Why a Stopover in Iceland Will Be the Best Part of Your Trip
For me, Iceland used to be one of those places that I was probably never going to visit. Despite the fact that I share a Viking heritage with the 300,000 odd people who inhabit this strange hunk of rock in the middle of the Atlantic, and despite the instinctive oohs and aahs that were conjured in my mind upon mention of its northern lights, mighty waterfalls, and adorable horses, Iceland simply always seemed too far out of the way, too expensive, and too cumbersome to get to. Fate intervened, however, when I was fortunate enough to win a trip to Reykjavik, and I immediately swallowed all of my objections.
Iceland may be distant from most places, but that doesn’t mean it’s all that difficult to get to – it’s only three hours from London, in fact. Truth be told, even if it took a three-day journey on a whale to reach its shores, it would still be worth it. Blessed by a unique geography and history, Iceland is simply like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Travelers on both sides of the Atlantic are now enjoying the benefits of Icelandair’s stopover programme that allows customers booking any international flight to take a break in the middle of their journey in Iceland for up to seven days. With this program, North Americans touring Europe and Europeans going for a city break in New York alike have a fantastic chance to end their trip with a geyeir eruption on the way back. Even if you’re pressed for time, a lot can be crammed into 72 hours in Iceland. I tried it, I loved it, and I’ll return as soon as I get the chance. Here’s why you should do the same:
Unique natural wonders
The only place you might have seen something similar to Iceland’s majestic landscapes is maybe Game of Thrones (because it was filmed there). Iceland is one of the youngest land masses on Earth, which accounts for its volcanic activity, and the rift of two different tectonic plates runs right across it. Riding the bus from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik city centre, it’s striking how barren and moon-like the land is. There are no trees on Iceland, nor any other wild animals but birds and insects.
This means that this volcanic landscape offers you a wide variety of spectacular natural sights. If you’re staying in Reykjavik, your first stop is likely to be the Golden Circle, a route that covers the Þingvellir national park (where you can walk in the rift between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates), the impressive Gullfoss waterfalls, and the geothermally active valley of Haukaladur, which contains some of the most iconic and active geysers. Make sure to look further afield as well, especially further north if you’d like to see more arctic landscapes.
A highlight of my Iceland trip was riding over a babbling stream on the back of an Icelandic horse. Lots of stables around Reykjavik offer horseback tours to tourists, so that you can experience the kind disposition and unique gait of the Icelandic horse (never ponies, though they are small!) that has been so important to the history and lifestyle of the Icelandic people.
There are many more unique activities to enjoy on this island. Whale-watching or puffin-watching are two popular choices and many boat trips leave daily from Reykjavik’s harbour. If you’re the active type, there are also many great opportunities for hiking, ice climbing, and rafting. If you’re inclined to more relaxing activities, geothermal baths are plentiful, as they are a bit of a social institution in Icelandic culture. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, where the naturally heated water is rich in minerals that are sure to reinvigorate you.
Of course, this can usually be said of any travel destination. Any place is made by its people. But I found the Icelandic people to be strikingly charming, helpful, and equipped with a certain dry sense of humor. All this is exemplified in the phrase “þetta reddast” – basically, “this will all work out OK”.
On a grander scale, Iceland has a fascinating history and if you’re a fan of Vikings, there is no better place to be. Reykjavik hosts several museums that tell the story of the Icelandic people and its old ways of life (did you know they used to boil eggs in the geothermal hot springs, and some still do?), with a heavy emphasis on the country’s proud Viking legacy. In fact, I had a hard time finding anything that did not have the Viking label slapped onto it – even the plumbers name their firms after old Norse legends. If you’re more interested in the present than the past, however, Reykjavik has plenty to offer you as well, small as it may be. Iceland is particularly known for its excellent music scene.
Iceland is hands down one of the most fascinating places on our planet, and the stopover deal makes a visit all the more appealing. It is stunningly beautiful and is a home to so many attractions, small and quirky to grandiose, that you could spend all of your allotted seven stopover days and still leave with a craving for more.