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.
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 (6852 ft) over sea level. Over 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.
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.
Iceland’s varied and rich cultural streams stem from the country’s early literary heritage and embrace traditional crafts such as silversmithing, weaving, and wood carving, as well as folk songs and traditional dance. The Viking heritage is a source of great pride, with Viking traditions, mores, and beliefs inextricably woven into modern culture.
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.
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 have had no major effect on the population structure.