Never does Robert Louis Stevenson’s much referenced (and often mis-recited) snippet of wisdom about how “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” (from his 1878 essay El Dorado) seem more nonsensical than when you are halfway through a long flight. There is nothing hopeful about having spent six hours squashed into a small seat, knowing that you have seven further hours to go – as the gentleman who has wedged himself next to you continues to snore fervently. Arrival, at this point, would be a delight.
Still, while it is impossible to second-guess the views of a man who died in the 19th century, you could infer from his oft-quoted line about taking the slow route and enjoying the process that the author of Treasure Island would approve of the 21st-century concept of the flight stopover. For what is more the antithesis of arrival than halting on your way?
A 21st-century concept? Maybe not. People have been embarking on odysseys by air that touch down here and there before sighting the final runway almost ever since the Wright Brothers cracked the aviation code. But the idea of pausing in an indirect somewhere on the path from A to B has come into clarity in the last three years – thanks mainly to Wow Air (01642 450450; wowair.co.uk) and Icelandair (020 7874 1000; icelandair.com). Since 2015, these Icelandic rivals have extended tentacles into North America, targeting mid-sized, sometimes hard-to-reach cities in the USA and Canada (Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Halifax and Montreal as a few examples) – to exploit untapped markets, but also in a fiercely competitive bid to create a “low-cost long haul” transatlantic air-bridge.
The big issue is that you have to fly via the carriers’ base airport – Keflavik in Reykjavik. Inconvenient or intriguing? Both airlines have been marketing it as the latter, selling official stopover deals which let passengers spend time in the planet’s most northerly capital at the midpoint in their progress, without incurring added costs. They have done this so effectively that, suddenly, the thought of not taking a break during an epic dash across the planet seems indecent haste. It is a persuasive argument – if you are landing in a destination that, though not the main focus of your travels, is an alluring option for a day or two of exploration, why wouldn’t you step off the plane and see more?
Nor are the Icelanders alone. With three or four notable exceptions, the 15 places below are secondary travel destinations – urban options that you might not necessarily consider primary ports of call for holidays. But if you are planning a globe-spanning trip to Australia, the Americas, Africa or the Far East in the near future, the same cities could all provide welcome respite from the dull restrictions of the journey.
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
Where am I going? Practically anywhere in North America.
Airlines: Wow Air (from Edinburgh, Gatwick and Stansted) and Icelandair (from Glasgow, Gatwick, Heathrow, and Manchester). Wow provides a “stopover” booking function on its website, with, for example, return flights to Detroit – leaving Gatwick on Oct 20, pausing for two nights in Reykjavik, and returning from the US on Oct 29 – costing from £390. Icelandair also offers this reservations process – an identical package on the same dates, flying from Glasgow to Orlando via Keflavik, starts at £1,002.
Reasons to linger: Wow sells a one-day “Golden Circle Tour” of Iceland’s most fabled geological wonders – the Strokkur geyser; the Gullfoss waterfall; Thingvellir National Park – from £84 per person. The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa (bluelagoon.com; from €55), while something of a tourism cliché, is remarkably beautiful.
Stay: The Sandhotel, a boutique retreat on Reykjavik’s main shopping avenue Laugavegur, offers doubles from £207, with breakfast.
2. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Where am I going? In the last 15 years, Dubai has become the obvious break-point for trips from Europe to Australasia, eclipsing the route via the Far East that dominated travel plans in the last century. But you might equally be going to the Seychelles, or Mauritius.
Airline: Emirates (0344 800 2777; emirates.com) serves the Seychelles from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle (while BA only flies direct to Mahé from Heathrow). Its “multi-city” booking option lets tourists build a gap into their itinerary. Return flights from Birmingham to the Seychelles, departing on Nov 24, with space for three nights in Dubai en route, cost from £835.
Reason to linger: Dubai rarely gains cultural plaudits, but there is a thrill in rising to the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa (burjkhalifa.ae; AED370/£78), the world’s tallest building.
Stay: The five-star Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach dispenses seafront views, and doubles from £163 per night, room only.
