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Standing on a triangular peninsula formed at the place where the rivers Itchen and Test flow into an eight-mile inlet from the Solent, Southampton has figured in numerous stirring events and for centuries has been of strategic maritime importance. It was from here that the Pilgrim Fathers departed for America in the tiny Mayflower in 1620 and many great ocean liners, such as the Queen Mary and the Titanic have followed since. The image of the thousand-year-old city was greatly blemished by the bombing during World War II and postwar planning caused changes almost beyond recognition.
Welcome to Edinburgh, the administrative and cultural capital of Scotland. The present city had its origin in the 11th century.Towards the end of the Middle Ages, Edinburgh’s development prompted the construction of two walls to encircle the settlement and to protect her citizens. Adversely, the walls inhibited expansion and contained the city for almost 250 years. After Scotland was joined with England in 1707, defense was no longer a key issue and the city began to spread beyond the protective walls.
Edinburgh entered its golden age in the late 18th century and emerged as one of Europe’s great intellectual capitals. Dominating the city from atop Castle Rock is the oldest and most prominent surviving structure, Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile links the castle with the 16th-century Holyroodhouse Palace, the official residence of the Queen when she visits Edinburgh. The Throne Room and the State Apartments, with their rich tapestries and period furnishings, are of particular interest.
While major historic monuments are found in the Old Town, Georgian architecture characterizes the New Town, which is the heart of the city. Princes Street marks the dividing line between the old and new sections. Shops, hotels, clubs and restaurants line its northern side; the southern side is flanked by Princes Street Gardens.
Edinburgh is first and foremost a cultural and educational center. Its university, the largest in Scotland, was founded in 1583; it became a famous center for medical studies. The city is also noted for its excellent galleries and museums as well as the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the International Festival.
The distance between Edinburgh and Rosyth is 14 miles, requiring a driving time of approximately 45 minutes.
The Granite City sparkles like silver in the Scottish sunshine, and there is over 8,000 years’ worth of history to dig into in this pretty city of cobbled streets and hunched cottages. Located far to the north of the British Isles, Aberdeen is third only to Edinburgh and Glasgow in terms of size. Shaped by its maritime location, granite foundations and offshore oil industry, today’s Aberdeen is a prosperous powerhouse, alive with arts and culture.
Surrounded by the Cairngorms Mountains’ sepia-hues – and the North Sea’s windswept coastline – Aberdeen was forged by the granite quarried from its earth. Local stone is everywhere from the Houses of Parliament to Waterloo Bridge – but arguably the finest examples of the material’s beauty are in the city itself. The barnacled spikes of Marischal College – the world’s second largest granite building – and the grand turreted masonry of the Town House leave a lasting impression. Johnston Gardens add some colour to the city’s canvas, and you’ll often spot wedding dresses floating among the blooming rhododendrons and ornate bridges. Aberdeen Maritime Museum takes visitors on a voyage through the region’s seafaring heritage, and North Sea oil exploration. Stop for a coffee and watch fishing vessels and trawlers toing and froing from the harbour, surreally mingling with city centre buildings in the unusually central harbour. Old Aberdeen is a fairy-tale walk of cobbled streets and eccentric stone houses where no stone is the same, while the Footdee fishing village, or ‘fittie’ as the locals pronounce it, consists of historic leaning cottages and ramshackle huts for the city’s fishing community.
Scattered just off the northern tip of Scotland, Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Islands – a scenic archipelago of fascinating, dual heritage. The Viking influence is deep, while a prehistoric past and World War history adds to the endless stories that these dramatic islands have to tell. Sparse and beautiful, let the sweeping seascapes of frothing waves, and dance of the northern lights, enchant you as you explore. Windswept beaches are inhabited by whooping swans, while grassy cliffs hide puffins amid their wavy embrace. View less
Sea caves and crumbling castles – and the dramatic meeting of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean add to the romantic beauty of these lands, which may be physically close to the UK, but feel an entire world away. The sandstone St. Magnus Cathedral is the centrepiece of Orkney’s main town – a place of winding lanes and atmospheric walks – and Britain’s northernmost cathedral is a masterpiece that took 300 years to complete. Started in 1137, the beautiful cathedral is adorned with mesmerising stain-glass windows and has been evocatively named as the Light of the North. Look down over the ruined Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces nearby from the tip of the cathedral’s tower. Or, test out the islands’ history-rich distilleries, which produce smokey single malts – said to be the best in the world. You can also venture out to Europe’s best-preserved Stone Age Village, at the extraordinary World Heritage Site of Skara Brae, which offers an unparalleled vision into prehistoric life.
