Your comprehensive travel guide to Iceland - All in one place!
Iceland, an island of fire and ice, has become one of the world's top travel destinations, not only with thrill-seeking adventurers, but also nature lovers looking for something different. Here, you'll discover active volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, glaciers, ice fields, and fjords, for this sparsely populated country, resting at the edge of the Arctic Circle, sits atop one of the world's most volcanically active areas.
Indeed, volcanoes and other seismic activity have regularly reshaped parts of the country. As recently as 1963, a new island, Surtsey, emerged from the sea off the south coast. Icelanders, however, have turned this geological mayhem to their advantage and use geothermal energy to heat their homes and businesses and to enhance their leisure time. As a result, the air is wonderfully clean, and the rugged, unspoiled landscapes remain ripe for exploration and unforgettable adventures.
History and Government
The earliest inhabitants of Iceland were Irish hermits, who left the island upon the arrival of the pagan Norse people in the late 9th century.
In 1874, Icelanders obtained their own constitution, and in 1918, Denmark recognized Iceland, via the Act of Union, as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty. It remained, however, nominally under the Danish monarchy.
The country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 and subsequently received an American air force base in 1951. In 1980, the Icelanders elected a woman to the office of the presidency, the first elected female chief of state in the world. After the recession of the early 1990s, Iceland's economy rebounded.
In May 2003, David Oddsson was reelected, making him the longest-serving prime minister in Europe. In 2004, in a prearranged agreement made between the two parties of the coalition government, Oddsson and Foreign Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson switched positions. In June 2006 Ásgrímsson resigned as prime minister after his party did badly in local elections. Economic troubles were cited as the main reason for the Progressive Party's poor showing. Geir Haarde, leader of Iceland's largest political party, the Independence Party, became prime minister and announced the implementation of more fiscally conservative measures.
Iceland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, located near the Arctic Circle, between Greenland and Norway. An island of 103.000 km2 (40,000 square miles), it is about the same size as Hungary and Portugal, or Kentucky and Virginia. Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, following Great Britain, and the 18th largest island in the world.
Iceland is one of the youngest landmasses on the planet and consequently home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. The island owes its existence to a large volcanic fissure in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet.
Iceland’s highest peak is Hvannadalshnjukur, standing 2.119 metres over sea level. Over 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.
The population of Iceland is extremely homogeneous. The inhabitants are descendants of settlers who began arriving in AD 874 and continued in heavy influx for about 60 years thereafter. Historians differ on the exact origin and ethnic composition of the settlers but agree that between 60 and 80 percent of them were of Nordic stock from Norway. The rest, from Scotland and Ireland, were largely of Celtic stock. The dominant language in the period of settlement was Old Norse the language spoken in Norway at the time. Through the centuries it has evolved into modern Icelandic, which is used throughout the country. Modern Icelanders can still read Icelandic sagas in Old Norse without difficulty. There are no ethnic distinctions. The early Nordic and Celtic stocks have long since merged, and the small number of subsequent immigrants has had no major effect on the population structure.
Along with the Icelandic language, Iceland’s culture is strongly rooted in Norse traditions, expressed in the still-popular Sagas and ancient literature. The sheer isolation of the country from its European neighbors has protected its culture from outside influences and preserved its language as a direct descendant of Old Norse. Many Icelanders still remember the names of their long-ago ancestors’ farms and it’s assumed that it’s not necessary to put place names on maps as most people know them.
Art, music, and the iconic literature of the country and its peoples are a binding cultural force here, and traditional music still flourishes, often based on religious links. The epic Norse rhyming ballads trace back to Skaldic poetry and, with their form revitalized in the early 20th century, are still much-loved today. Landscape poetry depicts the unique beauty of Iceland’s topography and many of the most-loved poems date back almost unaltered to the ancient Icelandic sagas.
Food and Drink
The cuisine in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is largely meat and fish-based, thanks to the rich Arctic surroundings. Here, you’ll get to tuck into everything from lamb hot dogs to rye bread. So, whether you fancy trying something traditional or modern, Iceland is the place to be. And, if you happen to be vegetarian, there are lots of accommodating restaurants that’ll gladly make sure your meal is suitable.
Icelandic people like to celebrate a lot. Every month, every season, basically every change in the year and every special day they can come up with is an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy life with family or friends. Ancient Norse and Christian traditions are all celebrated, together with some other international holidays, such as Labor Day. Some holidays are peculiar to Iceland, such as Women’s Day and Men’s Day, so as you can see there are very many holiday and festival days! When international holidays, such as Christmas are celebrated, the Icelanders blend in their own unique traditions.
Best Time to Visit
The summer months July and August are Iceland’s warmest and have long been the most popular time to visit. But even during this season, bad weather (rain and intense winds) is not uncommon. The island’s fickle climate often means you can experience all four seasons in a single day. Iceland can stay relatively warm through the first week of October, so planning a September visit can be ideal. For serious hikers, the best time to visit Iceland is the summer, when all the mountain roads are open and all of the most famous trails are accessible.