Further information: visitdubai.com
3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Where am I going? Dubai’s brother plays a similar game and Etihad (0345 608 1225; etihad.com) flies to five continents. It is an option for trips to Australia, taking off from Heathrow and Manchester, and arriving into Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Airline: Etihad also has a multi-city function, letting travellers slot a stopover into their plans, and is running a deal on stays of 48 hours, where the second night’s hotel is free. A return to Sydney from Birmingham, departing on Dec 1, costs from £907.
Reasons to linger: Abu Dhabi promotes itself as more cerebral than Dubai, and has done so via the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi (louvreabudhabi.ae; AED60/£13) – where the collection includes Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the planet’s most feted religious structures.
Stay: The Yas Viceroy has doubles in December from £161 a night, room only.
4. Doha, Qatar
Where am I going? Feasibly you could travel to any continent but Antarctica. Like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Qatar has been positioning itself as a global aviation hub – with flights in every direction.
Airline: Qatar Airways (0330 024 0127; qatarairways.com) flies to Doha from Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester, and continues on to Auckland in each case. Return flights from Cardiff to New Zealand’s biggest city, departing on Dec 1 in time for the start of high summer “Down Under” – factoring in two full days in Doha on the way using the multi-city booking function – cost from £998.
Reasons to linger: Qatar is trying to improve its image as a destination as it prepares to host the football World Cup in 2022 – albeit amid huge controversy about conditions for the workers constructing the stadiums. In August last year, it loosened entry requirements, announcing visa waivers, valid for at least 30 days, for 80 countries, including the UK. This is long enough to see Doha highlight the Museum of Islamic Art (mia.org.qa; free) – which, designed by the architect I M Pei, illuminates the Corniche.
Stay: The stylish W Doha (marriott.com) has doubles in December from 679 Riyal (£142).
5. Bangkok, Thailand
Where am I going? Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi, or any other Thai beach hotspot.
Airline: While you can fly direct to Phuket – from Gatwick and Manchester, between November and April, with TUI Airways (0871 231 4787; tui.co.uk/flight) – there is every reason to seek out Bangkok with Thai Airways (0330 400 4022; thaiairways.com), from Heathrow. Return flights to Phuket, leaving London on Dec 1, and filtering in three whole days in the Thai capital on the way east via the multi-city option, cost from £1,340.
Reasons to linger: Numerous. Bangkok is a swirling sensation – veering from Buddhist serenity at the Wat Arun temple (watarun.net; 50 Baht/£1.20) to the street-food frenzy of Khao San Road and the bars of Sukhumvit. The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (bacc.or.th; free) is a blur of the modern, showcasing all the arts from music to literature.
Stay: The Mandarin Oriental is one of the city’s most sophisticated retreats, dating back to 1876. Doubles in December from £420 – room only.
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Where am I going? The sandy crescents of Penang or Langkawi – or perhaps Borneo, the jungle-shrouded island segment of Malaysia.
Airline: Malaysia Airlines (0330 365 0080; malaysiaairlines.com) serves Kuala Lumpur from Heathrow, before forging to both above beach hotspots – plus Kuching, the state capital of Sarawak (the entry city for Malaysian Borneo). Return flights to Langkawi, leaving London on Dec 1, using “multi-city” to inject three days in Kuala Lumpur en route, cost £980.
Reasons to linger: Malaysia’s capital does not enjoy Bangkok’s wild reputation – but is also under-appreciated. The shops of Bukit Bintang gleam with 21st-century commercialism – just as Chinatown dreams of a more traditional city in the stalls of its Central Market (centralmarket.com.my). The Petronas Towers are no longer the planet’s tallest building, but still pack a fine view (petronastwintowers.com.my; 80 Ringgits/£15).
Stay: The Majestic Hotel (majestickl.com) revels in a story which arcs back to 1932, while also offering a house spa. Doubles in December for £69, room only.
Where am I going? Landing at Changi lets you connect to just about anywhere in Asia – including cities that cannot be reached directly from the UK, such as Yangon (Myanmar).
