Working with our travel partner, Collette, Reader’s Digest is offering a 7-day tour of this island of wonders and discoveries, Iceland’s incredible natural beauty and array of cultural treasures make it a unique travel destination

Iceland’s spectacular landscape is the product of millennia of gradual, and sometimes explosive, change. Glaciers, thermal springs, waterfalls and volcanoes have moulded the island into a place of dramatic and austere beauty, and its relative isolation from the rest of the world has lent it a distinctive atmosphere and character.

“the northern lights are a spectacle of such powerful beauty that anyone lucky enough to witness them will never forget the experience”

The Icelandic people have long relied on the sea as the bedrock of their economy, diet and culture, and the rugged charms of the land are also central to the country’s sense of identity. Perhaps it is the sky though that really makes Iceland a destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list—the northern lights are a spectacle of such powerful beauty that anyone lucky enough to witness them will never forget the experience. Iceland is a country of dark granite greys and lush greens, deep blues and gleaming whites, and this painterly palette of colours is augmented by occasional flashes of volcanic fire and the neon psychedelia of the aurora borealis.


The only mammal native to Iceland is the elusive arctic fox – the far more visible sheep were introduced by the first settlers in the 9th century

Located just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital of an independent nation

Inspired by the steam rising from the hot springs, early settlers named Reykjavik “the smoky bay” and saw it as a perfect area to settle with good farming lands and the nearby sea.

There can be few places on earth where the amenities—and even luxuries—of the modern age sit in such close proximity to nature at its most untamed and thrilling. The capital, Reykjavik, is a very modern city with all the facilities, comforts and attractions that entails; but it is remarkably quick and easy to escape its cosmopolitan poise and find yourself in raw, unspoilt wilderness. As well as the country’s spectacular natural wonders, there are an impressive variety of cultural highlights on offer. Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and its cultural sophistication is reflected in a literary heritage that stretches back over centuries, a vibrant musical tradition that encompasses everything from opera to avant-garde electronica, a thriving art scene that embraces the cutting-edge and the traditional, and a world-class culinary offering.

Geographically and historically, Iceland is a country that has had to fend for itself for centuries. This can be seen in its present-day sense of self-reliance, and a determination to maintain and honour its own unique culture and traditions. But in stark contrast to the feisty fortitude of its people is their warm and welcoming nature—from the city to the countryside, Icelanders are known for their hospitality, friendliness and somewhat idiosyncratic sense of humour—as the famous Icelandic Phallological Museum, the world’s largest collection of penises, attests.


“Reykjavik is friendly and small. It is very easy as you simply walk everywhere—nothing is further than 25 minutes away”

Much like Iceland as a whole, Reykjavik is a city that manages to pack a lot into a small space. This means it is eminently navigable on foot, and must-see buildings such as Hallgrimskirkja Church, City Hall and Kraum Icelandic design centre are all within easy reach of one another. As Joe Devine, who visited Iceland earlier this year says, “Reykjavik is friendly and small. It is very easy as you simply walk everywhere—nothing is further than 25 minutes away, wherever you are. The city definitely has a particular, pragmatic tone. There are more coffee shop-cum-music venues than any other kind of store.”

Reykjavik itself sits on the shores of Faxaflói Bay, a site of incredible natural beauty that is also an important hub for the local fishing industry. A few miles off the coast lies the uninhabited island of Viðey, the site of a now deserted settlement that dates from the 10th century. An ideal way to get beyond Reykjavik and see what else the country has to offer is to head off around the so-called ‘Golden Circle’, a 186-mile loop from the capital into the southern uplands that takes in Thingvellir National Park, the 100-foot Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal fields of Geysir and Strokkur, before returning to the city. The Thingvellir valley is a place of supreme historical significance—this UNESCO World Heritage site is the location of one of the world’s first parliaments, which was established there in 930 AD. It is also the assembly place between two worlds – the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet here.


Iceland is a nation of book lovers – it has the world’s highest per capita number of publications, and it is estimated that 10% of the population publish a book at some point in their life

Hydroelectric and geothermal power supplies almost all of Iceland’s electricity and heating requirements

Vik is home to one of the most stunning black sand beaches on earth.

