This Nordic island nation boasts a population of a mere 300,000. The country is characterised by hot springs, glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and black-sand beaches.
It sits atop the mid-Atlantic ridge, 40,000km long, which was created by the tectonic plates of the Eurasian and North American separating. This means the country is growing by approximately 2,5cms per annum, as the plates continue to split.
Thus, the country is actually on two continents, the west belongs to the North American plate, and the east, the Eurasian. Iceland is also one of the least polluted countries.
The climate varies throughout Iceland. The south coast is windier, wetter and warmer than the north. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. Lower lying inland areas in the north are arid.
Snowfall in winter is more frequent in the north than the south. Everyone is addressed by his or her Christian name, even the Prime Minister.
Every baby’s name has to be chosen from a database of approved names or one must apply to a special committee who will decide whether the selected name complies with the rules of grammar and orthography.
The Land of the Midnight Sun
The midnight sun phenomenon occurs in summer. In Reykjavik, for example, between 16th – 29th June are the only days when the sun sets after midnight. The longest day is the summer solstice, 21st June when the sun rises again at 3am.
The further north you go, the longer the days. In contrast, on the winter solstice on the 21st December, sunrise is around 11:30am, sunset is at 3:30am.
Reykjavik – Icelands Coastal Capital
Reykjavik, where two-thirds of the population reside, is run on geothermal power produced by volcanic activity, one of the cleanest and least expensive forms of energy.
Offering vibrant nightlife with a multitude of night clubs and bars, it is also the cultural centre, featuring historic Viking museums tracing the history of the country.
The beautiful 73-metre Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran church is the largest in Iceland, and the rotating Perlan glass dome affords fantastic views of the hills and ocean.
The annual Ingolfshatid festival is hosted by the Einherjar Vikings during the summer, popular with families and history buffs alike.
Volcanic activity is a self-evident fact in this small country. The population has no choice but to learn to live with it, for both the advantages of its breathtaking natural environment and the geothermal power that run its capital.
As one of the most active areas in the world, a volcanic event occurs every five years. This activity is accountable for the mountainous panoramas, the hot springs, pools and geysers.
Glaciers cover about 10% of Iceland, the largest being Vanjajokull, in the south-east. It has many tributaries on each side, each one having its own name.
There are far too many glaciers to mention, but most are extremely popular for hiking and climbing. Situated in the west highlands, the 2nd largest, Langjökull which means ‘long glacier’, is a snowmobilers heaven, and is in close proximity to the Gullfoss waterfall.
In summer, dog sledging tours can be arranged, or an ice cave tunnel tour in man-made glacier caves. There are also two active volcanoes in the glacier.
Sagaland, or West Iceland, offers majestic volcanoes, magnificent waterfalls, fjords, craters, glaciers, deep valleys and a multitude of diverse flora and wildlife.
The hiking is world-class, with a variety of terrains around Akranes and Hvalfjörður, with the Akrafjall mountain and the highest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur all less than an hour from Reykjavík.
History abounds, including the home of the medieval writer Snorri Sturluson, featuring a rectangular man-made, hot spa bath. The Snæfellsjökull National Park reaches into the sea, and the Snæfellsjökull Glacier is one of the greatest energy centres on earth.
This area was the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Two glaciers in the national parks of Vatnajökull and Snæfellsnes are a huge draw for hiking, snowmobiling and ice climbing.
Home to the largest forest, small fjords, islands and lush farmlands, many fishing villages line the natural harbours and coastland. Magma chambers with visible colourful mineral deposits can be viewed along the east coast.
During the summer months, the area becomes an artist’s haven, and popular art and music festivals have increased and expanded, welcoming young people from overseas and locally. The eclectic singer, Bjork, is an Icelandic native.