Icelanders have a fierce pride of their relatively short past. The first settler, Ingóflur Anarson, arrived from Norway in 874. In 930, the island’s 36 chieftains met together at Pingvellir for their first annual assembly. Probably they did not realize it at the time, but it was an auspicious choice, and this is also where the great North American and Eurasian continental plates come together.
This constant movement between the two continents makes Iceland a serious geologic hot spot, a fact that has led to an almost exclusive use of geothermal energy. In fact, Reykjavik, the world’s most northernmost capital city, receives hot water and all it’s power directly from a geothermal plant located about 40 km from the city. In fact, 80% of their electricity is generated by geothermal means, with the remainder being hydroelectric. Iceland is enviably a 100% “green” country.
Icelanders are very proud of their history and language. Even though they are a nation of only 320,000, they maintain their original language as spoken by Ingóflur Anarson and the settlers. It is a kind of old Norwegian, but I doubt even many Norwegians would be able to recognise it. It sounds very strange to English speakers, but there is a kinship in sentence structure and even a few recognisable words from both German and English. Not to worry, however, because English is also taught in the schools and is spoken widely.
Much of the history was passed down by word of mouth through “Sagas” – tales of incidents that happened along the way. Some tell of terrible battles, and others highlight the courage of the early settlers. There are many of these cherished Sagas, all of which were eventually transcribed but still have a kind of life of their own. A recent television series aired 6 of these as a kind of dramatic documentary and was very popular.
The people are mostly a mixture of Norwegian and Scottish. How did that happen? The Vikings lived to raid and take slaves. They were a very violent society, but in many ways had admirable traits. DNA research done in conjunction with the National Museum has demonstrated that the mixture of the lines comes primarily as a result of Scottish women who were taken away as slaves. This gives the country a very Viking feel with a bit of Celtic tossed in for good measure. Altogether a pleasing and very interesting combination.
The food is in a word, “different”. Traditional Icelandic dishes would not for the most part agree with the American or even British palate. However, it is said that their version of the venerable Hot Dog is the best in the universe – especially if consumed from a little cart along the waterfront where you can find a photo of Bill Clinton enjoying one a few years ago! Saying that, you can find anything to suit your taste, especially in Reykjavik, as you might expect from an international city.
Why not start your trip with an inexpensive airport transfer? There is regular bus service between the airport at Keflavik and downtown Reykjavik, stopping at most of the major hotels.
Iceland is beautiful, and there is a multitude of tours and attractions to suit any budget or taste. From short introductions to longer excursions in the countryside, you are sure to find a tour that suits your needs.
There are a few sites that are definitely not to be missed on your Iceland vacation. Be sure to visit Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Gullfoss waterfall as well as the famous Geysir geothermal area. These incredible attractions are a must see! If you are adventurous, driving is always a good option, because outside of their rush hour in Reykjavik, traffic is sparse. Head over to our car rental page and see what is available!
There is plenty to do and lots to enjoy – whatever you do, you can’t go wrong. Iceland is great – feel free to explore, and you will enjoy your trip.
One of the most fun and often refreshing places you can visit now is Iceland. We've stopped many times and always enjoyed our trips. It is now open for fully vaccinated visitors. Here are a few things you can do:
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