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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.
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.
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.
There’s simply nowhere better than Husavilk – the European capital of whale watching – for getting up close and personal with the majestic giants of the ocean. Feel the awe as whales breach the waves around you, before gulping in air and plunging away with almighty tale flicks. Pretty Husavik is framed by the majestic Húsavíkurfjall mountain, which swells up behind, creating a stunning backdrop for the town’s tiny wooden warehouses, cherry red houses and undulating fishing ships. View less
The little wooden church has been a beacon of light, guiding tired fishermen back to the shores of Iceland’s oldest settlement, since 1907. Let the wind rip through your hair and the sea speckle your face, as you ride waves out among the region’s almighty marine creatures, who throw their weight around so spectacularly. Sail among gentle giants in Shaky Bay, spotting humpbacks, minke whales and the world’s biggest – blue whales. You may also see teams of smaller white-beaked dolphins skipping across the waves, displaying the full range of acrobatic skills. The town’s whale museum is an interesting journey through Iceland’s relationship with the sea giants, while its restaurants serve up local specialities – taste juicy reindeer burger and plokkfiskur, a buttery mash of local fish. Hikes and horseback rides into the surrounding countryside can take you up around Lake Botnsvatn, to views down from the slopes of the Húsavíkurfjall – where purple spired lupin flowers spill down amongst the emerald slopes. From the summit, look out over views of the bay, reaching out to the crumpled snowy peaks beyond. Or feel the full force of this land of natural power, at Dettifloss Waterfall, one of Europe’s most powerful, thrashing flumes.
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’.
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.
Derry, also known as Londonderry, is a city on the River Foyle in Northern Ireland. It’s known for the intact 17th-century Derry’s Walls with 7 gates. Within the walls, spired St. Columb’s Cathedral displays artefacts from the 1688–9 Siege of Derry. Near the Peace Bridge, the Tower Museum has city views and historical exhibits. Huge stained-glass windows adorn the neo-Gothic red sandstone Guildhall.
An all-encompassing, all-Irish, genuine warm welcome awaits those who visit Killybegs. Set in the Republic of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Killibegs is a hidden gem of a town that is often overshadowed by Dublin and Galway. But, as the privileged position on the north west coast proves, Killibegs is worth discovering. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the area. View less
The spectacular Slieve League Cliffs, around 45-minutes through the rolling Donegal countryside, are said to be much more dramatic than the Cliffs of Mohr, so those who want to see some of Mother Nature’s finest work will want to head straight for here. At a height of approximately 1,968 feet (about 600 metres) above sea level, the Cliffs are believed to be Europe’s highest sea cliffs, and boast an unspoilt natural landscape. Admire the views from either above, looking down on the rolling waters beyond, or from below, gazing up at the folding cliffs towering before you. Don’t forget your camera! A stroll through Killybegs is rewarding in a tranquil way. The quiet fishing village is lulled by the salty sea breeze and the streets are pretty in a way that only authentic fishing villages can be. The image of soft light bouncing off the harbour walls, reflecting on the waters is something that is truly lovely and will not be forgotten in a hurry. The little town centre is well worth a visit, and can take all day if you get chatting to a local. Cosy little pubs, white sandy beaches and a rich, local history bring up the rear.
Galway is a city in the West of Ireland in the province of Connacht. It lies on the River Corrib between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay and is surrounded by County Galway. It is the fourth most populous urban area in the Republic of Ireland and the sixth most populous city in the island of Ireland. It is both a picturesque and lively city with a wonderful avant-garde culture and a fascinating mixture of locally owned speciality shops, often featuring locally made crafts.
Indeed local handcrafts are a feature of the entire region including hand knits, pottery, glass, jewellery and woodwork. The city’s hub is 18th-century Eyre Square, a popular meeting spot surrounded by shops, and traditional pubs that often offer live Irish folk music. Nearby, stone-clad cafes, boutiques and art galleries line the winding lanes of the Latin Quarter, which retains portions of the medieval city walls. The city bears the nickname “The City of the Tribes” because “fourteen tribes” of merchant families led the city in its Hiberno-Norman period. The merchants would have seen themselves as Irish gentry and loyal to the King. They later adopted the term as a badge of honour and pride in defiance of the town’s Cromwellian occupier.
Glengarriff is a village of approximately 140 people on the N71 national secondary road in the Beara Peninsula of County Cork, Ireland. Known internationally as a tourism venue, it has a number of natural attractions. It sits at the northern head of Glengarriff Bay, a smaller enclave of Bantry Bay.
It may be small, but Ireland’s personality packs a big punch. Ask any local to explain why Ireland is the most beautiful county in the world and you’ll be chatting like old friends in no time. And rightly so; rich heritage dating back to the 5th century includes castles, the book of Kells and craggy coastline, so why not talk about it? Famously quirky cities are everywhere – think Galway on the west, Cobh to the south and Dublin to the east. Add fabulously beautiful landscapes – from the sheer splendour of the Cliffs of Moher to the wildness of Skellig Islands and you’ll understand why an Ireland cruise is a bit of adventure. As the Irish proverb goes, “May the road rise up to meet you”, (good luck on your travels), get ready to enjoy your Ireland luxury cruise where the music, cheer and yes, the Guinness, flows freely. Just don’t forget your umbrella.
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.
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