Photo: Jeff Calhoun

Icelandair's Stopover Program Makes Adding the Island to Your Trip Easier Than Ever

Iceland Copenhagen Insider Guides
by Jeff Colhoun Nov 1, 2023

The allure of the Nordic region has long captivated the hearts of travelers with its pristine landscapes, rich history, and innovative urban centers. This region, where the ethereal beauty of nature meets cutting-edge design, offers a blend of experiences that are both timeless and contemporary.

Seeing both sides is easy with Icelandair, which has flights from the United States as well as around Europe and Scandinavia. The airline has a program called Icelandair Stopover that makes adding a few extra days on the island seamless for transatlantic trips to the continent. For each cross-ocean flight, travelers can add a one-to-seven day stopover in Iceland for no extra airfare cost.

On a recent journey, I took advantage of the program by seeing both the urban sophistication of Denmark and the raw beauty of Iceland. It was an excursion full of exploration, where every moment, every taste, and every sight unveiled a new facet of this northern region’s multifaceted character.

hotel kong arthur copenhagen

Photo: Jeff Colhoun

Upon landing in Copenhagen, I headed to the Hotel Kong Arthur. Located in the heart of the city, this charming abode exudes a sense of timeless elegance in a city known for its architecture. Stepping into the lobby, I was greeted by a harmonious blend of modernity and classic Scandinavian design. The intricate wooden accents, coupled with minimalist decor, painted a picture of understated luxury. Its central location, a stone’s throw away from Copenhagen’s bustling streets and historic landmarks, made it the ideal base for my Danish escapade. Plus the new Nordic breakfast was one of the best I’ve seen in Europe with Nordic-grain bread, fresh juices, and cheese and charcuterie from sustainable farms.

alouette exterior copenhagen

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No visit to Copenhagen is complete without a chance to taste the city’s renowned dining. For dinner, I went to Alouette, a Michelin-starred restaurant created by New York chef Nick Curtin that’s tucked away near the waterfront at Islands Brygge. The ambiance is characterized by dim lighting and plush seating, as well as the sound of the rehearsal spaces local musicians occupy across the hall.

alouette dishes copenhagen

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The five-course meal, a journey of flavors and textures, was post modern art on a plate. From the delicate kombu tart, which danced on the palate, to the rich and robust flavors of the duck with berry and capers, each dish told a story. The restaurant’s commitment to sustainability was evident in every bite, with locally sourced ingredients taking center stage.

museum copenhagen

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The following day, armed with a sense of curiosity, I embarked on an architectural exploration with Slow Tours Copenhagen. Meandering through the city’s historic streets and modern boulevards, I was introduced to Copenhagen’s architectural marvels. Each building, a testament to the city’s rich history and forward-thinking ethos, has a story to tell. The tour, devoid of the usual rush, allowed for moments of reflection and immersion.

carlsberg district copenhagen

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The afternoon was dedicated to Carlsberg Byen, or the Carlsberg City District, on a tour with urban planning expert Peter Bur Andersen. The former industrial district has been transformed into a vibrant urban space that is worth a visit whether it’s your first time in the city or the tenth, as the juxtaposition of historic buildings with modern structures paints a picture of Copenhagen’s evolution. The older parts of the city blend seamlessly here and elsewhere with historic buildings a short distance away from Copenhagen’s architectural marvels like CopenHill, which is a power station with a ski slope with eco-friendly design. Beyond its functional purpose as a waste-to-energy plant, CopenHill stands as a beacon of innovation, offering residents and visitors alike the unique opportunity to ski down its verdant slope, all while being in the heart of the city.

surt in copenhagen

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As lunchtime approached, I found myself at SURT, an award-winning pizzeria that celebrates the art of fermentation. This restaurant is a labor of love by Giuseppe Oliva. The sourdough pizzas, with crispy crusts and flavorful toppings, are a revelation. Each bite, infused with the essence of Italy and the freshness of Danish produce, was a celebration of culinary craftsmanship.

the alchemist copenhagen

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As evening approached, my dive into Copenhagen fine dining continued at The Alchemist. This two Michelin Star restaurant, helmed by chef Rasmus Munk, is where culinary dreams come to life. The Alchemist has firmly established itself as one of the premier dining destinations in the world, offering an unparalleled gastronomic adventure that captivates all the senses. It’s not just a restaurant, it’s the type of place that offers a transformative culinary experience that challenges the boundaries of traditional dining.

Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the restaurant’s avant-garde design and ambiance. The space is meticulously crafted to provide an immersive experience, with each dining area offering a unique setting that complements the culinary narrative. The restaurant’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of gastronomy is evident in every aspect, from the innovative cooking techniques to the artistic presentation of each dish.

meal at the alchemist copenhagen

Photo: Jeff Colhoun

The concept of “holistic cuisine” lies at the heart of The Alchemist’s philosophy. This approach goes beyond just the flavors on the plate; it encompasses the entire dining experience. The Alchemist’s dedication to sustainability is noteworthy. The restaurant places a strong emphasis on using ethically produced ingredients. This commitment to sustainability, combined with the restaurant’s innovative approach to cuisine, has earned it accolades and recognition on the global dining scene.

dish at the alchemist copenhagen

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The multi-course tasting menu is a testament to the restaurant’s dedication to culinary innovation while using ingredients sourced from the finest producers. The result is a symphony of flavors and textures that challenge and delight the palate, from delicate seafood creations infused with the essence of the Nordic seas to meat dishes and insects.

the dome at the alchemist copenhagen

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But what truly sets The Alchemist apart is its commitment to creating an immersive dining experience. The restaurant employs a concept of changing locations within the establishment, transporting diners to different realms with each course. This dynamic approach, combined with the use of a dome projection screen, ensures that every meal is a multi-sensory journey. Diners are not just tasting the food, they are living the story behind each dish.

copenhagen distillery

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With food comes drink, and Copenhagen producers are equally adept on this front. The Copenhagen Distillery stands as a beacon of authentic Danish spirit-making. Eschewing the temptation to replicate the techniques of renowned whiskey regions like the States or Ireland, this distillery prides itself on crafting whiskey, gin, and aquavit with organic ingredients for spirits that are quintessentially Danish in character and flavor.

At the helm of this innovative venture is Lasse Öznek. A former chemist from the pharmaceutical industry, whose scientific acumen and passion for spirits led him to the world of whiskey-making. His approach to the craft is both methodical and inspired. As he often says, “Whiskey making is all about converting starch to sugar and converting that starch to alcohol. That’s whiskey!” His background in chemistry allows him to delve deep into the intricacies of fermentation and distillation, ensuring that every drop of spirit produced is of the highest quality.

copenhagen distillery grains

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His meticulous nature is evident in every aspect of the distillery’s operations. He oversees every step of the production process, from the selection of grains to the final distillation. Unlike many distilleries that opt for multiple distillations to achieve the desired purity, the Copenhagen Distillery stands out with its single distillation approach. The choice of barrels for aging is another area where the distillery showcases its commitment to authenticity and quality. The Copenhagen Distillery exclusively uses toasted barrels crafted from 150-year-old trees. In essence, the Copenhagen Distillery is a celebration of Danish spirit-making, where tradition meets innovation, and where every bottle tells a story of passion, expertise, and unwavering commitment to quality that visitors can see first-hand by taking a tour and tasting at the København location.

copenhagen waterfront

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The allure of Scandinavia has always been irresistible, with its blend of ancient traditions, modern design, and natural wonders. My journey began in the heart of Copenhagen, a city that effortlessly marries the old with the new. But as I boarded my flight to Iceland, I prepared to extend this trip into a region altogether different.

Stop two: Exploring Iceland’s natural beauty

From Copenhagen, I flew to Iceland’s Keflavik airport in Icelandair’s Saga Premium class. The spacious seats have a generous 40 inches of legroom and a width of 20.5 inches. While the seats don’t transform into a flat bed, their enhanced recline and the additional space make for a comfortable journey, especially when crossing the Atlantic.

saga class icelandair meal

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In what has proven to be a common theme on this trip, the onboard three-course meal was a delight featuring Icelandic delicacies and international favorites. And for those moments when I craved something sweet, the Icelandic chocolate was a delightful treat. To complement the meal, a selection of beverages, from Champagne to a “Gin Library,” are available, ensuring that the journey was as refreshing as it was comfortable. The Saga experience isn’t confined to the skies. On the ground, priority check-in and access to the Saga Lounge at Keflavik airport added layers of luxury to the travel experience. The lounge, with its modern Icelandic design and range of dining options, was the perfect space to relax before the next leg of the journey.

hotel ranga iceland

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As the plane touched down, the rugged beauty of Iceland beckoned. My first stop was Hotel Rangá. Situated amidst Iceland’s captivating landscape, this hotel seamlessly blends luxury with nature. Its wooden facade, echoing traditional Icelandic architecture, promises warmth and comfort. Inside, the interiors celebrate Icelandic culture.

hotel ranga iceland

Photo: Jeff Colhoun

Each room is a canvas showcasing panoramic views of the landscapes, from serene rivers to distant mountains. But the property issn’t just about aesthetics; the hotel is a gateway to iconic Icelandic experiences. From Northern Lights sightings to stargazing at the hotel’s on-site observatory, every moment has the potential for adventure and is complimented by Hotel Rangá’s dining options that serve Icelandic and international dishes with the surrounding landscape as a gorgeous backdrop.

white river iceland

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The next day, the Golden Circle tour beckoned. My journey began with the pristine waters of the White River, a testament to Iceland’s natural landscapes. The river, with its crystal-clear waters, set the tone for the natural wonders ahead.

