Iceland is such an incredible place to visit, no matter how long your stay. There are several different airlines that have started offering free layovers in Iceland, allowing you to visit Iceland for a few days (or a few hours) even if you weren’t planning your trip to Iceland.
If you are flying into Iceland (which is what 99% of people do to get to Iceland), your flight will say that you are flying to Reykjavik. The Reykjavik international airport is actually in the town of Keflavik. The town of Keflavik and location of Iceland’s major airport is over an hour away from Reykjavik and located on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
While some people take a day trip to Reykjavik on their layover, I recommend exploring the Reykjanes Peninsula where the Keflavik International Airport is located. The Reykjanes Peninsula and area around the Keflavik Airport has so many incredible things to see.
About Reykjanes Peninsula
The Reykjanes Peninsula is the southwestern-most peninsula of Iceland. It is full of geothermal phenomena including active volcanoes, steam vents, and hot springs. The continental divide crosses over the Reykjanes peninsula. The Reykjavik International Airport is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula and is most tourists’ first views of Iceland.
How to visit Reykjanes Peninsula
Rent a car
If you’re staying for a day or more, I recommend renting a car. If you have a car, you are able to stop wherever you please, whenever you please. There are a lot of interesting places off the beaten path (described later in this post) that you can really only stop at if you have your own transportation. We rented our car with ICEPOL care rentals (offsite of the airport, but with free pickup) and were pleased with our experience.
Take an Organized Tour for the day
If you don’t have the time or would prefer to not drive on your layover, you can take an organized tour that arranges the transportation for you and will take you to different locations before dropping you back off at the airport. You can find different tours that leave from Keflavik Airport on Viator.
Another option is to visit an excursion that has a bus service included in the activity. For example, the Blue Lagoon, a popular lagoon and spa, has a service that will pick you up from the airport and bring you to the lagoon for a relaxing spa day before returning to the airport for your connecting flight.
Things to Do in the Reykjanes Peninsula
****If you’re spending a full day or two in the area, you may be able to do all of the things included on this list. I have listed them in order of driving location, in the case that you decide to drive to all or most of them. This loop goes counterclockwise. ****
This was one of the very first places we stopped in Iceland, especially since it is so close to the airport. They have delicious pastries and coffee, even with brown sugar rock candy to sweeten your coffee.
The Holmsberg Lighthouse is the closest lighthouse to the airport. You can see it when driving north out of the town of Reykjanesbaer.
The Giantess Cave is a free place to visit in the town of Reykjanesbaer. It is a free exhibit where there is a giant gave with giant furniture. The furniture makes humans look tiny and is a distortion of the real size of things. The “giantess” is based off of local Icelandic folklore. It would be a fun place to visit for anyone, but especially for those with kids.
We didn’t get to visit on our trip due to the amount of time we had on the peninsula, but it is definitely on our list to visit next time we’re in Iceland.
Gardur Old Lighthouse
On the northernmost part of the peninsula is the Gardur Old Lighthouse. The lighthouse is on a little point and has a restaurant nearby. It makes a great place for watching the sunset as it is facing west. We found it to be a very peaceful area and also saw some animals, including what we think was some type of weasel.
South of Gardur is the little fishing town of Sandgerdi. There is a small rocky beach in town which is another nice place to watch the sunset from. Otherwise, there is not too much to do here besides some lodging (we stayed at a nice Airbnb here).
Bridge Between Continents
The continental plates connect over the land where Iceland is. Due to this, there are several places throughout the country. One of these places where you can experience being in between two continents is the “Bridge Between Continents” on this peninsula.
There is a parking area and a paved walking trail that leads to the bridge. You can walk across the bridge from one continent to the other. You can also walk in between the continents which I would say is around 30 feet wide. It is sandy and you can walk down between the North American continent and the European continent. It is a quick stop, but one of the stops you should definitely make on your loop around the peninsula.
Gunnuhver Hot Springs
Continuing on the road from the Bridge between the Continents, you will find the Gunnuhver Hot Springs area. These are NOT hot springs that you can swim in, but more like geothermal areas with platforms around that you can view. There are wooden boardwalks around the various steam vents and paths to view the different thermal areas.
Blue Lagoon (and surrounding area)
Blue Lagoon is one of the classic places that many people think of when they think of Iceland. It is located in the lava fields near the town of Grindavik. Many people think of the Blue Lagoon being a natural phenomenon, but it is actually caused a nearby geothermal electricity plant that causes the water to be milky blue.
For us, it was a little too pricey and crowded to actually try the lagoon, but there is a way that you can see the milky blue water without paying to visit. You can park in the Blue Lagoon parking lot and take the walking trail from the parking lot, which is too the left of the spa facilities. The trails weave around a portion of the blue water that is outside the spa area. You can also enter the spa facilities to go to the restaurant and giftshop without paying to enter the spa itself. From inside you can see the spa area through giant glass windows while having a nice cup of hot chocolate from the café.
