Reykjavik-Keflavik International Airport is a common layover stop for planes flying from the U.S. to Europe and vice versa.

Iceland is an immensely beautiful country full of landscapes you can’t find anywhere else such as waterfalls, icebergs, hot springs, and lava — none of which you will see being stuck in the airport for hours. So make the most of your layover by seeing as much of Iceland as possible in the time that you have.

Unfortunately, most of the best things in Iceland aren’t that close to the airport, so depending on how much time you have, skip Reykjavik and get to the good stuff by getting out into the country as fast as possible.

Making The Most of Your Layover

Here is a map with all of the locations I’ll discuss below. They are color coded by the amount of time available and you can toggle on/off layers depending on how much time your have.


This map is ambitious, trying to pack in as much as possible (which means lots of driving) so it’s up to you to decide where you want to go and how long you want to stay there.

NOTE: In the below times, I am not accounting for the time needed to get through customs, security, change planes, etc. The times listed below are an estimate from the time you leave the airport until you get back.

Plan accordingly and don’t miss your flight!

Jump to:

Getting Around

If you’re going to Reykjavik, get a taxi at the airport which will take you wherever you want to go and being within the city, there will be others available for you on the way back.

Otherwise, rent a car at the airport. In Iceland you drive on the right side of the road and the majority of signs are in English as well as Icelandic. Speed is measured in km/hour and is on average 90km/hour (55mph) on the highways.

If you have 2 hours

Use interactive map at the top of the page for directions.

You won’t be able to squeeze in all of these in, especially if you want to spend any time at the attraction when you get there, so pick and choose the ones you want to combine into a loop or just drive there and back.

Each location is less than 25mins from the airport (one way).

  • Giantess Cave in The Mountain

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

    Family friendly and a bit kitschy. Not high on my list of places to visit, but it’s better than the airport! The Giantess is a large art piece based off of Icelandic children’s books. The sculpture is over 400 years old, 5+ ft tall, and sits over looking the bay of Keflavik and Faxafloi.
  • Hvalsneskirkja Church

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of BeIceland.is

    A cultural and historical destination. This is a well preserved church made of local stone and drift wood with graveyard dating back to the 1880s. It sits close to the edge of the coast, which allows for a nice view of the ocean as well.
  • Hafnir

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of Svanurg.blog.is

    Another cultural experience, almost like stepping into an old colony recreation if you’re from New England in the US. Hafnir is a tiny village on the coast with around 100 inhabitants. Here you can find Kirkjuvogskirkja (The church of Kirkjuvogur Hafnargata) which is the oldest church in Suðurnes, built in 1860. As well as Kotvogur, which is an old cottage/barn build on a bluff above the ocean. It’s very picturesque and is seen in many national geographic photos of the northern lights.
  • Bridge Between Continents

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of BeIceland.is

    One of the two places in Iceland where you can simultaneously stand on the North American and European continents at the same time. The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are constantly shifting in this area creating rifts in the land. This is a footbridge that crosses one of these major rifts.
  • Gunnuhver Geothermal Area

    Cost: Free
    Gunnuhver-geothermal-area
    The Gunnuhver Hot Springs are pretty cool. You can’t swim here (you would likely be burned), but there is a boardwalk with overlooks through the area. These hot springs are always bubbling and steaming and smell like sulfur. Not too many place on the Earth have hot springs like this (Yellowstone being one other), so it’s worth checking out.

  • Brimketill Lava Rock Pool

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of hotpoticeland.com

    A unique pool that has naturally been created through erosion of the ocean against the lava rocks on the coast. There is an overlook platform to view the pool, but be aware that the waves from the ocean are so strong here, that you will likely get splashed. Great views of the ocean and coast as well.
  • The Blue Lagoon

    Cost: $60-$500

    Photo courtesy of pommietravels.com

    A geo-thermal spa, and one of the most famous destinations in Iceland, made popular by Instagram. This is not a natural hot spring (unlike Gunnuhver), which is a common misconception! It’s a man made lagoon fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant. High levels of silica and sulfur is what makes the waters so blue.

