Talk about a sweet deal: the ground-breaking Icelandair Stopover scheme (which has actually been around since the 1960s) makes it possible for travellers to stay for up to seven nights in Iceland without any additional fares, either on the outbound or inbound flight between 16 North American and 27 European gateways.
That is, effectively, getting double bang for your buck with two holidays in one.
But Iceland is by no means a hidden gem anymore; indeed, the Nordic island has been getting increasingly enthusiastic reviews over the past couple of years and the tourist infrastructure has been developing accordingly, making it difficult to know where to even begin. I spent a fair bit of time in Iceland and saw most of the south and western bits; here are five destinations to kick-start your Iceland itinerary.
Icelandair Stopover: Five Options
This quintessentially Icelandic expedition encompasses some of the Iceland’s most photographed and notorious sights, including the tectonic rift at Þingvellir National Park (where it’s not only possible but strongly encouraged to walk in) and the literally boiling Strokkur geyser, as well as the multi-tiered Gullfoss waterfall and Kerið crater lake. Nearby is the Laugarvatn Fontana wellness centre, featuring natural hot springs and geothermal pools – a quieter, cheaper, and more tranquil alternative to the Blue Lagoon.
This tour can technically be done is just a few hours time, making it ideal for travellers with limited time on their hands.
Reykjavik City Break
Not to be outdone by Iceland’s stunning landscapes, the peculiar capital city is home to a thriving culinary scene proudly fuelled by its profound Nordic roots, as demonstrated at both Matur og Drykkur and Kopar restaurants. The backdrop? Only Reykjavik’s peaceful yet lively harbour, dotted with colourful fishermen lodges. There’s plenty to do between meals, as well, like the admiring view from atop Perlan or Hallgrimskirkja, grabbing artisan coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, visiting the Viking Settlement Museum or a joining a delightful, informative walking tour with I Heart Reykjavik.
It would be an understatement to say that thrill-seekers will have a field day in adventurous Iceland! Go deep into Europe‘s second largest glacier at Langjökull, hike up Snæfellsjökull — the glacier that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth — explore all-natural ice caves at Jökulsárlón, scuba dive in the world’s clearest waters at the tectonic drift in Þingvellir National Park, mingle with birds and whales on a kayaking expedition in the West Fjords or trek on one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hekla — which, funnily enough, is nicknamed the “Gateway to Hell”. Iconic, much?
Often described as Iceland in a nutshell, this 90-kilometre long charming peninsula does indeed comprise an impressive concentration of the Iceland’s most evocative attractions: glaciers (Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull), oddly shaped mountains (Kirkjufell), waterfalls (Hraunfossar, Kirkjufellfoss), adorable fishing villages (Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður), dramatic beaches and cliffs (Gatklettur, Lóndrangar, Hellnar, Arnarstapi, Djúpalónssandur), lava fields (Berserkjahraun), and saga-related sites (Bárðar Saga statue). This is the perfect destination for Icelandair stopover first-timers on a mission to fully grasp what Iceland is about, with just a handful of days on their hands to explore.
Scenic Southern Coast
This is a very busy Icelandair stopover trip: the attractive seven-day road trip will take you to the East Fjords and back and along some of Iceland’s most jaw-dropping vistas. Notable and worthwhile stops include Seljalandsfoss, Seljavellir, a concealed man-made hot spring pool right at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, the Westman Islands, Skogarfoss, the Folk Museum, Dyrholaey and the Reynisfjara black sand beach, Vatnajökull glacier and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the picturesque fishing hamlet of Hofn, and, lastly, the stunningly beautiful east fjords – all of which will be awash with Icelandic horses and lush lupine expanses. This is the lengthiest possible way to fully take advantage of a stopover in Iceland, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
* I was a guest of Icelandair on a recent trip to Snaefellsness, but the majority of the content above I experienced and paid for myself on a previous trip. All opinions are my own.