Reykjavík – Pure Energy

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Recharge and Relax in Iceland´s Capital

Shaped by the energy of the earth, bustling with the energy of a cosmo-politan capital, surrounded by the pure unpolluted energy of nature, Reykjavík is a city of striking contrasts. Small corrugated iron houses nestle next to futuristic glass buildings; state-of-the-art facilities lie minutes away from rugged volcanic terrain; and inter-national influences mingle with Icelandic national traditions to create a unique culture where old embraces new.

Whatever your interests, Reykjavík has something to offer. Whether you are seeking the bustling energy of a cosmopolitan city, the thundering thermal energy in the ground beneath your feet, or the quiet green energy of the landscape surrounding the city, Reykjavík promises a memorable visit.

One way to soak up Reykjavík’s pure energy is to visit one of the many thermal swimming pools or spas. Whether you go for a swim, take a healing soak in a hot tub, or indulge in a thermal steam bath, you will leave feeling relaxed and re-energised. Going to the pool is also very much a way of life for Reykjavík’s residents and thus an ideal way to meet local people. A crash course in Icelandic politics, the long-term weather forecast, or some valuable tourist tips are just some of the things you might soak up in the soothing waters of a hot tub. There is no better way to touch the pulse of the city.

The magnificent countryside that surrounds the city also makes Reykjavík unique and provides the adventurous tourist with a wide variety of things to do. Salmon fishing, midnight golf, sailing, climbing, glacier trekking, horse riding and whale watching are all within easy reach of the capital and can easily be fitted into a day trip so that you can be back in the city in time for dinner.

Reykjavík boasts an excellent range of fine restaurants that are renowned for their imaginative cuisine and fresh local ingredients. Whether you enjoy seafood, lamb or wild game, there will be something on the menu to suit your palate. For a city of its size – Reykjavík and its neighbouring communities have around 200,000 inhabitants – Reykjavík also boasts an excellent range of luxury hotels, exclusive shops and designer outlets. It also has the reputation of being one of Europe’s “hottest” cities at night, with an active music scene and famous nightlife.

Reykjavík is energy also abounds in the city’s cultural scene. From the avantgarde to the historical, Reykjavík’s galleries, museums and theatres support a vibrant yet sophisticated artistic culture. Annual festivals, special exhibitions and stage productions mean that the cultural calendar is always full and there is always plenty for the visitor to enjoy.

Reykjavík is the gateway to Iceland. A young-at-heart city with a long history, encircled by mountains and sea, it lies just minutes away from a magnificent unspoiled landscape thrown up and shaped by the energy of the earth. Whether you are looking for the excitement of a capital city or a quiet break in breathtaking scenery, Reykjavík has everything you could possibly want. Reykjavík – pure energy – you’ll leave revitalized.

The Capital Area

Reykjavík’s neighbouring communities are also well worth a visit. In the town of Hafnarfjörður, Viking culture is still alive and well: the restaurant Fjörukráin organises Viking banquets all year around, and the town also hosts the annual international Viking festival. People come from all over the world to demonstrate how the Vikings did battle, carved wood and bone, wove fabric, and made ornaments and weapons. And of course there is Viking food and music to be enjoyed. And before you leave Hafnarfjörður, why not take a look at the small but beautiful Hellisgerði park?

Between the towns of Kópavogur and Garðabær, there’s a big shopping mall called Smáralind where many cultural events are organised, including exhibitions, concerts and song contests. Kópavogur also has an art gallery (Gerðarsafn) and a Natural History museum.

In Seltjarnarnes, to the west of Reykjavík, there is a medical museum at Nesstofan, housed in one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, which dates from 1761–1763. To the north, the community of Mosfellsbær has a museum devoted to the Nobel-prize-winning (1955) author Halldór Laxness.

Like the city itself, all the communities around Reykjavík boast golf courses, presenting you with quite a choice! And of course, all have wonderful open-air thermal pools, most of which also provide fitness facilities.

Just outside the urban area, the Heiðmörk nature reserve offers opportunities for walking, mountain biking or horse trekking. There are also riding stables in Hafnarfjörður and Mosfellsbær, where you can try out Icelandic horses which are very different from other breeds. Although small, they are extremely strong and sturdy, with five gaits, two more than most other horse breeds. One of these, the “tölt”, is extremely comfortable for the rider and can be sustained over long distances.

Reykjavík is a convenient starting point for all kinds of excursions, which enable you to explore a large part of Iceland without so much as having to pack a suitcase. In addition to bus tours to all the “must-see” places, domestic flights can be taken to destinations that are further afield. Whale-watching boat trips are available from late March until mid October, and for those who like some real action, biking, hiking, angling, diving, river rafting, skiing (in winter) and kayaking are justsome of the activities on offer.

The Westfjords

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The Westfjords region has sometimes been dubbed “the most famous unknown place in Iceland”. Well, throw in the prestigious “European Destination of Excellence” awards and add to that the fact that the Lonely Planet travel guide put the area on its top 10 list of regions in the world to visit in 2011, and you will see that the Westfjords are becoming increasingly famous – or perhaps less unknown.

