[Akureyri] [Reykjavik]
A hidden treasure since the days of its discovery by Norwegian explorers, Iceland is a hotbed of surprises—even beyond volcano Eyjafjallajokull and the famous steaming Blue Lagoon. According to legend, the misnomer for this green land was intentional, a deterrent to settlers who might want to intrude on the Vikings' newfound haven.

Now, like a bud unfurling in the spring, it grows ever greater on the consciousness of global travelers as more Americans flock to this country than there are residents. Since 2010, travel to this once virtually unknown destination has erupted like the geysers you'll find in its Golden Circle, making there no hotter place to explore than Iceland.

Fun Fact: Before there was A Song of Fire and Ice, there was this land of fire and ice. Its dynamic landscape includes glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs, and geysers ... but its climate is actually cool, temperate, and surprisingly mild in the winter while refreshing in the summer.
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Icy? Try again. In Iceland's second-largest urban area, this harbor actually never freezes ... much like the social and cultural scene. A medieval festival, international music festival, fine arts festival, multiple museums, and the city's place as the heart of the country's folk culture make it a welcoming destination where the reception can be counted on to be warm. Fjords, hiking trails, and the world's northernmost 18-hole golf course attract active vacationers, along with the skiing in Hlidarfjall. Tour Hrisey Island by tractor to snap photos of ptarmigans, whales, and the trim fishing village; visit Jolagardurinn, the year-round Christmas Garden; stop at Gasir, a Middle-Age trading post, in July for a reconstructed experience; or hop into a thermal pool to warm up.
The northernmost capital of a sovereign state, you'd think that this city would be a reflection of its untamed geography. However, Iceland is a destination that defies all expectations, and its largest city is no exception. Safe, clean, and green by design. A nightlife that makes the most of the summer's midnight sun and celestial phenomena that make chill winter evenings magical. Geothermal spas and beaches like the Blue Lagoon and Nautholsvik, set against volcanic craters and forest reserves. For browsing, the second-largest mall in the country and museums, both indoor and open-air. And for adventure ... well, look anywhere. There are bike trails and coastlines to zip past, salmon and trout to be fished for, whales and puffins to meet, and horses and cars to take off-road.

Because despite its luster and modernity, Reykjavik is still the core of the unharnessed north—wild and free.