All over the country there is a chance to see the northern lights, but the chances are highest during the time of year when the nights are clear and dark (between late August and April). A big part of the northern lights’ appeal is their fleeting, transient nature—as Joe says, “The northern lights are beautiful if seen, but they cannot be guaranteed.”

Ironically, ‘the ionization of particles in the magnetosphere’ seems like a slightly colourless way of describing a phenomenon that is defined by colour—no words can quite capture the epic tableau of greens, blue, purples and pinks dancing and undulating across the night sky. Thousands of travellers, writers and artists have been inspired and moved by the sight.

Another natural phenomenon synonymous with Iceland is the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, which last erupted in 2010, causing widespread disturbance to air travel across Europe. At the volcano’s visitor centre guests can explore the story behind this dramatic geological monolith. One further important element of Iceland’s unique culture is its folk heritage. Icelanders have been intimately connected with the land for generations, and a visit to the Skogar Folk Museum, with its living recreations of picturesque and cosy turf-built homes, provides a glimpse into the past while celebrating the contributions of Iceland’s farming culture right up to the present day.

“Icelandic food is delicious and sophisticated, relying heavily on the two staples of lamb—a product of the country’s rich pastureland—and fish from the surrounding oceans”

One area where Iceland really stands out, for a number of reasons, is the cuisine. The country’s towns and villages offer plenty of homely fare—Joe was particularly taken with the novelty of “soup in a bowl made of bread” in a Reykjavik pub—but for the more adventurous there is no end for more unusual options. The traditional smoked lamb dish Hangikjöt, for example, is perennially popular, while Hrútspungar, or pickled lamb testicle, is perhaps an acquired taste and not for the faint-hearted. Likewise Hákarl, or cured shark, has a—shall we say ‘distinctive’—flavour of ammonia, which is only slightly blunted by its being buried for six to twelve weeks and then being hung up to dry for three or four months. In general though, Icelandic food is delicious and sophisticated, relying heavily on the two staples of lamb—a product of the country’s rich pastureland—and fish from the surrounding oceans. Indeed, Iceland’s fish consumption is about four times the average of other developed countries.

A good way to work off the calories of Iceland’s tempting food is by exploring its many natural wonders. Seljalandsfoss is probably the country’s most picturesque waterfall, and the walkway behind it makes it possible to step behind the curtain and see its spectacular cascade from a unique vantagepoint. Likewise, the natural rock formations at Dyrhólaey, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and the black volcanic beach at Reynisfjara are all unmissable landmarks, while the famous Blue Lagoon on the Reykjanes Peninsula is an undoubted highlight of any trip.

Iceland has become increasingly popular with travellers over the past few years, and its rebirth in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis has imbued it with a new sense of purpose and strength. Its bold and singular characteristics truly set it apart from the rest of Europe, and it combines the best possible aspects of both remote seclusion and community cohesion—if you are curious, adventurous and appreciate beauty, it is an essential stamp in your passport.

DAY 1-2

Day 1

Arrive in Iceland’s vibrant and fascinating capital Reykjavik.

Day 2

Set off on a walking tour around old town Reykjavik, taking in Hallgrimskirkja church, city hall, the harbour and the Kraum Icelandic design centre. After dinner at a restaurant specialising in Icelandic cuisine, leave behind the bright city lights and sail into the darkness of Faxaflói Bay in search of the northern lights.


DAY 3-5

Day 3

Today we embark on the famous Golden Circle, visiting the historic Thingvellir National Park, the geothermal fields of Geysir and Strokkur, and the Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Then we head to Vik, the southernmost village in the country.

Day 4

Head to the Eyjafjallajökull volcano visitor centre and learn about the dramatic 2010 eruption. At Skogar Folk Museum we discover aspects of traditional Icelandic life, including farm and domestic artefacts and turf-built homes. Next we take in the impressive Skógafoss waterfall and Reynisfjara, a black volcanic sand beach.

Day 5

We visit Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon to see icebergs and seals, before setting off for Skaftafell, gateway to Vatnajökull National Park – the largest national park in Europe.

Blue Lagoon
DAY 6-7

Day 6

Today we drive to the Reykjanes Peninsula, renowned for its rugged landscape, lava fields, hot springs and famous Blue Lagoon. After taking a dip in the mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool, we return to Reykjavik for a farewell dinner.

Day 7

Our tour of Iceland concludes.


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