Passengers arriving from Canada and the US often have early stopovers in Iceland. So, even after fulfilling the airport chores, you might have an abundant amount of time as the flight arrives almost 5-7 hours before most schedules start. Unfortunately, you might have two options, namely changing the hotel or waiting at the airport lobby. But, a third choice could include leaving the airport and start exploring Iceland. The things to do upon early arrival would depend on the airport and nearby attractions. Since almost everyone that comes to Iceland arrives at Keflavik Airport, we will focus on that airport in this article. Note that Keflavik Airport is located around 45 – 50 minutes from Reykjavík, but it is very easy to take the bus, taxi or drive on your own if you have a rental car. If you need more information on how to get from the airport to Reykjavik, you might be interested in this article.
Discover Icelandic Art and Culture
Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church
Hallgrimskirkja remains open between 11 AM and 4 PM on all days, except on Sunday, when it opens at 10 AM. Reykjavik’s parish church, commonly known as Lutheran, with a height of 74.5 meters. It’s the country’s tallest church named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, author of the Passion Hymns. Johannes Klais from Bonn contributed a pipe organ for the majestic 1,676 square meter church. The initial construction of the church took forty-one years, and the pipe was finished by December 1992.
Hallgrimskirkja lies 2.1 km from the Reykjavik airport via the Njarðargata and takes only six minutes to reach. If you have taken the bus from Keflavik Airport, you will arrive at BSI bus station, located less than a kilometer from Hallgrimskirkja.
Even though the church does not open until 11 am, you can go and explore it from the outside. The building is beautiful and one of the best known landmarks in Iceland. The place is known for viewing Reykjavik from the top and admiring the site’s beauty, especially the surrounding mountains. The church is also an epitome of mass, concerts, and conventions.
Harpa Concert Hall
The Harpa Concert Hall is open for guests from 10.00 – 20.00 and longer in relation to events. The conference and concert hall features an Icelandic basalt landscape-inspired glass façade and received the European Union’s Mies van der Rohe award in 2013 for contemporary architecture.
The hall is prominent for the country’s opera performances and concerts by Vladimir Ashkenazy baton and pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. The name of the building was conceived on the Day of Icelandic Music in 2009.
Besides Icelandic opera, the hall is also a home for the country’s symphony orchestra. The prominent concert hall is 1.8 km from the Reykjavik bus station so it is easy to walk there or take a taxi. Exploring Harpa Concert Hall is a great way to enjoy your morning in Iceland.
The National Gallery of Iceland
Renowned for rotating exhibitions of Icelandic and foreign artists, the National Gallery of Iceland also has a few collection pieces displayed in the Culture House’s Millenium. Besides three halls and a cafe, the museum also has an art store, a specialist & restoration laboratory.
The specialist lab consists of photographs, documents, and archives. Moreover, the research library at the museum focuses on Icelandic art dissemination and prevention. Over the years, the National Gallery of Iceland has shifted from Copenhagen to Fríkirkjuvegur 7.
The museum lies 1 km from the Reykjavik bus station and it is easy to reach by foot via Sóleyjargata. The Gallery remains open between 10 AM and 5 PM every day.
Reykjavik Art Museum
The Reykjavik Art Museum is situated at three locations in the capital city, and offers voluminous 3,000 square meter gallery space. The museums have twenty or more yearly exhibitions ranging between extensive and contemporary. In addition, the museum consists of an art collection of Erró, Reykjavik city, and an architectural department.
Besides collections, the museum also consists of the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum as a property. The building artwork is even on display at various open areas and public buildings of Reykjavik city. The three significant additions since 1973 include Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn.
The Hafnarhús warehouse is the latest addition to the museum that provides international and local exhibition programs under six galleries. The harbor warehouse is renowned for Icelandic pop-artist Erró’s collection.
The nearest museum in Kjarvalsstaðir lies 1.4 km from the Reykjavik bus terminal while the art museum in Tryggvagata is 1.7 km from the bus station. The museum remains open between 10 AM and 5 PM every day.
Perlan is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Reykjavik. Presently, it hosts exhibitions based on Icelandic natural wonders. Your tour of the country would begin by learning more about earthquakes, geothermal activity, tectonic plates, volcanoes, and glaciers. The artificial Northern Light show and the ice cave tour is the highlight of Perlan exhibitions.
The Adventure Island of Perlan consists of The Monster, Zipline, and Látrabjarg. The Látrabjarg part is the latest addition and replaces the Monster. In addition, Perlan has added 6, 9, and 12 meters jump on a 3.5 meter high and 100 square meter mattress. Similarly, the exhibitions include wonders of Iceland and a planetarium.
