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This article is from our friend Gudbjorg Bragadottir, who runs KGB Tours in Iceland.

Iceland  - A land of Fire and Ice.

Iceland Map - the top of the world

Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, close to the Arctic Circle. It was settled by Norwegian Vikings in the 9th century, the last country in Europe to be settled.

Several Irish hermits were living in the country previously, but they don’t seem to have liked living among a pagan people and went back to Ireland.  The first settler is reputed to have been Ingolfur Arnarson in AD 874.

He established his home by a bay on the southwest coast and named it Reykjavik, which in English means ‘Smoke-Bay’.

The “smoke” Ingolfur saw was steam coming up from various hot-springs in the area. Today Reykjavik is the capital of the country with about 60% of the population.

The next 60 years the Viking colonisation continued until AD 930. By then the population was almost certainly about 20.000 and the country was considered fully settled and time to have a parliament established. The site chosen for the parliament was in a valley by the biggest lake, an area named Thingvellir (in English - Parliament Plains). The Parliament was held in Thingvellir until the end of the 18th century when it was moved to Reykjavik. In 1930, Thingvellir was declared a National Park.

Glacial Lagoon in Iceland

Geographically, Iceland is considered part of Europe, on the boundary of two tectonic plates, the American plate and the Eurasian plate. These two plates are separating by 2 cm (3/4 inches) a year, on average, and in Thingvellir there’s a 5 km wide rift valley.

Some 11% of Iceland ’s surface is covered by glaciers, dominated by Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacial cap in Europe . Average height above sea-level is around

500 m and the highest peak, Hvannadalshnukur, reaches 2119 meters (about 6400 feet). Born from the sea by volcanic forces around 16 million years ago, Iceland is among the youngest countries in the world and also has the lowest population density in Europe . Volcanic forces are still very active, with an eruption in progress somewhere in the country every five years during it’s history.

Natural resources like geothermal activity are present in most parts of the country and have been harnessed to supply hot water for heating buildings, homes, domestic use, swimming pools and greenhouses. The main power resource is hydroelectricity, generated from waterfalls.

Towns and villages only began to develop around the turn of the 20th century, when the traditional agricultural society gave way to urban-based commercial fishing.  Fisheries account for 80% of Iceland ’s export earnings, while other important economic sectors are manufacturing industries and tourism.

The total population of Iceland is 300.000, with around 110.000 inhabitants in the capital, Reykjavík. Another 50.000 live in neighbouring communities, generally known as “The large Reykjavík-area”.

In Iceland there ARE four seasons.

Winter is long, with about 2 months when there’s hardly any daylight. At the end of January the daylight gradually gainsThe Midnight Sun in Iceland on the darkness, with the equinox on March 23 signalling more daylight than darkness, until the middle of May, when all the darkness is gone and the country has daylight for 2 months. This is the time when you can see the Midnight Sun.

Due to the warm Gulf-stream coming up to the south coast, the country is however, not as cold as its location would normally indicate.

Most interesting places to see in Iceland are located in what is called ‘The Golden Circle . This tour takes you from the American tectonic plate to the Eurasian plate, and shows you erupting hot-springs, waterfalls, glaciers (if the view is good), volcanic craters, along with the best known historic sites in Iceland :

       

  • Thingvellir where the parliament was established,
  • Skalholt which was the capital area of Iceland for 740 years.

The Blue Lagoon in IcelandThe Blue Lagoon is another interesting site, only 40 min. drive away from Reykjavik . Here you can relax in a blue, salty, sulphur water.

The South Shore Tour takes you up to a glacier where it is possible to go snowmobiling and dog-sledding, or to the edge of a glacier where it runs down to the lowland. The coast has numerous seabirds, as well as the black volcanic sand and mysterious caves and holes in the cliffs.

Akureyri is the capital of the northern part of Iceland and a very interesting and worthwhile sight. The Westfjords of the country is another part that is very unusual.

 
 


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