The drive to the Blue Lagoon is also gorgeous and worth driving even if you do not plan on going to the spa. The road weaves through old lava fields and is unlike any other road I have ever driven.
Grindavik is another small fishing town, and the closest town to Blue Lagoon and the recent volcanic eruptions. If you’re making the loop in one day, Grindavik is a good place to grab something to eat. There are several different restaurants to choose from. We ate at the Salthusid restaurant which was really good.
Hopsnes Lighthouse and Hrafn Shipwreck
Right outside the town of Grindavik, there is a shipwreck and lighthouse that you can visit on a small loop drive. Depending on the time of year, you may or may not be able to drive a rental car on the small loop road that has the shipwreck and lighthouse on it. We were able to drive our rental car on this road, but it really depends on the recent weather and what car you have. You may also be able to walk if you are unable to drive in this area since it is a small area.
Along the loop drive, there are some informational panels for the shipwreck and the bright orange lighthouse. Plus, there are a lot of sheep in this area, so be careful if you’re driving this loop road!
Much of the Reykjanes Peninsula is covered in old lava fields from recent volcanic eruptions. Some parts of the peninsula have fresher lava than others. The most recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland occurred east of the town of Grindavik in 2021 and 2022. You can hike to the location of these most recent eruptions and see the fresh black lava and where it flowed. There are various trails and parking areas. It could be possible for an eruption during your visit. I would check the most recent updates on the volcanic areas prior to your visit to make sure you are visiting the best areas at the time of your visit. Check Visit Iceland’s website for more information regarding the most recent eruptions.
I also have a blog post discussing the different volcanic areas that you can visit. Feel free to check out my Volcanoes of Iceland post here.
Eldborg vid Geitahlid
The Eldborg crater was one of the most surprising thing to me on our loop around the peninsula. The Eldborg crater was created by a volcanic eruption around 5000 years ago. Today, you can hike to the top of the crater on a short little hike. From the top of the crater, you can look inside the crater and also see views of the surrounding area.
The black rocks and lack of vegetation makes it feel like you’re standing in a different world.
This is a much less popular place, but definitely worth hiking if you’re able. There is a small parking lot with a clear trail leading up the side of the crater. I recommend wearing closed toe hiking shoes, as the rocks on this hike are very sharp and can be very slick when wet.
On a small road off of the main road, you can find a small black church building in a field of sheep. It is picturesque among the grassy hills and rustic sheep roaming around. There is a parking area and informational plaque. You can walk up to the church and look in the windows, but the church is locked outside of their services.
Gigvatnsvatn is a blue-green lake that is close to some geothermal areas. The lake is especially blue when the sun is shining on it. There is a parking area and a rocky beach that you can walk down to. It is harder to see the blue color from the beach, but I recommend hiking up from the Krysuvik geothermal areas to see a view of the lake from higher up.
Krysuvik was one of my favorite geothermal areas that we stopped during our trip to Iceland. There is a large parking lot (with bathrooms too!). From the parking lot, there are trails that weave throughout the geothermal areas. The trails are both on dirt and on boardwalks constructed over some parts of the geothermal areas.
On part of the trail, you will see an option to continue on the loop to return to the parking lot or to take a trail straight up the red mountain, towards some steam you can see coming off the mountain higher up. If you are physically active and able, I recommend taking this trail. You can see more geothermal areas and also get great views of the surrounding area, including views of the Gigvatnsvatn. The closer to the top you get, the redder the rock gets and it is really unique.
Also, across the road from the parking area, there is a large field were a lot of horses like to hang out. We got to see a lot of horses up close here.
Skatalaug Hot Spring
The Skatalaug Hot Spring is a small hot spring that is somewhat on the side of the road. I found this hot spring by looking on Google Maps. There is a small pull-off on the side of the road and a path (that is a little hard to follow) to find a small spring with water bubbling from out the ground.
Honestly the water was not super clean and was lukewarm, but we watched little water bubbles come up from underground. I don’t think that this should be a huge priority on your list of places to stop, but could be a nice place to stop if you have extra time.
The lake Kleifarvatn is the largest lake on the peninsula. It is a huge lake with water that appears blue when the light is right. On the northern side of the lake, there is a large beach where you can park and walk around on the black beach along the water. Even in the middle of summer, the beach will be quite cold, but it is pretty.
Part of the main road goes along the west side of the lake and has various viewpoints to pull off and stop at. Wherever you stop along the lake, it is worth it to see.
From here, you have finished the main loop of things to see on the Reykjanes Peninsula. You can either continue back to the airport from here or continue into more mainland Iceland.
Other posts you might be interested in:
Reykjanes Peninsula is an incredible part of Iceland, especially considering it is the first place you arrive to when you get to the beautiful country.
I hope that this guide helps you to when visiting Iceland, whether on a long layover or a week-long trip. Please let me know below in the comments if you have any questions or comments!
Thanks for reading!