Airline: Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; singaporeair.com) flies from Heathrow and Manchester. Return flights from the latter to Indonesian sunshine hotspot Bali, leaving on Dec 1, with a three-day stopover en route, cost from £972. The airline sells official “Singapore Stopover Holiday” packages with hotels from £32 per person a night, room only.
Reasons to linger: Contrary to its strait-laced profile, the city shines in its Gardens By The Bay (gardensbythebay.com; S$28/£16) attraction and its electronic “supertrees”, in the gleaming shops of Orchard Road, and at the National University of Singapore Museum (museum.nus.edu.sg; free), with its Chinese and Indian artworks.
8. Hong Kong, China
Where am I going? The rest of China awaits you.
Airline: Cathay Pacific (0800 917 8260; cathaypacific.com) serves China’s cosmopolitan outrider from Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow. Return flights from the latter, leaving on Dec 1, and putting down three-day roots in Hong Kong before forging on to Shanghai, cost £627. Until the end of the year (book by Nov 30), passengers who stop for three nights can book a free city tour, such as a jaunt around the harbour by junk.
Reasons to linger: Victoria Harbour, one of the most spectacular seascapes on the planet; the many restaurants along Hollywood Road in SoHo.
Stay: The five-star Peninsula Hong Kong in Kowloon – a dame who first opened her doors in 1928, and boasts a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce Phantoms at her beck and call. Double rooms in December from HK$4,780 (£471), with breakfast.
9. Perth, Australia
Where am I going? Sydney, Melbourne or the Great Barrier Reef.
Airline: The launch of a Qantas (0800 964 432; qantas.com) service from Heathrow to Perth was greeted with applause in March – this being the first direct flight from the UK to Australia. This lack of need to change planes buffs the appeal of the capital of Western Australia – but equally, anyone visiting the country for the first time via this “shortcut” will want to head on to a more fabled city. Returns to Sydney from Heathrow, leaving on Dec 1 – catching the Perth flight, with three days in town on arrival – cost £1,204.
Reasons to linger: The 990-acre Kings Park (bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park) – one of the largest green spaces in any city; Cottesloe Beach, facing into the sunset; the Art Gallery of Western Australia (artgallery.wa.gov.au; free), with more than 17,500 paintings and sculptures.
Stay:Como The Treasury a 48-room boutique delight, slotted into a 19th-century government building. Doubles for £254, with breakfast.
10. Atlanta, USA
Where am I going? On a road-trip around the Deep South.
Airline: The launches of direct British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) flights from Heathrow to New Orleans (March 2017) and Nashville (May 2018) have undermined the need to visit Atlanta. But the Georgia capital is a convenient entry spot for the US (the figures show this – Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest airport). Return flights with BA (from Heathrow) start at £548. Virgin Atlantic (0344 874 7747; virginatlantic.com) flies from Heathrow and Manchester.
Reasons to linger: Pause before you flit down the highway. Walk in Centennial Olympic Park (a legacy of the 1996 Olympics; gwcca.org/park), and stroll the BeltLine Eastside Trail (beltline.org/trails/eastside-trail). The Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia (mocaga.org; $8/£6) is a grand showcase of local creativity.
Stay: The sleek Loews Atlanta is a high-rising spire of the 21st century, on Peachtree Street in Midtown. Doubles for £153, room only.
11. Dallas-Fort Worth, USA
Where am I going? Touring Texas.
Airlines: BA (from Heathrow), Icelandair (via Reykjavik) – and American Airlines (020 7660 2300; americanairlines.co.uk), which sells return flights from Heathrow, from £598.
Reasons to linger: The joy of landing here for a romp around the largest of America’s 48 contiguous states is that you can sample two cities at once. Dallas deals in a raw moment of US history in the Sixth Floor Museum (jfk.org; $16/£12.50), before concocting something more frivolous on its Margarita Mile bar trail (visitdallas.com). Frequently overshadowed by its neighbour, Fort Worth basks in an “Old West” vibe in its Stockyards (fortworthstockyards.org), a district full of barbecue eateries and boot shops.
Stay: The Stockyards Hotel (stockyardshotel.com) in Fort Worth still has the room where Bonnie and Clyde stayed in 1933. You can check into it yourself for $199 (£154).