Adrift between the Scottish and Norwegian coasts, the craggy Shetland Islands form the most northerly point of the British Isles. Sprawling across 100 islands, connected by sandy bridges and crisscrossing ferries, explore the highlights of this scenic archipelago outpost. With incredible Neolithic history, spanning 5,000 years of human heritage, these islands, which sit just shy of the Arctic Circle, are an isolated and immense treasure trove of history and thrilling scenery. Look out over dramatic coastline from atmospheric Iron Age towers.
Slow the pace, and discover the refreshing approach to life that Djupivogur has made its trademark. You can leave your phone behind as you step out into this Icelandic town, which has won awards celebrating its leisurely outlook and stubborn rebellion against the frenetic pace of modern life. After all, who needs emails and notifications when you have some of the most humbling monochrome scenery and gashed fjords, waiting on your doorstep? Sitting on a peninsula to the south-east of Iceland, the glacial approach to life here wins many hearts.
A place where hammers knock on metal in workshops, artists ladle paint onto canvases, and wild ponies roam across mountains, Djupivogur is an uninhibited artistic hub – full of makers and creatives. The most expansive project is the 34 egg sculptures that dot the coastline, created by the Icelandic artist, Sigurður Guðmundsson. Each egg represents a different native bird species. Fishing remains the primary industry, and you can savour the soft fruits of the labour in restaurants serving up smoked trout and fish soup within their cosy confines. Wander the surrounding landscapes, where snow-freckled mountains rise, and lazy seals lie on dark rock beaches, to feel Djupivogur’s natural inspiration seeping under your skin. Alive with greens and golds in summer, further ventures reveal bright blue glaciers and the sprawling waterfalls of Vatnajökull National Park. The cliff-hugging puffins of Papey Island are a short boat ride away, while Bulandstindur Mountain’s pyramid shape is a stand out even among these fairy-tale landscapes.
Seydisfjordur,, a beautiful 19th-century Norwegian village on the east coast of Iceland, is regarded by many as one of Iceland’s most picturesque towns, not only due to its impressive environment, but also because nowhere in Iceland has a community of old wooden buildings been preserved so well as here. Poet Matthías Johannessen called Seydisfjordur a ‘pearl enclosed in a shell’.
Iceland’s Capital of the North is the gateway to a thrilling land of roaring waterfalls, soaring volcanoes and glorious wildlife. It may lie a mere 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, but Akureyi blossoms with a bright, cosmopolitan feel, and explodes into life during the summer months, when its outdoor cafes and open-air bathing spots fill up with visitors ready to immerse themselves in Iceland’s cinematic scenery. Feel the thundering impact of Iceland’s celebrated natural wonders shaking your bones at Godafoss Waterfalls, known as the ‘Waterfalls of the Gods’.
Here, the Skjálfandafljót river unleashes a colossal torrent of water over charcoal-black rocks below. Or, find some peace at the Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1957 and offer space for contemplation – amid plants that bloom with unexpected vibrancy, even at this northerly latitude. The Lutheran, Akureyrarkirkja Church rises like a grand church organ and is the town’s most striking landmark. The 112-step climb is worth the effort to see light flooding in through its narrow stain glass windows, spreading colourful patchworks across the interior. Magic and mythology are important elements of Icelandic folklore, and you’ll even bump into giant sculptures of grizzled, child-snatching trolls on the town’s high street. Or, meet more earthly – but no less magical – creatures in the waters around Akureyi, where immense blue whales cruise by and dolphins playfully leap. A trip to the northerly Grimsey island will take you on an inspiring adventure traversing the Arctic Circle to a remote island where flame-beaked puffins nod on cliff-side perches and razorbills nest. Brush up on your puffin-watching skills with our blog.
