Welcome to our Iceland Guide. We have created this section to give you an insight into Iceland the country. Please use the menu to the left to navigate through this section. If you have any questions about Iceland do not hesitate to contact us as we will be happy to help!
Location of Iceland
Iceland is an island of almost 40.000 square miles, equal to that of Ohio. Iceland is the second-largest island in Europe, after Great Britain. It´s the western-most country in Europe, located high in the north Atlantic, within 5 hours flight of the east coast of the U.S.
This mid-Atlantic island is the nearest European neighbor to the U.S. In fact, Iceland is at the halfway point from the East Coast to the European continent.
Iceland´s highest peak, lies on Vatnajökull Glacier and is 6.500 ft. Iceland has the largest glaciers in Europe – in fact, 12% of the country is covered by glaciers. The coastline is dotted with more than one hundred fjords and green, fertile valleys extend from them. Iceland also has more than 10.000 waterfalls and countless hot springs.
Capital of Iceland
Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is a unique combination of city life and pure nature. In a dramatic setting of mountains and sea, it´s a friendly city of 160.000 inhabitants where man and nature meet in harmony. Reykjavík takes its name from the steaming hot springs which astonished the first settler in the year 874 but today provide geothermal central heating for the whole city, and heat up outdoor swimming pools all year round.
Climate in Iceland
Because of its northern latitude and situation in the Atlantic ocean, Iceland has a very vigorous climate and high winds are common.
Thanks to the Gulf stream, Iceland enjoys a cool temperate ocean climate: cool in summer and fairly mild in winter.
In June, we have light day and night, but in December it is dark almost night and day. One of the most famous things about Iceland, is Aurora Borealis, a phenomenon which only exists in the Arctic and Antarctic areas. Aurora Borealis is actually traces of small dust 450 miles up in the air, reflecting the sunlight. In the evenings in Iceland, you can watch the light dancing in the air in various colours.
Geology / Energy in Iceland
Iceland is an active volcanic area with frequent eruptions from well known volcanoes such as Hekla, Katla and Krafla. Thirty volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries and some of the most recent ones are the eruptions in the Westmann Islands in 1973 and Surtsey Island which emerged from the sea in 1963.
Iceland is also a hot spot of geothermal activity. Natural hot water supplies most of the population with inexpensive, pollution-free heating. Rivers, too, are harnessed to provide hydroelectric power. Over 90% of homes are heated by hot springs, which also keep greenhouses warm.
Vegetation in Iceland
Vegetation covers less than one-fifth of Iceland and only about 1.1% is cultivated. Trees, mostly birch, grow in some places, along with some willows. The rest of the country is barren mountains, deserts, lava beds and glaciers.
Vatnajökull (Lakes Glacier) in the south-east is the largest Ice field in Europe and Odáðahraun (Lava of Ill Deeds) north of Vatnajökull is the largest lava bed on earth.
The chilliest thing about Iceland is really just its name. In January the temperature is even warmer than in New York.
History of Iceland
Iceland was settled almost 1150 years ago. Just as Iceland was the last country in Europe to be physically born, it was also the last to be settled by man, in the ninth century. The first settlers were Norwegian Vikings who brought with them slaves from Ireland and other Celtic isles.
Sixty years after the country was settled, Icelanders founded a unique way of democracy when they established the first National Parliament in the world which is still functioning and is actually older than the British Parliament.
Since the year 1000, Icelanders have been Christians and belong to the Lutheran Church. Iceland is famous for its Sagas and the old manuscripts, written between the 12th and 14th century. Hundreds of Sagas were written on calfskin and they needed a lot of cattles. For the largest book, 120 calf skins were used. The pages in the Sagas are richly decorated. Most of them were written in the monestaries.
The language in Iceland
Icelandic is the official language. It is the ancient tongue of the Vikings and has changed remarkably little during the eleven centuries since the country was first settled, mainly due to the isolation of the island. Even to day Icelanders are able to read the old Sagas without any special training.
In Iceland we use patronyms rather than surnames. If, for example, John has a son named ,Peter, the son’s name is Peter Johns-son. If John has a daughter whom he names Margret, she becomes Margret Johns-daughter. Members of the same family can therefore have different “last names”.
The National Flag of Iceland
The colours of the national flag of Iceland are symbolic; sky-blue rectangles symbolise the ocean with a white cross symbolising the glaciers and a fiery-red cross in the middle which stands for the fire inside the earth, or the volcanoes.
Society in Iceland
Iceland gained its Independence in 1918 with a joint monarch like Canada and the U.K. Since 1944 Iceland has been a Republic with a president elected by the people in a general election; The 63 members of the Parliament are elected to serve for four years. A government of approximately 12 ministers is formed after the parliamentary elections and is led by the Prime Minister.
The standard of living is comparable to that of the other Nordic countries, with extensive social security, health services and free education at all levels.
Most of the work force is within the service sector, such as education, health service and in the financial services. Iceland is reguarded a fishing nation, however only 9% of the work force operates within the fishing industry. Still, the fishing industry is responsible for approximately 70% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Production), 12% of the population work in other industry and 4% in farming. The fishing waters are rich and relatively unpolluted, the land is rich of pasture, enough clean water and fresh air.
Icelanders are technically advanced with one of the highest use of mobile phones, computers and Internet. Despite of that Icelanders base their livelihood on the sustainable use of the natural resources.
Traditional Icelandic Food
Iceland has age-old traditions regarding food, associated with the autumn slaughtering season and the limited possibilities for preserving the meat. Some of these traditions are still very much alive today, for example dried fish, blood pudding, shark and raw sheep testicles.
