The bad news: you’ve got a lengthy stopover. The good news: it’s in Reykjavik, Europe’s coolest capital. Here’s what to do in the city with 8 hours or so up your sleeve…
00.00-03.00 Detour to the Blue Lagoon
Rule number one for your stopover in Iceland: pack a swimsuit. The geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon are just a 20-minute bus ride away from Keflavik Airport.
Snowing, foggy and below zero outside? Not a problem. The water in the Blue Lagoon sticks to a not-too-shabby 37°C, which means that – once you get the initial sprint between the changing rooms and lagoon over and done with – you can happily mooch between the bar, waterfall and spa without a hint of chill.
On a practical level, the Blue Lagoon is really stopover-friendly. You can stick your luggage in storage for around £4, and upgrade to an entrance ticket that includes a towel, bath robe, slippers and drink. If your stopover is a short one, catch a coach back to Keflavik Airport. Otherwise, take a bus going into town – it’s a 40-minute journey into the centre of Reykjavik.
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03.00-04.00 Wander along Reykjavik waterfront
Reykjavik is one of those extremely walkable cities – even with hand luggage in tow. Start on the (often windswept) waterfront, where you’ll find fishing docks lined with whale tour boats, Viking sculptures and the glittering, geometric Harpa concert hall. The best place to peer out at the views? From the fourth-floor Kolabrautin cocktail bar, of course.
04.00-05.00 Get a hit of history
For a quick history lesson, head into the centre of Reykjavik – straight up Laekjargata and then right at Austerstraeti. The Parliament Building, Art Deco Hotel Borg and Reykjavik Cathedral gather around the grassy square here.
The square is also a minute’s walk away from the lakeside Reykjavik City Hall, which doubles as a café and visitor information centre. Neighbouring Lake Tjörnin spends half the year frozen over, and it’s a pretty vista towards the rows of colourful Nordic houses on the opposite shore whatever the weather.
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05.00-06.30 Eat, drink and be merry
If you don’t fancy stopping for a hot chocolate and a pastry at the Reykjavik City Hall, make a beeline for the high street instead. Laugavegur is home to Tiu Dropar, a basement café famous for its piled-high waffles and coffee. The bright orange Café Babalu, meanwhile, is the place to be in the summer – it serves cups of wine on its rooftop terrace.
Laugaviegur is also the main shopping drag. You can pick up winter-proof jackets in 66°NORTH, polished lava necklaces in Gþ Jewellery, and designer Icelandic accessories in the super stylish Kiosk.
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06.30-07.15 Spy the best views in Reykjavik
Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s iceberg-shaped church, wins the prize for the best views in the city. While oohing and ahhing over the architecture is all well and good, make sure to lay down a few krona to climb the tower. From the top, you get one of the best views in Iceland – a 360° panorama of rooftops, mountains and sea.
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07.15-08.00 Return to Keflavik Airport
Leave 45 minutes to get from Reykjavik to Keflavik Airport. You can book a seat on the Gray Line or Flybus coach lines, hop on public transport (bus no. 55), or catch a taxi. Keep an eye out of the window on the return journey, too – nothing quite says ‘Iceland’ like chugging through black lava fields straight out of a sci-fi moonscape.
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