Highlights

Reykjavik

Iceland’s pretty capital city, with its neat, narrow streets and gleaming multicoloured buildings, curves around the wide, flat expanse of Videyjarsund bay. The settlement’s stunning location was chosen in the 9th century by the country’s first settler, Norseman Ingólfur Arnarson, who bestowed it with a name that fittingly means “Smoky Bay.”

The northernmost European capital, today Reykjavik is a modern city and a thriving cultural metropolis lined with grand churches, meticulously groomed gardens, historic museums, trendy stores, and innovative art galleries.

 

Blue Lagoon

A rough-hewn, sky-blue lake surrounded by rocky lava outcrops provides a natural setting for the posh Blue Lagoon resort, southwest of Reykjavik. The warm, serene waters – actually mineral-rich runoff from the nearby Svartsengi power plant – create the country’s most popular hotspot for relaxing and rejuvenation.

Curved metal bridges stretch over the geothermally heated lagoon, while cedar sunning platforms, private pools, and a hidden sauna inside a cave add to the attractive, ethereal ambience. While you’re here, look around: the lagoon’s refreshing, skin-healing properties and the luxury spa treatments attract international celebrities and glitterati.

 

Thingvellir National Park

Set around Thingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake, the wildly beautiful Thingvellir National Park is framed by an army of imposing volcanic peaks. The park is also one of the country’s most important historic sites, the chosen location for the original Althingi (National Assembly) when it was founded as the core of the country’s government in 930AD.

Gathered at the northern end of the lake is a collection of buildings and historic landmarks, including the flag-topped Lögberg (Law Rock), the flat expanse where the legislators and courts once conducted their annual mid-summer business. Also in the park are such geologically significant sites as the gaping Almannagjá crevasse, which marks the separation of two giant tectonic plates. The island-studded Öxara River, which winds through the park, shelters Arctic bird colonies, and the land is popular for pony treks and hikes.

 

Geysir

Crusty, golden earth etched with white mineral residue surrounds the world’s original “geyser”, from which all other gushing hot fountains were named. Southeast of Reykjavik, the park is actually the site of two spouting, sulphurous cones, Geysir and Strokkur (the churn), as well as numerous little ponds of steaming, azure-coloured water. Walking trails meander between bubbling mud pools and billowing vents, while horseback and hiking paths cut through the adjacent Haukadalur Forest – all ample attractions to explore while waiting for Stokkur’s 20-metre (66-foot) expulsions of scalding water that occur up to 12 times an hour.

 

Gullfoss Waterfalls

The wide, rocky Hvítá River divides the rumpled green plains of the southeast to tumble down into the famous, two-layer Gullfoss cascades. Backed by an impressive ravine, the “Golden Falls” stretch up into 32 metres (105ft) of thundering water and glittering mists. Saved from damming by a local farmer’s daughter, the Gullfoss park area is now a national monument. On clear days, look southeast past the Viking relics at Stöng to glimpse the low, sooty cone of Mount Hekla, Iceland’s most active volcano.

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