12. Miami, USA
Where am I going? Colombia for the Andes; Ecuador for the Galápagos.
Airline: BA’s new forays into South America – it began direct flights to Peru’s capital Lima (from Gatwick) in 2016, and Chile’s kingpin Santiago (from Heathrow) last year – have also lessened the need to glimpse Miami en route to the Latin world. But there are still key cities that may require a change in Florida’s coolest city. American Airlines flies to Bogotá and Cartagena in Colombia, and Quito in Ecuador. Returns to the latter, leaving Heathrow on Dec 1, with a three-day layover in Miami on the way home, are £985.
Reasons to linger: Miami is, of course, a destination in its own right, as the bars of South Beach have long proved. There is culture beyond the seafront too – the Frost Art Museum (frost.fiu.edu; free); and the Lowe Art Museum (lowe.miami.edu; $12.50/£9.50).
Stay: The chic 1 Hotel South Beach – which, as its name suggests, occupies a prime oceanside address. Doubles from £208, room only.
13. Sao Paulo, Brazil
Where am I going? Elsewhere in a colossal country.
Airline: With British Airways now serving three South American capitals (Buenos Aires, Santiago, Lima) directly, São Paulo has become less of a familiar friend for UK travellers. But the continent’s busiest airport is still a vital hub, and – thanks to Avianca Brazil (0800 031 4206; avianca.com/br) and LatAm (0800 026 0728; latam.com) – provides a denser web of flights around Brazil than Rio de Janeiro’s Galeao International.
Reasons to linger: São Paulo will always be eclipsed by Rio’s glamour, but sparks a fire of its own in the restaurants of Bela Vista and Consolacao. The Museu de Arte Brasiliera (faap.br/museu; free) has gems by Brazilian artists Aldir Mendes de Souza and Mira Schendel.
Stay: The five-star Hotel Emiliano offers doubles for £275, room only.
14. Johannesburg, South Africa
Where am I going? On safari – in South Africa, or beyond.
Airline: O R Tambo Airport, rather than Cape Town International, is the base camp for South African Airways (0844 375 9680; flysaa.com). From here, it ventures to domestic destinations such as Port Elizabeth and Durban, as well as Cape Town – plus foreign capitals Lilongwe (Malawi), Windhoek (Namibia), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya) and Maputo (Mozambique). It also serves Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe. Return flights to the latter from Heathrow – departing on Dec 1, and including a three-day stopover in Johannesburg en route, via a “multi-city” booking – cost from £755.
Reasons to linger: Less acclaimed than Cape Town, “Joburg” delivers important history lessons at Mandela House (mandelahouse.com; R60/£3) and the Apartheid Museum (apartheidmuseum.org; R95/£4.80). But there is also a city beyond the oppression of the last century. Queen Street in Kensington is an avenue buzzing with cafés and restaurants.
Stay: The sumptuous Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff offers doubles in December for £324, room only.
15. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Where am I going? To sights in northern and eastern Africa both ancient and modern, from the pyramids of Sudan (via Khartoum) to the resorts of Zanzibar (Tanzania).
Airline: The rise of Ethiopian Airlines (01753 967980; www.ethiopianairlines.com) – which, as of 2011, is a respected member of the Star Alliance aviation group – has made Addis Ababa another hub for African travels. It lands at Heathrow, and will fly into Manchester from Dec 1. Return flights from London to Zanzibar, leaving on Jan 5 2019, with a three-night “multi-city” Addis Ababa layover on the way back from the beach, cost from £1,053.
Reasons to linger: Africa’s highest capital at 7,726ft (2,355m) is a fascinating nugget of humanity. Merkato, its street market, is the continent’s biggest, host to 13,000 merchants. Its Ethnological Museum (aau.edu.et; 100 Birr/£2.80) occupies the palace of the former emperor Haile Selassie. You can hear performances of Ethiopian jazz at the Ghion Hotel.
Stay: As well as concerts by musicians such as Mulatu Astatke – the “spiritual father of Ethio-Jazz” – the Ghion (ghionhotel.com) has double rooms from US$105 (£81), room only.
Further information: ethiopia.travel