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Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is defined by its dramatic volcanic landscape of geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers and black-sand beaches. The capital, Reykjavik, home to the majority of the population, runs on geothermal power and offers a renowned nightlife scene as well as Viking history museums. The glaciers in Vatnajokull and Snaefellsnes national parks are popular for ice climbing, hiking and snowmobiling.

Reykjavik The world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik has a sense of space and calm that comes as a breath of fresh air to travellers accustomed to the bustle of the traffic-clogged streets in Europe’s other major cities. Although small for a capital (the population is barely 120,000), Reykjavik is a throbbing urban metropolis compared with Iceland’s other built-up areas; the Greater Reykjavik area is home to two out of every three Icelanders. If you’re planning to visit some of the country’s more remote and isolated regions, you should make the most of the atmosphere generated by this bustling port, with its highbrow museums and buzzing nightlife.

Southwestern Iceland Spread either side of Reykjavik, southwestern Iceland extends barely 200km from end to end, but nowhere else are the country’s key elements of history and the land so visibly intertwined. Here you’ll see where Iceland’s original parliament was founded over a thousand years ago, sites that saw the violence of saga-age dramas played out, and where the country’s earliest churches became seats of power and learning. Culture aside, if you’re expecting the scenery this close to Reykjavik to be tame, think again: the southwest contains some of Iceland’s most iconic – and frequently explosive – landscapes, compelling viewing whether used as a simple backdrop to a day’s drive, or as an excuse to spend a week trekking cross-country. 

The West Coast The panorama of the bay of Faxa Fiord is magnificent – with a width of fifty miles from horn to horn, the one running down into a rocky ridge of pumice, the other towering to the height of five thousand feet in a pyramid of eternal snow, while round the intervening semicircle crowd the peaks of a hundred noble mountains.

The West Fjords Attached to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of land barely 10km wide, the West Fjords are one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and least-visited corners of Iceland – only three percent of all foreign tourists make it out here. This peninsula of 8600 square kilometres, stretching out into the icy waters of the Denmark Strait, with its dramatic fjords cutting deep into its heart, is the result of intense glaciation.

Northwest Iceland Compared with the neighbouring West Fjords, the scenery of Northwest Iceland is much gentler and less forbidding – undulating meadows dotted with isolated barns and farmhouses are the norm here, rather than twisting fjords, though there are still plenty of impressive mountains to provide a satisfying backdrop to the whole coastline. However, what makes this section of the country stand out is the location of two of Iceland’s great historical sites, most notably Þingeyrar, once the location for an ancient assembly and monastery where some of Iceland’s most outstanding pieces of medieval literature were compiled.

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