Iceland is a volcanic island located in the North Atlantic Ocean, 300 km east of Greenland and 900 km west of Norway. The main island, which lies south of the Arctic Circle, covers an area of 103,000 square km or 40,000 square mi, which is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Kentucky or slightly bigger than Ireland.
Over 10 percent of Iceland’s territory is covered by glaciers, which includes Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Due to its volcanic origin, the country’s nature features gushing geysers, natural hot springs, as well as lava fields spreading as far as the eye can see. The volcanic activity of Iceland made international headlines with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. Iceland’s numerous rivers and waterfalls are harnessed to provide cheap and environment-friendly hydroelectric energy.
The climate of Iceland is subarctic near the southern coastal area and tundra inland in the highlands. The island lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, which makes its climate more temperate than would be expected for its latitude just south of the Arctic Circle. This effect is aided by the Irminger Current, a branch of the Gulf stream, which also helps to moderate the island’s temperature. The weather in Iceland can be notoriously variable.
The aurora borealis is often visible at night time during the winter. The midnight sun can be experienced in summer by the north coast; the remainder of the country.
Icelandic landscapes are shaped by the forces of nature and vary from deep fjords to vast volcanic deserts. Through to black sand beaches, snow-capped mountains, and staggering waterfalls. Iceland’s nature remains mostly unspoiled as the island is scarcely populated.
Iceland has a population of 340,000, of which two thirds live in the capital Reykjavík and its metropolitan area. The official language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language, and is related to other Scandinavian languages such as Danish and Norwegian, but English is widely spoken and understood. Iceland’s population is young, with more than 30% under the age of 18. Iceland also boasts one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, ensuring the country a steady population growth through the years.
The history of Iceland began in the 9th century Vikings lead by Ingólfur Arnarson who built the first permanent Norse settlement in Reykjavík in 874. The years that followed the settlement of Iceland are described in the famous sagas of Icelanders, which were mostly written around the 13th century. In the centuries that followed, Iceland fell under Norwegian rule and later under Danish rule. Iceland proclaimed its independence from Denmark in 1944 when it adopted a parliamentary republic regime.
Today, Iceland ranks amongst the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, as well as one of the cleanest, with more than three quarters of its energy consumption derived from hydroelectric & geothermal sources. Due to the fact that Iceland is a small island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean the economy of Iceland is equally small and is therefore subject to high volatility. The icelandic krona or isk kr is the currency used in Iceland and exhcange rates vary.
Iceland is also home to a flourishing art scene and a vibrant cultural life, as testified by Iceland’s countless museums and art galleries, and by the recent opening of the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavík.