With its spectacular landscape of waterfalls, glaciers, spurting geysers and mud pools, its warm and welcoming people and lively cultural scene, Iceland is a year-round destination offering something for everyone. Flights from the UK take about three hours, and Iceland remains on GMT throughout the year. It is not a member of the EU and its currency is the Icelandic Krona.
Forged by volcanic eruptions around 18 million years ago, Iceland is the youngest landmass in Europe. About one-third larger than Scotland, it is the continent’s least densely-populated country with about 360,000 inhabitants, half of whom live in Reykjavík – the world’s most northerly capital – and the surrounding area. It is home to Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss, and Vatnajökull, 1000 m thick in places, is the largest icecap in the world outside the polar regions.
Although the average July temperature is 11 C, Iceland’s summers can be surprisingly warm, with endless daylight hours in which to explore the country and experience the many activities on offer. Strictly speaking, it is only above the Arctic Circle that the true “midnight sun” occurs. In January, Reykjavík’s average temperature is –0.5 C but there is no need to venture far from the capital to find spectacular scenery. To have an opportunity to see the Northern Lights, visit between September and April.
Peace and quiet
Iceland continues to be a very peaceful country for visitors. The Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index charts the world’s safest destinations and, balancing several factors including political instability and numbers of police and security personnel, Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. A 2014 study concluded that the traditional Icelandic diet is the best in the world, being rich in fish and high-quality, grass-fed meat and dairy, produced on small, family-run farms in one of the cleanest environments on Earth. Incidences of Alzheimer’s, heart-disease, strokes and diabetes are comparatively low and life expectancy is very respectable too. Bloomberg’s 2019 Healthiest Country Index has rated Iceland in third place.
A special destination
The country is, of course, a photographer’s paradise. It is among the 10 best destinations in the world for whale-watching and its bird life is abundant and varied. With over 170 geothermal pools, of which the best known is the Blue Lagoon, there is a thriving spa culture. Throughout the year, there are festivals and events of all kinds celebrating, among other things, music and the arts, food and drink, the sea and, of course, the country’s Viking heritage. National Day is June 17 when Icelanders take to the streets to celebrate their country’s independence. March 1 is Beer Day. Beer was only legalised in 1989 and the anniversary is marked in suitable style each year!