Lonely Planet, the respected travel guide publisher, placed the Westfjords in its top 10 regions of the world to visit in 2011, saying that the “oddly shaped” peninsula is “as isolated as it is spectacular”. Luckily, “isolated” does not mean inaccessible. With only 7400 inhabitants in the area, each person has around 1,2 km2 of personal space, so there is ample room for any visitors as well.

Although the locals are great, it is, by and large, the nature that attracts visitors. For understandable reasons as well: it is untouched and almost uninhabited. The cliffs and valleys are packed with birds, the uninhabited fjords offer a moment of silence and tranquillity, and the Arctic fox proudly roams the mountains and inlets. The waterfalls are high and the streams pure. The distances are long and the fjords are deep. And then there are places where there are no roads at all.

The Westfjords are a great place to watch the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during the winter and equally fantastic to experience the midnight sun during the summer.

Visiting the Westfjords is surely a different experience. It is Iceland, but yet a different Iceland altogether.

Want to know more? Visit www.westfjords.is

European Destination of Excellence

Westfjors are Iceland’s fyrst EDEN-destination. EDEN is the acronym for European Destinations of Excellence, a project promoting sustainable tourism development models across the European Union. The project is based on national competitions that take place every year and result in the selection of a tourist “destination of excellence” for each participating country. Through the selection of destinations, EDEN effectively achieves the objective of drawing attention to the values, diversity and common features of European tourist destinations. It enhances the visibility of emerging European destinations, creates a platform for sharing good practices across Europe and promotes networking between awarded destinations.

This European quest for excellence in tourism is developed around an annual theme, chosen by the Commission together with the relevant national tourism bodies. This theme functions as a leitmotif: so far, rural tourism, intangible heritage and protected areas have been the main EDEN themes.

The key feature of the selected destinations is their commitment to social, cultural and environmental sustainability. The recipients of the award are emerging, little known European destinations located in the 27 Member States and candidate countries. The EDEN project helps to spread the sustainable practices used in the chosen destinations across the Union and to turn these places into all-year-round venues. The process thus aims to help de-congest over-visited tourist destinations.
The development of this project is backed by the European Commission which launched the project in 2006 and still plays a crucial coordinating role.

South Iceland

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Nowhere on earth is the junction between the European and American tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust as clear as on the Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest, and at Þingvellir: the plates diverge here by as much as 2 cm per year. But the gap is constantly being filled, as volcanoes have been erupting regularly throughout Iceland’s history.

Þingvellir is by far Iceland’s most famous historic site. The Alþingi, or general assembly, first met there in AD930, and continued to do so for nearly nine centuries, until 1798. Various important events in the Icelandic Sagas took place at Þingvellir, and in 1930 it was declared a National Park. In 2004 Þingvellir was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Not far away is the old episcopal seat of Skálholt, which was the centre of the church and Christianity in Iceland from the mid-11th century until the end of the 18th.

But the region has other attractions: places of outstanding natural beauty include magnificent waterfalls, of which Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is the best known. In many geothermal areas villages have grown up, where exotic fruits and vegetables are grown in greenhouses heated by hot springs.

The best known hot spring is Geysir, from which derives the English word  “geyser” for spouting hot springs: the big Geysir is surrounded by many more springs of all shapes and sizes.

A little further east are two of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. Mt. Hekla has erupted about 20 times in Icelandic history, and Mt. Katla, under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, is almost as active. Many years have now passed since Mt. Katla last erupted, and according to geoscientists it is overdue for another burst of activity.

History echoes in every footstep: this is where the Saga of Njáll, one of the most famous Icelandic sagas, took place. The Icelandic Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur tells the story. Other museums in the region include the Skógar Museum, one of Iceland’s leading folk museums; and Draugasetrið, the Ghost Centre at Stokkseyri, a unique museum dedicated to the phenomenon of the Icelandic ghost.

Skaftafell is a popular tourist destination, with a full programme of events for visitors. The Visitor Centre informs visitors about the remarkable natural environment of the park, while at Höfn in Hornafjörður there is a glacier exhibition. Activities include sightseeing cruises among the ice floes on the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial lagoon, and trips up onto the glacier.

Tourists in the region can experience its varied and picturesque natural landscape through such activities as horseback riding, white-water rafting, and glacier trips.

Westman Islands

Just off the south coast are the Westman Islands, with their impressive natural beauty, abundant birdlife, and eventful history. A little over 30 years ago the islanders were forced to abandon their homes on Heimaey island when a new volcano erupted on the edge of the town. But they returned as soon as the eruption died down, and visitors can see the effects of this natural disaster on the island and its inhabitants. Currently underway is the excavation of several homes that were buried by pumice and lava, with the intention of making them accessible to visitors under the auspices of a project called Pompeii of the North.