24 Hours in Iceland
Thanks to Iceland Air’s free stopover service, Iceland has become a major tourist destination, and for good reason! The geography is insane, the scenery is beautiful, and the hot springs make it a relaxing stopover. I did a 24 hour stopover in Iceland on my way to Belgium last spring and would highly recommend it! It’s a super affordable way to check another country off your list and you can stay for up to seven days without increasing your ticket price.
where to stay
Iceland can be pretty pricey once you actually get there. Since I was only in Iceland for one night and wouldn’t be spending time at my accommodation with the exception of sleeping, I opted to just rent a room in an Airbnb near the airport. It was just what I needed and since my flight left at 7am it was nice to be close to the airport since Reykjavik’s city center is about 30 miles east. If you are traveling in a couple or alone, I would highly recommend just booking a single room to save yourself some money. Use our Airbnb code to get $40 off if you're a first time user!
what to do
I rented a car and drove around the Golden Circle, which I would definitely recommend! If you’re only in Iceland for a day it is a great alternative to the Ring Road, which is about 800 miles and encircles the entire country. The Golden Circle is only 190 miles and can be done is as little as 3 hours (although I would recommend allocating more time so that you can stop at as many destinations as you want!) Some of my favorites along the Golden Circle are:
Thingvellir National Park: Driving through Thingvellir National Park left me absolutely speechless! The natural scenery there is incredible and has plenty of great photo ops!
Geysir Geothermal Area: There are few places on earth where you can see active, fountain geysers, and Iceland is one of them! If you’ve never seen a fountain geyser, it is a sight to see! Expect a lot of crowds here, but it is a good place to stop for a quick visit.
Gullfoss Waterfall: This was probably my favorite stop on the Golden Circle. It was incredibly beautiful and I got some gorgeous photographs. If it’s sunny when you are there, there is a good chance you will be able to see some gorgeous rainbows reflecting from the spray.
My flight landed at 6am so I picked up my rental car and went straight to the Blue Lagoon for the opening time slot. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa that recently opened up a hotel in addition to their world famous thermal pools, which are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur. And...Oh. My. Goodness. If I could end every flight with a dip in the Blue Lagoon, life would be perfect! I did the most basic package which gives you entry to the Blue Lagoon, a free face mask, a free drink, and a towel. In the lagoon there are swim up bars for both the face mask and the drink. The water is not deep so if you can’t swim, no problem! It was the perfect way to relax after my flight before heading off on my Golden Circle road trip. Also, because there are showers and locker rooms it is a great way to freshen up after your flight. Keep in mind that pre-booking is required.
This trip I wasn’t fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights, however, my Airbnb host was sweet enough to offer to wake me up in the middle of the night if they appeared so that I would not have to stay up all night (5 star review!!). The couple that was staying in the other room had been waiting all week to see them and hadn’t yet, so unfortunately this is one thing that is hard to plan for. If this is a big goal for you (it’s on my bucket list!) the best time to visit Iceland is late September to late March. During the summer months you have almost no chance of seeing them, unfortunately
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the main city. I’ll be honest with you, though. I went to Reykjavik for dinner after the Golden Circle and was mildly disappointed. There wasn’t a great atmosphere and I’ll warn you, the food is very expensive. I don’t think it would be a huge deal if you miss the city, especially if you only have 24 hours.
tips & tricks
Do: Utilize Icelandair’s free stopover if you have the chance! Icelandair was a pretty nice budget airline and the stopover just makes it unbeatable. My roundtrip flight to Belgium, with the layover, from Seattle was only $400!
Do: Budget your money wisely. While the flight may be cheap, the country is not! At a rest stop in Thingvellir National Park I spent over $30 on two water bottles, two sandwiches, and two bags of chips. Iceland is not particularly cheap so keep that in mind if you are trying to travel on a budget.
Don’t: Overpack! Iceland can be cold, but if you’re only visiting for 24 hours pack smarter, not more. I had a great packable down jacket that I was able to easily fit into my carry-on and just wore my leggings under my jeans - both of which I was bringing to Belgium anyway!