Photograph by Sisse Brimberg
This is a land that defies imagining. • The recent financial setbacks haven't altered the stunning array of natural wonders, which captivate visitors at nearly every turn. • Steaming volcanoes, cobalt mountains, and snow-cone-like ice formations vie with unsullied, rushing streams, staggering ocean views, and a people eager to make new friends. • ReykjavÌk, the capital, is ordinarily a bit warmer than New York in winter. • Think long, bright summer nights and geothermal geysers, but also think symphony orchestra and lots of unforgettable meals.
Photograph by Brooks Walker
Visitors create their own heat at a thermal zone at the Krafla caldera in northern Iceland. Lava flow from the 1980s (upper left) still mars the landscape.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerQuaint farmhouses line the Skálavegur Road as it passes through Ysti-Skáli, along Iceland’s south coast. Despite sitting at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, the community was relatively unaffected by last year’s eruption.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerAbout 2,000 sheep, left to graze in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve during the summer months, are rounded up each September. The reserve, established in 1979, offers hikers 181 square miles of wild tranquility about 1,600 above sea level.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerA hiker heads down the Víti explosion crater in Iceland’s central highlands, an area accessible only in summer. Víti’s water is warm and mineral-rich, inviting some folks to take a dip despite warnings to the contrary. In the background to the left sits Iceland’s deepest lake, Öskjuvatn.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerFormations of basalt columns amaze visitors at Jökulsárgljúfur gorge, a “Louvre of lava” in Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerThe north coast port town of Húsavík, reputedly Europe’s whale-watching capital, attracts visitors interested in whale-watching, birding, and sailing adventures in Skjálfandi Bay.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerCrowberries, the edible fruit of a dwarf evergreen shrub, grow throughout Iceland and are plucked and eaten, made into a juice, or served as a natural food dye.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerCyclists tackle the Sprengisandur track across the island’s highland interior. The jeep road, open in summer, follows the main volcanic rift zone.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerA child bundles up against the summer’s cold after a swim at Seljavellir pool near Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland’s southern coast. The first pool at Seljavellir was built in two days in 1922 of rock and turf.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerThe multi-colored highlands in Landmannalaugar near the Hekla volcano beckon hikers June through September. Despite the area’s growing season of just two months, some 150 species of flowering plants and ferns inhabit the area.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerCousin to the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík in the southwest corner of Iceland, the Mývatn Nature Baths spa opened in 2004. It has the same soothing temperatures and cobalt color, an effect of suspended minerals in the water.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerIceland is home to close to two-dozen waterfalls including Skógafoss, which flows from the watershed between the Eyjafjalla and Mýrdals glaciers. Its spray is so voluminous that on sunny days single or double rainbows appear near the falls.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerSigns stuck in the cinders indicate family homes engulfed by the January 1973 fissure eruption at the fishing port town of Vestmannaeyjar, known fittingly as the “Pompeii of the North,” on the Westman island of Heimaey. Though the eruption destroyed some 300 homes, all island residents were evacuated to the mainland and the harbor was saved.
Photograph by Brooks WalkerThe glacial lagoon of Gígjökull, an outlet glacier just north of Eyjafjallajökull, was filled with ash by last spring’s eruption.
- Reykjavík; 184,000
- 103,000 square kilometers (39,769 square miles)
- Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German
- Evangelical Lutheran
- Icelandic krona
- Life Expectancy:
- GDP per Capita:
- U.S. $30,200
- Literacy Percent:
A volcanic island, Iceland is Europe's westernmost country and home to the world's northernmost capital city, Reykjavík. Although glaciers cover more than a tenth of the island, the Gulf Stream and warm southwesterly winds moderate the climate—most residents occupy the country's southwest. Established in 930, the national assembly, or Althingi, is the world's oldest continuous parliament. Under the Danish crown for more than 500 years, the country became a republic in 1944. Almost all of Iceland's electricity and heating come from hydroelectric power and geothermal water reserves. Explosive geysers, relaxing geothermal spas, glacier-fed waterfalls like Gullfoss (Golden Falls), and whale watching attract more than 270,000 visitors a year.
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- Industry: Fish processing, aluminum, smelting, ferrosilicon production, geothermal power
- Agriculture: Potatoes, green vegetables, chicken, pork; fish
- Exports: Fish and fish products, animal products, aluminum, diatomite, ferrosilicon