Iceland is an otherworldly place of fire and ice. The forces of nature have created a volatile playground, where you can swim outdoors in a snowstorm in geothermally heated pools, trek across a mossy lava field, or power a skidoo over an icy glacier. Go whale-watching off Snaefellness, or swim in the Atlantic at Nauthólsvík, Reykjavík's heated ocean beach. In winter the countryside is bathed in the eerie light of the Aurora Borealis. More than a thousand years of independent Viking spirit is reflected in the friendly, self-reliant populace.
In the AlÞing Iceland has the world's oldest continuous serving parliament, founded in 930. The AlÞing's home, Þingvellir, is located on the earth's mid-Atlantic ridge, which is splitting apart a few inches a year. Nearby, the thunderous waterfall Gulfoss and Haukadalur's geysers illustrate the power of water. Relive Viking times in the reconstructed farmstead at Þjódveldibærinn Stöng. Balance on Hornbjarg's razor-sharp coastline in Westfjords and head east for the mountainous fjords of the Vatnajokull glacier.
Eating and Drinking
Go native with Icelandic cuisine. If fermented shark seems too extreme, sample smoked puffin, hardfiskur (dried fish strips) or even whale, washed down with a shot of brennivin (Icelandic schnapps, flavored with caraway seeds). Teetotalers might enjoy nonalcoholic Maltöl. The sea's bounty inspires restaurants such as Reykjavík's Fish Company, where meals are served in a log-cabin interior. The sweet runny yoghurt known as skýr has been a dessert staple for 1,000 years.
Iceland revels in the great outdoors. Meet the world's largest living creatures out on the choppy North Atlantic, from humpbacks to pods of killer whales. After skidooing across glacier tops, take a dive beneath the surface of Lake Þingvallavtn at Silfra to swim between two continental plates. Walk behind the Foss á Siðu waterfall in south Iceland, feel the force of Dettifoss (Europe's largest waterfall) in the northeast, and hang on for dear life as you thrill to white-water rafting.
Icelanders have the life/work balance just right. Daily dips in geothermally heated pools are de rigueur. Don't leave Iceland without a swim in the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, near Keflavík airport, where natural and industrial elements have created a steamy blue-gray pool of opaque water. Let the famous diminutive Icelandic horses (don't call them ponies) smoothly tackle rugged terrain with their extra gait, the tölt, as you trek the lowlands from "the garden of Iceland," Hveragerdi.