Discover the wonders of the Island of Vikings
A spectacular land born from the fury of volcanoes, Iceland offers visitors an impressive range of unique landscapes. From fjords and glaciers to lava fields and black sandy beaches, the story of the Earth’s geology is told before your very eyes. And there is also a wealth of cultural heritage to explore: Icelanders are still strongly attached to their Viking architecture and legends. Here is a shortlist of our favourite places to visit to discover a country untouched by time.
Reykjavik, the vibrant capital
With its colourful buildings and fun nightlife, the Icelandic capital is a model of Nordic hedonism. Although the charming lanes of the old town evoke Reykjavik’s not-so-distant past as a fisherman’s village, many of the modern buildings reflect the town’s contemporary vitality. The Harpa is one such building. This astonishing concert hall features a honeycomb glass facade that is adorned with enchanting colours at dusk.
Easily accessible from the capital, the Blue Lagoon offers visitors the chance to bathe outdoors in a natural pool heated to 37 degrees. It is quite simply spectacular. And good for the skin too, due to the algae and minerals in the turquoise waters.
Snaefellsjökull, a volcano with literary credentials
On the tip of a seemingly uninhabited peninsula, the colossal Snaefellsjökull volcano is surrounded by a vast wilderness peppered with lava flows, where lichen vies with ice. Jules Verne fans will know this 1,446-metre peak as the entrance to a passage leading to the Earth’s core taken by the explorers in Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
The seals of the Vatnsnes peninsula
Both wild and rural, the Vatnsnes peninsula charms visitors with its peaceful atmosphere. Here, dramatic landscapes give way to hills that are populated by delightful little Icelandic horses. Near Osar and Borgarvirki, visitors can admire a sizeable seal colony and fortress-like basalt rock formations.
The open spaces of the Westfjords
A wild and virtually uninhabited region, north-west Iceland offers untouched landscapes that chronicle the creation of the world. From the fjords to the peninsula, the sea and the wind set the pace of life here.
The Arctic island of Grimsey
Off the north coast, Grimsey island looks rather austere, with its coast lined with black basalt cliffs. But it is actually quite green, with sheep grazing in one vast meadow. In summer, it is a popular sanctuary for thousands of seabirds that you can easily observe through binoculars. And as the island straddles the Arctic Circle, it is the perfect introduction (or reintroduction) to the Arctic for many visitors.
Myvatn lake, a black mirror
Made up of lush pastures interspersed with volcanic formations, the region around Myvatn lake boasts a striking colour palette and an infinite number of geological masterpieces. The 37 km² lake acts as a mirror for these green and black lands. There are several caves and craters around the lake that can be accessed via well-marked hiking trails.
The dreamlike decor of the Eastfjords
The East coast is carved out by spectacular fjords and is the least populated region of Iceland. At the end of the fjords nestle small villages, where people know how to take their time. The most impressive fjord is probably Mjoifjördur, a long inlet surrounded by dark rocks and fabulous waterfalls that twinkle at dusk.
The lagoons and glaciers of Skaftafell nature reserve
At 8,400 km², Vatnajökull is hands-down the largest glacier in Europe. Sitting atop a column of magma, it is a truly magnificent example of the marriage of fire and ice, which, according to Old Norse legends, shaped Iceland. It is surrounded by the incredible Skaftafell national park and its astonishing basalt formations. This region is also home to the fabulous ‘Diamond Beach’, where iceberg fragments wash up on a strip of black sand. The decor is worthy of a fairy tale, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Cliffs and waves at Dyrholaey
On Iceland’s south coast, the Dyrholaey peninsula offers a spectacular landscape where cliffs battered by the swell vie with black sandy beaches. As you get closer, the rock breaks into crags, resembling an astonishing basalt version of the coast of Étretat in France. The area is home to several large puffin colonies.
Rust-red tephra and ash on the island of Heimaey
The only inhabited island in the Westman Islands is the rural and volcanic Heimaey, which never fails to surprise visitors. Its history is marked by the spectacular – and destructive – eruption of Eldfell in 1973. There is an excellent museum dedicated to the event, which is best visited after a hike on the slopes of the volcano itself.
Visiting Iceland, means setting off to discover unique cultural heritage, exceptional wildlife, and nature in all its chaos. To make the most of it, here is a shortlist of highly recommended activities.
- Let’s start with the obvious: to explore Iceland, you have to put on a sturdy pair of shoes and hit the many hiking trails that crisscross the island.
- From September to early April, all eyes are on the skies: this is the best time to admire the incandescent dance of the Northern Lights.
- The island offers a whole host of natural pools heated by volcanic activityso you’ll have plenty of opportunities to indulge in freshwater baths that are excellent for your health.
- When it comes to the sea, Icelandic waters are home to orcas, dolphins, and its famous whales – whaling was a key occupation in the 20th century. Keep your eyes peeled!
- Are you a keenbirdwatcher ? There is no shortage of bird colonies in Iceland! A special mention goes out to the charming island of Flatey with its terns and puffins.
- And why not pay homage to our ancestors with a visit to the ruins and remarkably reconstructed Viking buildings in Budardalur, Hofn or Thingvellir national park?
- Local produce takes pride of place, on the menus, where you will find skyr (a fresh sour milk cheese), smoked puffin and a wide range of fish cooked with dill. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also try hakarl: shark fin hung and cured for several months. Some people say it tastes a bit like Munster cheese.
PONANT takes you there
Set off on a cruise to discover the wild landscapes of Iceland