Perlan remains open between 10 AM and 6 PM. We recommend that you go to the top floor to the café / restaurant. You will get a table that is located on a rotating floor. The floor goes one ring in every hour so you will get views of different parts of Reykjavík. Perlan also includes an ice factory on the fourth floor that opens at noon. Moreover, the landmark lies 1.4 km from the Reykjavik bus station and it takes arond 20 minutes to walk there. If you have more time you can explore Öskjuhlíð forest while walking to Perlan. You will see wild bunnies hiding behind the trees.
Things To Do Near Keflavík International Airport
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon spa is a geothermal seawater spring. It is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland and has been chosen as one of the wonders of the world by many Travel Magazines. The water is rich in minerals, algae, and silica, known as bioactive elements with nourishing, rejuvenating, and healing abilities. The blue lagoon spa and resort also offers a retreat hotel, restaurant, and skincare facilities.
The water of the Blue Lagoon appears milky due to the presence of high silica content, a mixture of silicon and oxygen. The lagoon’s average temperature remains between 37–39 °C and often encompasses communal gender showers. Moreover, it is believed that the water has some rejuvenating properties, making it an excellent choice for spending some time in this pool.
The Blue Lagoon is situated in front of Mt. Þorbjörn and near the Grindavík lava fields. It lies twenty minutes away from the Keflavík International Airport via Grindavíkurvegur and Reykjanesbraut/Route 41. Because of it’S location, the Blue Lagoon is the perfect first or last stop in Iceland. Most people start with driving from the airport to Reykjavík, and in the middle of the drive you will find the lagoon. You can also take a bus that takes you from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, and after your swim you can take the bus from the lagoon to Reykjavik. During summers, the spa opens at 7 am which makes it the prefect first stop on your trip to Iceland if you are arriving early.
Geldingadalir Volcano Hike
The Geldingadalir volcano erupted in the Reykjanes peninsula on March 19th, 2021. The volcano lies 30 km from the Keflavík International Airport and takes around half an hour to reach the parking lot. The crust originating from the magma is spread across 20 km from the volcano’s surface.
You can pre-book a tour to have an experienced guide take you to the erupting volcano. It is recommended to book the tour well in advance, since these tours are very popular at the moment. Keep in mind that the volcano is still active.
Bring your camera to capture jaw-dropping freshly solidified magma, a river of fire, lava formations, and splashing magma. The flowing lava would pile up and float towards Reykjanes Peninsula’s south shore ocean.
Viking World Museum
The Viking World Museum claims to offer an optical illusion of an ancient vessel floating along Faxafloi Bay while driving from the Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavik. The museum is also home to Islendingur, a prominent Icelandic figure finished by Gunnar Marel Eggertsson in 1996.
The museum showcases replicas of vessels discovered during the 1880 Norway excavations made after two years of hard work using Viking tools, materials, and methods. The museum also has a replica of the Islendingur, a ship with nine passengers that sailed towards New York and returned home to celebrate Viking’s discovery of America.
The Viking World Museum hosts four exhibitions: The Icelander, The Viking of North Atlantic, The Settlement of Iceland, and Fate of the Gods. Besides this, the museum has a Viking world souvenir shop that encompasses books and Icelandic clothes.
The in-house Viking World cafeteria even offers refreshments to guests. The museum remains open between 7 AM and 6 PM and takes nine minutes or 6.0 km to reach from the Keflavík International Airport via Reykjanesbraut/Route 41.
The Reykjanes lighthouse is one of the country’s oldest landmarks, constructed in 1878 and undergone modifications until 1929. The lighthouse is within distance from Gunnuhver, Iceland’s largest mud spot, and holds an association with the folklore of eternal prison ghosts that terrorized the Reykjanes peninsula.
The lighthouse is located on the peninsula’s tip and lies within close vicinity of the Blue Lagoon spa and resort, a renowned rejuvenation & treatment center. Besides this, the lighthouse is close to the Bridge Between Continents. The latter offers a chance to learn about the North America and Eurasia tectonic plates and walk over the bridge.
The lighthouse is mainly visited during the winter season and offers a social hotspot with a view of Icelandic landmarks. The Reykjanes lighthouse lies 29.4 km from the Keflavík International Airport and takes twenty-six minutes to reach via Nesvegur and Hafnavegur. If you have rented a car it is the ideal place to visit early in the morning. Stop at the Bridge between Continents and Gunnuhver hot springs in the same trip to make your morning extra special.
Besides puffins, you would also explore Eider Ducks, Guillemots Cormorants, and Arctic terns, and if the time remains in excess, the captain will turn the engine off so that you can hear the songs of the seabirds.
The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to 7,000 residents in fishing towns like Njarðvík, Grindavík, and Sandgerði. In addition, the landmark is renowned for volcanic activities, lava fields, hot springs, and geothermal areas. Besides this, the peninsula is also home to the Svartsengi geothermal power station. It is ideal to start your trip to Iceland by exploring Reykjanes Peninsula. You can go on a guided tour or rent a car and explore all the best locations on your own.
After 800 years, the peninsula has been experiencing extreme volcanic activities, and tourists often love exploring the natural wonders around them. The Fagradalsfjall volcano eruption is predicted to begin a decade lasting activity in the peninsula but might not threaten population centers in the future.
One of the prominent characteristics of the peninsula is the Reykjanes Volcanic System, a place wherein the mid-Atlantic ridge goes above sea level. The system consists of fissures and faults of volcanoes and tectonic plates directed from NE to SW. The volcanic system encompasses basalt crater rows, lava fields, and shield volcanoes.
During the visit to the peninsula, you can relish activities like hiking, boating, swimming, sightseeing, trekking, and more. Keflavik International Airport lies on Reykjanes Peninsula so all the attractions on the peninsula are located very close by. Naturally, the timings vary upon the activity, but you might have a chance to experience many of them. You can find more locations to explore on Reykjanes Peninsula here.
Join Guided Tours
Many tours in Iceland start early in the morning. But since most tours start from Reykjavík city, located 40-50 minutes from Keflavík Airport, it might be tricky to get on a tour right away after your flight arrives. However, if you want to make the most of your first day in Iceland, we recommend that you plan accordingly and book your guided tour to start ticking of your bucket list.
We recommend that you get the earliest bus from the airport to BSI bus station after your flight arrives in Iceland. Most tours offer a pick up at BSI bus station, so you can simply wait at the bus station for your pick up. And then your day of adventures will start.
The sightseeing tours in Iceland will take your breath away. You will explore many locations in one day on these tours so they are ideal if you have a long list of things you want to see in Iceland. The most popular sightseeing day tours go to the Golden Circle, South Coast or Snæfellsnes Peninsula. However, if you are interested in multi day tours that include accommodation in the countryside of Iceland, you can cover a longer distance which means you will be able to see and explore more.
Ice Cave Tours
The Ice Caves in Iceland are definitely something that you should not miss. Most natural ice caves are only accessible during the high winter season, so there is more to choose from if you are traveling to Iceland during winter. But Katla Ice Cave is a natural ice cave that is accessible all year. This means that you can visit the beautiful blue colored ice caves whenever you visit Iceland. Don’t miss this opportunity on your trip and book an ice cave tour on your first day.
Ice Cave Tours
Glacier Hiking is one of the most pouplar activity in Iceland. You can find variety of glacier hiking tours on all the glaciers in Iceland. The most popular ones are Sólheimajökull, Vatnajökull and Glacier Hiking from Skaftafell Nature Reserve. You can include ice climbing in the tours as well if you are up for a more adventure.
Glacier Hiking Tours
The Icelandic horses belong to a rare breed with muscular and small stature. Tthey will make you fall in love with their appeal, loyalty, and intelligence. You can experience a horseback riding expedition in the lava fields at 9 AM, and it lasts for almost four hours.
Horse Riding Tours
Besides beginning an early tour of Iceland, you have the option to enjoy shopping at Keflavík International Airport. Note that sleeping is strongly discouraged at the airport because the airport becomes busy at 4 AM. Instead, you can rest at nearby hotels or shop from 24/7 duty-free stores, especially beer, wine, and spirits that come with a much higher price outside the airport.
Similarly, Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital city, has many restaurants and cafes that open early. Thus, you can relax while having an affordable meal and the desired ambiance while admiring the city. Some of the most prominent breakfast establishments include Grái Kötturinn and Kaffitár.
Grái Kötturinn remains open between 8 AM and 2 PM, whereas, Kaffitár starts serving at 7 AM. Moreover, the latter lies close to the Prime Minister’s office and is famous for longstanding farmer relationships. Meanwhile, Grái Kötturinn is popular for Björk, Iceland’s renowned superstar’s music.