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Viking Longhouse Discovery Rewrites the History of Icelandic Capital City

Viking Longhouse Discovery Rewrites the History of Icelandic Capital City

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Archaeologists conducting an excavation in the center of Reykjavik, Iceland were actually looking for a farm cottage from 1799. Instead, they discovered something much older, a Viking longhouse 20 meters (65.6 feet) in length, 5.5 meters (18 feet) wide and with one of the largest ‘long fire’ pits ever found in the country at over 5.2 meters (17 feet) long.

The longhouse dates back to when the Vikings first settled in Iceland, between 870 and 930 AD. Archaeologists expect to obtain a more exact date following completion of the excavation. The team has discovered a number of artifacts inside the hut, including weaving implements, a silver ring and a pearl.

“This find came as a great surprise for everybody” Þor­steinn Bergs­son told The Iceland Monitor . “This rewrites the history of Reykjavik.” Mr. Bergsson is the Managing Director of Minja­vernd, an independent association working for the preservation of old buildings in Iceland.

Stamps Showing Everyday Life in the Viking Age (Wikimedia Commons )

Although it would be nice to find out who actually lived in the longhouse, the chances of ever doing this are exceedingly difficult if not impossible, according to Lísabet Guðmundsdóttir, archaeologist at the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology.

“We have no records of any building on this spot other than the cottage built in 1799” Ms Guðmundsdóttir explained. “The cottage was built on a meadow with no remnants of anything else.”

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A longhouse was a long and probably very chaotic structure, plagued by noise and dirt . This was primarily because a number of families tended to live in the same house along with their animals which were kept at one end of the structure which they used as a barn. This area would also be where the crops were stored and it would have been separated into stalls for animals and crops. The animals served a secondary purpose in that they helped to keep the longhouse warm, despite the noise. Keeping the animals in the barn also protected them from cattle thieves, as animals were also a valued form of currency.

The fire was a source of heat and light but there was no chimney and that meant the longhouse would have been very smoky. Sometimes, additional lighting was provided in the form of stone lamps with fish liver oil or whale oil as the fuel. Seating was either in the form of wooden benches along the walls or an available spot on the floor. The benches also served as beds.

Reconstruction of Viking Longhouse, Iceland ( Wikimedia Commons )

Longhouses were constructed in a number of ways but generally according to the same basic plan. The walls were commonly made from a structure of wooden poles with wattle and daub infilling. In Denmark, some longhouses had forges inside them, although more commonly the forge was housed in a separate building. The size of the longhouse depended on the wealth of the owner. Some of the largest were decorated with tapestries and rugs. The occupants may also have hung their shields on the walls. Some of the Norse sagas mention the use of tables for feasting as well. The Viking diet largely consisted of salted meat, porridge, stew, bread, cheese and honey. Viking settlers in more northerly regions hunted polar bear and seals.

In some areas of Denmark, royal longhouses were located in settlements within round earthen embankments consisting of four longhouses. Each longhouse accommodated the crew of a ship and their families. The roof was made of thatch or wooden shingles

Ingolf tager Island i besiddelse,by P. Raadsig (1850). Depicting Ingólfur Arnarson, the first permanent settler in Iceland. Legend says he threw two pillars overboard and vowed to settle wherever they landed. They landed in what is known today as Reykjavik (Cove of Smoke). (Wikimedia Commons )

The last time a longhouse was discovered in Iceland was in 2001, at Aðalstræti. The relics found at this site represented the oldest evidence of human habitation in Reykjavik, dating back to before 871 AD. The longhouse has been preserved as the center for an exhibition about the Viking settlement of the site.

Featured Image: The long fire pit in the center of the longhouse. ( Kristinn Ingvarsson/Iceland Monitor )

By Robin Whitlock

Vikings In Iceland: Discover The New World Of The Viking Age

The Sun Voyager is a Viking ship inspired sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason in Reykjavík, Iceland.

The Viking connection is big business for Iceland. While there have been no Viking ship excavations as in Norway or any runestones found as in Sweden, Iceland still has plenty to draw those with an interest in the Viking Age.

Throw in the stunning natural landscapes and relaxing hot springs and it’s the perfect getaway for history buffs. But as with all historical travel, it’s worth taking some time to get to know the basics before you travel to make the most of your trip.

The history of Viking settlement in Iceland

While they were the first settlers, the Norsemen weren’t the first people to have ever set foot on the island. Irish monks were known to have visited Iceland and perhaps lived there for a short time. However, when the first Scandinavians arrived sometime in the ninth century, most likely by accident, they found an empty island.

Unlike the raids on the British Isles and parts of western Europe, the trips to Iceland were purely about settlement. The people who initially settled came predominantly from Norway, although there is evidence of some women from the British Isles among the early population. Whether they were willing participants in the new settlement isn’t known.

