Why Living Like A Local For A Day In Iceland Should Be Your Next Travel Goal

Icelandair's 'Celebration Stopover Buddy Service' is the simple, perfect way to experience one of the greatest countries in the world

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'Local knowledge' is a marketing buzzword as old as the travel industry itself, based in the enjoyable fantasy that, armed with just a few wise tips, you can step off the plane in a new city, walk past the throngs of tourists in tatty gift shops and straight into a quaint local restaurant where they make their own wine and welcome you like a long lost cousin.

The truth, as anyone who has ever followed a guidebook around Milan or a travel app around Boston, is that it never quite works out the way. Everyone else has the same tips, you see, and in following them you've had your head down the entire time like the very bumbling out-of-towner you professed not to become.

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Icelandair's 'Celebration Stopover Buddy Service' is an attempt to address this long-standing problem. Anyone passing through the island on one of their many routes between north America and Europe can opt to stay for a day and be paired up with their very own Icelandic local, a honest-to-god Viking tasked with guiding you around one of the most vivid and beguiling lands on earth. Simply give your buddy an idea of how hedonistic or sedate a trip you'd like, so the theory goes, and he or she will do the rest.

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Our buddy was Huginn, a stout, handsome twenty-something with a cheerful manner, a healthy dose of national pride and – crucially – a car in which to traverse the jagged, green-mossed terrains outside the hipster-cool capital Reykjavik, where we wanted to explore.

We asked for a little local history, a little local sight-seeing and a little local food and Huginn, Gods bless him, was determined to deliver. We visited Reykholt, the village that was the birthplace of Iceland's most famous and important historical figure; the poet and Machiavellian schemer Snorri Sturluson and the small, tranquil church / academic retreat that stands in his honour.

Hraunfossa waterfall, Iceland

We took in the awesome Barnafoss and Hraunfossar waterfalls on the West of the island, a natural phenomena where the water seeps through lava and emerges in a shade of such pure blue it looks like something from a children's picture book. We walked into the belly of Víðgelmir, a 1100-year-old tunnel that goes 5250-ft deep into the earth and sat in eerily perfect darkness listening to the drip-drip of volcanic formations. We visited Húsafell, the wind-swept home of Páll Guðmundsson, one of Iceland's most prominent artists (and sometime-Sigur Rós collaborator), who played to us on xylophone made of ancient slate in a room lined with his portraits of local people. This was all inside a day, a day which - if we're being honest - we would have otherwise spent doddering along the perfectly pleasant, tourist-friendly streets near our hotel in the city.

The final part of our request – to try some of Iceland's famous seafood – Huginn took us Matur og Drykkur and Fiskmarkaðurinn, two of the trendiest spots in the city. Would we have found out about them anyway from an online guide? Perhaps. But as any Londoner knows, in the fickle, trend-driven world of fine dining a restaurant can acquire a 'buzz' without being particularly special – what you need is someone who has sampled the proof in the pudding to reassure you it's worth the risk. And so it was we came to dine on puffin, whale (legally), giant, cavernous-eyed cod head and – somewhat more prosaically – the finest salmon ever to pass our lips.

Icelandair's 'Buddy' system is a simple idea, but then at its best the whole concept of travel - for both the host and the hosted - is a rather simple affair. The joy of showing someone your home is both a deep and an ancient one. Traveling with Huginn, he got to experience the places he has known all his life through new eyes and in turn, the privilege we felt in being there redoubled. It's an exchange that serves this sparse, beautiful, terrifying, scarcely believable land perfectly.

The last port of call on our trip was a swimming pool. Not 'Blue Lagoon', the famous one from the brochures, but 'Vesturbaejarlaug', a local bathing spot with rough and ready changing facilities, people of all ages and temperaments and the same hot water that flows like blood through the whole island. Every town and village in Iceland has one just like it Huginn told us, as we sat enjoying the feeling of being insulated from the icy breeze by the bounty of the imperious volcanoes that loom forever on the horizon feeling - for just an hour or two - like a local.

Icelandair invites you to come and celebrate with their free Celebration Stopover Buddy service. For more information and to request a Buddy visit Icelandair.co.uk/Stopover-Buddy.