    Reservations are required and are often sold out days in advance (it’s very popular!). So you probably won’t be able to take part in the spa, but the lagoon is still beautiful to look at.

If you have 3 hours

Use interactive map at the top of the page for directions.

You’ll have time to either venture further away from the airport to see additional natural attractions, spend more time at the ones listed above, or explore the city of Reykjavik. Personally, I would choose to spend more time at the above or try to see additional locations rather than getting less time at something similar or going to the city.

Natural attractions that are 45mins from the airport (one way), which leaves you 1-1.5 hours for exploring.

  • Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of icelandictimes.com

    Note: You need an SUV/ All terrain vehicle to access these cliffs. As soon as you get to your first “river crossing” your regular car won’t cut it.

    The Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs are dramatic and beautiful year round, standing 130ft/40m above the vigorous crashing waves of the ocean. However, they are best to visit during the summer when they are home to roughly 57,000 nesting seabirds.

  • Krýsuvík and Seltún Geothermal Areas

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of geothermal.is

    Krýsuvík and Seltún are both similar and includes steaming volcano vents, boiling hot springs (not for swimming), and colorful craters which are accessible via the boardwalk that weaves around them. These areas are larger than Gunnuhver listed above and are made especially beautiful by the multi-colored red, orange, and green hills that surround them.
  • Lake Grænavatn

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of blog.parrikar.com

    A crater that was created probably 6,000 years ago which has since become a lake. Given it’s proximity to the geothermal areas listed above, the water here is bright turquoise and very beautiful.
  • Kleifarvatn Lake

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

    Kleifarvatn Lake gives you a small taste of the coastline with it’s black sand beach. Nestled below a steep mountain, the lake is full of trout and circled by an easily accessible walking path. Not only is it very picturesque, but it’s also one of the deepest lakes in Iceland and is said to be inhabited by an ancient monster (similar to the Loch Ness Monster).

Downtown Reykjavik is about 30-40 mins from the airport (one way), which gives you the opportunity to explore Iceland’s capital city. Here are a few highlights to make sure you don’t miss:

  • Hallgrimskirkja Church

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of TravelZoo.com

    An iconic church in Reykjavík that looks like it belongs in Lord of The Rings. It’s the tallest church in Iceland and has some very unique architectural features.
  • The Sun Voyager Sculpture

    Cost: Free
    sun-voyager-sculpture-iceland
    A steel sculpture of a Viking long-ship located on the waterfront close to the center of the city. Designed by Jón Gunnar, it symbolizes the promise of new, undiscovered territory.

  • Laugavegur

    Cost: Free to expensive.
    Laugavegur-iceland-shopping
    The main shopping street in Reykjavík containing everything from cafes to clothing boutiques. This is basically the “Rodeo Drive” of Iceland.

If you have 5 hours

Use interactive map at the top of the page for directions.

5 hours is enough time to get in a quick hike and actually be able to see some waterfalls!

  • Reykjanesfólkvangur Nature Reserve

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of Panoramio.com

    Only 45mins from the airport (one way), but you really need at least 3 hours to see it all, even if just driving through.
    Included in the reserve are some attractions talked about above including Krýsuvík and Seltún Geothermal Areas, Kleifarvatn Lake, Lake Grænavatn and the Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs.

The following locations 1.5 hours or less from the airport (one way).

Three hours total of driving gives you 2 hours for hiking. These are also part of “The Golden Circle”, which is one of the most popular tourists routes, so leave extra time for battling the crowds.

  • Þingvellir National Park

    Cost: $5 Parking Fee
    oxararfoss iceland
    Þingvellir National Park is a very popular destination in Iceland (and as such gets a bit crowded). There are lots of things to see in the park – everything from scuba diving to hiking to sightseeing (Tourism website available here). The park also has a strong cultural significance as it’s the location that housed Iceland’s first parliament.

    An absolute must see is Öxarárfoss, which is one of my favorite waterfalls in all of Iceland. It’s nestled in a black rock ravine and was also used as a filming location in Season 4 of Game Of Thrones.

    While you’re there also, check out the Great Almannagjá fault, which is just down the boardwalk from the short hike to Öxarárfoss. This fault is the second opportunity to stand on two continents at once as it spans the rift between the North American and European tectonic plates.