gullfoss waterfall iceland

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At the majestic Gullfoss waterfall, often referred to as the Golden Falls, the water comes big and loud as the Hvítá river plunges into a deep canyon, creating a spectacle of mist and rainbows. The sheer power and beauty of Gullfoss are a reminder of the forces that have shaped this volcanic island.

geyser iceland

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From Gullfoss, we made our way to the geothermal area of Geysir. Here, the ground bubbles with hot springs and geysers, the most famous of which is Strokkur. Every few minutes, Strokkur erupts, sending a column of hot water and steam into the air, much to the delight of onlookers.

seljalandsfoss iceland

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Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are two of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss, with its narrow cascade, allows visitors to walk behind the falls. Skógafoss, on the other hand, is a broad curtain of water plummeting to the ground below.

thingvellier national park iceland

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Water features are not the only stops worth seeing along the Golden Circle. Also not to be missed is Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Þingvellir is as much a place of natural beauty as it is a site of historical and cultural significance. It was here that the world’s first parliament, the Althing, was established in 930 AD. The park is also a geological marvel, situated on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

To refuel after exploring some of Iceland’s the natural wonders, Friðheimar Greenhouse harnesses geothermal energy to cultivate tomatoes throughout the year that are highlighted in meals served amid the lush greenery of the greenhouse.

dyrholaey observatory view iceland

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Making my way to the ocean, which is never far here, I stopped at Dyrhólaey, a cliff-top promontory that offers panoramic views of Iceland’s southern coastline. The sheer cliffs, home to nesting seabirds, rise dramatically from the ocean, providing a vantage point like no other.

iceland black sand beach

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Finally, I made my way down to the black sand beach, a stark reminder of Iceland’s volcanic origins. The pitch-black sands, contrasted against the crashing waves of the North Atlantic, create a surreal and hauntingly beautiful landscape, a fitting end to my Golden Circle adventure.

Leaving the Golden Circle for Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

Iceland, of course, is more than it’s natural features. As I approached Reykjavik, the capital city, the contrast is evident. The vast open spaces give way to a bustling cityscape, where modern architecture blends seamlessly with historic structures, reflecting the city’s rich heritage and its forward-looking aspirations.

reykjavik edition iceland

Photo: Jeff Colhoun

In the heart of downtown Reykjavik, near the Old Harbor port, is The Reykjavik EDITION. This hotel is not just a place to rest, it’s an experience in itself. Bringing the first five-star modern luxury experience to one of the world’s most sustainable capitals, The Reykjavik EDITION is strategically located just a stone’s throw away from the vibrant shopping district of Laugavegur Street and the iconic Harpa Concert and Conference Center. It serves as the perfect base to explore the city. The interiors, a harmonious blend of modern design and local artistry, exude warmth and sophistication. Each room offers panoramic views, be it of the harbor, the majestic Mt. Esja, or the legendary Snæfellsjökull glacier. From its diverse culinary outlets, including the harborside TIDES restaurant, to its vibrant nightlife offerings, every moment spent here is a celebration of Reykjavik’s spirit.

reykjavik edition iceland balcony

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From the bustling streets of Reykjavik, I took a serene turn back to nature at the Retreat Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. The hotel embodies Iceland’s commitment to harmonizing luxury with nature with modern architecture that seamlessly blends in with the surrounding volcanic landscape in one of the world’s most iconic geothermal wonders. The 60 suites are each a masterpiece of design, combining clean lines with natural, local textures. The minimalist spaces, accentuated by warm hues, offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, from the centuries-old lava canyons to the mineral-rich waters of the lagoon.

The subterranean spa is a hallmark of the Retreat Hotel experience. The mineral-rich warmth of the private Retreat Lagoon, bounded by ancient lava canyons, is an intimate and enchanting experience that utilizes the same healing waters as the Blue Lagoon.

reykjavik edition restaurant dish

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While the waters may get most of the attention for good reason, dining is not left behind. The Retreat Hotel’s on-site, Michelin Star Moss Restaurant offers a genuine taste of Icelandic cuisine with straightforward yet refined dishes. The menu is a reflection of Iceland’s natural bounty, with ingredients sourced directly from the local landscapes, be it the sea, farms, or the wild. Starters often include fresh Icelandic seafood or locally foraged greens, setting the stage for the main courses of Arctic char or lamb loin. All are presented with a modern touch, ensuring that each dish, while rooted in tradition, feels contemporary and fresh. It was the perfect ending before boarding my flight back home the next day.

saga class icelandair

Photo: Jeff Colhoun

Icelandair’s two countries, one itinerary concept had not only made this journey logistically seamless, but also enriched it, adding layers of experiences and memories. It was a reminder of the magic that lies in exploring contrasting landscapes and cultures, all within the span of one trip.

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