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Short but spectacular: Iceland Stopover Highlights and Gems

If you’re travelling between North America and Europe, Iceland is the ideal stopover destination. Keflavik is five hours from Boston and three from London, so you won’t want to resist squeezing in at least a layover, if not a short stopover exploring some of what south west Iceland has to offer. But what’s the best way to spend your time? Whether you have a few hours to kill outside the airport or a few days, here are some suggestions to make your short time in Iceland spectacular with these stopover highlights and gems.

Things to do in Keflavik and close by

The town of Keflavik is very close to the airport, and if you’re time is really short, then this is possibly the best place to spend your time. It’s also a good choice if the weather’s not too great as some of its attractions are indoors and therefore you’ll be sheltered from any rain and wind.

Viking World

 Iceland was uninhabited before it was discovered by Norse explorers in the 9th century. The first settlers chose Reykjavik as their base, which they named for its appearance – Smoky Bay. Norway ruled the territory for centuries and later control passed to Denmark. Though it was granted full home rule in 1904, the country didn’t win its independence for another forty years, so it’s no surprise that it maintains strong ties with other Nordic nations. If you’re keen to learn more during your stopover, pay a visit to Viking World in Njardvik. There, you’ll be able to admire a replica of a Norwegian ship that was almost intact when archaeologists uncovered in. Iceland’s replica of Gokstad is called Íslendingur (the Icelander) and it was built to commemorate the voyage across the Atlantic made by explorer Leif Eiriksson more than a thousand years ago.

Icelandic Museum of Rock and Roll

 Just down the road in Reykjanesbær is another popular attraction: Icelandic Museum of Rock and Roll. If you keep abreast of European music, you’ll know that tiny Iceland punches well above its weight when it comes to rock and pop. The country has given us Sigur Rós, Björk, Dadi Freyr and many more successful artists. But this place isn’t just about those singers and bands that dominate the Icelandic music scene. To make it more fun, it’s interactive, so along with more traditional exhibits you might find yourself playing the drums and guitar or belting out a classic tune in the museum’s karaoke booth.

Duus Museums including the Art Museum, Boat Hall and Museum of Heritage

Reykjanesbær’s also where you’ll find this trio of attractions. Together, they form an arts and cultural centre which is housed in buildings that used to be used for trade and for processing fish catches. Bryggjuhúsið is the oldest, dating back to 1877 when it was a retail store. The Art Museum showcases contemporary art while the Museum of Heritage tackles the social and economic history of this part of Iceland. Finally, you’ll want to check out the collection of model boats in the Boat Hall, meticulously crafted by skipper and talented model maker Grímur Karlsson.

Things to do further afield in Reykjanes

The wider Reykjanes peninsula is well worth exploring if you have a little more time. Compared to other parts of the south of Iceland, it tends to be much less busy, but those visitors who rush to leave are missing out on some cool and interesting places.

The Bridge between Continents

 Iceland is located on two separate plate boundaries and even on a short layover there’s enough time to see the evidence with your own eyes. At the Bridge between Continents, sometimes referred to as Leif the Lucky’s bridge, you can straddle the plate boundary and peer over the metal railing to see what it looks like on the surface. If you’re expecting rivers of flowing lava, we’re sorry to say that you’ll be disappointed as it more closely resembles a dried up river bed. But let your imagine run and you’ll be able to visualise what’s happening beneath the surface. The two tectonic plates are creeping ever so slowly apart and Iceland’s landscape is constantly evolving as a result.

Hafnaberg Sea Cliffs

 Even on the briefest of visits you can get an idea of why Iceland is famous for being a great destination for spotting wildlife. If you had longer, you could travel further afield to see the summer puffin colonies of South and East Iceland or to the extraordinary Látrabjarg bird cliffs in the Westfjords. But just because you have a plane to catch doesn’t mean you should miss out. You’ll find a significant variety of seabirds nesting here in the rocky cliffs that lines the shore, including kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots. If you’re really lucky and you keep an eye on the ocean, you might also catch a glimpse of a passing whale, seal or dolphin.