  • Kerið Crater Lake

    Cost: $3

    Photo courtesy of Extremeiceland.is

    A neon blue lake surrounded by a red volcanic rock. Kerið is inside of a volcanic caldera that’s part of The Golden Circle. You can hike up to the edge of the caldera, just be careful to watch your footing as it’s a very steep drop down into the waters below.

If you have 8 hours

Use interactive map at the top of the page for directions.

Now we’re getting to some of the really good stuff! Geysers, waterfalls, caves, and cliffs! It’s a lot of driving and some of these locations require a little hiking to get to them. You’ll also want to spend some time here to really take in the majestic beauty, which is why I’ve left you 4 hours for exploring.

Each location is approximately 2 hours from the airport (one way).

  • Raufarholshellir Lava Tube Cave

    Cost: $190

    Photo courtesy of Extremeiceland.is

    Nothing like walking through a lava cave! Even though this cave is only an hour (one way) from the airport, it’s only accessible by a guided tour that lasts approximately 3-5 hours depending on the tour.

    Raufarholshellir is one of the longest lava tubes in Iceland, stretching a little less than a mile. Lava tubes are basically extinct lava river caves where lava use to flow during a volcano eruption. This tube now contains large caverns as well as icicles depending on the time of year.

    Tours are available from Extreme Iceland and The Lava Tunnel.

  • Gerðuberg Cliffs

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of West.is

    The most impressive basalt column sites in the country! Note that these cliffs aren’t actually on the water – they’re inland on the top of a mountain. A stunning site that could be compared to a naturally created Stonehenge. Less mystery, but has a similar effect when viewing them.
  • Deildartunguhver Geothermal Pools

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of West.is

    The most powerful hot spring in all of Europe and is used to heat the homes of many of the surrounding villages. The surrounding area isn’t as interesting or colorful as some of the previously mentioned geothermal areas, but it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.
  • Vidgelmir Cave

    Cost: $60-$375

    Photo courtesy of West.is

    Iceland’s largest cave, accessible only by guided tour, which lasts 1.5-4 hours. The cave is full of colorful lava formations, expansive caverns, ice formations, and lots of stalactites and stalagmites. Bones and jewelry of Vikings have been discovered in this cave. It’s considered by specialists to be one of the most remarkable caves on earth.

    A variety of types of tours and tour combo packages are available on their website here.

  • Bruarfoss Waterfall

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of stuckiniceland.com

    Bruarfoss is a small series of waterfalls marked by its bright blue color and made to seem even brighter when compared to the black rocks surrounding it. It’s not a huge waterfall by any means, but the coloring of the glacier water against the rocks here is really stunning.
  • Geysir

    Cost: Free
    geysir iceland
    Iceland’s equivalent of Old Faithful…almost. This geyser spouts 100ft of water every few minutes, though it doesn’t stick to a schedule. It’s situated in the middle of a geothermal field and is surrounded by other springs with a variety of colors. As part of The Golden Circle, it’s often very crowded by tourists.

  • Gullfoss Waterfall

    Cost: Free
    gullfoss iceland
    The biggest waterfall in Iceland and part of The Golden Circle. More water falls through Gullfoss than any other waterfall. There are several options for viewing the waterfall – from above or via the boardwalk that follows the river up to the waterfall’s edge. The waterfall is a series of cascading tiers and not very tall, but overpowering with the veracity of the watering flowing through this ravine.

  • Hjálparfoss Waterfall

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of hiticeland.com

    A double waterfall! Hjálparfoss splits around a rock in the center of the falls causing it to look like two waterfalls that are mirroring each other. This waterfall is easy to access and you can even wade in the shallow pool below the falls (if you want to brave the cold water!).
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

    Cost: Free
    seljalandsfoss iceland
    One of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. If you’ve seen photos of Icelandic waterfalls, you’ve seen Seljalandsfoss. This is the one you can walk behind. Visible from the road, it’s a very short flat path to get to the waterfall and is often crowded with tourists. Be prepared to get wet as the spray from the waterfall is significant!

If you have 12+ hours

Use interactive map at the top of the page for directions.

