Hitting headlines, topping bucket lists, wooing nature lovers and dazzling increasing numbers of visitors – there seems no end to the talents of this breathtaking northern destination.
A Symphony of Elements
An underpopulated island marooned near the top of the globe, Iceland is, literally, a country in the making. It's a vast volcanic laboratory where mighty forces shape the earth: geysers gush, mudpots gloop, ice-covered volcanoes rumble and glaciers cut great pathways through the mountains. Its supercharged splendour seems designed to remind visitors of their utter insignificance in the greater scheme of things. And it works a treat: some crisp clean air, an eyeful of the cinematic landscapes, and everyone is transfixed.
The Power of Nature
It's the power of Icelandic nature to turn the prosaic into the extraordinary. A dip in a pool becomes a soak in a geothermal lagoon; a casual stroll can transform into a trek across a glittering glacier; and a quiet night of camping may mean front-row seats to the aurora borealis’ curtains of light, or the soft, pinkish hue of the midnight sun. Iceland has a transformative effect on people too – its sagas turned brutes into poets, and its stories of huldufólk (hidden people) may make believers out of sceptics. Here you'll find some of the world's highest concentrations of dreamers, authors, artists and musicians, all fuelled by their surrounds.
Don't for a minute think it's all about the great outdoors. The counterpoint to so much natural beauty is found in Iceland's cultural life, which celebrates a literary legacy that stretches from medieval sagas to contemporary thrillers by way of Nobel Prize winners. Live music is everywhere, as is visual art, handicrafts and locavore cuisine. The world's most northerly capital is home to the kind of egalitarianism, green thinking and effortless style that its Nordic brethren are famous for – all of which is wrapped in Iceland's assured individuality.
A Personal Experience
The warmth of Icelanders is disarming, as is their industriousness – they’ve worked hard to recover from financial upheaval, and to transform Iceland into a destination that, thanks to its popularity with visitors, can host more than six times its population each year. Pause and consider a medium-sized city in your country – then give it far-flung universities, airports and hospitals to administer, 30-odd active volcanoes to monitor, and hundreds of hotels to run. How might they cope? Could they manage as well as the Icelanders – and still have time left over to create spine-tingling music and natty knitwear?
Why you should check out these magical Icelandic beaches
6 min read — Published August 31st, 2021
From black sands dotted with icebergs to blond geothermal coves, Iceland's beaches defy comparison. Here's a guide to Iceland's best strips of sand.
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National ParkVatnajökull National Park
Vast, varied and spectacular, Vatnajökull National Park was founded in 2008, when authorities created a megapark by joining the 8300-sq-km Vatnajökull ice…
The Þingvellir plain is situated on a tectonic-plate boundary where North America and Europe are tearing away from each other at a rate of 1mm to 18mm per…
National ParkSnæfellsjökull National Park
Snæfellsjökull National Park encompasses much of the western tip of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and wraps around the rugged slopes of the glacier…
ParkHornstrandir Nature Reserve
Craggy mountains, precarious sea cliffs and plunging waterfalls make up Hornstrandir, one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas, covering some of the…
Tumbling in a broad sweep over a 100m-rocky scarp at the head of Dynjandivogur bay, Dynjandi is the most dramatic waterfall in the Westfjords. The bumpy…
One of Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions, Geysir (gay-zeer; literally ‘gusher’) is the original hot-water spout after which all other geysers are…
National ParkÞingvellir National Park
The world’s oldest parliament, Althingi (pronounced ál-thingk-ee; also called Alþing) was uniquely situated at this monumental site where two tectonic…
Near the dramatic Almannagjá fault and fronted by a boardwalk is the Lögberg (Law Rock), where the Alþingi (Parliament) convened annually. This was where…
On the western side of Reynisfjall, the high ridge above Vík, Rte 215 leads 5km down to the black-sand beach Reynisfjara. It's backed by an incredible…
This 62m-high waterfall topples over a rocky cliff at the western edge of Skógar in dramatic style. Climb the steep staircase alongside for giddy views,…
Stunning Rauðasandur beach stretches out in shades of pink and red sands on the southern edge of the peninsula. Pounded by surf and backed by a huge azure…
Reykjavík’s immense white-concrete church (1945–86), star of a thousand postcards, dominates the skyline and is visible from up to 20km away. An elevator…
This brilliant attraction opened in 2016 and defies easy classification. It's a remote farm that offers museum exhibits, unique accommodation, local food,…
On the southwest coast, Rte 572 leads off Rte 574 to wild black-sand beach Djúpalónssandur. It’s a dramatic place to walk, with rock formations (an elf…
Not far from Seljalandsfoss, on the road to Þórsmörk (4WD required), hides one of the most thrilling and adventurous scrambles to a waterfall along a…
One of the South Coast’s most recognisable natural formations is the rocky plateau and huge stone sea arch at Dyrhólaey (deer-lay), which rises…
It’s easy to see why Jules Verne selected Snæfell for his adventure Journey to the Centre of the Earth: the peak was torn apart when the volcano beneath…
The 18th-century turf-farm museum at Glaumbær is the best museum of its type in northern Iceland and worth the easy 8km detour off the Ring Road,…
Artefacts from settlement to the modern age fill the creative display spaces of Iceland's superb National Museum. Exhibits give an excellent overview of…
Housed in an imaginatively restored warehouse by the harbour, the must-see Settlement Centre offers fascinating insights into the history of Icelandic…
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Iceland.
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