How to survive a 5am arrival in Reykjavík (like a boss)

How to survive 5 am arrival in Reykjavík - like a boss #iceland #reykjavik #travel

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)

How to survive a 5 am arrival in Reykjavík (like a boss) #iceland #reykjavik #travel

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 10am I naturally suggest that you come and do my Reykjavík 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 helps 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.

How to survive a 5 am arrival in Reykjavík (like a boss) #iceland #reykjavik #travel

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 heatwaves 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 super human (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.

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So to summarize

1. Take the Flybus in from the airport

2. Have breakfast at Sandholt Bakery

3. Visit Halllgrímskirkja church

4. Do the I Heart Reykjavík Walking tour

5. Eat lunch at Apótek Restaurant

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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29 thoughts on “How to survive a 5am arrival in Reykjavík (like a boss)”

  1. Annie says:

    Great advice. I notice WOW air will be flying from Bristol to Reykjavik from May 2016 with great prices. So hopefully we will be back again soon and would love book your walking tour!?

  2. Mark Maghie says:

    Hi Auður.

    I have found over the years that it has been reasonably likely to get into my hotel room at, say, 9 or 10 am if I just ask. Not generally true in summer, obviously. With this, we have been very successful at having a two to three hour nap, then getting up and having a late-ish lunch, say around 1 or so. This is absolutely necessary with kids, but we´ve found it to be quite good for acclimatizing the grown ups. We have a lateish dinner and then to bed by 9 or 10. We always wake up ready to go the next morning.

    Also, I think it´s really important not to watch any screens for the last hour or two of the flight. It will interfere with getting to sleep promptly during that nap.

    Hope you have a great Christmas season of tours!

  3. Bea says:

    Great post; wish I had had this info when I visited in September. I went to the Blue Lagoon upon arrival which was a good alternative to the bakery but the bakery sounds like lots of fun, I also visited a public pool near my Air BnB host. Cant wait to come back, loved my few days in Rejkayavik.

    1. sandra says:

      Did the lagoon let you in early in the morning? Was it fun that early? Seems like the bar is a big part of the lagoon.

  4. Bea says:

    PS, also did your walking tour, it was fun!

  5. Meg says:

    I did the walking tour with a friend the day we flew in back in September! I think we were the only ones on the tour who had been in the country less than 36 hours. It definitely helped counteract the jet lag and gave us so many tips on where to go during our stay. Plus, by the time the tour was done and a half hour or so brainstorming on a park bench, we managed to check in to our hostel early and settle on a plan of action.

    I tell everyone who has the slightest passing interest in going to Iceland to check out the tour because it was so helpful and fun.

  6. Janet says:

    My daughter and I were just talking strategy for this earlier today. We arrive at about 06:30 at the end of May. Thanks for the tips.

    1. mm Auður says:

      At the end of May you’ll have lots of daylight so at least that’s not a factor 🙂

  7. Alex says:

    Thanks for this! This is awesome advice. We arrive in three weeks and will definitely do one of your tours. 🙂 Question: We’ve got three days and were considering doing a two-day overnight trip along the Golden Circle first, then Reykjavik/the Blue Lagoon the third day. Or vice versa. You just do day tours, right? Is there an overnight company you suggest? I’m embarrassed to even ask since we’re a travel writer/blogger couple, but we’ll be jetlagged. 🙂

  8. Marthiany says:

    Hi Auður. My flight was 6 hours from Minnesota, arrived 6 am at Reykjavik. The fact is, I read your blog and tried to do things similar with what you suggest here: eating at the bakery/coffee shop, then walking around Reykjavik until the hotel is ready. I was thinking we could do walking around without guide. But we learned the hard way: In the jet lag condition, there IS a HUGE difference between walk around Reykjavik on our own (and this was our first visit), with having somebody knows what to do and guide us where to go. I was so tired and jet-laggy I could not even comprehend reading map or remember where I was, or where to go next. My husband and I got very grumpy just trying to figure out which direction was the church, and it was not so fun. So next time I’d better try your guided walking tour. At least I don’t have to THINK :D. Thanks for your useful post.

