Iceland has something of a history with adventure. Its first settlers are thought to be Gaelic monks before Vikings and Scandinavian explorers claimed it as their own. Today, you can still experience much of the wild beauty that greeted the original adventurers some 1,000 years ago.
Iceland’s much-loved Golden Circle out of Reykjavik ties together some of its most arresting sights. Start with Thingvellir National Park – the 10th century site of the world’s first democratic parliament – where a fissured river valley is littered with the stone remains of ancient dwellings. Then, move on to the Gullfloss waterfall whose tumbling waters bisect green fields to crash down a three-step cascade. You’ll also visit Geysir, the original geothermal display that has leant its name to many a pretender. Of course, there are always the more civilised delights and sapphire geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon just outside of the capital.
Or, you could head further afield to the country’s remotes on sweeping coastal drives. In the south, experience the black-sand beaches around Vik along with its vast glaciers and imposing volcanoes. Or, head north for ranging lava fields filled with strange formations and craters while Myvatn Lake is a wetlands oasis ideal for hikes. In between you’ll find colossal glaciers and wide fjords or perhaps take a boat trip out to the southerly Westman Islands to walk on the craters of a headland volcano.
Throughout Iceland there’s plenty of opportunity to get up close to its dramatic scenery. Whether it’s a glacier hike and winter snowshoeing or a trip on a snowmobile or a dogsled through snowy fields you’ll be able to experience one of the world’s pristine wildernesses. However, many come to the country for its Northern Lights displays alone. During the winter months, ethereal neon greens and reds set the night’s sky aglow as stargazers leave the towns behind in search of them. However, you need not wander far as – given the right conditions – they can even be spotted in Reykjavik.
Iceland’s waters are something of a cool paradise for magnificent Atlantic whales. From Húsavík on the country’s north coast, nearly every seasonal trip is rewarded with sights of everything from orcas and porpoises to minke and humpback whales. You can even go on tours out of Reykjavik. Alternatively, make the trip to Látrabjarg cliffs in the northwest for a birdlife spectacle of upwards of a million puffins, arctic terns and guillemots nesting in cliffs as seals laze on the rocks below.