Unless you're planning a serious expedition, the southwest corner of the country contains all you need for a full-on Icelandic experience: volcanoes, geysirs, glaciers, waterfalls, fishing, puffin-watching, remote fishing communities, a chance to see the Northern Lights - and, of course, the surprisingly buzzy capital that is Reykjavik.
Set beneath mountains and looking out to the middle of the North Atlantic, Reykjavik is the world's most northerly capital, and home to about half of Iceland's 320,000 inhabitants. Despite its recent rise and fall as an economic turbo-land, it still feels more like a provincial town than a metropolis. That said, its central pocket offers buzzing and world renowned urban nightlife (Icelanders party hard at weekends) and there are some particularly lively bars and restaurants. Reykjavik is literally powered by its geothermal springs. Its architecture is a mixture of concrete (think 70s office blocks) and more colourfully painted corregated aluminium clad houses. The centre is dominated by the country's largest church tower (Hallgrimskirkja) from which breathtaking views can be seen.
Heading northwest from Reykjavik, you quickly enter the remote Arctic scenery of the Western Peninsula (Snaefellsness), which juts out into the North Atlantic to culminate in Europe's most westerly point. Made up of a spine of extinct volcanoes, precipitous waterfalls and lava fields, this magnificent peninsula stretches across to the Snaefellsjokill glacier, setting for Jules Vernes' Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Here you can skidoo to the top and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the area. Most settlements are centred in a couple of northern fishing posts, from where you can take boat trips to see whales and islands that are home to puffins and a host of other birdlife. This is a magical area steeped in ancient folklore, as evidenced by the Icelanders belief in extensive elf communities. On the south coast at Budir, there is a handful of houses, an isolated wooden chapel and a hotel set in an extremely picturesque estuary. Alternatively, if you don't have time to explore the remote west in depth, you can get a taste of it - as well as fantastic fishing, hiking, riding and golf - at the Hotel Glymur, just 45 mins from Reykjavik.
Heading southeast from Reykjavik into the South (Sudurland), you enter a world of looming volcanoes (including the notorious Eyjafjallajökull, whose eruption closed international airspace in 2010), glacial rivers, waterfalls and lagoons. One of the most accessible volcanoes is Hekla, inland from Hella - there's no better way to admire it than on a helicopter flight from Hotel Ranga. Inland from Selfoss, you can drive up to the twin attractions of Gullfoss, a thundering series of foaming waterfalls, and Geysir, the original hot spout which gave all the others their name, and which still explodes regularly.