1Embark in Reykjavik, Iceland
In the southwest of Iceland near Faxaflói Bay lies the capital of the country, Reykjavík, simultaneously cosmopolitan and charming. The colorful houses on the horizon create a quaint scene that will make you want to stay forever.Kaleidoscopic views await you at the Harpa Concert Hall, a glittering, glass structure that perfectly exemplifies Iceland’s modern design and will fascinate your inner architect. One of Iceland’s most prominent landmarks is Perlan, originally a group of hot water tanks that was converted to a building that now hosts an exhibition, planetarium, restaurant and observation deck, located atop Öskjuhlíð hill.
Amid the enchanting Westfjords of Iceland stands Ísafjörður, a fishing town thriving with local energy and culture. Summer months here are brisk, but it’s this cool climate combined with breathtaking and quaint scenery that makes the village feel like an undiscovered treasure. The massive depression among the flat-topped mountains called Naustahvilft – known colloquially as the troll seat – combines Iceland’s natural beauty with the town’s rich folklore. Make a stop at Dokkan Brugghús, the only brewery in the entire Westfjords, and sample the local beers, crafted with naturally filtered spring water from the nearby mountains. For those for whom the sea’s siren call beckons, you must visit the Westfjord History Museum, based on Ísafjörður’s maritime heritage and its rise in the fishing industry.
A rich folklore culture abounds in Akureyri, Iceland, put on full display during the city’s festivals throughout the year. Inland, only 50 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, is the Akureyri Botanical Garden, a remarkable sight with brightly colored flowers and lush greenery. The iconic Akureyrarkirkja (or The Church of Akureyri) designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson resembles more a 1920s U.S. skyscraper, but within its walls stands an impressive 3,200-pipe organ. Among the local favorite eating spots is Greifinn, a modern restaurant serving a mix of fare from classic burgers to pasta to Tex Mex to salted fish pizza (to honor Iceland’s roots).
The tiny, picturesque village of Seyðisfjörður is the pearl of Iceland. A town of just 700 people, it is hidden at the innermost point of the fjord of the same name. In the valley above town, the river Fjarðará cascades over the hill to create several, beautiful waterfalls, down to the lagoon at the head of the fjord. Throughout the scenic village you’ll also find well-preserved, old wooden buildings, an enticing subject for photography as you walk down Rainbow Street.
Spend the day on the high seas pampering yourself at the spa or enjoying some time on deck. Mingle with your fellow explorers and swap stories of your exploits, making plans for new ones together once you get to shore.
Spread across three islands and ringed by dramatic mountains, Ålesund is imbued with whimsy and romance. Dressed elegantly in its signature Art Nouveau architecture, you can appreciate the turrets, spires and medieval ornaments that adorn the town. In a small park at the base of Mount Aksla, you’ll find a picture-postcard view of Ålesund, the Art Nouveau city center and the surrounding alpine landscapes of Sunnmøre. If dramatic views are what you seek, Trollstigen Road is an exciting roadway through enormous mountains, offering amazing views of Norway. The ultimate adventure is Trollveggen, the Troll Wall, which is the highest perpendicular rock face in Europe.
The tiny village of Geiranger is home to major adventures, as the area’s unique natural surroundings were created during a succession of ice ages when glaciers carved out deep fjords and shaped the high mountains. The crown jewel of all the Norwegian fjords is Geirangerfjord. The entire area, from the snow-covered mountain tops to the clear, blue water, were included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Among the extraordinary features are the Seven Sisters waterfalls, jutting out from the cliff sides in seven separate cataracts and creating a curtain you can walk behind. Travelers seeking a thrilling experience will appreciate the 11 hairpin turns of Trollstigen mountain road, each bend with its own moniker often named after the person who supervised its construction.
Anticipate becoming enamored with the lesser-known, Norwegian town of Olden, a quaint little village located between steep mountains and roaring waterfalls. And then there’s the Briksdal Glacier, famous for beautiful surroundings between high peaks and roaring waterfalls, dropping almost 4,000 feet into the narrow Briksdal valley below. To get an even closer look, try your hand at glacier walking with snowshoes and ice axe in hand. The small village of Olden has a population of approximately 500 people, but even with its miniscule size, you can find cafés, grocery stores and shops in the center of town. You can also paddle your way around the magnificent green water of the Nordfjord, a serene experience surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and glaciers at sea level.
Surrounded by steep mountainsides, roaring waterfalls, and deep valleys, Flåm is located off one of the hidden arms of the Sognefjord. To fully appreciate the breadth of this region, leave the harbor behind to reach Gudvangen, a tiny hamlet at the tip of spectacular Nærøyfjord. This 11-mile-long fjord is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rated by the National Geographic Society as the world’s number one natural heritage site. In addition to attracting naturalists, this destination will surely delight avid cyclists with some of the best, most scenic routes. If you prefer to take in the scenery in comfort, climb aboard the Flåm Railway and get ready for one of Europe’s most dramatic and visually stunning train adventures.
Within the UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjorden lies the little gem of Gudvangen. Enter the Viking village of Njardarheim and discover your inner pioneer with possible opportunities to participate in exciting activities like archery and ax throwing. Set within the pristine environment of the fjords, Gudvangen offers plenty of chances for stimulating adventures like kayaking and standup paddleboarding. Or you could get the blood pumping with an energizing hike through Bakkanosi up to a lookout point that brings you rewarding vistas of the surrounding mountains and fjords. Explore the small villages that surround Gudvangen – Dyrdal, Styvi, Tufte and Bakka – making up the Nærøy community of Aurland.
When you think of Norway, among the images that come to mind are those of brightly painted wooden buildings with a backdrop of ice-capped mountains. In a nutshell, you’ve envisioned Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city that’s an easy access gateway to the fjords. Start with an unforgettable funicular ride to the top of the iconic Mount Floyen, rising over 1,000 feet above sea level in a seamless eight minutes. Back on the ground, you will not tire of snapping images of Bergen’s famous UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hanseatic wharf, Bryggen. You will also find that Bergen is a city for foodies, with a commitment to organic and sustainable food that has earned it the additional UNESCO designation of City of Gastronomy.