Discover the Icelandic sagas and more in Reykjavik

One of the reasons we know so much about the Viking Age is through the richly-described and illustrated Icelandic sagas. Early Nordic culture was an oral one, and so although the sagas describe events during the ninth, tenth and early eleventh centuries, they weren’t written down until the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This means their historical accuracy and the amount of artistic license taken over the years cannot be truly understood.

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Discover these sagas for yourself at Reykjavik’s Saga Museum. Many important moments from the sagas are highlighted and explained through exhibitions and an audio guide available in English. To really bring the sagas to life, check out the 75-minute comedy performance of Icelandic Sagas: The Greatest Hits by two leading Icelandic comedians, performed in English.

While in the Icelandic capital, call in to the Settlement Exhibition to enjoy an open excavation brought to life through digital technology.

A Leif Eriksson statue stands outside the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Finally, don’t miss the two Viking-related sculptures in Reykjavik. The eye-catching Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason closely resembles a Viking ship. Described by its creator as an “ode to the sun,” the sculpture conveys the promise of undiscovered territory. Meanwhile, a likeness of Leif Erikson—who may or may not have discovered the Americas—stands outside the striking Hallgrimskirkja church.

Recreations of ships and longhouses

The Northmen’s excellent ship building skills aided their discovery of Iceland, while the longhouses kept them safe from Iceland’s harsh winters. Recreations of both are available to see.

While no Viking ships have been excavated in Iceland, the country is home to a beautifully-crafted replica. Built in 1996, Íslendingur (the Icelander) is an exact replica of the famous Gokstad ship, excavated in Norway in 1882 and now restored and on display at Oslo’s Viking ship museum. The Icelandic replica is housed at Viking World, a small purpose-built museum near the international airport at Keflavik.

The historic park at Hofsstadir celebrates the presence of a longhouse during the settlement period that would have housed as many as 30 people. Archaeological remains were discovered quite by chance during construction work in the 1980s. The few hundred items unearthed included a bronze brooch of the style found in Jelling, Denmark, and many metal objects.

Note: At the time of writing, Iceland’s borders are open to all EU/EEA/Schengen residents and selected other countries. However, local guidelines may mean access to some museums or events may be restricted. Be sure to visit the official tourist information site Visit Iceland in advance of your trip for the latest information.

Iceland Tour Itinerary

(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner

Day 1: Depart for Iceland.

Day 2: Arrive Reykjavik Airport in the morning. (Note: If people want to come in early, arrangements can be made for an additional hotel overnight on Day 1.) Upon leaving the airport stop by the Viking World Museum, home of the Íslendingur, the Icelander. Built in 1996, the vessel is an exact replica of the famous Gokstad, a remarkable archaeological find of an almost completely intact Viking ship, excavated in Norway in 1882. The museum also houses the Viking millennium exhibition produced by the Smithsonian Institution. Called Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, it reveals the Norse settlement and explorations of unknown lands. In the afternoon, enjoy a walking tour of the city, including the parish Lutheran church of Hallgrímskirkja, a stunning architectural masterpiece, and The Saga Museum, where lifelike figures recreates important moments in Icelandic history. Our final stop is Perlan, or The Pearl, a prominent landmark in the Icelandic capital. Built by an award-winning architect, it perches on top of six water tanks that store 24 million liters of the city’s hot water. Our hotel for the night is the Apotek Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. (L/D)

Day 3: Our destination today is the town of Vik, on the southern tip of the island, and during our drive, we will view several interesting sites. A quick stop in Garðabær Town gives us time to view the remains of Hofsstaðir, a large longhouse built by the Vikings in the 9th century. Created more than a thousand years ago, Keldur is a farmstead that has over 20 still-standing turf structures. This historic settlement once belonged to Ingjaldur Höskuldsson, a character in Njál’s Saga, and has been mentioned in other medieval literature, including Sturlunga Saga and the Saga of Saint Thorlákur. Keldur Hall, believed to have been built in the 11th century (although archaeological research indicate that the estate was inhabited before the year 1000), is stave construction with decorative moldings. From the hall there is an underground tunnel thought to date from the 12th to 13th century and was probably built as an escape route during a time of conflict. We stop in Hvolsvȍllur to see the Njal´s Saga exhibit in The Saga Center. Continuing on, we will walk behind the curtain of water (we’ll wear raincoats here!) at Seljalandsfoss waterfall. And our final stop is at Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s biggest and most beautiful waterfalls. Any time the sun emerges, a rainbow is produced by the voluminous spray of the cascading water. Overnight for two nights in the new Hotel Kria in Vik. (B/L/D)

