This year WOW air, a local budget airline, started flying to Iceland from the US and to celebrate they started off with a bang offering tickets from their US destinations from as low as $99 return. Unlike Icelandair though you have to pay a special luggage fee for checked in baggage and for hand luggage heavier than 5kg but it was still a pretty sweet deal that many people took advantage of. In fact, their US routes were so successful that they are expanding and adding more routes like Toronto, Montréal, San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2016.
So people were super happy with their cheap tickets to Iceland, planning their waterfall gazing and barhopping and what not, until they realized they would be landing in Keflavík airport at 5am. There’s nothing open at 5am. And unless you are willing to pay for accommodation the night you are flying you probably won’t be able to check into your hotel until 2pm.
Quite the predicament. Or quagmire even (this is a new word I just discovered and just had to get it in there).
So how do you make the most of your first day in Reykjavík on no sleep and a 5 am arrival? Lucky for you, that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you.
The 5 am arrival survival (guide)
5 am: Arrival at Keflavík airport
One thing that you will notice in Keflavík Airport is how small it is and how easy it is to get out of it. Passport control usually doesn’t take very long and unless the weather is extra bad your bags will be waiting for you by the time you get to the baggage claim. Don’t forget to stock up on booze in the duty free if you think you’ll be drinking any in Iceland. Your purse will thank me later.
To get to Reykjavík from the airport you can either take the Airport Express or the Flybus. Personally I always take the Flybus because last I checked they go more frequently (it’s been a while though so that may have changed) and if you are not going to get the transfer to your hotel their main terminal is more central than the Airport Express one.
If you can store your luggage at your hotel or guesthouse you can get the Flybus Plus ticket that will take you to the door. If you are staying in an AirBnB apartment that doesn’t have luggage storage, I would suggest you get the normal Flybus ticket, jump off at the BSÍ and store your luggage there. See more about that in this post about where to store your luggage in Reykjavík.
It will probably take you about two hours from when you land until you are in Reykjavík – ready to rock and roll. If you arrive at 5 am, this means you’ll be in Reykjavík by 7.
7-8 am: Breakfast at Sandholt Bakery
What I would suggest next is breakfast. I wrote this post about where to get breakfast before 8 am in Reykjavík that you can read but I’m just going to go ahead and suggest you go straight to Sandholt bakery. They open at 7, everything they offer is delicious and it’s right on Laugavegur main shopping street.
After breakfast I suggest you go to Hallgrímskirkja church to check it out and go up to the tower of the church. Even though it’s a bit dark it’s worth it because it gives you different perspective to see the city in the dark. If it’s summer it’s bright really early so it doesn’t really matter what time of the day you go up there. The church opens at 9 am and it costs 800 ISK to go up to the tower (900 ISK from January 1st 2016).
10 am: The I Heart Reykjavík Walking Tour
At 10 am I naturally suggest that you come and do our Reykjavík private walking tour. Not just because I want you to book it (I mean, I would be a pretty bad business woman if I didn’t tell you to book my own tour!) but also because I’ve heard from SO many guests how much it helped them pass the time, deal with the jet lag and get oriented before they could check into their hotel. It also gives you great ideas about what to do with the rest of your day.
The fresh air and the movement help to keep you awake plus you learn loads of new things. If you ask us nicely we can stop for coffee to go if you are running out of energy.
[Please note that as of November 1st, 2018 we’re no longer offering our daily group walking tours. This was a personal decision that was necessary so we could focus on our family and well being. We are still offering our private walking tours.]
You could also shift some things around and do the Reykjavík Food Walk instead.
Noon: Lunch at Apótek Restaurant
I often recommend Apótek to the guests on my tour because their food is really good and they have a great lunch offer where you get a two course meal, a starter and a main or a main and a dessert (you decide), for a very reasonable price. Plus it’s right next to where we end the tour.
Early afternoon: Checking in to your hotel / hostel / guesthouse / whatever
The usual check-in time is 2 pm but many places allow you to check in earlier as long as your room is ready. Whatever you do – don’t nap! More on that here. If you absolutely have to nap, make sure you set the alarm and only nap for an hour or 90 minutes tops. You can freshen up, lie down for 10 minutes and then it’s time to get going again.
If you need information about where to stay that is central you can check out this map of good places to stay in Reykjavík.
Late afternoon: Walking some more around the city
If you want, if the weather is bad for example, you can think about getting the Reykjavík City card and hit some of our museums. It will also come in handy for what I’ve planned later on. If you are not a big museum fan you can go check out Harpa, take a stroll around the old harbor or check out the shopping around Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur.
If you have some energy left you should take a stroll along the seaside, from Harpa music hall, and visit Sólfarið and enjoy the view over the mountains on your way to Laugardalur swimming pool. You can also take the bus (included in the Reykjavík City card) or a taxi.
Early Evening: Take a dip in the Laugardalslaug swimming pool
After a long day of travel and walking around there’s nothing better than visiting one of our brilliant swimming pools, more precisely Laugardalslaug. I often recommend this particular pool because it’s open till 10 pm and it’s big enough that it never feels particularly crowded even though it’s quite busy. Unless it’s the middle of the summer and there’s a heatwave going on, then it’s probably crowded. If you spend the afternoon visiting museums with the Reykjavík City Card your visit to the pool is included in the card.
If the fact you need to shower naked before visiting our pools scares you, you should read this 6 step guide to visitiing swimming pools in Iceland.
For dinner, I suggest you go to the little hot dog stand next to the pool and have a french hot dog. After that, unless you’re some sort of superhuman (or on mind-altering drugs) you’ll probably be ready for bed. Which is great because you’ve been so busy exploring Reykjavík’s finest that it’s night time already.
So to summarize
1. Take the Flybus in from the airport
2. Have breakfast at Sandholt Bakery
3. Visit Halllgrímskirkja church
4. Do a walking tour
5. Eat lunch at Apótek Restaurant
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6. Check into hotel
7. Don’t nap!
8. Explore some more
9. Take a dip in Laugardalslaug swimming pool
10. Hot dog for dinner
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