Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Making the Most of a Weekend Stopover in Iceland

How to make the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland

By now, most savvy travelers have heard about the incredible Icelandair stopover deal. Through this ingenious bargain, Icelandair grants passengers an extended layover in Iceland for up to seven nights for no additional airfare.

Given its geographic position, Iceland is a convenient stepping stone between Europe and North America. I found the logistics to be especially favorable, considering a flight from Reykjavík to Seattle cuts a transatlantic journey in half. While it would normally take me about 16 hours to fly home via New York or Philadelphia, a direct journey from Reykjavík takes less than eight hours.

After taking advantage of this stellar deal, I can admit that it most certainly lives up to the hype. I immediately regretted not booking a longer stay. Only planning a weekend getaway vastly limited my opportunities, and I found myself wishing that I had taken advantage of Icelandair's full seven day deal. (But hindsight is 20/20, especially when you're on a tight budget!)

Given the short amount of time I had in Iceland, I nailed down my weekend itinerary to four main activities. While Reykjavík's 20.5 hours of sunlight per day helped me accomplish it all, it was difficult to prioritize so many bucket list adventures. While I'm sure I'll be back again someday (I made a promise to myself that I'd come back for the puffins!), I'm still satisfied with how I organized a weekend's worth of excursions. Here's how I made the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland:


Downtown Reykjavík

Reykjavík: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland

Colorful, quirky Reykjavík deserves at least one full day. It's possible to cut corners, but soaking up the city's vibrant personality requires ample time for exploring. Start your journey at the stately Hallgrímskirkja church. Commanding the skyline of downtown Reykjavík, the design of Hallgrímskirkja was inspired by Iceland's basalt lava flows. Take the elevator up to the top for the capital's most sublime panoramas.

Reykjavík: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja church

Leave plenty of time to wander down Laugavegur, the city's main shopping street. This animated boulevard boasts a colorful array of restaurants, coffee shops, sleek boutiques and Icelandic specialty shops. Since Iceland is known for their quality wool, I picked up some cozy knitted socks for the rest of the weekend's adventures.

Be sure to also check out the picturesque Perlan, Tjörnin pond, Harpa concert hall and charming old harbor. Some of my favorite moments in Reykjavík were spent strolling along the waterfront past the iconic Sun Voyager (Sólfar) statue. 

Reykjavík: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Lively Laugavegur, the main shopping drag
Reykjavík: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
A classic view of Reykjavík from Hallgrímskirkja church

The Golden Circle

Golden Circle: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Þingvellir National Park's otherworldly landscape

No trip to Iceland is complete without visiting the arresting scenery of the Golden Circle. Comprised of the gargantuan Gullfoss waterfall, bubbling Geysir hot springs and scenic Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, the Golden Circle is understandably one of the country's most famous tourist attractions. Since I had no desire to rent a car by myself, I turned to Arctic Adventures to help me see it all.

Golden Circle: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Gullfoss, one of Iceland's largest and most popular waterfalls

Iceland's striking landscape often made me feel as if I were on a different planet. Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates slowly drift away from one another, is decidedly out of this world. Iceland's first parliament was founded here, and it's also one of the many
Game of Thrones filming locations.

Golden Circle: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
How many Game of Thrones filming locations must I visit before I have to start watching the show?
Golden Circle: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure

Snorkeling in Iceland's Silfra fissure

Located in Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra fissure is where two continents rip apart. Thanks to Arctic Adventures, we were able to snorkel between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This crack between the continents is filled with glacier water clear enough to see down to 100 meters!

The water gets its pristine qualities from being filtered through underground lava for 30-100 years. Due to its extreme visibility, the Silfra fissure is widely regarded as one of the best dive sites in the world.

Since the glacial water is near freezing, we bundled up in bulky dry suits that protected us from the extreme temperatures. While submerging my face in the water was initially alarming, I went numb several seconds later. The current leisurely carried us down the fissure as we marveled at its unique underwater beauty.

Snorkeling in Iceland's Silfra fissure
Our waterproof dry suits were surprisingly hard to maneuver in!
Snorkeling in Iceland's Silfra fissure
The Silfra fissure is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates
Snorkeling in Iceland's Silfra fissure

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Soaking in the silky waters of the Blue Lagoon was the perfect way to de-stress

Did you know that the Blue Lagoon isn't actually blue? The lagoon gets its milky turquoise color from the sun reflecting upon the silica in the water. The water itself is actually white! In the summer, blossoming algae can also give the water a subtle green tint.

Seeing as the Blue Lagoon has been at the top of my bucket list for years, I was willing to pay the outrageous fee to enter. But while I thought I was getting a 50€ deal online, my reservation and transportation costs totaled to 82€. You win some, you lose some.

Be sure to book your reservation online in advance, and note that the "standard" entrance package does not include use of a towel. In the lagoon, there is a station for free silica mud masks and a swim-up bar. All you have to do is scan your wristband, and you'll automatically be charged for whatever purchases you make inside the lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland

Reykjavík Excursions offers hourly bus transfers to the Blue Lagoon from downtown Reykjavík or Keflavík Airport. The Blue Lagoon is 47 km from Reykjavík, and only 23 km from KEF Airport. To maximize time on your stopover, I highly recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon going to or from KEF Airport.

Because I was in the process of moving from Madrid to Seattle (and therefore hauling three year's worth of luggage with me), I opted to do this excursion separately. After seeing how close the airport and Blue Lagoon actually are, I realized that I could have saved ample time and money by combining the two trips.

The Blue Lagoon: Making the most of a weekend stopover in Iceland
Cheesin' with my mud mask and disposable camera. (Perhaps it's time to invest in a GoPro...)

