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This quaint town perched on the North Sea boasts dual personalities. While renowned as the site where Viking king Harald Hårfagre united Norway as a kingdom in the 9th century, it’s also one of the country’s most popular destinations for the annual Sildajazz Festival and Norwegian Film Festival. Add in a thriving town center with hundreds of shops and cultural diversions to jaw-dropping scenery and thrilling excursions, your stay in Haugesund promises to be an enthralling experience you won’t soon forget.
Lying at the head of Aurlandsfjord, this small village of some 400 people is surrounded by snowcapped mountains, isolated farmsteads and waterfalls. Flåm also boasts the extraordinary Flåms Railway. One of the most dramatic train rides in Europe, the Flåm Railway takes an hour to cover 10 miles, hugging cliffs, plunging through tunnels and pausing for its passengers to admire the views as it ascends the Flåm Valley to Myrdal, a desolate mountain plateau.
Completed in 2000, the 16-mile-long Aurland-Lærdal Tunnel is the world’s longest traffic tunnel. It burrows beneath the mountains connecting Flåm and Lærdal on the Sognefjord.
As the dense fog parts, it reveals the truly epic scenery of Åndalsnes and its surrounding mountains and fjords. This small alpine village in western Norway is a fisherman’s paradise, where the Rauma River and majestic Romsdalsfjord yield a high volume of cod, haddock and herring, to name a few.
Not for the faint of heart, the main attraction in Åndalsnes is the winding Trollstigen, a winding scenic road to Geiranger that offers commanding views of breathtaking Geirangerfjord and the thundering Stigfossen Waterfall.
The town is your gateway to the famous “Land of Fire and Ice” – Iceland’s dramatic landscape of volcanic craters, extinct lava lakes and majestic waterfalls.
Visitors to Akureyri have a hard time grasping the fact that the town lies just below the Arctic Circle. The climate here is temperate: flower boxes fill the windows of houses, and trees line the neat, well-tended avenues. Thanks to that mild climate, Akureyri’s Botanical Gardens provide a home for over 2,000 species of flora from around the world – all surviving without greenhouses. No wonder Icelanders refer to Akureyri as the most pleasant town on the entire island.
The town of Ísafjördur is the municipal centre of the West Fjords peninsula. The West Fjords are Iceland’s least populated region, with 9,600 inhabitants in the area of 9,520 km. Isafjördur (population 3,500) formerly one of Iceland’s main trading posts, was granted municipal status in 1886. Some of Iceland’s oldest and best-preserved buildings, dating from the 18th century, are located in Ísafjördur. The town is still predominantly a fishing centre. A vigorous and varied cultural and artistic scene flourishes in the town as well. Mountains surround Ísafjördur on the three sides and the sea on the other. The ancient settlement site of Eyri downtown is enclosed by the narrow Skutulsfjördur fjord, which shelters the harbour in all weathers.
Sailing into Grundarfjordur, one travels into Iceland’s heroic past, for this township – village really – is one of the oldest settlements on the island. The imposing landscape with its austere mountains, volcanoes and lava fields provided the dramatic setting for one of Iceland’s cultural treasures, the sagas. Composed in the 10 and 11th centuries, the Icelandic sagas represent one of the oldest literary traditions in Western Europe. They are tales of migration and settlement, war and blood feud, Christianity versus the old dark gods of Norse mythology. In Grundarfjordur, the world of the saga is still present. One can tread the “Berserkers’ Path” or climb the hillock called Helgafell, the “Holy Hill” mentioned in the Laxdæla saga where Vikings once worshipped Thor.
Much of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a national park. The park’s centerpiece is the mighty Snæfellsjokull, an imposing stratovolcano with flanks buried beneath a glacial flow. The mountain is a frequent setting in Icelandic myth. The peninsula is also a birdwatcher’s paradise.
The patron saints of Reykjavik are fire and ice. Iceland is a land of volcanoes and glaciers, lava fields and green pastures, boiling thermal springs and ice-cold rivers teeming with salmon. This unspoiled demi-paradise is also home to a very old and sophisticated culture. The northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik was founded in 874 when Ingolfur Arnarson threw wood pillars into the sea, vowing to settle where the pillars washed ashore. Today, Iceland is an international center of commerce and home to one of the most technologically sophisticated societies in the world.
Reykjavik is the gateway to Iceland’s natural wonders, which range from ice fields to thermal pools. The island is in a continual process of transformation much like its society, which blends Nordic tradition with sophisticated technology.
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