We are going to do something a little bit different today. Instead of exploring the best of the best that Reykjavik has to offer, we are going to do a quick rundown of Iceland. We tend to get asked the same questions again and again, so we hope this will answer the most frequently asked questions about Iceland, like the what the population is, a little bit about the country’s history or even where Iceland is on the map. This brief profile will key you into the basics about Iceland. We are going to talk about our people, our culture, and our environment. Let’s dive right in.

Selection of icons related to Iceland including puffins, whales, churches, Northern Lights

The Basics about Iceland

You may have seen that in recent years Iceland has become a tourist hotspot. Travelers from around the globe are coming to Iceland more and more. So, if you have never visited here before let us talk about the basics. Here in Iceland, we have a population of roughly 330,000 Icelanders. The vast majority of us are descended from Viking ancestry (yes, the rumors are correct). Thanks to historians and chroniclers like Ari Þorgilsson, a large majority of us are able to trace our ancestry back hundreds and hundreds of years. Our capital, Reykjavik, was originally fully settled in the later 800s. We have been around for a while. The summers here are long, and the winters are harsh. But, nonetheless, we are consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.

Iceland may be young in geological terms, but our government is one of the oldest in the world. The Althingi, our Icelandic parliamentary system, is one of the oldest continuously running democracies in the world. Our president, Gudni Johannesson, used to be a university history teacher and he was elected when he was just 48 years old. After a confluence of political events, Katrin Jakobsdottir ended up becoming our second female prime minister in Iceland. Like Johannesson, she is very popular. If you thought that you could come to Iceland and use your euros, sorry, but, no dice. Our currency is the Icelandic Krona. Other essential facts are that we are almost entirely Christians here as part of the Church of Iceland and our official language is Icelandic. However, almost everyone here speaks English fluently.

Iceland’s Culture

As I said, the majority of Icelanders are descended from Vikings, and this plays a massive part in our culture today. We are fiercely proud of our heritage. It comes across in spades through our holidays, our dishes, and our language. Icelandic is primarily only spoken by Icelanders, but it is always endangered. With the world becoming more and more globalized, more young people are using English. We aren’t fond of this, but it is a reality.

Language letter blocks representing the Icelandic language

Our cuisine may seem fishy to outsiders, but, alas, we are an island nation. For hundreds of years, we depended heavily on fish as our primary source of food. Historians theorize that this may be what initially drew explorers to the island. The waters surrounding Iceland are some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the world. And you see this reflected in our local foods. When you have a fish dish here in Iceland, I bet you won’t want fish from anywhere else. We also highly prize our Icelandic sheep. Our four-legged friends roam freely and consume a natural diet. As such, Icelandic lamb stew is a delicious, succulent, dish that we enjoy when we are looking to celebrate. If you find yourself in Reykjavik, hunt down some lamb stew and thank me later.

The last decade or so has seen a significant shakeup in Iceland, due to the recession that plagued countries around the world. You may or may not know, but the global recession hit Iceland particularly hard. Corrupt politicians and bankers didn’t help the situation, but we are moving on. The tourism boom in the early 2010s substantially helped to get us back on our feet.

Where is Iceland on the Map?

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean with the northern part of the country just touching the bottom of the Arctic Circle. When looking at a map, Iceland is located northwest of the British Isles, close to the Faroe Islands. See that oval-shaped island between Greenland and the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden? That’s Iceland. And in case you were wondering, yes, people consider Iceland a part of Scandinavia.

Iceland’s History

Iceland has a particularly incredible early history. Historians theorize that the country was first settled around the late 700s and early 800s AD. Those settlements were not permanent, and eventually, other Nordic explorers and refugees colonized the entire island. My favorite story concerning settlements comes from the story of how Reykjavik was first settled. A Norwegian by the name of Ingólfr Arnarson decided to high tail it out of Norway to escape a blood feud. Blood feuds, right? He eventually made his way to Iceland and knew he had found his new home. Ingólfr Arnarson decided to let fate decide where he should land his ship. So, like any normal Norwegian from around that time, he ripped a massive pillar from his boat and threw it into the water. Wherever the pillar washed up was where he would land. Absolutely wild story. To think that our capital came to be settled by a guy heaving a massive wooden pillar into the ocean blows my mind.

The 800s up until the year 1000 AD were relatively quiet. Many Nordic peoples came to our shores, and we collectively formed Iceland. The Althingi was eventually established, and we became a country with a set of laws and leaders. Iceland ultimately converted to Christianity to placate a grumpy Norwegian king named Olaf. The event was called the kristnitaka. The problem arose with pagans worshipping gods the Christians didn’t believe in, and vice versa. It led to many unnecessary conflicts and bloodshed. Alas, Iceland became a Christian nation, and that was that.

Crown showing king that caused Iceland to convert to Christianity

Following kristnitaka, nothing too important took place over the coming centuries. We got into some disputes with Denmark. The Danish took control of our trade. We really despised them during that time. Volcanoes erupted, the plague came, and then in 1918 the next best thing since sliced bread took place: we achieved our autonomy from Denmark. Since then, not much of critical importance has taken place (at least nothing that a first-time visitor needs to know about).

Iceland’s Landscapes

Iceland is geologically diverse. Very diverse. Our country is technically the youngest, geologically speaking, in the world. But, with our youth also comes both instability and beauty. Volcanic activity happens across the entire country, which directly contrasts the large amounts of glaciers and ice we have in Iceland. That’s why they call Iceland the Land of Fire and Ice. The volcanic activity rarely presents serious safety concerns. However, the volcanic activity does provide us with stunning black sand beaches and lava fields. The risk seems worth it to me, especially given how beautiful our country is. Iceland has a plethora of waterfalls, ice caves, mountains, rivers, and plenty of other captivating landscapes. If you are looking for an otherworldly experience, like you have stepped into some secret land from the Harry Potter, then you are going to want to come and visit. It’ll be unlike anything you have ever seen in your life.

Iceland Country Profile – FAQs and Brief Overview

So, that’s about it. The problem with a brief profile about Iceland is it really doesn’t do it justice. It is one of those things you have to see to believe. Kind of like someone still using BlackBerry Messenger or Mapquest. Come to Iceland. Venture out into our unbridled, untamed, harsh, rugged, captivating wilderness, or stroll down the quaint streets of our capital city Reykjavik. We hope to see you soon and that you’ve learned something new and interesting.


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