Christmas in Iceland
In Iceland we have 13 Santas or Yule lads. They used to be evil and steal and scare people, and their names are combined with what they used to do. But today, people are not afraid of the Yule lads and there is a tradition that the kids put their shoes in their bedroom window when the Santas come to town one by one every night from December 12th to 24th, and give the children small presents in their shoes. This tradition is equirilant to the English stocking on Christmas Eve.
The Yule lads live in a mountain with their mother and father, named Grýla and Leppalúði. Grýla is not the children’s favorite, because she boils naughty kids in her huge caserolle and eats them afterwards. But it’s not enough just to avoid being naughty at Christmas-time, because if you don’t get new clothes to wear on Christmas Eve, the “Christmas Cat” will come and eat you.
Animals in Iceland
The Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland´s only native dog. It was brought to Iceland with the Viking settlers and has over the centuries adapted to Iceland and the hard struggle for survival. It is loyal, cheerful and friendly, an ideal family-dog.
The Icelandic sheep
The Icelandic sheep is one of the world´s oldest and purest breeds of sheep. The first vikings brought sheep with them to Iceland. The breed is short-tailed and it has many variations of colors and patterns. The sheep are allowed to graze freely in the mountain areas over the summer, feeding on the grass and wild herbs that give the Icelandic lamb its distinctive flavour. In the fall the farmers go on horses and collect the sheep. They are rounded and then sorted by earmarks, where each farmer has his own.
The Icelandic horse
Icelandic horses come in 100 marvellous colour combinations. They have sleek, glossy coats during the warm months, but develope a furry, thick winter coat for cold weather. Due to their strength, intelligence and loyal and friendly personality, both children and adults delight in ownership. What makes the Icelandic horse unique is that it has five gaites while other horses usually have only three or four.
The Icelandic Cow
In Iceland we have special Icelandic cows, a race which has been isolated in the country since about 900. The cows have many different colours, red, white, gray and black. The cows are rather small, but still they give us a lot of milk. The milk is very good for drinking, and many products are made of it. Because of the weather during the wintertime the cows have to be kept in the stable for the biggest part of the year.
The most famous Icelander is probably Leifur Eiríksson, who was the first European to find America from the west in the year 1000. Most likely he found the land that is now called Newfoundland. He called America , “The good Wineland”.
Another famous Icelander is Halldór Laxness who got the Nobel Price in literature in the year 1956. The most famous living Icelander is without a doubt the singer Björk. She published her first solo album when she was 12. She was a singer in the famous group Sugarcubes but got world famous when she started her solo career. Her music is very special and without a doubt the magnificent nature has a great effect on her music.
Other musicians who are inspired by Icelandic nature is the band Sigur Rós. The best-known Icelandic jazz band is Mezzoforte. Icelandic pop music is quite similar to music in the surrounding Western countries and Icelandic musicians are not inferior to their colleagues in Britain and America.
In classical music Jón Leifs is the most famous of Icelandic composers. His music is inspired of ice and fire and stories from Nordic mythology.
Sports and leisure In Iceland
The most popular sport in Iceland, as in most European countries, is Soccer. The Icelandic word for soccer is FÓTBOLTI, which actually means football. Soccer is though, as you probably know, very different from the sport you know as football. As a matter of fact, Icelanders only know American football from TV and we don´t have a clue at all about Baseball. We don´t know that game at all. Hockey is not a big thing in Iceland either. We only have three hockey teams so the Icelandic Hockey Championship is usually not really exciting.
Basketball is a very popular sport in Iceland, and so is golf and handball. The game we call handball is very different from the game known in the USA as handball. Our team handball is a very fast and physical sport and it´s very popular in many European countries.
Iceland hasn’t had many famous athletes. We have only won three Olympic medals, one silver and two bronze medals. We have never won an Olympic gold. We have never the less got a few very good athletes today. We have one of the five best decathlon competitors in the world, as well as some very good swimmers, snooker players and our handball team is on the World’s top ten list. We´ve also had some European champions, for example in Shot Put, Tracks and various Swimming events.
One of our most famous athletes was Jón Páll Sigmarsson. He was in his time known worldwide for his unbelievable strenght, but for years no one could beat him in the “Worlds Strongest Man” competition.
Formula Off-Road is a genuine Icelandic sport, sprung from the all-Icelandic obsession about four wheel drive trucks on big wheels. Formula Off-Road contestants drive their powerful, custom built vehicles through extremely difficult tracks, and almost every competition includes at least one car turning upside-down.
Family-sport in Iceland is not different from other countries, at all! We go skiing, skating, walking and camping. Swimming is probably our distinctive family sport as we have at least one public swimming pool in every community all over the country. Horse-back riding is also a very popular family-sport.
Children and teenagers in Iceland
Children in Iceland are not different from other kids in the western countries. Many children attend sports clubs, playing soccer, handball, basketball, swimming and so on. Some also study in music schools and they of course do the same things as all kids do, play computer games and hang around with friends.
Children and teenagers grow up in much freedom in Iceland and poverty is not common. There is not as strict discipline as in the USA for example to be grounded is not as commonly used as here. It is common to work with school from the age of 16 or even younger.
The level of education is high in Iceland. Compulsory school attendance covers the ages between seven and sixteen. Those who wish to continue their education either go to various specialized schools or to secondary schools. Under law, everyone is entitled to free compulsory, primary, upper-secondary and university-level education.