Iceland is a North Atlantic island and the westernmost country in Europe. It lies about 800 km northwest of Scotland and 970 km west of Norway, and its northern coast is just below the Arctic Circle. On the European side the distance from London to Reykjavík is the same distance as from London to Athens. From the American side flight from Washington DC to Iceland is similar to a flight from Washington DC Las Vegas.
Iceland is an island of 103.000 km2 (39,756 sq.miles), about the size of Kentucky and one-third larger than Scotland or Ireland. Its highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, raises to 2.110 m. Glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe, cover over 11 per cent of the country. The country sits on the active Atlantic ridge where the American and European tectonic plates meet which makes it geothermal and volcanic active.
Out of a population numbering around 330.000, half live in the capital Reykjavík and its neighboring towns in the southwest. Keflavík International Airport is located about 40 minutes drive from the capital. The highland interior is uninhabited (and uninhabitable), and most centers of population are situated on the coast.
Nordic people settled Iceland in the 9th century – tradition says that the first permanent settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who made his home where Reykjavík now stands. The Icelanders still speak the language of the Vikings, although modern Icelandic has undergone changes of pronunciation and of course of vocabulary! Iceland is alone in upholding another Norse tradition, i.e. the custom of using patronymics rather than surnames; and Icelander’s christian name is followed by his or her father’s name and the suffix -son or –dóttir.
Culture in Iceland
It was the love of freedom and adventure that inspired many Vikings to make their homes in Iceland in the ninth century AD. Icelanders are of Scandinavian origin, with some early mixing of Celtic blood. Freedom and respect for the individual are still at the heart of twentieth-century Iceland – a parliamentary democracy and a showcase of political stability.
Visitors will find that Iceland is largely a classless society and that it has a strong literary tradition. A deep interest in Iceland’s cultural heritage has been an inseparable part of the Icelandic character and identity for generations. It stretches as far back as the Icelandic sagas – medieval literary works which are regarded as classics in world literature. Creative and performing arts are flourishing in Iceland and it is remarkable to see such a thriving cultural scene in a country of only 300,000.
Icelandic culture is just as diverse as the landscape. There is far more to Iceland than just unspoiled nature. Iceland is also famous for its writers, composers, actors, and artists and musicians – some of which include Halldor Laxness, Jón Leifs, Kristján Jóhannson, Sigur Rós and Björk. Attractions like the Reykjavik Art Festival, the museums and the first-class restaurants draw visitors from all around the globe.
Icelanders harvest a lot of their food directly from the surrounding nature. This includes seafood, mushrooms, berries, reindeer, lamb and all sorts of other game and wildlife. In recent years Icelandic cooks have learned how to turn the countries basic edible resources into delicious gastronomic dishes. Chefs have picked up international trends of combining excellent local raw ingredients with modern techniques and recipes. The results are astounding, with Icelandic restaurants picking up international awards every year.