Day 4: Today’s all day excursion takes us further east. Our first stop will be at Reynisfjara where ebony basalt columns dominate a black sand beach. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as one of the top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. Our ultimate goal is Vatnajökull National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes the national parks of Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur along with the Vatnajökull ice cap. At Skaftafell there are short, easy trails leading to Svartifoss Waterfall and the Skaftafellsjökull Glacier. Bordering Vatnajökull, we will see the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón where still, aquamarine waters are dotted with icebergs from the surrounding glaciers. At the end of our long day, return to Vik and the Hotel Kria. (B/L/D)

Day 5: Depart the mainland by ferry to Heimaey, off Iceland’s south coast and the only occupied island in the Westman Archipelago. In Icelandic called Vestmannaeyjar, these land masses were formed by underwater volcanic eruptions. In 1973, Eldfell Volcano on Heimaey erupted. The lava flow destroyed buildings and forced a months-long evacuation of the entire population to the mainland. Eldheimar Museum was established to reveal the results of this eruption’s destruction. As we walk through the town, stop to admire the church, a replica of the Norwegian Haltdalen stave church, which was built around 1170. Return to the mainland and continue to Reykjavik and the Hotel Apotek. Lunch is on our own. (B/ /D)

Day 6: Our all day drive will take us through the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, a region in western Iceland known for its dramatic landscapes. Our first stop is at Snorrastofa, founded in memory of Snorri Sturluson, a 13th century Icelandic historian, poet, politician, and the author of the Prose Edda. He was elected twice as lawspeaker to the Icelandic parliament, the Althing. Now his former homestead at Reykholt is a research center. Then its on to Eiríksstaðir, the former homestead of Eiríkr Þorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red. After his exile from Iceland for committing a murder, Erik is remembered in medieval and Icelandic saga sources as having founded the first settlement in Greenland. Eiríksstaðir is also the birthplace of Leif the Lucky who, according to the sagas, discovered America. Overnight in the Hotel Varmaland in Borgarnes with stunning panoramic views over Borgarfjörður, a fjord in western Iceland. (B/L/D)

Day 7: A variety of cultural and natural history await us today. Located at the head of the fjord in Borgarnes, Landnámssetur Settlement Exhibition tells the Saga of The Settlement of Iceland, along with Egil´s Saga Exhibition that profiles one of the most colorful of all the saga heroes. Our next stop is Deildartunguhver to view a thermal spring that supplies most of the water used for central heating in the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes. The Icelandic goat is an old type believed to be of Norwegian origin and dating back to the settlement of Iceland over 1100 years ago. We will learn about the breeding program to maintain this unique goat stock at the Icelandic Goat Centre at Háafell. Greenhouses in Iceland use geothermal waters of hot springs to grow vegetables. We will lunch on produce grown at Kleppjárnsreykir Greenhouses. Continue to Hraunfossar where a series of waterfalls are formed by rivulets streaming out of Hallmundarhraun, a lava field formed by an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the Langjökull Glacier. We will also take a short walk to Barnafoss, a rapid waterfall just a short walk away from the serene Hraunfossar. The Icelandic horse derived from ponies brought to the island by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Archeological excavations in Europe have revealed that it is descended from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, where it has been preserved in isolation. At Sturlureykir Horse Farm we will learn about these special animals. Return to Reykjavik and the Hotel Apotek, our home for the next three nights. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)

Day 8: Our explorations take us into the mountains and river valleys around Reykjavik to view stunning landscape along with early Norse sites. Situated in the lower part of the Biskupstungur Valley, Skálholt was one of two episcopal seats in Iceland, along with Hólar in the North, and it was the center of ecclesiastic power in Iceland for almost 700 years. The first cathedral was built in Skálholt in the 12th century, and as many as ten churches have once stood in this spot. The present sanctuary dates to the 1950s. While excavating for the foundation, a sarcophagus was found containing the remains of Páll Jónsson, a bishop who died in 1211. The sarcophagus is on display in the church crypt. We continue into Haukadalur Valley to the Geysir, a famous hot spring. Though Geysir itself is rarely active these days, the area boasts a plethora of hot springs and geysers, including Strokkur which shoots jets of boiling water into the air every few minutes. Nearby, view Gullfoss waterfall’s dramatic show, produced by the melting waters from Langjökull Glacier. One thousand years ago, Viking farmers settled in Þjórsárdalur Valley unaware of a nearby volcano. When Mt. Hekla erupted in 1104, twenty-two settlement farms were destroyed. Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng is a reconstruction of one of these Viking-era farmsteads. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, on the UNESCO Tentative List, is a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. A venerated spot to Icelanders, this is where the open-air gathering, called Althing, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws and settled disputes. It was here that the nation abandoned the Old Norse pagan belief system and converted to Christianity in 1000. Nearly a millennium later, in 1944, it is where Icelanders declared their independence from Denmark and confirmed their first President. (B/L/D)

Day 9:This morning, we visit three museums. The National Museum of Iceland displays fascinating exhibitions illustrating the story of Iceland’s past, from the medieval days of Viking settlements to current contemporary culture. A highlight is the Valthjófsstadur Door, a medieval church gate dated to 1200. Beautifully carved with dragons and knights, it displays the legend of the lion-knight that appears in several Icelandic sagas. The Culture House has been part of the National Museum of Iceland since 2013 and has displays from thousand-year-old treasures to the latest in Icelandic art. In 2001, the remains of a 10th century Viking longhouse was found during excavations in downtown Reykjavik. To preserve this historic discovery, The Settlement Exhibition museum was built around the remains of the hall. The afternoon and evening are free for further Reykjavik explorations, or join an optional experience in the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. (B/L)

Day 10: Transfer to the airport for our morning flight back to the USA.


The Sagas of Icelanders say that a Norwegian named Naddodd (or Naddador) was the first Norseman to reach Iceland, and in the 9th century, he named it Snæland or "snow land" because it was snowing. Following Naddodd, the Swede Garðar Svavarsson arrived, and so the island was then called Garðarshólmur which means "Garðar's Isle". [ citation needed ]

Then came a Viking named Flóki Vilgerðarson his daughter drowned en route, then his livestock starved to death. The sagas say that the rather despondent Flóki climbed a mountain and saw a fjord (Arnarfjörður) full of icebergs, which led him to give the island its new and present name. [20] The notion that Iceland's Viking settlers chose that name to discourage oversettlement of their verdant isle is a myth. [20]

874–1262: Settlement and Commonwealth

According to both Landnámabók and Íslendingabók, monks known as the Papar lived in Iceland before Scandinavian settlers arrived, possibly members of a Hiberno-Scottish mission. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed the ruins of a cabin in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsula. Carbon dating indicates that it was abandoned sometime between 770 and 880. [21] In 2016, archaeologists uncovered a longhouse in Stöðvarfjörður that has been dated to as early as 800. [22]

Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and establish that it was an island. [23] He stayed during the winter and built a house in Húsavík. Garðar departed the following summer, but one of his men, Náttfari, decided to stay behind with two slaves. Náttfari settled in what is now known as Náttfaravík, and he and his slaves became the first permanent residents of Iceland. [24] [25]

The Norwegian-Norse chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson built his homestead in present-day Reykjavík in 874. Ingólfr was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Scandinavians and their thralls, many of whom were Irish or Scottish. [26] By 930, most arable land on the island had been claimed the Althing, a legislative and judicial assembly, was initiated to regulate the Icelandic Commonwealth. Lack of arable land also served as an impetus to the settlement of Greenland starting in 986. [27] The period of these early settlements coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were similar to those of the early 20th century. [28] At this time about 25% of Iceland was covered with forest, compared to 1% in the present day. [29] Christianity was adopted by consensus around 999–1000, although Norse paganism persisted among segments of the population for some years afterwards. [30]

The Middle Ages

The Icelandic Commonwealth lasted until the 13th century when the political system devised by the original settlers proved unable to cope with the increasing power of Icelandic chieftains. [31] The internal struggles and civil strife of the Age of the Sturlungs led to the signing of the Old Covenant in 1262, which ended the Commonwealth and brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed from the Kingdom of Norway (872–1397) to the Kalmar Union in 1415, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were united. After the break-up of the union in 1523, it remained a Norwegian dependency, as a part of Denmark–Norway.

Infertile soil, volcanic eruptions, deforestation and an unforgiving climate made for harsh life in a society where subsistence depended almost entirely on agriculture. The Black Death swept Iceland twice, first in 1402–1404 and again in 1494–1495. [32] The former outbreak killed 50% to 60% of the population, and the latter 30% to 50%. [33]

Reformation and the Early Modern period

Around the middle of the 16th century, as part of the Protestant Reformation, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. Jón Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Hólar, was beheaded in 1550 along with two of his sons. The country subsequently became officially Lutheran, and Lutheranism has since remained the dominant religion.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Denmark imposed harsh trade restrictions on Iceland. Natural disasters, including volcanic eruption and disease, contributed to a decreasing population. In the summer of 1627, Barbary Pirates committed the events known locally as the Turkish Abductions, in which hundreds of residents were taken into slavery in North Africa and dozens killed this was the only invasion in Icelandic history to have casualties. [34] [35] A great smallpox epidemic in the 18th century killed around a third of the population. [36] [37] In 1783 the Laki volcano erupted, with devastating effects. [38] In the years following the eruption, known as the Mist Hardships (Icelandic: Móðuharðindin), over half of all livestock in the country died. Around a quarter of the population starved to death in the ensuing famine. [39]