Krýsuvík and/or Gunnuhver Geothermal Areas

 Reykjanes is volcanically active and there are actually two geothermal areas on the peninsula where you can easily see evidence of this. Gunnuhver is located in the south west of the Reykjanes peninsula, while Krýsuvík can be found further east. While you won’t see any towering geysers, there are plenty of mud pools, fumaroles and hot springs to give each area the wow factor. Steam constantly rises from the ground, condensing in the chillier air above. As you stroll along wooden boardwalks you’ll see gas escaping from vents in the earth and the telltale yellow stains of sulphur deposits. Sinter mounds such as at Kísilhól provide elevated viewing points from where you can get a better idea of the impact this activity is having on the landscape, though never allow yourself to be tempted to stray from the marked path as that can be deceptively dangerous.


 There’s nothing like a spectacular volcanic eruption to make the world sit up and watch, particularly when that volcano is in Iceland. After Eyjafjallajökull caused such chaos to air traffic more than a decade ago, any breaking news grabs people’s attention. Fagradalsfjall had been dormant for many centuries when it started spewing lava back in 2021. For six months, visitors came in their droves to see rivers of molten rock pouring from newly opened vents and flowing steadily but surely along barren valleys. There was very little chance that this activity would impact on homes and businesses, so the attention was firmly focused on where to hike to get a close-up look at what was going on. After a while, the eruption stopped. Though things briefly kicked off in 2022 and again in 2023, the volcano has been largely silent ever since. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fascinating place to visit. The lava flows have left a blackened, folded landscape splattered with sulphur deposits. Don’t underestimate the time it will take to hike up here, but if your stopover permits, this is definitely a place to consider visiting before you fly on to your next destination.

The Blue Lagoon

 We couldn’t make a list of suggestions about things to do in Reykjanes without mentioning the incredible Blue Lagoon. This is one of the most convenient places to slot in to your layover, with direct transport to and from Keflavik Airport and lockers that are spacious enough to hold large suitcases. This luxurious spa is a treat for the eyes, as milky blue water and clouds of steam soften a raw lava backdrop. It’s amazing to think that such a beautiful place is actually made possible by the by-product of a geothermal power station, but that’s where the Blue Lagoon’s deliciously warm water comes from. The mineral rich water is believed by many to have health-enhancing properties and certainly your skin will feel great after you wash off the silica mud mask that’s included in the cost of admission. If you have the budget for it, it’s possible to book treatments and massages or eat a meal at Moss, a fine dining restaurant here which was recently awarded its first Michelin star.

Things to do beyond Reykjanes

Many travellers combine their stay in Reykjanes with at least a day in Reykjavik. You don’t have to stay in the city - it’s easy to pop over to the Icelandic capital from your base anywhere on the Reykjanes peninsula as on average it is only a 45 minute drive.


 If the weather’s sunny and warm you might wish to book a whale watching trip from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour. You have a good chance, particularly in summer, of seeing humpback and minke whales as you chug out into scenic Faxaflói Bay. Nearby, grab a selfie in front of the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture or the splendid architecture of Harpa Concert Hall. On a day with good visibility, consider checking out the view from the top of magnificent Hallgrimskirkja, one of Reykjavik’s most prominent landmarks. Perlan, just outside the city centre, is another popular viewing platform thanks to its position on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill giving you a stellar view of Reykjavik and also Mount Esja beyond. Explore a little further by taking a walking tour or trying out traditional Icelandic dishes based around lamb and fish at Hlemmur Food Hall or one of the city’s many excellent restaurants. If the weather’s inclement, there’s a slew of indoor activities in Reykjavik, such as a wide variety of museums and a fun motion ride called Flyover Iceland.

The South Coast, Golden Circle and Snaefellsnes Peninsula

 However after experiencing the incredible scenery of Reykjanes you’ll have an appetite for more of the breathtaking Icelandic countryside. The scenic South Coast is an easily doable option from here, particularly if you are already planning to hire a car. Driving time from Keflavik Airport to Seljalandsfoss waterfall is under two and a half hours; Skógafoss is just a little further along the ring road. To reach Vik will take you around three hours from KEF, but it’s well worth the drive time to see its sea stacks, black sand beaches and the glaciers that loom large inland. To get as far as Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, you’ll most likely need to factor in an overnight stop. Meanwhile, the Golden Circle can comfortably be tackled in a day, combining Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall, as can the attractive Snaefellsnes Peninsula with its dramatic coastline and iconic Kirkjufell Mountain. There are a number of tour operators based on the Reykjanes peninsula that will create a bespoke itinerary if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for with a group. For instance, try Iceland Adventure Tours who are based in Grindavik or N66 in Keflavik, both of which have a wide range of single and multi-day tours on offer.