It’s dotted with hundreds of volcanoes, yet is home to Europe’s largest glacier; it’s perched on the edge of the arctic circle, yet is warmed by the Gulf Stream, …Icelandtruly is, the Land of Fire and Ice.
It’s also theland, of story.
The marks of human hands are few and far betweenon this windswept land.
Footprints are quickly reclaimed, but stories, …lingerforever.
Such is the sheer force and beauty of thisplace that Viking warriors have been transformed into poets, and familystories into epic sagas.
When Norseman, Ingólfur Arnarson, first caught sight of these shores over eleven-hundredyears ago, he cast the wooden seat pillars of his chieftain’sthrone overboard and vowed to build his farm wherever theywashed up.
Three years later the pillars were found anda settlement was born.
That settlement became Reykjavik, Iceland’scapital, a city two-thirds of Icelanders now call home.
With a population of only 300, 000, Iceland can feel like the most isolated placeon earth, yet Reykjavik is only a three-hour flightfrom London, and just under six from New York.
Reykjavik is one of those places that’snot sure if it’s big town, or a small city, and therein lays its charm.
It’s relaxed and welcoming, yet possesses a fierce creativity and cultural life that holds its own againstother European capitals.
Most buildings here are a response to thenatural environment, … simple and low, to beat the North Atlanticwinds, …colourful, to brighten the spirits through the long darkwinters.
Yet there's grand civic architecture heretoo, buildings truly inspired by Iceland’s naturalbeauty.
Like a spire from a fairy tale ice-castle, the soaring central tower of Hallgrímskirkjawatches over all of Reykjavik.
Designed to mirror the geometric shapes ofancient lava flows, few other churches in the world so honourthe natural world.
Iceland’s conference and concert center, Harpa, is designed to reflect the city’ssky, harbour and cultural energy.
Once again, the island’s dramatic geologic formationsare honoured here, as well as the incredible winter spectacleof the Northern Lights.
Icelanders value their heritage buildingstoo.
When Reykjavík modernised in the mid-twentiethcentury, dozens of the city’s older buildings wererelocated to the last of the city’s farms.
Today, Arbaejarsafn, serves as a museum whichallows visitors to walk through the pages of earlier times.
While at the National Museum of Iceland, take a voyage through Icelandic history, from the present day, back to the SettlementAge.
Wherever you step in this city, nature beckons you, …over windswept waters, across the mountains, and into limitless horizons.
Many of the country’s most popular sightsare within easy reach of Reykjavík, often by public transport.
Immerse yourself in the spirit of Iceland, at the Blue Lagoon.
Here, and at hundredsof volcanic baths across the island, locals come to soak in the healing thermalwaters, share gossip with neighbours, and even conductbusiness meetings.
Not far from Reykjavík is an area known asThe Golden Circle, which encompasses three of Iceland’s greatestnatural wonders.
Just 30 miles from the capital, is ThingvellirNational Park, considered the country’s heart and soul.
Here, you can actually walk between the tectonicplates of North America and Europe, that have been drifting apart for millennia.
Stand upon the shore of the country’s largestlake, …wander the grass covered lava flows and imagine the clans who gathered here forIceland’s open air parliament, for two weeks each year, for over 800 years.
Also in the Golden Circle, experience a boiling cauldron of hissing steamvents and belching mud pools, at the Geysir Geothermal Field.
The Great Geysir itself has been quiet inrecent years, but nearby, it’s little brother Strokkur, still puts on a show, thrusting water into the heavens every 10minutes.
If there’s one natural wonder in The GoldenCircle that outshines them all, it’s Gullfoss.
Early last century, the waterfall was threatenedby a hydroelectric project, until a local farmer’s daughter walked barefootto Reykjavik and threatened to throw herself from the fallsunless the project was stopped.
Today, that woman is regarded as Iceland’sfirst environmentalist, and The Golden Falls have been protected, forever.
For many visitors, their Icelandic story continues no further than Reykjavik and The Golden Circle, which is a shame, because the further youroam, the greater the adventure.
Iceland’s main ring road circles the entireisland, stringing together an endless series of epiclandscapes and tales.
An hour and a half’s drive east from Reykjavik is one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss.
Follow the trail behind a 200 foot veil ofpure glacial water, where throughout the ages, adventurers havecome to pause, and breathe in the mists of this sacred place.
Drive another 18 miles east, to Skógafoss, where according to folklore, a Viking buried his chest of gold behind thefalls.
Years later, a local boy found the chest and attemptedto wrench it from it’s hiding place, only to tear off its handle before the chestvanished again.
On sunny days the falls create a double rainbow, a treasure in itself.
Continue eastward towards Vík, the southern-mostvillage in the country.
Here wedged between the mountains and thesea lie some of Iceland’s most dramatic landscapes, weather, and legends.
Explore the basalt sands of Black Beach, considered one of the most beautiful non-tropicalbeaches in the world.
Just offshore rise the basalt sea stacks ofReynisdrangar.
Locals say the formations are the remainsof two trolls heading out to sea, who, when caught by the rising sun were frozenin the morning light.
The shorelines here are made up of otherworldlyrock formations and caves, like Hálsanefshellir, said to be a monster’s lair until a landslidesealed the entrance only a century ago.
Hike across the natural arch of Dyrholaeyand sit surrounded by puffins.
While below, waves that have travelled uninterrupted, all the way from Antarctica, end their journeyagainst Iceland’s most southerly point.
Follow the ring road for another two hours, into the ethereal light of JökulsárlónLake.
Here, at the tongue of Vatnajokull, Europe’slargest glacier, icebergs break away and float for years, melting down until they are small enough totumble out to sea.
A magnet for photographers and filmmakers, Jökulsárlón has been the setting for modernday legends, like James Bond, Batman, and Lara Croft.
From the wild, windswept shores of the EastCoast to the volcanic wonders of the north, Iceland’s ring road offers one jewel afteranother, all strung together with mile upon mile ofabsolute solitude.
Stand before the northern horseshoe fallsof Selfoss.
Then just downstream, feel the earth rumble beneath your boots atEurope’s mightiest waterfall, Dettifoss, who’s plume can be seen overhalf a mile away.
Nearby the Myvatn region awaits, whose centerpieceis a tranquil lake, surrounded by nature in all its violent beauty.
Take a careful walk through the boiling landscapeof Namafjall.
Lose yourself amid the lava pillars and darkcastles of Dimmuborgir, the place where Satan is said to have landedwhen God cast him from Heaven.
Then, peer into the caldera of Krafla Volcano, and witness the incredible geothermal powerthat resides just beneath the ice.
Just to the west of Myvatn, is a waterfall forever linked to a turningpoint in Iceland’s epic narrative.
When civil war threatened to tear the islandin two in the 10th century, Iceland’s law speaker united the countryunder one faith, Christianity.
In a symbolic act of conversion, the chieftain hurled his pagan totems offthe falls, which have been known as Godafoss, the waterfallof the gods, ever since.
After a few days on the road, the tiny city of Akureyri appears like anarctic oasis.
Known as the Capital of the North, Akureyri is the perfect place to warm up andenjoy some comfort and culture, before heading off into the wilds again.
There are some stories we never want to end, that we never want to put down, but rest assured, this, is only an introduction.
In Iceland, every side road, every path is a story waiting to unfold.
Fromthe vast interior, to the West Fjords, each untouched beach andwindswept plain is an unwritten page.
So come, and live your own Icelandic story, it’s one you’ll keep telling for the rest of your days.