With the 24 hour layover in Reykjavik Iceland becoming more and more common, we’ve composed this list of our Top 5 things to do in Iceland during a 24 hour layover. In descending order they are:
#5 – The Sun Voyager
The Sun Voyager near the Sæbraut road in Reykjavik is a unique art sculpture on the shores of the Greenland Sea and is one of the more popular stops in a city that has more art than you might expect.
#4 – Hallgrímskirkja Church
Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik is a great place in the city to get your bearings. The church is seen easily from almost anywhere in Reykjavik and it is centrally located, sitting atop a large hill with a commanding view of the rest of the city.
#3 – Icelandic Street Food
Lunch at Icelandic Street Food was the best and cheapest meal we had in our 24 hours in Iceland. My Dad and I had all you can eat soups and deserts for about $38 USD with a couple of drinks tacked on as well. The atmosphere was a little quirky (which fits well with Reykjavik) and the people there were very friendly.
#2 – Driving the Backroads
Driving the backroads near Hafnarfjörður was a great highlight if for nothing else than it was totally unplanned. We had an awkward amount of time in Reykjavik before our flight left for home from Keflavik so I took a quick look at the map and saw that we could take the back way to Keflavik from the town of Hafnarfjörður to kill some time. Soon after turning off of the main highway, we saw in the distance what looked like drying racks that had some unknown “stuff” hanging from it. The “stuff” turned out to be drying fish heads and the smell was nearly unbearable but it was the best worst smell ever. We were richly rewarded for venturing off the main road without a plan. There was also beautiful scenery along the way to the airport but forever burned into my memory, as well as my nostrils, will be the fish head drying racks of Hafnarfjörður.
#1 – The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon in Grindavik is everything you’ve imagined it to be. So much has been written about it before so I will not try to spin new superlatives to describe it. I spent the better part of 10 days in Europe with my Dad and can honestly say that the three hours or so we spent at the Blue Lagoon was the best part of the trip, especially for my Dad. You can see by the photo below that my normally very reserved father was relaxed and truly enjoying himself and had found his happy place. This Blue Lagoon is expensive but is so worth it, especially if you’re only in Iceland for a 24 hour layover.
So if you’re flying to Europe through Reykjavik, consider a one day layover (or more), you will probably end up calling it the best stopover you’ve ever had.
The plane ride to Las Vegas was full of peppy 20 somethings on their way to a weekend of “fun” in Sin City taking selfies, pre drinking, dancing in their seats and playing card games as a preliminary bout to the main event (apologies for the boxing metaphor). It’s really why most people go there and I get it. Where else can you go to do things that are illegal in most states? But that isn’t why we’re here…my wife and I are here to do mostly un-Vegas activities.
The first un-Vegas thing we did was staying outside of the city. Our stay was in Kyle Canyon which was about 45 minutes from the airport where the brightest lights were from the moon, the stars, the headlights from the car, and maybe the glow from the Strip about 15 miles distant as the crow flies. The drive from the airport did seem a bit long but all of the suicidal jackrabbits on the highway forced you to pay attention. Unfortunately for one jackrabbit, the car’s bumper proved to be fatal. There were also wild donkeys on the road too but they were a little smarter than the rabbits and moved off of the road whenever the car got close. But staying so far away from the bright lights has certain advantages, the primary being just being able to relax where the pace of the place is slower compared to the craziness of Las Vegas. When it’s hot enough to melt your shoes walking the Strip, the temperatures are quite a bit cooler in the canyon, about 20 degrees cooler (in the summertime, 20 degrees cooler can make the desert summer just a little more tolerable).
The next morning, we headed to the Strip for a few hours of sightseeing. The Strip is an all out attack on your senses. First off, there are people everywhere, hoards of them. Most people do walk here and it truly is the easiest and best way to get around (there are taxis too but walk if you can). On your eyes, there is a constant barrage of signs, billboards, lights, and street performers vying for your attention as you stroll up and down the Strip. There is no rest for the bloodshot eye in this town! Your ears will get all of the sound it can handle as each hotel has music coming from outdoor speakers as you pass in front of their grounds. This is all good until you transition from one casino to another and the sounds just overlap into one confusing din of Top 40 hits.
The best part of the strip has to be the hotels themselves. The architecture is stunning. It can be argued that the some of the hotels lack originality in wherever they draw their inspiration from but that makes them no less spectacular. The hotels often are made to look like scenes from other famous places while still managing to be large, functioning places to gamble, entertain, and sleep. You can go around the world without leaving the Nevada desert it seems. New York, New York has done a magnificent job of replicating the Manhattan skyline. Paris has a scaled version of the Eiffel Tower. The Venitian has canals with singing gondoliers that take you through a mini replica of Venice. The list goes on: the Luxor is like a modern pyramid of Giza, Excalibur is like a giant English castle, Caesars Palace is Roman themed, and the Bellagio has a water theme. There are just too many beautiful hotels to mention but try to see as many as you can. You’ll get lots of steps in on your FitBit which will help work off some of those buffet meals you’ll consume during your stay.
