20 Hours in Reykjavík (and what to do on a long layover in Iceland)

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20 Hours in Reykjavík (and what to do on a long layover in Iceland)

Well, WOW Air did one thing right in my books recently… they planted me in Reykjavic, Iceland for a day long layover.
Iceland. My #2 bucket list country (next in line to Japan) and I had 20 hours to taste test the capital of the world famous island. Ready, set, GO!
We landed at 10 PM.
My next flight wouldn’t be until 6 PM the next day.
Airport shops were closing after they let me through security and so were my eyelids.  I hadn’t eat anything all day and I was thoroughly exhausted but excited at the same time.  I’m in ICELAND!  Myself and another traveler convinced one of the shops to stay open an extra couple minutes so we could buy food (and wine) for $30- yes Iceland is EXPENSIVE.
It was the middle of the night and I’m stuck at the airport until the city wakes up and I can explore. I slept hugging my bag for 3 hours on a bench in the corner of the terminal waiting for the first bus (and a sliver of morning light).
At 5 AM I forced myself up and found the buses, bought a ticket and boarded what I was told would be a 45 minute ride into City Center.
Reykjavík city center here I come!
Watching the sunrise over the sea and mountains as we drove in was beyond beautiful. It felt surreal.
I couldn’t stop staring and smiling the entire 45 minute drive. My heart swelled with joy and we weren’t even there yet.
Once we got to the terminal I stashed my carry on bag in one of the lockers for about $10 (ouch) and pulled up Google maps. With plenty accessible by walking I set off on my merry way, the sun still finding its high point above for the morning. Within five minutes of my walk I realized the sun was an illusion in Iceland. It appears to exist far up above but fails to actually touch your skin. The rays from the sun must be beaten in force by the harsh gusts of icy wind that constantly slapped my face.
My eyes watered.
I wasn’t sure if the tiny tea drops were for the sheer happiness I felt to be in Reykjavík, or because my body was screaming “Help me! I’m freezing my ass off here!” Either way, I kept walking.  Plus, if I stopped for long, I’d feel the ice reaching my blood through my skin.  Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to with that one, do yourself a favor and go watch Finding Nemo.  It’s THE adult thing to do.)
I had seven hours to see this city. That’s it.
I will squeeze every last ounce of juice from the lemon, that is, this layover.
Here’s a look at the layover that turned into a magical travel day:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Fz8VKiAaHw]

Hallgrímskirkja |  This church is absolutely STUNNING (as you can see below) and as I walked away from the bus terminal I could see it’s roof poking through the trees above the houses on the upwardly slanted streets.  I walked faster up the hill towards the church and when I finally reached it I wanted nothing more than to go inside…too bad they’re closed this early in the morning.  Reason #1 of the morning to come back here.4469082128_img_5983

The Harpa |  An architectural wonder from which I couldn’t stop staring.  This concert and events center is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and has hosted countless musicians, artists and events since it opened in 2011.  It was difficult to stand outside in the cold but I had to bear it for this view.  The sights of that can be seen from the inside are pretty spectacular too.  4469082128_img_60234469082128_img_6032
The Sun Voyager |  This famous sculpture has quite a view, doesn’t it?
Rainbow Houses |  These houses are so cool!  They remind me of “The Painted Ladies” back home in San Francisco, California (but Icelandic style).

Cafes and Bakeries Galore |  No explanation needed when there are baked goods involved.

Random Street Art | I was not expecting to find all the street art that fills the streets of Reykjavik, and was especially surprised to find this green Dinosaur with headphones painted on one of the buildings in a residential area, but I loved it!  For anyone from Reykjavik reading this: What’s up with the Dinosaur street art?!  

Views for DAYS |  Everyone knows Iceland is a picturesque, bucket-list-worthy destination, but I think we’re all underestimating its beauty, still.  I know I was!
Obviously, a few hours is NOT enough to say you’ve truly experienced a city, especially one like Reykjavik, but I was happy regardless.  This day turned out to be the best layover day I’ve ever had, sleep deprivation and all.  Who cares about sleep when there are hidden gems in Iceland to discover?
I will return to Iceland someday (hopefully soon!) to actually tour the country and do it justice, but for now I will have to relive it all through my footage from this special day.  Thanks for lovely “travel taste test” Reykjavik!

If you’re thinking about it, please do book your trip to Reykjavik using my Booking affiliate link here.   It helps me fund my own travels to keep the content coming your way. 🙂

About the Author:

On August 14th, 2015 I left my life in the United States behind with the intention to never look back. I had the "American Dream" and I woke up from it, to create a new reality for myself. I sought out beauty in a world that was increasingly dark for me at the time and ended up finding more than I bargained for. With only a backpack, I traveled across Europe, South East Asia and then on to Africa. With over 30 countries stamped in my passport, I've become an entirely new version of myself with a broader perspective on what it means to be a woman in today's world. My hope is that by sharing my stories and featuring women like me from around the world, we can inspire others to break down their own internal barriers and go cross a few international borders while they're at it. I truly believe travel can be healing to a troubled soul, empowering to the lost and rejuvenating for the exhausted. Perspective is everything, and I believe in the power of "going global," what about you? SheGoesGlobal.net is a site that started out with my stories and grew into a platform for women all around the world to tell their travel tales of trials and triumph. We all believe that the more you see of the world, the better you can be as a person who inhabits it. Women encouraging other women to grow, travel, evolve- that's what SGG is all about. ---> Read my very first blog post (see "Archives" for August 2015) to learn how this all began.


  1. Diana May 3, 2018 at 4:00 pm - Reply


  2. Love your quick preview of what Reykjavik has to offer! Its on my bucket list as well and I love that it is so different to many travel destinations. It all seems so natural and demure. I’m glad you enjoyed your layover as well, despite the early start! 🙂

  3. atruthfultraveler May 7, 2018 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    I love this! I am so used to seeing the Blue Lagoon over and over and have not really seen many other pictures! Good job seeing so much during your layover!!!

  4. Mala and Aarna May 8, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

    This is interesting..so many places to explore.will definitely try visiting these places during my next layover

  5. sphotographyco May 9, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Oh! I know I’ll need this some day. I can’t wait to go to Reykjavik even if it’s just for a layover! I’d love to photograph there one day too <3

  6. Amanda May 9, 2018 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Wow what an experience! Sometimes the shortest trips are the best!

  7. Lisa Fitts May 16, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing sounds like a very windy adventure! Iceland is on my bucket list as well hopefully you get to go back and explore soon!

  8. Joanne @ Travel Visa UK May 16, 2018 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Amazing! I want to go to Reykjavik one day. Thanks for all the photos and well-written article by the way.

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