  9. Jen G. says:

    Love this! I did everything wrong when I was in town this October. I got to the hotel, had breakfast, took a walk, then slept for hours! I never managed to get back to a normal schedule my whole time in Iceland. It was still awesome, but I will definitely follow your advice for my next trip.

  10. Dylan Vogt says:

    So helpful! Thanks for this great information. I just booked my trip to Iceland through WOW with an arrival on January 26th. I’m so excited and plan on booking your walking tour ! Sounds wonderful. Thanks again!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Great! 🙂

  11. G D says:

    Hi All,
    It’s my dream to visit Reykjavik. Can some of you guys tall me which would be the best time to visit Reykjavik?
    How about march to may? I”m from relatively a warm country !

  12. ksaao says:

    Any suggestions for a 1 am arrival? We’re flying in from Spain and staying at an airbnb to which we can’t check in until that day in that afternoon. Should we just get a night in a little airport hotel? sleep in the rental car? lol
    Will the duty free be open at that time to stock up on booze at the airport?

  13. Mahee Ferlini says:

    Great Advice! I would love to visit Reykjavik and Iceland!!

  14. Chrissy says:

    What if you are planning to drive a few hours the first day? We can get our car (campervan, really) right away at 5 am, but will probably need to eat shortly after arrival and pick up groceries somewhere along the way. I’m wondering if it would make sense to nap (in the airport or maybe in the van) before setting out, or get on the road asap and hope that the daylight (will be there just after summer solstice) will help us stay alert until we arrive at our first destination. We should be OK sleeping on the plane, so that should help.

    Are there places to eat inside the airport open for those early am arrivals?

    1. mm Auður says:

      I wouldn’t recommend you driver long distances after a overnight flight – even if you slept the whole time it’s only 5 hours of sleep and you’re heading out to new roads that you don’t know. Plus you never get as much sleep on the plane as you think you will.

      1. rose says:

        Thanks for this post, it is very helpful!

        I do have one question though. I’m flying in at 5am, and have a Fly Bus pass to the BSI terminal. What is the best way to get to my hostel (next to Laugardalslaug Pools) since it will be a 45 min walk. I wanted to drop off my bags before I do your suggested Itinerary since the hostel offers free luggage storage. I mean, I could trek it, but are there busses running at that hour? Or is there Uber/taxis available in the city at that time?

        1. mm Auður says:

          I think in your case I would recommend the Flybus + or the Airport express.

  15. Andrea says:

    Any advice on an 11:30pm arrival? RE: Food or staying in Keflavík vs. Reykjavik late that night?

  16. Monica Simpson says:

    Your walking tour was already on our list and after reading this great advice I can’t wait to explore the city on foot!

  17. Stephanie says:

    Do you know if any of the rental car agencies are open in the early AM? We are hoping to rent a car but necessarily want to wait for hours at the airport to get one.

    1. mm Auður says:

      They are only open that early in the airport.

  18. Ro says:

    Actually I was planning to go to Blue Lagoon on DAY 1 right after the airport as I will be landing at 5 am. Would that be ok? or you see any cons?

    1. mm Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Ro,

      many people visit the Blue Lagoon straight from the airport, but it doesn’t open until 7:00 during summer and 8:00 during winter. It only takes around 20 minutes from the airport to the Blue Lagoon, but if you have a long and leisurely breakfast first, that might work. Also, people often get so relaxed after the Lagoon that they are almost like drowsy, but you as long as you are not driving from there to Reykjavík, you can nap on the way to the city!

  19. Barbara G Young says:

    I’ll have two days (one night) in Reykjavik in late September. I’m planning on booking the Delicious Golden Circle food tour for the first day when I’m jet-lagged. The second day I’ll take your 10am walking tour, then explore Reykjavik on my own until the afternoon. Since my onward flight to Paris leaves at 1:00 am the following morning, my plan was to spend the afternoon/evening at the Blue Lagoon, then take the 21:00 Flybus to the airport and hang out until my flight. Does this seem like a reasonable schedule?

    1. mm Hrannar - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Barbara

      This sounds like a solid plan.

      Send me an email to hello [at] iheartreykjavik.net and I can book this for you, including the ticket to The Blue Lagoon 🙂 So you can take care of everything in one payment.

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