Iceland was the last European country to be settled, mostly by Norsemen in the 9th and 10th centuries. They came mainly from Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia, and from the Norse settlements in the British Isles, from where a Celtic element was also introduced.
The language and culture of Iceland were predominantly Scandinavian from the outset, but there are traces of Celtic influence in some of the ancient poetry, in some personal names and in the appearance of present-day Icelanders.
Iceland was formed by harsh phenomena: volcanoes and glaciers. Much of the country was carved out by slow-moving glaciers, chewing up the land, and gouging deep valleys into it. But, contrary to popular belief, trees DO grow in Iceland. However, when the Vikings arrived, they cut down almost all the native trees. Today, reforestation is being attempted, but you'll still notice the lack of forests when you visit.
The culture of Iceland is rich and varied Its literary heritage began in the 12th century. Other Icelandic traditional arts include weaving, silversmithing, and wood carving. The Reykjavík area has several professional theatres, a symphony orchestra, an opera, and a large number of art galleries, bookstores, cinemas, and museums. There are also four active folk dance ensembles in Iceland. Iceland's literacy rate is among the highest in the world, and a love of literature, art, chess, and other intellectual pursuits is widespread.
The Northern Lights
Is seeing the northern lights on your bucket list?
The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth's atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south.
Auroral displays appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains, or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.
To have the best viewing experience, there are three things to consider: darkness, clear skies, and aurora activity. The best season to see the northern lights in Iceland is from September to mid-April – these are the months where there are full dark nights.
You won’t see scenes like this anywhere else in the world. Horses run free against backdrops of majestic glaciers, gushing geysers, glittering ice caps which pierce the sky, and vibrant green fjords which rise from the mist of geothermal lagoons.
Iceland’s specific breed of horses arrived with the Vikings in about 900 AD. Over the decades they have developed a resilience and reputation for surviving in conditions too harsh for a regular horse. They wander freely throughout the country to this day, completely unaffected by civilization. Lacking the speed and size of Arab horses, they have a unique pace, called “tolt”, which allows them to move softly over tough terrain.
Iceland's geothermal activity means that there are tons of natural hot pools all over the country. Some are marketed as tourist destinations (like the Mývatn Nature Baths or the Secret Lagoon in Fludir), while others are truly natural and usually just stumbled upon or found by people in-the-know. There's also the famous Blue Lagoon, of course, but this one isn't actually a natural hot spring! It's a man-made spa and hot pool fed by runoff from a nearby geothermal plant and worth the visit.
● See the famous Golden Circle sights - Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss
● Travel along the South Coast with its beautiful ocean views
● View the stunning Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
● Enjoy the mountain scenery and quaint fishing villages of the Eastfjords
● Explore Lake Mývatn with its steaming geothermal sites
● Visit the charming town of Akureyri
For more ideas, read our blog post
The climate of Iceland is subarctic (Köppen climate classification: 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, which also helps to moderate the island’s temperature. The weather in Iceland can be notoriously variable. Midnight sun and warmer temperatures make summer the best season to visit Iceland. Although hikers will want to consider July and August as the best time to visit Iceland whereas February, March, September, and October are typically the best time to visit Iceland for the Northern Lights.
Tipping is generally not expected in Iceland for service. At many restaurants, a tip is already included, so do check your bill before you add a tip. If a tip is not included, it’s not common to leave a tip, although it is not rude to leave a tip if you wish, around ten percent would be a reasonable amount to tip in Iceland.
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to travel in, with extremely low crime rates and good medical care. The main dangers that travelers will face will usually be related to the quickly changing weather and natural hazards like slippery rocks or steep cliffs. Car accidents are also something to be aware of, especially in the winter months when driving conditions can be hazardous
112 is the single emergency number in Iceland, representing all the response parties to accidents, fire, crime, search, rescue and natural disasters on land, at sea, or in the air. Additionally, Iceland's child protection officers can be reached through 112.