Iceland is on everybody's lips. Stranded in the middle of the North Atlantic, this rugged island of incredible landscapes and adventurous activities is one of the hottest travel destinations around. And with new attractions to experience and little-visited places to discover, along with a rapidly developing foodie scene in Reykjavík, 2018 is set to be an even better time to visit. Here are six reasons why.
Visitors to Iceland have been hiking across its glaciers for years. Now though, they can actually venture inside one as well. Up on Langjökull, in a remote part of west Iceland, two hours' drive from Reykjavík, a bunch of madcap visionaries have spent the last few years digging a tunnel that leads 500m into the glacier itself. It's quite an eerie feeling wandering around with all that compacted snow weighing heavily above your head, but you'll quickly get distracted by the startlingly blue ice that lies at the deepest sections of the tunnel.
Reykjavík has always been a quirky city break, legendary for its through-the-night parties that make the most of summer's never-ending daylight. But now its culinary scene is catching up as well, with sophisticated restaurants popping up all over town. Matur og Drykkur is a standout for the New Nordic twist it gives traditional (and rather unusual) Icelandic dishes such as cod's head and trout smoked over sheep dung. Over at Skál!, which opened late last year in the capital's new Hlemmur Mathöll food hall, the chefs are carving out a niche for their use of foraged ingredients in the majority of their cooking.
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There's also something of a craft beer revolution going on across Iceland, which is perhaps unsurprising given that a ban on beer was only lifted in 1989. You can kick off your rúntur, the very Reykjavík pub crawl, at microbrewery Bryggjan Brugghús before going on to sample one of the fourteen beers on tap at Skúli Craft Bar or the ten-beer tasters at nearby MicroBar. Craft-ale aficionados will also want to try the lava-smoked stout in the new tap room at Ölvisholt Brugghús, near Hekla volcano.
The Blue Lagoon is justifiably Iceland's most popular attraction, a geothermal wonder of milky-blue waters and cotton clouds of steam. It's always busy, though, and can often get booked up. Until the end of last year, the only other option was to seek out one of the country's natural springs, usually tucked away in a valley somewhere – atmospheric but not particularly convenient. Now, however, you can soak the day away at Krauma, a sleek and sophisticated geothermal complex ninety minutes northeast of Reykjavík. Its five pools are fed by Deildartunguhver, Europe's most powerful hot spring, and are cooled to a temperature that's suitable for bathing by glacial meltwater from the Rauðsgil river.
The majority of visitors stick to Iceland's southwest, so you'll quickly lose the crowds if you venture further away from the capital. In the remote East Fjords, you can spend the day walking along black-sand beaches or tracking wild reindeer without seeing another soul. The fishing villages here are only just beginning to embrace tourism, so you'll probably feel like you're breaking new ground if you go deep-sea fishing at Breiðdalsvík (population 139) or take the boat trip from Djúpivogur to Papey, a tiny island once home to monks but now colonised by hundreds of puffins and slumbering seals.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, and from now until early April you've got a great chance of ticking off this bucket-list phenomenon. You'll need clear skies, plenty of patience and a bit of luck – strong solar winds are also part of the equation if you want to see the most dramatic displays – but the time and effort will be more than worth it. Several tour operators in Reykjavík run trips to see the Lights, and there are some hotels in the wilds outside the capital that will now wake you up in the middle of the night so you can catch the show.
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Header image via Andrew Mayovskyy/Shutterstock.