Free Iceland Stopovers!

Waterfall in Iceland

Iceland is amazing.  You should go.  If you have a flight to Europe, consider IcelandAir, and you’ll get a free stopover on your way to your destination.  Or, consider WowAir for a mid-week 3 day break: they have $189 fares to Iceland and back if you can travel at odd times.

We had two stopovers in Iceland: one on our way to Norway in early June, and one on our way home in August.  The first stopover, just two days/three nights, we stayed in Reykjavik at the Salvation Army guesthouse.  We wandered around “downtown”and visited the harbor area.  Sights to see: the Saga museum, which has a multimedia show that tells you parts of Iceland’s Saga stories (one of the oldest books in existence which tells the stories of Iceland’s earliest settlers in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries.  Iceland’s most popular literature).  Also in that area: the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall, home to all kinds of musical events relating to Iceland.  The Whales of Iceland museum, and the harbor, featuring of course, all kinds of whale-watching tours, puffin spotting tours, and fishing tours.  We did a combo deal with the Whales of Iceland museum and a whale spotting tour, during which we spotted a tiny bit of a minke whale- a bit disappointing, so they offered everyone a second whale trip- during which we spotted a hump-backed whale.  More exciting, but still difficult to catch on camera.

Also in Reykjavik: the very tall and imposing concrete church, the Hallgrimskirkja.  They were featuring organ concerts throughout the days in July so it was nice to stop in there and have a listen and get out of the wind.  Reykjavik in the summer is warm in the sun  but cold in the shade and in the wind.  Bring a coat.  If you’re going up any elevation or out on the water, bring a hat, scarf, and maybe even gloves.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like during the rest of the year.  Also, bring an eye mask.  When we were there, just a week after midsummer solstice, the sun set at midnight and rose at 3 am.

On our second stopover, we were able to go on two tours that we had booked during our first stopover (if you go during the summer, you will want to book ahead of time.  They are very busy in the summer.   For an island of 330,000 people, they get 12 tourists per Icelander per year.  They are well geared for tourism, but still.  Hotels and tours fill up. Instead of a hotel on this stopover, we stayed at a small AirBnB by the university.  And things are expensive!  Start saving your pennies now if you plan to visit).

Our first tour was the Golden Circle, which pretty much everyone does.  It’s a circle of sights to see that are about two hours outside of town, and can be visited in a half day.  The stunning Gulfoss waterfall, a geysir, and Thingvillier National Park, where two tectonic plates meet up (North American and European).  Here you can see the rift between the two plates, and if you wish, you can dive or snorkel the Silfra fissure.

Our second day’s tour was the Southern Iceland tour, where we  drove along the south of Iceland and visited two other waterfalls, the village of Vik for lunch, a black beach, and the Solheimajokull glacier, which you can walk right up to (you can go on a glacier hike if you wish as well).  At the end of the day, we ate at a restaurant downtown that featured an Icelandic delicacies tasting menu, including whale, puffin, trout, plaice, perch, lamb, and a delicious skyr dessert.  And a shot of “brennivin”, a 38% schnapps that is also known as “Black Death”. Delicious.

All the sights were stunning, and Iceland as a whole is just beautiful- the kind of sweeping beauty that is hard to capture in a picture.  You just have to see it for yourself.  I’d love to see it in the wintertime, with all the snow (although there was some snow now, in August), and to see the Northern Lights.  We’ll have to start saving for a return trip.

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