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The short flight to tiny Ísafjördur

RELATED: The T+L-Curated Journey Through Iceland But the group approach isn't always the best way to explore a country and culture defined by a sparse population sprinkled across remote and stunning empty spaces.February 24, 2016 As travel destinations go, Iceland is hot, so to speak, and for good reason: the country boasts 30 active volcanoes, milky-blue hot springs, elf-inhabited lava fields (or so many Icelanders believe), extraordinary scuba diving, and a landscape best described as a blend of the moon, the Arctic, and western Ireland. Take a boat to Vigur Island, where eiderdown is harvested, or go on a breathtaking drive south to Dýrafjörður fiord, where you can explore the mock Viking festival ground in the village of Þingeyri. From there it's a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur on the south shores of the Westfjords. Here are some of the best ways to do it: Getty Images Prepare to go off road Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle with lots of clearance and full insurance, including coverage for the undercarriage.., these small Icelandic horses are used for sheepherding and pleasure-riding, as well as racing, and are known for having a smooth and speedy fifth gait called the tölt. A lot of what you'll want to explore—Glymer waterfall north of Reykjavik; Seljavallalaug, Iceland's oldest geothermal swimming pool, which sits at the base of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano; the steaming volcanic landscapes of Landmannalaugar—will take you inland over dirt tracks and bumpy F-roads (mountain roads in Iceland's highlands). Liz Beatty Chill in your own remote rented digs Like many natives of Reykjavik, you'll want to escape to a spare stylish holiday Self-clinching manufacturers cottage in the quiet countryside. Soak in a naturally heated hot tub overlooking a distant volcano. Cap off the meal with crazy-good homemade gelato at Valdís next door. If you go by car, head north for two hours before stopping for chowder at the remote seaside Fjöruhúsið in Hellnar.D. Many of these houses dot isolated lava fields—striking land blanketed in moss, heather, and blueberry bushes. If you're visiting in September, join in one of many rowdy fall rettirs (sheep roundups).

The short flight to tiny Ísafjördur Airport is a breathtaking adventure. Hike from valley to valley along mountain lakes and crystal-clear streams, through patches of luminous moss, to the neighboring village of Hnífsdalur. Drawn by the country's many natural wonders or, perhaps, more practically, by Icelandair's free Reykjavik layovers on transatlantic flights, travelers have been arriving in the country in droves. To truly commune with this otherworldly landscape and experience Iceland like a native, you'll need to go it alone.  Near Ísafjördur, connect with Iceland’s rural traditions by staying at a working farm and dining on comfort seafood dishes at Tjöruhúsið in town. To meet the demand, many all-inclusive day tours have popped up—whale watching, glacier walks, waterfall hikes, heli-tours, jeep excursions—with pickups straight from Reykjavik hotel lobbies. Buy local lamb or seafood and dine in instead of eating at one of Iceland's notoriously expensive restaurants. Liz Beatty Tölt away on an Icelandic horse Brought over by Vikings in 900 A. Or you can break up the trip by staying over at Hotel Flatey on the island of the same name, where the ferry stops en route to Brjánslækur. Liz Beatty Wing it to the Westfjords Even Icelanders consider this stunning peninsula, set a hair beneath the Arctic Circle, far-flung. Ride this ancient breed on a private guided tour around Iceland's most active volcano, Mount Helka. Feast at a local Reykjavik haunt Once back in civilization, carnivores can indulge in þorramatur, a traditional meat medley with a contemporary Nordic twist at Matur go Drykkur

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