1814–1918: Independence movement

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel but Iceland remained a Danish dependency. Throughout the 19th century, the country's climate continued to grow colder, resulting in mass emigration to the New World, particularly to the region of Gimli, Manitoba in Canada, which was sometimes referred to as New Iceland. About 15,000 people emigrated, out of a total population of 70,000. [40]

A national consciousness arose in the first half of the 19th century, inspired by romantic and nationalist ideas from mainland Europe. An Icelandic independence movement took shape in the 1850s under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, based on the burgeoning Icelandic nationalism inspired by the Fjölnismenn and other Danish-educated Icelandic intellectuals. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and limited home rule. This was expanded in 1904, and Hannes Hafstein served as the first Minister for Iceland in the Danish cabinet.

1918–1944: Independence and the Kingdom of Iceland

The Danish–Icelandic Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on 1 December 1918 and valid for 25 years, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign and independent state in a personal union with Denmark. The Government of Iceland established an embassy in Copenhagen and requested that Denmark carry out on its behalf certain defence and foreign affairs matters, subject to consultation with the Althing. Danish embassies around the world displayed two coats of arms and two flags: those of the Kingdom of Denmark and those of the Kingdom of Iceland. Iceland's legal position became comparable to those of countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations, such as Canada, whose sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II.

During World War II, Iceland joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, the Althing replaced the King with a regent and declared that the Icelandic government would take control of its own defence and foreign affairs. [41] A month later, British armed forces conducted Operation Fork, the invasion and occupation of the country, violating Icelandic neutrality. [42] In 1941, the Government of Iceland, friendly to Britain, invited the then-neutral United States to take over its defence so that Britain could use its troops elsewhere. [41]

1944–present: Republic of Iceland

On 31 December 1943, the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the personal union with Denmark, abolish the monarchy, and establish a republic. The vote was 97% to end the union, and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution. [43] Iceland formally became a republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as its first president.

In 1946, the US Defence Force Allied left Iceland. The nation formally became a member of NATO on 30 March 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. On 5 May 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States. American troops returned to Iceland as the Iceland Defence Force and remained throughout the Cold War. The US withdrew the last of its forces on 30 September 2006.

Iceland prospered during the Second World War. The immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialisation of the fishing industry and the US Marshall Plan programme, through which Icelanders received the most aid per capita of any European country (at US$209, with the war-ravaged Netherlands a distant second at US$109). [44] [45]

The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars—several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland's extension of its fishing limits to 200 nmi (370 km) offshore. Iceland hosted a summit in Reykjavík in 1986 between United States President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, during which they took significant steps toward nuclear disarmament. A few years later, Iceland became the first country to recognise the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as they broke away from the USSR. Throughout the 1990s, the country expanded its international role and developed a foreign policy oriented toward humanitarian and peacekeeping causes. To that end, Iceland provided aid and expertise to various NATO-led interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq. [46]

Iceland joined the European Economic Area in 1994, after which the economy was greatly diversified and liberalised. International economic relations increased further after 2001, when Iceland's newly deregulated banks began to raise great amounts of external debt, contributing to a 32% increase in Iceland's gross national income between 2002 and 2007. [47] [48]

Economic boom and crisis

In 2003–2007, following the privatisation of the banking sector under the government of Davíð Oddsson, Iceland moved toward having an economy based on international investment banking and financial services. [49] It was quickly becoming one of the most prosperous countries in the world, but was hit hard by a major financial crisis. [49] The crisis resulted in the greatest migration from Iceland since 1887, with a net emigration of 5,000 people in 2009. [50] Iceland's economy stabilised under the government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and grew by 1.6% in 2012. [51] The centre-right Independence Party was returned to power in coalition with the Progressive Party in the 2013 election. [52] In the following years, Iceland saw a surge in tourism as the country became a popular holiday destination. In 2016, Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson resigned after being implicated in the Panama Papers scandal. [53] Early elections in 2016 resulted in a right-wing coalition government of the Independence Party, the Reform Party and Bright Future. [54] This government fell when Bright Future quit the coalition due to a scandal involving then-Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson's father's letter of support for a convicted child sex offender. [55] Snap elections in October 2017 brought to power a new coalition consisting of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party and the Left-Green Movement, headed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir. [56]

Iceland is at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The main island is entirely south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small Icelandic island of Grímsey off the main island's northern coast. The country lies between latitudes 63 and 68°N, and longitudes 25 and 13°W.