Personally, I would choose to spend more time at or see more of the locations listed above than tackle these. Don’t get me wrong, they are absolutely beautiful and very much worth seeing (when you have more time). It’s just a lot of driving to get to and from these sights whereas you could hit several of the above locations which are similar and feel like you got to see more of Iceland rather than sitting in a car.

2.5 hours from the airport (one way).

  • Gjáin Valley

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of panoramio.com

    Gjáin Valley is a beautiful area that includes waterfalls, ponds, volcanic structures and basalt column rocks. It’s a small valley surrounded by a barren landscape which makes it quite breathtaking. There are several opportunities for exploring the variety of rock formations along the stream in the valley.
  • Ytri Tunga Beach

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of travellingmogwai.com

    Seals, seals, and more seals! A beautiful black sand beach juxtaposed against ominous imposing mountains in the background. This beach is best known as a seal colony. During June and July you can expect to finds hundreds of seals on this beach.
  • Skogafoss

    Cost: Free
    skogafoss iceland
    The tallest waterfall in Iceland, and you can walk to the top of it! It’s visible from the road and also a common tourist destination, so it’s crowded. The waterfall is really impressive. You can access the falls by walking up the short flat dirt path to the pool where the water lands or climb the 370 steps to the top of the waterfall. There is a viewing platform that extends over the top of the waterfall that’s not for the squeamish.

3-3.5 hours from the airport (one way).

  • Snaefellsjokull National Park

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of iceland-tours.de

    A glacier sitting on top of a volcano in the middle of a national park. The park contains a diverse landscape with mountains form from volcano erruptions, lava fields, waterfalls, sea cliffs, and gold sand beaches (as opposed to the standard black on the rest of the island). It’s a little bit of everything that Iceland is known for.
  • Vatnshellir Cave

    Cost: $30

    Photo courtesy of cave.is

    A 6,000 year old lava tube only accessible via guided tour. The tours only last 45mins, which leaves to time to check out some other attractions in the area as well. While in the cave you’ll see a variety of stalactites and stalagmites as well as lava rock formations. Tours available from Summit Adventures.
  • Black Beach at Vik

    Cost: Free
    black-beach-vik
    The most famous beach in Iceland. If you’ve seen photos of a beautiful back beach with basalt columns, this was it. Being famous comes with a price however as the beach is often crowded. It’s easy to get to by following a short flat path and there is plenty of beach to explore, the further down you go the less crowded it gets. There are small caves in the basalt columns made from water erosion and also lots of birds that nest above the caves.

  • Thórsmörk Mountains and Glaciers

    Cost: Free

    Photo courtesy of bradtguides.com

    Thórsmörk is a mountain range bordering on a glacier. It gives you a little bit of everything from mountains to ice. These mountains were carved by the glacier thousands of years ago. Hiking to the top of them gives you the opportunity to look down over the glacier and out towards the sea for some really breath taking views. More info on the available hiking trails here.
  • Eldhraun lava field

    Cost: Free
    Eldhraun-lava-field-iceland
    It’s quite a bit of a drive from the airport, but I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere on Earth before in my life and likely never will again. You feel like you are walking on a different planet. This lava field was created by the biggest eruption in the world in the 1770s. The path twists along the remnants of what once was hot flowing lava that is now covered in an eerie green moss. Make sure to stay on the path! This moss takes over 100years to grow and only one step to destroy.

4 hours from the airport (one way).

  • Systrafoss Waterfall

    Cost: Free
    Systrafoss-waterfall-iceland
    I wouldn’t recommend coming all the way out here just to see this waterfall. It’s a cute waterfall, but not as impressive as many of the others listed here, plus you can’t get too close to it. I only included Systrafoss as an “add on” to the Eldhraun lava fields if you have the time. Since they’re very close to each other it’s worth the extra trip to stop by and see it.

Iceland is one of my favorite places on the planet, so I hope you get to enjoy at least a little piece of it during your layover. More than likely, after you’ve had a taste you’re going to want to come back for more!

Did you find this helpful? Do you agree/disagree with my list? Anything I should add/remove? Let me know in the comments!
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