If you’re flying to Iceland from the United States, you’re likely going to be on an overnight flight that’ll land early in the morning. While it’s awesome to get off the plane and have a whole day to spend exploring, there’s a few things you should know before beginning your journey.
It Might Take a While to get Through the Airport
While I’ve breezed through Keflavík International Airport before, I’ve also waited in really long lines. In fact, the last time I flew to Iceland, it was quite the process to get out of the airport. It was summer, so Keflavík was really busy. Our Icelandair flight landed on time, but we had to be bussed to the airport from the landing ground. (It was a short bus ride, but I had never had to do that there before.) Upon entering the airport, we all filed into a single row to get up the stairs to customs. Previously, getting through customs was a super quick experience. This time, it took at least 35 minutes. We then picked up some duty-free items at an airport shop, collected our luggage, and waited in another long line for our rental car. I think – in total – it took us an extra hour and a half to get through the airport. I’m not sure if this is unique to summer travel at Keflavík or if this is now the year-round norm. I’ll be able to report back with more information after my upcoming winter trip. *Updated* During our last winter vacation to Iceland, getting through the airport was still a bit of a process. I do believe that some patience will be required from the point of deboarding your plane to exiting the airport and getting on your way to Reykjavík year-round now.
You Can Buy Duty-free Alcohol at the Airport
After you get through customs, you’ll have the chance to do some shopping. If you enjoy alcoholic beverages, this’ll be the most economical opportunity you’ll have to buy alcohol, as it’s all duty-free booze. From big bottles of every type of alcohol you can think of to champagne to liquor minis, the large store has a ton of options. You really won’t want to miss out on this chance to stock up on duty-free alcohol. Booze is very, very expensive in Iceland, as it’s a heavily taxed commodity. So, make some time to shop while at the airport.
Keflavík International Airport isn’t in Reykjavík
Keflavík is a solid 45 minutes from Reykjavík. In winter, I would say it could take more like 55 minutes to an hour to get to Reykjavík from the airport. It’s a really easy drive, but it will take some time.
Don’t Count on Being Able to go from the Airport to Your Hotel Room
It’s likely your hotel won’t be able to accommodate an early arrival. Of course, I can’t speak to your exact situation, but it’s smart to be prepared in case you can’t access your hotel room until it’s officially check-in time. During our first trip to Iceland, Black Pearl let us into our apartment as soon as we arrived, as no one had rented the apartment the night before. Now that Iceland has become a super popular vacation destination, accommodations are often at capacity. For instance, our last trip to Iceland was over summer, and the country was fairly saturated with tourists. We weren’t able to check in early at Black Pearl, as guests hadn’t checked out yet. That was totally understandable as the check-out time wasn’t until noon, and we were there at 9:30 a.m. We still were able to use Black Pearl’s facilities though and wow did they immediately get our apartment together for us after the previous guests left. Still though, I would never assume that I’m going to be able to access my accommodation right away or even check in earlier than the standard check-in time.
Parking Can be Tricky in Reykjavík
If you’ve rented a car, prepare to have to search a couple of minutes for a parking space and be ready to pay for one. Finding parking in Reykjavík can be a little challenging at times. However, if you stay at an accommodation that offers reserved parking, such as Black Pearl, you won’t have to deal too much with this.
It’s Important You Eat Well & Drink Lots of Water
After a long night and morning of travel (especially considering you’ve been on a plane for hours), you need to eat some nutrients and drink a lot of water. Don’t make the mistake I did last time, which was going straight for coffee. That was a horrible decision that I regretted within a few hours. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. I promise you that you will feel better through the jet lag (and everything else) if you hydrate.
When you get to Reykjavík, it’ll still be fairly early in the morning, so not every café and restaurant will be open. I suggest heading to Bergsson Mathús for breakfast. Their bread plate and brunch plate are both excellent options. They also have coffee, tea, and plenty of refreshing water. It’s especially important to drink lots of water if you’re going to drink caffeine. Seriously, stay hydrated.
It’s a Good Idea to Enjoy Reykjavík & Stay in the City the First Morning You Arrive
I don’t recommend taking off to the countryside the morning you arrive in Iceland. Instead, I suggest you take this time to explore Reykjavík. Below are some fun activities you can do while in the city. Please note that a few of these suggestions are best for when there’s some daylight. This means that in winter, sightseeing around the city will be the most enjoyable after 10:30-ish a.m.
Walk along the water and enjoy views of Mount Esja
See the famous Sun Voyager statue
Buy and read a book inside cozy IÐA Zimsen
Check out the street art around the city
Enjoy beautiful views at Tjörnin
Snack on some delicious treats at Sandholt
Take the elevator up Hallgrímskirkja for stunning views of the city
Visit some stores and do some shopping
Enjoy a warm beverage at Reykjavík Roasters
It’s Okay to Rest when You Need to
Don’t feel bad if you’re tired when you finally get to your hotel. At times, there can be pressure to feel as though you need to “tough it out” and not rest or sleep until it’s actually “bedtime”. I’ve got to say, I lived by the “powering through jet lag” rule during a number of international trips, and it never worked out well for me. I’d pass on water and sleep and instead grab an alcoholic beverage or coffee and keep adventuring. In the moment, it felt great and adrenaline was pumping. A few hours later, I felt exhausted and sick. If you’re the kind of person who can hang without any rest (my guy is, so I get it), awesome for you! If you aren’t (and are like me), by all means, go ahead and take a power nap.
Get in Touch
If you have any questions I didn’t cover here about arriving early in Iceland, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.. I’m always happy to talk about Iceland!