The frozen remoteness that once kept Iceland out of mind has become its chief asset. The land of fire and ice is now impossible to overlook.
When the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010 and threw European airways into chaos, it was clear Iceland was a land unwilling to be ignored. Its thunderous waterfalls, vast glaciers and ill-tempered volcanoes were always wellknown to the outside world, but somehow this icy outpost seemed too remote or expensive to access. All that has changed and Iceland’s international visitors have surged from a few hundred thousand just a decade ago to well over 1.3 million already this year. Icelandic icons like the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon and the steaming fountains of Geysir and Stokkur are featured prominently in the brochures of the major tour operators, while the simple practice of hiring a car is now a routine form of subArctic exploration. The country’s heart and gateway is the small capital of Reykjavik, nestled on a peninsula on the craggy coast of the west. Its brightly coloured houses are heated by thermal energy and overlook sweeping bays to snow-capped mountains beyond, while a small harbour shelters fishing boats and the occasional icebreaker. From here, boat expeditions take visitors to sea in search of whales, or in summer make the short journey to islands like Akurey or Lundey where thousands of puffins and other seabirds maintain their seasonal nests. Close to Reykjavik are highlights like the mighty Gulfoss waterfall, the Geysir and Stokkur geysers and the volcanic rift at Thingvellir where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America are drawing slowly apart. All can be seen in a day following the ‘Golden Circle’ route. Further afield are spectacular sub-arctic landscapes including black volcanic beaches, giant glaciers, soaring mountains and sheltered inlets harbouring icebergs – not to mention dozens of barely resting volcanoes like Eyjafjallajökull.