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Taking a Short Break in Iceland

Home of geysers, glaciers and one of the most vibrant countries for nightlife anywhere in the world, there can be few places in Europe as desolate and at the same time intensely fascinating as Iceland. Part of Scandinavia and yet with a culture that is distinct and fiercely independent, Iceland offers the visitors an opportunity to experience both the youngest (geologically) country in Europe and its most developed.

Located on the North Atlantic ridge, Iceland is officially a part of two continents – Europe and North America – and in parts of the country (especially Pingvellir – see below) you can actually see where the two continental plates join. The island sits on a geological hotspot, with many active volcanoes and geothermal activity, giving rise to the famous geysers – and also providing Icelanders with their power. The geothermal springs also provide the island with a ready supply of hot water – the hot tap in your hotel room will be supplied straight from the ground, so if you notice a strong smell of rotten eggs while showering, don’t worry, it’s only the sulphur in the water! One word of caution: because the hot water comes straight from super-heated springs, be very careful when turning the top on – it comes out at around 80 degrees and could cause a nasty shock for the uninitiated.

Any trip to Iceland is bound to begin in the capital Reykjavik – you can find ready-made holidays from sites such as Travelzoo (from flights and accommodation to whale watching trips) or just pick up flights to the capital direct from airlines such as Iceland Air – both offer flights from Heathrow and Gatwick. Lastminute.com is always worth checking out for hotels.

Many package breaks to the island include the famous Golden Circle Tour – a day-long road trip that takes in some of the island’s most breathtaking sites including the awe-inspiring Gullfoss (Golden Falls), the erupting hot springs at Haukadalur (including the, sadly now largely inactive, Geysir – the hot spring that has lent its name to all other erupting hot springs) and Pingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that was once the site of the Albingi – the Iceland parliament. It’s worth investigating the price of the Golden Circle before you travel as it can be cheaper to book the tour once you arrive in the city rather than taking it as part of a package (the same goes for the whale-watching excursions). Basically, if you’re visiting Iceland for the first time, The Golden Circle is a must whether you book in advance or book when you get there.

Another “must-see” – and frequently the last stop en route to the airport for the flight home – is the Blue Lagoon. This spa is founded on geothermal seawater and is essentially a large outdoor pool set in the barren, lunar landscape of Iceland’s black volcanic rock. Luxuriating in the bath-temperature waters of the spa while the snow, sleet or rain beats down in the freezing cold air is a strange yet exhilarating experience; its water is said to have healing properties.