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Iceland is one of the best places to visit, touted a 2012 "New York Times" Travel section article that called Iceland a “breathtakingly beautiful island” for nature lovers. It’s hardly surprising given its surreal landscapes of thermal springs, glaciers, lava fields and mountain-ringed fjords, as well as the locals who inhabit them - arctic terns and comical puffins chief among them. But it’s also a place of strong cultural riches, played out in the lifestyles of the 100 or so hardy residents of tiny Grímsey Island on the Arctic Circle, in the weathered faces and huts of the fishermen of Isafjordur, in the cliff-hanging, rope-swinging, egg-collecting exploits of islanders on Heimaey, and in the Viking artifacts on view in Hafnarfjördur that make Iceland a must-see destination for everyone.
Day 1: Arrive Reykjavik
Tour begins: 12:30 PM, Reykjavik. A transfer is included upon arrival at Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport to the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica or the Grand Hotel Reykjavik where a day room has been reserved for you. Meet your fellow travelers at our welcome lunch at the glass-domed Perlan Restaurant, renowned for its cuisine and 360-degree revolving views of the city. An orientation tour includes Old Town and a guided visit to the National Museum. Embark Le Boréal / Le Soléal in Hafnarfjördur this afternoon for the start of your small ship cruise in “the land of fire and ice.” Your outside-facing accommodations promise memorable views of Iceland’s mystical landscapes.
Meals: L, D
Day 2: Iceland's "Golden Circle" - Thingvellir, Gullfoss & Geysir
Embark on a tour of the “Golden Circle,” encompassing Iceland’s three major sights. Visit Thingvellir National Park - named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also Iceland’s most important historic landmark as it is where the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alping, in 930 AD. View magnificent Gullfoss waterfalls, dropping down 96 feet in two roaring falls and arched with rainbows. Continue on to the spouting hot springs of Geysir, where many of its geysers erupt with clockwork precision in impressive flumes. Stop at a power plant to learn how Iceland’s natural resources are put to work before a return to ship.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 3: Heimaey & the "Islands of the western men"
Welcome to Westmann Islands, the “islands of the western men,” so named for a group of rebellious slaves whose daring, albeit short lived, escape from captivity in ancient Iceland is still the stuff of legends on these volcanic shores. Come ashore on Heimaey for a day of exploration that includes a visit to Sprangan cliff, where young islanders are taught the sport of rope-swinging and cliff-side egg-collecting, and a stop at Storhöfdi, home to the island’s largest colony of puffins and an incredible vantage point for breathtaking views of the island and the massive glaciers of the mainland (weather permitting). The volcanic eruption of Mt. Eldfell in 1973 spewed lava over the island landscapes, creating the youngest mountain in the world and the new “Pompeii” of the north. A walk around the crater rewards with spectacular views and a cruise to an island cliff may see puffins, weather permitting.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 4: Grundarfjordur & fishing villages
Dock today in Grundarfjordur, nestled on the banks of a fjord and ringed with mountains, for a scenic drive along the rugged coast. Pass through fishing villages bustling with daily life on the way to Djúpalónssandur, a pebbled beach with a series of strange rock formations emerging from the ocean. The intriguing shapes towering over the Atlantic shores here have become the basis for many of Iceland’s time-honored sagas; learn more about the traditional stories that tell tales of the country’s early settlers, trials and tribulations during your visit, including how these rocks were used in strength competitions between local fishermen. Your journey continues to the tiny hamlets of Arnarstapi, home to an arctic tern colony, and Budir, set against a landscape of extinct volcanoes, glaciers and lighthouses. Join us this evening at the Captain’s dinner aboard Le Boréal or Le Soléal.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 5: Life on Grímsey & the Arctic Circle
Remote and weather-beaten, the tiny island of Grímsey - just 2½ miles by 1¼ miles - is the northernmost inhabited part of Iceland. Cliffs cover most of the island, providing ideal breeding sites for huge colonies of seabirds. The island’s scant population of hardy residents, said to consistently number about 100, make their living from the bounty of the sea and limited farming. Step ashore for a walking tour to see arctic terns, the longest-distance migrating birds on Earth, and whimsical puffins, with penguin-like markings and beaks that bloom with color in the spring. You’ll be able to walk across the Arctic Circle, the imaginary line which marks the southern limit of the Arctic Region. North of this latitude, periods of continuous daylight or night last up to six months at the North Pole.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 6: Legends and dramatic sites from Akureyri to the Godafoss
Cruise the Eyjarfjördur fjord to Akureyri, the commercial and cultural center of northern Iceland. Located just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, the town boasts a spectacular setting in view of snow-tipped granite mountains and some of the warmest weather in the country. Guided sightseeing takes you to the sulphur fields at Namaskard, the unique volcanic rock formations of Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles) creating mysterious forms carved in lava and the small farming hamlet of Skútustadir. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then follow the Ring Road to the powerful horseshoe-shaped waterfall, Godafoss, known to locals as “the falls of the gods” and star of the Kristni Saga. Legend has it that in 1000 AD the Icelandic “lawspeaker” tossed his icons of Norse deities into the falls, symbolizing the banishment of paganism and introducing Christianity as the official Icelandic religion. Return to Akureyri for a brief city tour and then enjoy free time before an evening’s sail.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 7: Isafjordur, Vigur & island life
Rugged mountain scenery dominates the landscapes surrounding Iceland’s western fjords, setting a dramatic stage for your visit to Europe’s westernmost town, Isafjordur, and a day of cultural discoveries. Visit the quaint “church on the hill” in the village of Bolungarvik and a turf-roofed fisherman’s hut at Osvor Museum for a glimpse into the life of Icelandic fishing families. Back in Isafjordur, visit the Maritime Museum and then cruise to Vigur Island, home to the same family since 1884; their livelihood is based partly on collecting eider duck eggs and down. Your hosts will be serving homemade island refreshments.
Meals: B, L, D
Day 8: Travel to the Blue Lagoon and return to Reykfavik to journey home
A morning parade of nature awaits as you drive from the town of Hafnarfjördur past Kleifarvatn Lake, through the geothermal fields of Krysuvik-Solfataras and the fishing village of Grindavik. Continue to the Blue Lagoon, an innovative wellness center and spa powered completely by geothermal energy. Schedule permitting, enjoy a dip in the lagoon’s warm, blue waters before a farewell lunch. Visit the newly built Viking Museum and the Viking ship, Islendingur, a fully seaworthy replica of an ancient 70-crew Viking vessel, en route to the airport. Tour ends: 2:00 PM at Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport. You should allow 3 hours for your flight check-in at the airport.
Meals: B, L
7 night small ship cruise aboard Le Boréal or Le Soléal that explores amazing geological contrasts, geysers and waterfalls, with a walk across the Artic Circle, swim in the Blue Lagoon, "Golden Circle" tour from Reykjavik and a visit to an "island" family farm
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