Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, volcanoes, hot springs and buzzy Reykjavík

Resting on the edge of the Arctic Circle and sitting atop one of the world’s most volcanically active hot spots, Iceland is an inspiring mix of magisterial glaciers, bubbling hot springs and rugged fjords, where activities such as hiking under the Midnight Sun are complemented by healthy doses of history and literature.

Iceland is a place where nature reigns supreme. Aside from the modern and cosmopolitan capital, Reykjavík, population centres are small, with diminutive towns, fishing villages, farms and minute hamlets clustered along the coastal fringes. The Interior, meanwhile, remains totally uninhabited and unmarked by humanity: a starkly beautiful wilderness of ice fields, windswept upland plateaux, infertile lava and ash deserts and the frigid vastness of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic ridge also gives it one of the most volcanically active landscapes on Earth, peppered with everything from naturally occurring hot springs, scaldingly hot bubbling mud pools and noisy steam vents to a string of unpredictably violent volcanoes, which have regularly devastated huge parts of the country. It’s something that Icelanders have learned to live with: in 2010, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and caused havoc across Europe, people here just shrugged and smiled.

Historically, the Icelanders have a mix of Nordic and Celtic blood, a heritage often held responsible for their characteristically laid-back approach to life. The battle for survival against the elements over the centuries has also made them a highly self-reliant nation, whose former dependence on the sea and fishing for their economy was virtually total. Their isolated location in the North Atlantic also means that their island is frequently forgotten about – Icelanders will tell you that they’ve given up counting how many times they’ve been left off maps of Europe – something that deeply offends their strong sense of national pride. For all their self-confidence, though, Icelanders can initially seem reserved – until Friday and Saturday nights roll around, when the bjór starts to flow and turns even the most monosyllabic fisherman into a lucid talkshow host.

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Essentials

  • Getting legless for an arm and a leg
  • Hikes and hot springs
  • To whale or not to whale
  • Sexual equality in Iceland
  • Photographing the Northern Lights