for National Geographic News
Never mind its chilly nameas a travel destination, Iceland is hot.
Visitors to the North Atlantic island, known as Europe's "land of fire and ice," topped 300,000 last year, more than Iceland's entire population.
With its extreme landscapesthundering waterfalls, raging glacial rivers, vast sand deserts, and simmering hot springsIceland has long attracted the more daring travel set.
"Iceland is an adventure," said Sol Squire of Ultima Thule, an Icelandic company that organizes sea kayak expeditions and other adventure trips. "We have Europe's biggest glaciers, active volcanoes, cave explorations, and skiing."
Since it derives much of its energy from geothermal hot springs and burns relatively little fossil fuel, Iceland also has some of the cleanest air in the world.
But the outdoors are not the only attraction. You may be surprised to learn that Reykjavik, which is the world's northernmost capital and has a population of only 140,000 people, was voted European city of culture in 2000. It has an impressive art and museum scene, and a buzzing nightlife.
With crime negligible, it's probably one of the world's safest places to visit. A five-hour flight from the U.S. East Coast, it's also closer from New York than San Francisco.
So for those of you who thought Iceland was little more than a chunk of ice adrift in the North Atlantic, here are some of the reasons to give it another look:
Iceland is littered with active volcanoessome of them buried under glaciersand the land is as exothermically alive as it gets with thousands of geysers (a word said to have been invented in Iceland) and mineral springs.
Lava from volcanic eruptions has turned parts of Iceland into a lunar landscape. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969, the joke goes, he thought he was in Iceland.
The choice of outdoor adventures runs the gamut: hiking, biking, rafting, mountain climbing, salmon fishing, kayaking, off-road exploring, and riding Icelandic horses.
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