Facts about Iceland
Iceland is an island of 103,000 km2 (39,756 square miles) – 24% larger than Austria or slightly smaller than Kentucky. Iceland is the second largest island in Europe. The average height of Iceland is 500 meters above sea level and the highest peak is Hvannadalshnjukur, rising 2,111 m above sea level (most maps and books will quote the height 2,119 m but it was re-measured in 2004 to a mere 2,111 m). Over 11% is covered with glaciers, including Vatnajokull which is the largest glacier in Europe and outside the arctic regions. That is more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe. Deserts and lava fields cover 63% of Iceland, lakes around 3% and 23% is vegetated land.
Iceland is located in the North – Atlantic Ocean, east of southern Greenland and northwest of the UK. The southernmost point of Iceland is Kotlutangi (63°23´N), the northernmost is Hraunhafnartangi (66°32´N), the easternmost is Gerpir (13°30´W) and the westernmost point of both Iceland and Europe is Bjargtangar (24°32´W).
Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hot spot of volcanic and geothermal activity. In the past two centuries there have been about 30 volcanic eruptions and Hekla alone has erupted over 20 times since Iceland´s settlement. The geothermal heat supplies most of the nation with cheap, pollution-free heating and hot water. Glacial rivers are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power.
The Gulf Stream is what makes Iceland inhabitable, without it the whole country would most likely be covered with a shield of ice. The warm Gulf Stream tempers the winters so Iceland is not as cold as the name indicates.
Out of a population of approximately 320,000 around ¾ live in or around the capital of Reykjavik and its neighbouring towns in the south-west. The rest live mostly around the coastline although part of the north-west is uninhabited. The central highlands are inhabited. About 20% of the 103,000 km2 are populated. This makes Iceland very attractive for nature enthusiasts; hikers, mountain bikers, nature photographers and bird watchers.
Literacy is among the highest in the world, about 99,9%, and average life expectancy is over 80 years. The National Church of Iceland, to which 88% of the people belong, is Evangelical Lutheran. Icelanders are a fairly homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts; population of foreign origin is around 6%.
The standard of living is high, with income per capita among the best in the world. The economy is highly dependent upon fishing which accounts for 60% merchandise export earnings although less than 10% of the workforce is involved in fishing and fish processing. Like in many other western countries, two thirds of the working population is employed in the service sector, both public and private. Iceland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA) but is not part of the European Union.
Settlement started in the late 800s by Norse Vikings and in 930 the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world's first republican governments during the Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas. In 1262 Iceland lost its independence and did not become completely independent again until June 17, 1944 when the present Republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althingi (parliament).
Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz, 2-plug sockets
Currency: Icelandic Krona – ISK (It´s easy and safe to change most currencies, credit cards -Visa/MasterCard accepted almost everywhere)
Time: Greenwich Mean Time – GMT
Language: Icelandic (English is widely understood)
Climate: Temperate, moderated by North Atlantic Gulf Current. Mild, windy winters and damp, cool summers. The average temperature of the warmest month is about 12°C (54°F) and of the coldest month about 0°C (32°F).
Clothing: Warm, wind-and-waterproof clothes are recommended as well as lighter clothes for nice weather. Basically, be prepared for anything.
Road system: In populated areas, asphalt but in the countryside there are a lot of gravel roads which demand attention. In the highlands there are only dirt roads and mountain tracks, many with unbrigded rivers. They require caution and skill. The fauna and vegetation are very sensitive and there are heavy fines for illegal off-roading.
Mobile phones: European system, US-phones need to be tri-band
The Lighter Side of Life
The most popular riddle to ask tourists: “What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?” – You stand up! (since there are not so many trees and the birch trees that do grow wild are not very tall).
The first question Icelanders are likely to ask you: “So, how do you like Iceland?” (Even if you just got off the plane... It has almost become a national joke).