Despite its name and position deep in the northern hemisphere, Iceland’s stunning volcanic landscapes offer a glimpse back to Earth’s fiery beginnings. The island is dotted with smoking volcanoes, bubbling fumaroles, geothermal springs and spouting geysers – all examples of the primordial power of nature. From fire to ice, against this backdrop of volcanic activity, the island is also covered by some of Europe’s most enormous glaciers, which have helped carve the country’s dramatic topography.
What to seeFirst settled by Vikings in 874, Iceland has the world's most northerly capital city, Reykjavik, which also happens to be one of the smallest, making it easy to explore on foot. Framed by the majestic Mount Esja and Faxafloi Bay, the city enjoys a wonderful natural setting. Full of fantastic restaurants and supporting a vibrant cultural scene with many museums, the city is close to some of the country’s most iconic tourist sites. A visit to Thingvellir National Park, site of the world's oldest existing parliament established in 930 AD and the meeting point of the North American European tectonic plates, is a must. The island is also home to the world’s first Geysers, which all others are now named after, as well as the beautiful Gullfoss waterfalls, one of Iceland's most popular attractions.
North of Reykjavik, past picturesque Hvalfjorder, which during the second world war served as an allied shipping naval base, is Reykholt. The settlement was home to one of the pre-eminent authors of the Icelandic sagas, some of the most important and earliest literary works in the world.
To the west of Reykholt lies the Snaefellsnes peninsula, often referred to as Iceland in miniature because so many national sites can be found concentrated here in one area. Christopher Columbus is said to have stayed at Ingjaldsholl near Rif on the peninsula where he heard tales of distant lands to the west. Snaefellsjokull volcano and glacier are mentioned in Jules Verne’s story Voyage to the Centre of the Earth. There are also many small picturesque fishing villages dotted along the coastline, as well as geothermal features, lava fields and waterfalls to explore.
In the north of the country is Akureyri, the second largest town after Reykjavik, with a population of around 17,000. The town is located in the north of the island on the shores of Eyjafjordur and was founded in the 9th century. Known as the cultural and administrative capital of the north, it is also the gateway to Lake Myvatn: an area of outstanding natural beauty. A shallow eutrophic lake sitting in the volcanically active zone that splits Iceland from south-west to north-east, it was created about 2,300 years ago during violent volcanic activity in the area. Made famous as one of the film locations for television series Game of Thrones, the lush wetlands attract vast numbers of migratory birds in summer.
A land of amazing contrasts, Iceland offers everything from ancient Viking ruins to soaring volcanoes and awe-inspiring glaciers, as well as being a fantastic place to witness the magical Northern Lights and Midnight Sun. Visitors can choose from a range of cultural activities and then experience the thrill of a snow mobile ride during the height of summer, before relaxing in one of Reykjavik’s chic restaurants for dinner.