My plane ticket on WOW Air to Brussels included a layover in Iceland, so I decided to extend the layover so I could get a glimpse of Reykjavik. My friends that have visited raved about how beautiful it was, and the pictures they showed me only added to my curiosity. So, I decided to come by and see what the fuss was all about!
First off, there are a few things you should know:
1. If you fly WOW Air/Iceland Air and can factor in a long layover, definitely do it! You'll see why as you read this guide.
2. Iceland is pretty expensive. I was definitely surprised at how much money I spent and I wasn't actively trying to spend money. If you plan a vacation here, make sure you budget pretty well because it will cost you an arm and a leg to visit here! A good chunk of my money went to transportation, which leads to my next point...
3. Iceland has very limited (non-existent) public transportation. In terms of getting around, you pretty much need to rent a car to really fully explore the country. If you're only here for a a day or two, don't worry too much about this. But, the country doesn't really have a train system or anything of that sort. Reykjavik is a very walkable city with a decent bus network, but you'll need to either rent a car or go with a tour to explore the rest of the country.
One Day in Reykjavik
I landed at Keflavik International Airport a little before noon, and the airport was very easy to navigate - I was in and out in about 15 minutes. I had booked a Blue Lagoon tour with Reykjavik Excursions beforehand, so I went to their counter after I got to the arrivals hall to redeem my voucher. Basically it wasn't really a tour, per say. It was pretty much just transportation to and from the Blue Lagoon, as well as the admission fee. However, it's highly advised that you book your Blue Lagoon ticket beforehand because it might get full. But you really can decide on the spot - the arrivals hall has bus operators to take you to the Blue Lagoon or Reykjavik (if you're not renting a car the coach is pretty much your only option), tour operators, and rental car companies. From a cost-efficiency standpoint, booking the "tour" is simply easier on you because then all you have to do is check in, hop on the bus, and redeem your voucher at the Blue Lagoon.
For the Blue Lagoon, I almost made a crucial mistake by not redeeming my voucher at their counter. Luckily, I realized this and nothing bad happened, but when you purchase your tour online, you'll get an email with a voucher. Once you get to the airport, you'll want to show the voucher to get a receipt which you'll show the bus driver. This receipt gets you into the Blue Lagoon and includes your transportation back to the airport or Reykjavik.
When I went outside the airport, I immediately noticed that it was very cold for a day in July - something that I was very happy about, since I hate hot weather. But, I would definitely recommend bringing a jacket because it gets pretty chilly in the evenings. I got on the bus, and then the bus started chugging along towards the Blue Lagoon. On the way, I finally understood why people raved about Iceland. I was falling in love with the scenery and I hadn't been in the country for an hour yet!
Once I got to the Blue Lagoon, I followed the small path inside. Then, the front desk attendant validated my receipt and told me some rules and such. Before coming to Iceland, I wasn't sure what to expect despite the fact that I did lots of research beforehand. However, it's pretty self-explanatory and you'll catch on pretty quick. The attendant gave me a towel and a wristband. The wristband is pretty important, as it allows you to open your locker in the locker room and buy drinks in the lagoon.
I went to the men's locker room and I found an open locker and put all my stuff inside. I was very relieved that my huge backpack was able to fit so I wouldn't have to pay extra to store my luggage. Then, I went to the shower area to rinse off before I went to the lagoon - everyone has to take a shower out in the open before they could go in. They provide shower gel and conditioner, which was nice. Then, I was finally able to actually go to the lagoon.
Once I saw the lagoon, I finally got why everyone talked it up so much. You can think of it as a glorified community pool, but it's so much more than that. First off, the place is awfully pretty even if the lagoon is man-made and heated by geothermal energy and such. It's hard to describe, but the Blue Lagoon definitely up in the ranks of the most beautiful places I've visited.
It wasn't as big as I thought it would be, but I definitely spent some time exploring the full capacity of the lagoon. There's a bar which sells drinks, a face mask stall where you can put mud on your face, a sauna, and a steam bath. I definitely spent some time just sitting in comfortable spots just zoning out since it just felt so good! It's very touristy but if you are strapped for time, this is the place to go because it's great and it's close to the airport. I recommend bringing a plastic bag to put your phone in because you'll definitely want to take pictures. Afterwards, I went back to the locker room to shower off so I could explore Reykjavik. I thought it was nice that they provided hair dryers. In the end, I definitely spent a little more time than I would've liked but it was such a great experience. I put my bags in a mid-sized locker for the time being, and then I started to walk.