A tiny town in the scenic north of Iceland, cosseted away by a jagged wall of mountain peaks, Siglufjordur is an isolated gem. With just over a thousand residents, Siglufjordur takes its name from the glassy fjord that stretches out nearby. Iceland’s northernmost town, only a single-lane road tunnel, bored through the snow-capped mountains, provides a land link with the rest of the country. This evocative remoteness appealed to dark Nordic Noir writers – and the town has found recent fame as the star of the TV show Trapped. View less
A much warmer welcome awaits you in real life than in fiction – fortunately. Siglufjordur is a historic Atlantic capital of herring fishing, and you can learn of the industry that gave the town its raison d’etre, and powered Iceland’s economy at the award-winning Herring Era Museum. The biggest maritime-themed museum in Iceland, it spreads across three buildings and covers every element of the town’s relationship with its fishing waters – from expedition to preparation and preservation. While the industry has dried up since its heyday, wander to the harbour for views of the pretty town’s cherry and lemon coloured former warehouses. Swirling seagulls look for offcuts, while fishermen sandpaper and varnish tiny vessels. Take a boat out around the scenic fjord, or embark on lengthy hikes out and above this romantically isolated outpost. The sounds of beautiful duo vocal harmonies and accordions are often heard echoing along the streets, and the Folk Music Museum is an enchanting look into quaint, rural Icelandic culture. The Folk Music Festival causes the town’s population to swell dramatically, as visitors make for these picturesque shores to play and perform each year.
Sitting in the finger-like scenery of the Westfjords – which flays out from the mainland to form one of Europe’s most westerly points, Patreksfjordur has barely 700 inhabitants and – like so many Icelandic communities – is built on time-tested fishing traditions. Discover wonderful crowds of birdlife clinging to the dramatic cliffs, as you embark on adventures amid the Westfjords, discovering flat-topped mountains, cutting inlets and evocative, windswept beaches. View less
With their bright beaks and amiable features, puffins are some of the most beautiful birds in the world – and they nest in huge quantities on Látrabjarg cliff, close to Patreksfjordur. Vertically steep and imposing, the birds are safe from predators like foxes here, as they live and breed on the dramatically steep drop-offs. Wander to see them thriving in their natural habitat, clinging to cliff ledges. You can also encounter gannets and guillemots, as well as an estimated 40% of the world’s Razorbill population. Rauðasandur beach is one of Iceland’s more unusual sights, a huge copper-red stretch of sand. Wander the dreamy shoreline, and photograph the remote, colourful collision of sea and sand. You’re also close to the majestic veil of Dynjandi waterfall, which fans out across 60 metres as it descends. After a tough day’s hiking, return to Patreksfjordur to admire fjord views and soak your muscles in an outdoor pool, as the stars begin to appear above. Or head to the muscle-relieving, naturally-heated, geothermal pools that murmur nearby.
The fire, frost and water symbolized by the red, white and blue of Iceland’s flag are manifested by the ice and snow of its glaciers, the hot mud pools, geysers and glowing lava flows in the country’s volcanic regions.
The island’s settlement dates back to 874 when a Norwegian named Ingolf Arnarson arrived at present-day Reykjavik. In 930, the settlers formed a legislature, the Alting, which was the beginning of the Commonwealth of Iceland. From the 10th to the 14th centuries, Iceland developed a literary form, the Icelandic Saga, which spread throughout the Nordic culture and into the English and German languages. It was used to spin stories of the gods, record historic events and glorify heroes.
As Iceland’s capital and main center of the country’s population, the city of Reykjavik is a fascinating blend of the traditional and modernism. Just as Iceland is a unique country – rugged and remote, yet technically advanced and enjoying Nordic standards of affluence – Reykjavik is a highly unusual capital city. It dominates the life of Iceland in almost every way. More than half of the country’s total population of 270,000 is living in and around the capital, and the economy of the entire nation depends on Reykjavik. Nearly 60 percent of Iceland’s imports are received and distributed, and 40 percent of the country’s exports are loaded for shipment via the port of Reykjavik. It is also the headquarters of what is probably the world’s most advanced seafood industry, which counts for Iceland’s number one export.
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