That night we attended Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio and gambled while waiting for the show to start, we played slots for about 20 minutes and won about $20 and then gave it right back to the casino, high rollers we are…not. The show was a water themed production which fit well with the overall concept of the hotel. The show itself has been in Vegas for many years and still draws very well. If you’ve not been to a Cirque du Soleil show before, they are very well done and entertain you for the entire time, unless you don’t like clown humor, then it’s entertaining about 90% of the time. The music is performed live, was equally as impressive and was perfect for the act it was supporting. After the show, we caught one the “Fountains of Bellagio” shows as we walked back to our car. These draw big crowds and was considerably cheaper than the Cirque show…free. Next up was the drive back to our hotel and more jackrabbit dodgeball.
The next morning was an early one, 4:15 A.M. after only a couple of hours of sleep. I know the couple of hours of sleep thing is par for the course in Vegas but for most people, their reasons are vastly different than ours. We were getting up to go kayaking on the Colorado River. We had booked a full day, unescorted trip and had to meet up with the outfitter, Desert Adventures in Boulder City at 6:00 A.M. sharp. After going over the cursory safety details and pointers, we hopped into a van which would take us to the put in point just below the Hoover Dam where we would begin our damn tour (I couldn’t help the Vegas Vacation reference at least once). We would be on or near the river for about the next eight hours.
If there is no wind, the paddling is pretty easy as you are going downstream with the current for approximately 13 miles to where you get picked up by the tour company. During the journey downstream, you get to take in the canyon scenery while gently floating along at a fairly leisurely pace. Aside from just being in the kayak, there are also many opportunities to get out of your boat to do some hiking. After about two miles, there is a popular slot canyon which is fed by a hot spring. The water is warm as you walk along the canyon floor and it feels goooooooood! Trouble for me was navigating the rocks where the mini waterfalls were. It proved to be much harder than it looked. I managed to fall off of the first fall (pun intended) and found each successive waterfall to be increasingly difficult. The falls were not too tough to get up but getting down, well that was a different story altogether. I guess there is a shoe for everything and we had the wrong ones for walking through slot canyons. When kayaking, Keen sandals are perfect since they can get wet but dry quickly. In a slot canyon they get rocks in them which is mostly just a slight nuisance but more importantly, they don’t grip the slippery rocks at each little waterfall. There aren’t very many slot canyons where I live and I was not prepared for this part of the trip. Next time I will be!
Later on, there was a much easier to navigate slot canyon called Arizona Hot Springs and the Keens were perfect this time. The short slot canyon was also spring fed (hence the name) and access to the pools was via an approximately 20′ ladder. Sandbags are used to create the pools but everything else is purely natural. Don’t get any water up your nose though, there’s s a brain eating amoeba in the water that could cause you some serious problems. I hear that if a brain eating amoeba got into some people’s heads, they would starve to death 😂. There were about four or five pools and each one got progressively hotter as you worked your way upstream. I found the next to last one to be just right for me to sit in.
Back on the river, we still had about eight miles to go and about four hours to get there. As easy as the paddling was so far, eight more miles would be a piece of cake. Wrong! The wind had come up from downstream and made the paddling extremely difficult. I had to stop several times from fatigue and I consider myself fairly healthy/fit. Needless to say, we didn’t do much sightseeing the rest of the way as we battled the wind to make it to the rendezvous point by the 4:00 deadline. There were times where the wind was blowing so hard that we weren’t even moving. Considering that we were paddling downstream, I found this extremely disheartening. We made it to the takeout beach with a few minutes to spare, only to learn that there were others who were behind us. For most of the paddle, I thought we were the last ones in the group still on the river but was so relieved to know that we weren’t.
Our last day was spent recovering from the past couple of days of “un-Vegas” activities. I did a short hike in Kyle Canyon before we checked out of the hotel and then we began slowly working our way back to the airport.
What I’ve learned about traveling is that no matter where you go, there is something for everyone. Most people would probably look at our trip and say what a waste it was to go to Vegas and not do the Sin City itinerary. Others avoid Vegas altogether. For us, we did the things a traveler would do rather than what a tourist would do. Either way, there’s something in Las Vegas for everyone.
By the way, the plane ride home was full of quiet, exhausted people (us included) who I’m sure all have fun stories to tell but can’t because of the “code”.