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 km, which is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Virginia 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 in recent years with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 and the Grimsvötn eruption in 2011. Iceland’s numerous rivers and waterfalls are harnessed to provide cheap and environment-friendly hydroelectric energy.
Iceland’s climate is subpolar oceanic, meaning it has cold winters and cool summers, although the winters are milder than most places of similar latitude thanks to the Gulf Stream, which ensures a more temperate climate to coastal areas all year round.
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 320,000, of which two thirds live in the capital Reykjavík and its metropolitan area. The official language is Icelandic, which is related to other Scandinavian languages such as Danish and Swedish, but English is widely spoken and understood. Iceland’s population is young, with close to 40% 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 when the country was settled by Irish monks. They were soon to be followed by Vikings lead by Ingólfur Arnarson who built the first permanent Norse settlement near 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. 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 – the largest building of its kind in Northern Europe.