private shower stall. Then, I threw my suit and towel over the stall door and changed into my suit after I had rinsed off. Don’t feel self-conscious – it’s totally comfortable.
Preparation & Packing
All Blue Lagoon tickets include a towel, so no need to pack your own. The Comfort level that we booked did not include a robe or flip flops, so you can consider bringing your own, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The Blue Lagoon also provides body soap, conditioner, lotion, hairdryers, and plastic bags in which you can throw your wet suit. They also give you a locker that locks with your wristband, so you don’t need to worry about the security of your possessions.
I don’t have a ton of pictures from Blue Lagoon, because I was worried about getting my phone or camera wet. If you have a water-proof phone case, GoPro, etc., this is a cool place to bring it! I regret not having planned ahead here.
Ladies: I packed a one-piece swimsuit, which helped keep me a little warmer for the brief moments I was out of the water. You spend very little time outside the warmth of the water or facilities, but those brief moments in the 35-degree weather in a swimsuit are COLD. If you have a one-piece or swimsuit with more coverage, I would pack it!
Golden Circle Tour
This is one of the most popular activities in Iceland, and I see why! This excursion is a perfect way to see the highlights of the Iceland landscapes. There are tons of options for tours, and the longer the tour, the more stops/sights you will see. Because we only had two days, we went with a shorter, 6-hour tour through Arctic Adventures. On this tour, we stopped at Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir. The tour guide was fantastic (shoutout to Yannis!), bus pickup was easy and on-time, and we even made an impromptu stop along the way because the guide learned we wanted to see Icelandic horses! If you’re interested in finding the best price or looking for longer tours, we found ours through TripAdvisor.com, and they have a plethora of Golden Circle options!
Overall, I was a little underwhelmed with the city of Reykjavik, but there are still some cool things to see. Hallgrímskirkja, the Sun Voyager, and Harpa are definitely highlights. The best part: you can walk to all these places and give them a good visit within half a day. I have also heard great things about the Free Reykjavik Walking Tour, but we just learned about it too late! You really don’t need a tour, though. The city feels very safe and easy to navigate!
Food: You may have heard that Iceland is expensive, especially when it comes to food and dining out. This is real! Iceland is an island and little-to-no livestock live there, so everything needs to be imported. A meal out for Brett and I was consistently about $40 per person. Neither of us drink much, so that does not include beer, wine, or mix drinks, which I hear are also incredibly expensive. The good news: tipping is not necessary at restaurants. If you’re on a budget, stick to water and eat out as little as possible. If you do find yourself eating out, I recommend seafood! Not only is it delicious, but due to the accessibility of it, seafood is roughly the same price as a burger in Iceland – so why not?!
Fashion: I love the fashion in Iceland, because the “fashion” is just sensibility! Warm sweaters and coats, hats, scarves, and gloves are necessary. I saw a lot of Patagonia, Columbia, and North Face. Solid hiking boots, warm winter boots, or comfortable tennis shoes dominated the footwear category. Leave anything with heels at home, because the landscape can be rocky and uneven. Ladies: People didn’t seem to wear much (or any) makeup. Don’t bother doing your hair either due to the wind. Just wear a cute hat every day to stay warm and keep hair out of your face!
Currency: ISK (Krona). Roughly 100 ISK = 1 USD. Brett and I did this whole trip without any cash on hand. We paid with credit cards everywhere for two days.
Language: Icelandic, but people speak great English. Brett and I were both surprised at how prevalent the Icelandic language still is. Signs are all still in Icelandic, and most menus are bilingual. Communication with the locals was very easy, though. Everyone spoke great English.
Weather: Cold & windy! Prepare to come home at the end of the day and feel chilled to the bone! While we were there in late March, it was about 30-40 degrees each day, and we saw a few little snow flurries.
Iceland is a fantastic destination for those who are adventurers at heart. You have to be okay with a little wind and cold, and you will find the true beauty if you’re in for a little hiking or road-tripping. I loved my two days there, but I felt that was enough for me. I could have maybe done one more day for some whale watching or a puffin tour, but I felt satisfied with the two days spent on the island. If you really want to do Iceland “right,” I think renting a car and exploring more of the remote landscape areas is the way to go!
If you have any questions about our trip, your planning, or our opinions and experiences, please comment them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!