See some of Europe’s greatest natural wonders in Iceland, the “Land of Fire and Ice.” Despite an inhospitable environment formed by volcanoes and glaciers, Iceland has been settled since the ninth century. Walk on glaciers, relax in hot springs and learn about Iceland’s rugged history.
Glaciers cover 11 percent of Iceland’s area, so any itinerary should include these vast ice masses and the terrain they have shaped. Trek into Vatnajökull National Park, the site of Iceland’s largest glacier. Join a tour to step out onto the glacier, which is punctuated by volcanoes. Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak, is located here. Head into the park’s northern reaches to find one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls, Dettifoss.
After your icy trip, get warm in one of Iceland’s hundreds of natural and manmade hot springs. The most popular is the Blue Lagoon southwest of Reykjavik, which steams among craggy volcanic rocks. Go farther west along the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is rife with lava fields. After exploring this area, travel to the peninsula north of Reykjavik to see Snaefellsjökull, perhaps the world’s most famous volcano due to its role in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
While Iceland’s terrain is still being formed, its human history is some of the oldest in the Western world. Visit Þingvellir National Park, where one of Europe’s oldest parliaments was formed in A.D. 930. Head into the northwestern Dalir region, where Leif Erikson, the first European to arrive in America, was born. A statue of Erikson stands in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik.
Iceland is sparsely populated, with half of its inhabitants in Reykjavik. Nonetheless, its road network is extensive. For the most comprehensive view of the country, follow the Ring Road. This loosely parallels the nation’s perimeter, passing through Reykjavik and skirting most of the country’s main attractions. To reach Iceland, fly into Reykjavik’s international airport or take a ferry to Seyðisfjörður from mainland Europe.