Iceland is constantly being changed by the powerful plate tectonics of the Mid-Atlantic Rift. It lies above a hotspot, the Iceland plume, an upwelling of hot rock in the Earth’s mantle. This caused the formation of Iceland itself. Vast quantities of magma still rise to the surface, creating the world’s most active volcanic landscape. The Eldfjallasafn Volcano Museum explores this extraordinary geology. The Krafla Caldera’s 18th-century eruption lasted five years. Iceland has some of the world’s greatest glaciers. Deildartunguhver’s boiling hot springs result from the interaction of a glacier with volcanic activity beneath it. The geothermal valley of Haukadalur is home to hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots and geysers, including the famous Great Geyser and the active Strokkur. Take a snowmobile ride up Vatnajökull Glacier. Cruise Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon to view icebergs reflecting white, black, blue and turquoise particles. Tour Snaefellsjökull National Park which inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Iceland has an extraordinary profusion of birds and animals. Atlantic puffins can be viewed at Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve and seals at Vatnsnes Peninsula. At Lake Mývatn, a paradise for birdwatchers, you can walk on the rim of pseudo craters (rootless cones) or relax in the nature baths. There are also many types of whales and dolphins in Icelandic waters including the Humpback Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Sei Whale, Pilot Whale, White-Beaked Dolphin and the Harbour Porpoise. The Common Eider duck occupies the marine environment in Iceland all year round.
Remote Iceland remained unknown to humans until settled by Vikings in the 9th century. They produced one of the world’s greatest epic cycles, The Icelandic Sagas. These recount the history of the Kings of Norway from Prehistory to the Middle Ages. The earlier episodes, from the mists of time, recount fantastic events and include fanciful characters. The settlement centre in Borgarnes has a reconstruction of a Viking longhouse. At Eiríksstaðir horsemanship is displayed with the descendants of Viking horses. The national parliament (Althing) which occupied an open-air assembly, was established in 930 AD in Þingvellir. This is the oldest surviving parliament in the world and held sessions until 1800.
For the next millennium, isolated Icelanders eked out a subsistence, threatened by volcanic eruptions and glacial floods. Glaumbaer Farm Museum preserves primitive turf-roofed dwellings and the Skógar Folk Museum depicts traditional life. Only with the development of the herring industry, portrayed in the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður, did Iceland develop a modern economy, reflected in Reykjavík’s National Museum and sparkling Harpa Concert Hall.
Travel through some of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes – of active volcanoes, vast glaciers, great geysers, boiling springs, gushing waterfalls and dramatic North Atlantic coastline. Read more