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The country with the chilly name is rapidly becoming one of Europe's hottest destinations. Much of Iceland's popularity is due to its natural features, which include glaciers, hot springs, geysers, active volcanoes, portentous peaks and vast lava deserts.
Republic of Iceland
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Every year after 31 August, someone puts on the brakes and Icelandic tourism grinds slowly to a halt. Outside the capital, many hotels, hostels and camping grounds close; bus services are severely reduced or stop completely until May or June the following year; the interior highlands become inaccessible; and even the puffins fly off and the whales swim away. But Iceland's amazing scenery never shuts down. If you're prepared for short, dark days and icy weather, there are still plenty of bus tours from Reykjavík, and extra wintry delights to see, such as the ethereal Northern Lights.
Despite its name and latitude, warm Gulf Streams keep southern Iceland snugger than many a central European country. Summers are pleasant but don't make particularly enviable postcards, with average July temperatures around 12°C (53°F). Winters, however, are significantly blunted and while fresh enough to put some rose in your cheeks, it will not be freezing them solid. The higher altitudes and northern coast face early-year Arctic winds so are naturally colder. Snow turns to rain around spring but is never too heavy.
Iceland's most famous geothermal pool, the Blue Lagoon, is the country's top tourist attraction. It might be crowded and expensive; but there's nowhere else like it in the world.
This immense concrete church looms over Reykjavík like a set from a Norse opera. With a 75m (246ft) steeple flanked by concrete representations of volcanic basalt columns, Hallgrímskirkja is visible from 20km (12mi) away. Admire the elongated, ultrastark interior; then for an unmissable view of the city, take an elevator trip up the tower.
Iceland's most famous waterfall tumbles 32m (105ft) into a steep-sided canyon, kicking up a sheer wall of spray. The spectacle depends on what the weather is like. On sunny days the spray creates shimmering rainbows over the gorge and Gullfoss can seem simply magical. On grey, drizzly days the falls retreat into the mist and can be slightly underwhelming.
Western Europeans and citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and at least two dozen other countries do not require visas. Tourist stays are granted for up to three months and can be easily extended at local police stations.