Iceland is closer to continental Europe than to mainland North America, although it is closest to Greenland (290 km, 180 mi), an island of North America. Iceland is generally included in Europe for geographical, historical, political, cultural, linguistic and practical reasons. [57] [58] [59] [60] Geologically, the island includes parts of both continental plates. The closest bodies of land in Europe are the Faroe Islands (420 km, 260 mi) Jan Mayen Island (570 km, 350 mi) Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, both about 740 km (460 mi) and the Scottish mainland and Orkney, both about 750 km (470 mi). The nearest part of Continental Europe is mainland Norway, about 970 km (600 mi) away, while mainland North America is 2,070 km (1,290 mi) away, at the northern tip of Labrador.

Iceland is the world's 18th-largest island, and Europe's second-largest island after Great Britain. (The island of Ireland is third.) The main island covers 101,826 km 2 (39,315 sq mi), but the entire country is 103,000 km 2 (40,000 sq mi) in size, of which 62.7% is tundra. Iceland contains about 30 minor islands, including the lightly populated Grímsey and the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of its surface only 23% is vegetated. [61] The largest lakes are Þórisvatn reservoir: 83–88 km 2 (32–34 sq mi) and Þingvallavatn: 82 km 2 (32 sq mi) other important lakes include Lagarfljót and Mývatn. Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake, at 248 m (814 ft). [62]

Geologically, Iceland is part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a ridge along which the oceanic crust spreads and forms new oceanic crust. This part of the mid-ocean ridge is located above a mantle plume, causing Iceland to be subaerial (above the surface of the sea). The ridge marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American Plates, and Iceland was created by rifting and accretion through volcanism along the ridge. [63]

Many fjords punctuate Iceland's 4,970-km-long (3,088-mi) coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated. The island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand, mountains, and lava fields. The major towns are the capital city of Reykjavík, along with its outlying towns of Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, and Garðabær, nearby Reykjanesbær where the international airport is located, and the town of Akureyri in northern Iceland. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland, whereas Kolbeinsey contains the northernmost point of Iceland. [64] Iceland has three national parks: Vatnajökull National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park. [65] The country is considered a "strong performer" in environmental protection, having been ranked 13th in Yale University's Environmental Performance Index of 2012. [66]


A geologically young land, Iceland is the surface expression of the Iceland Plateau, a large igneous province forming as a result of volcanism from the Iceland hotspot and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the latter of which runs right through it. [67] This means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes including Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið, and Eldfell. [68] The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island's population. [69] In addition, the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months afterward, and affected climates in other areas. [70]

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived, and the famous Strokkur, which erupts every 8–10 minutes. After a phase of inactivity, Geysir started erupting again after a series of earthquakes in 2000. Geysir has since grown quieter and does not erupt often. [71]

With the widespread availability of geothermal power and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating, and electricity. The island is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with about 30 active volcanic systems. [72]

Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world, is part of Iceland. Named after Surtr, it rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between 8 November 1963 and 5 June 1968. [64] Only scientists researching the growth of new life are allowed to visit the island. [73]

On 21 March 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull in the south of Iceland erupted for the first time since 1821, forcing 600 people to flee their homes. [74] Additional eruptions on 14 April forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes. [75] The resultant cloud of volcanic ash brought major disruption to air travel across Europe. [76]

Another large eruption occurred on 21 May 2011. This time it was the Grímsvötn volcano, located under the thick ice of Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Grímsvötn is one of Iceland's most active volcanoes, and this eruption was much more powerful than the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull activity, with ash and lava hurled 20 km (12 mi) into the atmosphere, creating a large cloud. [77]

A great deal of volcanic activity was occurring in the Reykjanes Peninsula in 2020 and into 2021, after nearly 800 years of inactivity. After the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano on 19 March 2021, National Geographic's experts predicted that this "may mark the start of decades of volcanic activity." The eruption was small, leading to a prediction that this volcano was unlikely to threaten "any population centers". [78]

The highest elevation for Iceland is listed as 2,110 m (6,923 ft) at Hvannadalshnúkur (64°00′N 16°39′W).


The climate of Iceland's coast is subarctic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the world with similar climates include the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and Tierra del Fuego, although these regions are closer to the equator. Despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island's coasts remain ice-free through the winter. Ice incursions are rare, with the last having occurred on the north coast in 1969. [79]

The climate varies between different parts of the island. Generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter, and windier than the north. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. Low-lying inland areas in the north are the aridest. Snowfall in winter is more common in the north than in the south.

The highest air temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) on 22 June 1939 at Teigarhorn on the southeastern coast. The lowest was −38 °C (−36.4 °F) on 22 January 1918 at Grímsstaðir and Möðrudalur in the northeastern hinterland. The temperature records for Reykjavík are 26.2 °C (79.2 °F) on 30 July 2008, and −24.5 °C (−12.1 °F) on 21 January 1918.