I went outside, where there was a bus bound for downtown Reykjavik. When you get your voucher at the airport, it will say what times the bus will take you to either the airport or Reykjavik from the lagoon, so you don't have to worry about knowing if there's going to be a bus. The ride takes about 45 minutes, so I dozed off for a little. The bus does drop-offs at selected spots throughout the city, but I chose to get off at the BSI Bus Terminal, which was the last stop.
I planned to walk around the city for a bit and then head to my Airbnb, since my flight to Brussels was very early the next day. I was worried that I wasn't able to do everything I wanted to, because it was around 5:30pm once I got off the bus. However, there was still daylight, which surprised me! As I was walking, I was absolutely stunned at how pretty it was. I don't know what it was, but Reykjavik just had this charm that I can't describe. It reminded me of suburban California, yet more quaint and unique.
I worked my way past City Hall and Cathedral of Christ the King to eat at Fish and Chips Vagninn, a place that a friend recommended to me. I was surprised to see that it was just basically a food truck and how simple the menu was. I got the fish and chips and it was one of the better fish and chips I've ate! I was skeptical at first because it cost 1490 ISK but it was pretty good. I just loved the simplicity - something I honestly think restaurants should try to emulate.
Then, I walked towards the Harpa Concert Hall, which was one of the most unique buildings I've seen - it definitely felt like there were a million mirrors on it. Then, I walked towards Solfario and passed by Laugavegur Street on the way back to the bus terminal to get my bags.
My initial plan was to take the public bus to my Airbnb in Reykjanesbaer, which is near Keflavik Airport. I got my bags from the locker and asked for change at one of the tour operator in the bus terminal, because the bus drivers only accept the exact change. However, I stayed out a little too late to execute this plan. There was a direct bus that went right from the bus terminal to my Airbnb, but I stayed out too late to take that bus. So, I had to take the bus and transfer at Fjorour, which is like 1/4 of the way to the airport.
I'm very glad I downloaded the public bus app, Straeto, back in the US because I would had been utterly screwed without it. That app showed me which stop to transfer at and which bus to take to get there, because Google Maps doesn't really work in Iceland for public transportation. I was able to get to Fjorour with no problems, but then I realized I had to wait around an hour and a half for the next bus towards my Airbnb. This was not the best scenario to be in because it was getting pretty cold and my phone was running out of battery. So, I just sat at the bus stop eating some Goldfish that I bought back at the US while people-watching. I was getting very tired, but it was impossible to doze off for a little because of the cold. I actually tried to call a taxi (which I basically NEVER do) but my phone wouldn't let me call anyone. So I stuck it out and waited for the bus, which eventually came. The bus cost more than the typical public bus since it was a bus bound for the airport, but at that point, the guy could have charged me way more and I wouldn't had cared - I just wanted to get some sleep. I made sure to ask the driver to let me off at a certain stop and for him to let me know when we were getting close, because I didn't want anything else to go wrong.
Getting from Fjorour to my Airbnb took about an hour, and by then it was around 10:45pm. I was definitely surprised that there was still daylight at around that time. When I checked into my Airbnb, I was so glad my host was understanding - I had told them that I would probably be late ahead of time because of the bus fiasco, and her husband answered the door immediately and let me inside. He quickly ran through everything that I needed to know, and then I asked him if his wife could still give me a ride to the airport at 4am to make my flight. He told me that it was all taken care of, which was a relief to me. I instantly fell asleep once I got to the room because it was such a long day, and got up in around 4 hours to go to the airport - what an experience!
Despite my mishap with the bus, I would definitely recommend a trip to Iceland - I definitely want to come back later in life when I have more money. But, I will say that the Blue Lagoon is a perfect way to spend a layover in Reykjavik because the process is so streamlined. Also, I would recommend looking up bus schedules if you're looking to take public transportation. I know that my situation wouldn't had been a problem earlier in the day. However, I had a great time in Iceland and I can't wait to come back one day!