Coat of Arms
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
»Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
»102,775 km2 (108th)
»$14.488 billion (142nd)
» Per capita -$44,575 (23rd)
» Per capita -$52,967 (16th)
»Icelandic króna (ISK)
Iceland is a Nordic island country between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. It has a population of 325,671 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
The capital and largest city is Reykjavík; the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country are home to two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active.
The interior consists mainly of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle.
According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 CE when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island. In the following centuries, Scandinavians settled Iceland, bringing with them thralls of Gaelic origin. From 1262 to 1918, Iceland was ruled by Norway and later Denmark. The country became independent in 1918 and a republic in 1944.
Until the 20th century, Iceland relied largely on fishing and agriculture. Industrialisation of the fisheries and Marshall Plan aid following World War II brought prosperity and Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 1994, Iceland became party to the European Economic Area, which supported diversification into economic and financial services.
In 2007, Iceland was the seventh most productive country in the world per capita (US$54,858), and the fifth most productive by GDP at purchasing power parity ($40,112).
About 85 percent of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources.
Utilization of abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power has made Iceland the world’s largest electricity producer per capita. As a result of its commitment to renewable energy, the 2014 Global Green Economy Index ranked Iceland among the top 10 greenest economies in the world.
Historically, Iceland’s economy depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings and employs 7% of the workforce. The economy is vulnerable to declining fish stocks and drops in world prices for its main material exports: fish and fish products, aluminium, and ferrosilicon.
Whaling in Iceland has been historically significant. Iceland still relies heavily on fishing, but its importance is diminishing from an export share of 90% in the 1960s to 40% in 2006.
Until the 20th century, Iceland was among the poorest countries in Western Europe. Currently, it remains one of the most developed countries in the world. Strong economic growth had led Iceland to be ranked first in the United Nations‘ Human Development Index report for 2007/2008 although as of 2011 its HDI rating had fallen to 14th place as a result of the economic crisis.
Nevertheless, according to the Economist Intelligence Index of 2011, Iceland has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world. Based on the Gini coefficient, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world, and when adjusted for inequality, its HDI ranking climbs to 5th place.
Iceland’s unemployment rate has declined consistently since the crisis, with 4.8% of the labour force being unemployed as of June 2012, compared to 6% in 2011 and 8.1% in 2010
Top 5 Products imported by Iceland
- Refined Petroleum (12%),
- Carbon-based Electronics (11%),
- Aluminium Oxide (9.3%), Cars (3.8%),
- Planes, Helicopters, and/or Spacecraft (3.4%)
Top 5 Import origins of Iceland
- Norway (18%),
- Germany (9.7%),
- United States (9.4%),
- China (6.6%),
- Netherlands (6.2%)
The energy is palpable on this magical island, where astonishing natural phenomena inspire the welcoming, creative locals and draw an increasing number of visitors in search of splendour.
It’s hard to answer this without either gushing embarrassingly or resorting to clichés (OK, I’ll admit it, Iceland makes me want to grow up to become a bird watching vulcanologist who plays in a band). Like everyone, on my first visit l was awestruck by the landscapes. On subsequent visits, the beauty of those same landscapes can still reduce me to tears – but the locals are what affirm my love for Iceland. Their resourcefulness, quirkiness, interconnectedness and warmth is unparalleled; on this research trip, every day presented human stories and interactions that rivaled Icelandic nature for beauty.
An underpopulated island marooned near the top of the globe, Iceland is, literally, a country in the making. It’s a vast volcanic laboratory where mighty forces shape the earth: geysers gush, mud pots gloop, ice-covered volcanoes rumble and glaciers grind great pathways through the mountains.
Its supercharged splendour seems designed to remind visitors of their utter insignificance in the greater scheme of things. And it works a treat: some crisp clean air, an eyeful of the cinematic landscapes, and everyone is transfixed.
Don’t for a moment think it’s only about the great outdoors. The counterpoint to so much natural beauty is found in Iceland’s cultural life, which celebrates a literary legacy that stretches from medieval sagas to contemporary thrillers by way of Nobel Prize winners.
Live music is everywhere, as is visual art, handicrafts and locavore cuisine. The world’s most northerly capital is home to the kind of egalitarianism, green thinking, and effortlessly stylish locals that its Nordic brethren are famous for – all wrapped in Iceland’s assured individuality.
A visit is as much about the people as it is about the landscapes. The warmth of Icelanders is disarming, as is their industriousness – they’re working hard to recover from financial upheaval, and to transform Iceland into a destination that, thanks to its popularity with visitors, can host triple its population each year.
Pause and consider a medium-sized city in your country – then give it far-flung universities, airports and hospitals to administer, 30-odd active volcanoes to monitor, and hundreds of hotels to run. How might they cope? Could they manage as well as the Icelanders – and still have time left over to create spine-tingling music and natty knitwear?
The power of Icelandic nature turns the prosaic into the extraordinary. A dip in the pool becomes a soak in a geothermal lagoon, a casual stroll can transform into a trek across a glittering glacier, and a quiet night of camping may mean front-row seats to the aurora borealis’ curtains of fire, or the soft, pinkish hue of the midnight sun. Iceland has a transformative effect on people, too – its sagas turned brutes into poets; its stories of huldufólk (hidden people) may make believers out of sceptics. It may just have the world’s highest concentration of dreamers, authors, artists and musicians, all fuelled by their surrounds.
- The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and the most famous sight in Iceland.
- The Gullfoss waterfall is quite spectacular.
- Geysir, the namesake of all geysers, and its neighbour Strokkur which erupts every five minutes or so.
- Þingvellir National Park, a beautiful landscape of water-cut lava fields, which is historically important as the site of Iceland’s parliament from 930 AD.
- Vatnajökull glacier is in Southeast Iceland and is Europe’s largest glacier.
- Jökulsárlón, the largest glacier lake in Iceland, is located off Route 1 and part of Vatnajökull glacier.
- In the colder months, one may frequently get stunning views of the
- Aurora Borealis, a.k.a. Northern Lights anywhere away from city lights.