Climate data for Reykjavík, Iceland (1961–1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 1.9
Average low °C (°F) −3.0
Source 1: Icelandic Meteorological Office [80]
Source 2: All Icelandic weather station climatic monthly means [81]
Climate data for Akureyri, Iceland (1961–1990)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 0.9
Average low °C (°F) −5.5
Source 1: Icelandic Meteorological Office [80]
Source 2: All Icelandic weather station climatic monthly means [81]


Phytogeographically, Iceland belongs to the Arctic province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. Plantlife consists mainly of grassland, which is regularly grazed by livestock. The most common tree native to Iceland is the northern birch (Betula pubescens), which formerly formed forests over much of Iceland, along with aspens (Populus tremula), rowans (Sorbus aucuparia), common junipers (Juniperus communis), and other smaller trees, mainly willows.

When the island was first settled, it was extensively forested, with around 30% of the land covered in trees. In the late 12th century, Ari the Wise described it in the Íslendingabók as "forested from mountain to sea shore". [82] Permanent human settlement greatly disturbed the isolated ecosystem of thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. [83] Deforestation, climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age, and overgrazing by sheep imported by settlers caused a loss of critical topsoil due to erosion. Today, many farms have been abandoned. Three-quarters of Iceland's 100,000 square kilometres is affected by soil erosion, 18,000 km 2 (6,900 sq mi) serious enough to make the land useless. [82] Only a few small birch stands now exist in isolated reserves. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees, but the result does not compare to the original forests. Some of the planted forests include introduced species. [83] The tallest tree in Iceland is a sitka spruce planted in 1949 in Kirkjubæjarklaustur it was measured at 25.2 m (83 ft) in 2013. [84]


The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the Arctic fox, [83] which came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. On rare occasions, bats have been carried to the island with the winds, but they are not able to breed there. No native or free-living reptiles or amphibians are on the island. [85]

The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheep, cattle, chickens, goats, the sturdy Icelandic horse, and the Icelandic Sheepdog, all descendants of animals imported by Europeans. Wild mammals include the Arctic fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits, and reindeer. Polar bears occasionally visit the island, travelling from Greenland on icebergs, but no Icelandic populations exist. [86] In June 2008, two polar bears arrived in the same month. [87] Marine mammals include the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seal (Phoca vitulina).

Many species of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a major part of Iceland's economy, accounting for roughly half of the country's total exports. Birds, especially seabirds, are an important part of Iceland's animal life. Atlantic puffins, skuas, and black-legged kittiwakes nest on its sea cliffs. [88]

Commercial whaling is practised intermittently [89] [90] along with scientific whale hunts. [91] Whale watching has become an important part of Iceland's economy since 1997. [92]

Around 1,300 species of insects are known in Iceland. This is low compared with other countries (over one million species have been described worldwide). Iceland is essentially free of mosquitoes. [93]

Iceland has a left–right multi-party system. Following the 2017 parliamentary election, the biggest parties are the centre-right Independence Party (Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn), the Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) and the Progressive Party (Framsóknarflokkurinn). These three parties form the ruling coalition in the cabinet led by leftist Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Other political parties with seats in the Althing (Parliament) are the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin), the Centre Party (Miðflokkurinn), Iceland's Pirates, the People's Party (Flokkur fólksins), and the Reform Party (Viðreisn).

Iceland was the first country in the world to have a political party formed and led entirely by women. [94] Known as the Women's List or Women's Alliance (Kvennalistinn), it was founded in 1983 to advance the political, economic, and social needs of women. After participating in its first parliamentary elections, the Women's List helped increase the proportion of female parliamentarians by 15%. [95] It disbanded in 1999, formally merging the next year with the Social Democratic Alliance, although about half of its members joined the Left-Green Movement instead. It did leave a lasting influence on Iceland's politics: every major party has a 40% quota for women, and in 2009 nearly a third of members of parliament were female, compared to the global average of 16%. [96] Following the 2016 elections, 48% of members of parliament are female. [97]

In 2016, Iceland was ranked second in the strength of its democratic institutions [98] and 13th in government transparency. [99] The country has a high level of civic participation, with 81.4% voter turnout during the most recent elections, [100] compared to an OECD average of 72%. However, only 50% of Icelanders say they trust their political institutions, slightly less than the OECD average of 56% (and most probably a consequence of the political scandals in the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis). [101]


Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The modern parliament, Alþingi (English: Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish monarch. It was widely seen as a re-establishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period, and temporarily suspended from 1799 to 1845. Consequently, "it is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy." [102] It has 63 members, elected for a maximum period of four years. [103]

The head of government is the prime minister who, together with the cabinet, is responsible for executive government.