Iceland effortlessly stole my heart, and I'm already anxious to return someday. Like I said, I have to come back for the puffins!! Thankfully, Reykjavík is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Seattle compared to other transatlantic flights. You can bet that I'll be taking advantage of another Icelandair stopover next time I get the chance!


Have you ever done a stopover in Iceland?
How did you make the most of your time?


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours

Wondering where to eat in Seville? Don't miss out on a delectable tapas tour with Devour Seville Food Tours!

I have always revered Andalusia's colorful capital as a mecca for foodies. After countless trips to Seville, its vibrant bars, bustling restaurants and mouthwatering delicacies still manage to lure me in. That said, I would rarely venture past my tried-and-true favorites. Little did I know what I had been missing out on! 

After savoring the Tastes, Tapas & Traditions tour with Devour Seville, I walked away with a full belly and a newfound appreciation for Seville's gastronomy. Thanks to the wit and wisdom of my guides Jaimie and David, I discovered a delectable selection of new favorite eateries in Seville. 

If you're eager to try authentic tapas and wondering where to eat in Seville, look no further than Devour Seville Food Tours.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Tostá de pringá, perhaps the best way to start the morning 

We started our morning at an iconic breakfast locale in the center. Though I had considered myself Seville-savvy before this trip, I immediately realized that I had been in the dark for years. How had I never heard of this darling diamond in the rough? This no-frills, locals-only bar immediately won over my heart (and stomach). After fueling up with our cortados, we tasted the signature tostá de pringá, a flavorful pork stew toast that delighted my senses.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Unbelievably tasty jamón ibérico

I like to think of Seville as the capital of all things quintessentially Spanish. It doesn't get much more Spanish than jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham), which is what we set out to try next. We ventured to a local market, where we learned about the intricate techniques of cutting an Iberian ham leg. My tastebuds rejoiced as soon as the buttery jamón ibérico melted in my mouth. I've tasted my fair share of this national treasure, but what I had here was undoubtedly some of the best
jamón I've ever tried.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Naranjitos made by nuns

Our guides led us through colorful alleys, peppering our journey with fascinating anecdotes about Spanish and Andalusian history. Though I had studied (and subsequently forgot) quite a bit of Spanish history in college, they tied it together in a way that finally stuck with me.

I had no idea what to expect when we reached our next destination, for there wasn't a restaurant in sight. In fact, we had stumbled upon a hidden convent where the nuns are famous for making traditional sweets. Decidedly out of my element, I entered the convent with equal parts suspicion and curiosity. Our guides then ordered a tasty batch of naranjitos, an almond-based cookie with subtle hints of orange. I was immediately hooked.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Chorizo and carne mechada montaditos

Our next stop lead us to a Semana Santa themed bar, which was most certainly my favorite spot on the tour. With walls adorned with photos and relics from Seville's famed Holy Week celebrations, this hole in the wall served up some mean montaditos (small sandwiches). The spicy chorizo with roquefort cheese and carne mechada sandwiches positively rocked my palate. 

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Although Holy Week only comes once a year, it's celebrated every day at this bar!

Next, we quenched our thirst with a particularly unique Seville specialty, orange wine. Yes, it's just as exquisite as it sounds! This aromatized orange wine is served at an iconic bar owned by a famous flamenco singer's son. Though the bar itself is tiny, the interior is sonorously brimming with charisma.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
Orange wine, a sweet Seville specialty

Our next stop was an iconic freiduría that specializes in fried fish. Fried fish is an especially popular snack during Seville's renowned Feria de Abril celebration. The house specialty is the cazón en adobo (vinegar and cumin marinated sand shark), but I feasted upon fresh tomatoes drizzled with Andalusian olive oil and sea salt. 

For our final serving of home-cooked tapas, we set off towards a cozy tavern in the center of town. This tapas bar was coincidentally located below the hotel I stayed in during my first trip to Seville. My mom and I complained every night about how noisy it was downstairs - and for good reason! Consistently packed during meal times, this tavern is an undoubted favorite among locals. As soon as I tasted my first bite of Iberian pork shoulder, I immediately regretted not wandering in six years ago. 

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours
You can never be too full for dessert...

To top off our feast, we ventured to an artisan ice cream shop that redefined my standards of dessert. Rumored to serve the best ice cream in Seville, this shop is notorious for its innovative flavors and Seville-inspired twists. I savored every bite of my chile chocolate and blueberry helado, though my inner-glutton was tempted to sample each flavor.

While tapas culture in Spain can certainly feel daunting at first, this tour offers a balanced "Tapas 101" introductory course. More than just a tapas tour, this culinary walking tour introduced me to countless new tastes and traditions of Seville. As well as I thought I knew Seville before, I came away with a delightful array of new go-to spots. Ultimately, this tour is an experience that's not to be missed when visiting Andalusia's striking capital.

Tapas Crawling with Devour Seville Food Tours

The Tastes, Tapas & Traditions tour runs every Tuesday-Saturday morning at 10:30 or 11:15 am. The tour lasts about four hours and stops at seven family-run businesses. I highly recommend this experience to travelers interested in tapas culture and epicures eager to get off the beaten path!


Devour Spain graciously invited me on this tour, however, all opinions expressed are my own.

As a Celiac, I took this tour at my own risk. While Devour Seville can make substitutions to accommodate a gluten-free diet, they cannot completely guarantee avoiding cross contamination. If you avoid gluten and are interested in taking this tour, please get in touch with Devour Seville by email to discuss Celiac/gluten-free options.


Have you ever been tapas crawling in Spain?
What did you like best about the experience?