The president, in contrast, is elected by popular vote for a term of four years with no term limit. The elections for president, the Althing, and local municipal councils are all held separately every four years. [104] The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial head of state and serves as a diplomat, but may veto laws voted by the parliament and put them to a national referendum. [105] [106] The president is Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

The cabinet is appointed by the president after a general election to the Althing however, the appointment is usually negotiated by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how to distribute its seats, under the condition that it has majority support in the Althing. Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves within a reasonable time span does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet personally. This has not happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 regent Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941, appointed a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Sveinn would later become the country's first president in 1944.

The governments of Iceland have always been coalition governments, with two or more parties involved, as no single political party has ever received a majority of seats in the Althing throughout the republican period. The extent of the political power possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars [ which? ] , in Iceland several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers, but other provisions and traditions suggest differently. [ citation needed ] In 1980, Icelanders elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as president, the world's first directly elected female head of state. She retired from office in 1996. In 2009, Iceland became the first country with an openly gay head of government when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister. [107]

Administrative divisions

Iceland is divided into regions, constituencies, and municipalities. The eight regions are primarily used for statistical purposes. District court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division. [64] Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliamentary elections were the same as the regions, but by an amendment to the constitution, they were changed to the current six constituencies:

  • Reykjavík North and Reykjavík South (city regions)
  • Southwest (four non-contiguous suburban areas around Reykjavík)
  • Northwest and Northeast (northern half of Iceland, split) and,
  • South (southern half of Iceland, excluding Reykjavík and suburbs).

The redistricting change was made to balance the weight of different districts of the country since previously a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the Reykjavík city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system but still exists. [64]

74 municipalities in Iceland govern local matters like schools, transport, and zoning. [108] These are the actual second-level subdivisions of Iceland, as the constituencies have no relevance except in elections and for statistical purposes. Reykjavík is by far the most populous municipality, about four times more populous than Kópavogur, the second one. [64]

Foreign relations

Iceland, which is a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA, Council of Europe and OECD, maintains diplomatic and commercial relations with practically all nations, but its ties with the Nordic countries, Germany, the United States, Canada, and the other NATO nations are particularly close. Historically, due to cultural, economic, and linguistic similarities, Iceland is a Nordic country, and it participates in intergovernmental cooperation through the Nordic Council.

Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows the country access to the single market of the European Union (EU). It was not a member of the EU, but in July 2009, the Icelandic parliament, the Althing, voted in favour of the application for EU membership [109] and officially applied on 17 July 2009. [110] However, in 2013, opinion polls showed that many Icelanders were now against joining the EU following the 2013 Icelandic parliamentary election the two parties that formed the island's new government—the centrist Progressive Party and the right-wing Independence Party—announced they would hold a referendum on EU membership. [111] [112]


Iceland has no standing army but has the Icelandic Coast Guard which also maintains the Iceland Air Defence System, and an Iceland Crisis Response Unit to support peacekeeping missions and perform paramilitary functions.

The Iceland Defense Force (IDF) was a military command of the United States Armed Forces from 1951 to 2006. The IDF, created at the request of NATO, came into existence when the United States signed an agreement to provide for the defence of Iceland. The IDF also consisted of civilian Icelanders and military members of other NATO nations. The IDF was downsized after the end of the Cold War and the U.S. Air Force maintained four to six interceptor aircraft at the Naval Air Station Keflavik, until they were withdrawn on 30 September 2006. Since May 2008, NATO nations have periodically deployed fighters to patrol Icelandic airspace under the Icelandic Air Policing mission. [113] [114] Iceland supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite much domestic controversy, deploying a Coast Guard EOD team to Iraq, [115] which was replaced later by members of the Iceland Crisis Response Unit. Iceland has also participated in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. [ citation needed ] Despite the ongoing financial crisis the first new patrol ship in decades was launched on 29 April 2009. [116]

Iceland was the neutral host of the historic 1986 Reagan–Gorbachev summit in Reykjavík, which set the stage for the end of the Cold War. Iceland's principal historical international disputes involved disagreements over fishing rights. [ citation needed ] Conflict with the United Kingdom led to a series of so-called Cod Wars, which included confrontations between the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Navy over British fishermen: in 1952–1956 due to the extension of Iceland's fishing zone from 3 to 4 nmi (5.6 to 7.4 km 3.5 to 4.6 mi), in 1958–1961 following a further extension to 12 nmi (22.2 km 13.8 mi), in 1972–1973 with another extension to 50 nmi (92.6 km 57.5 mi), and in 1975–1976 after another extension to 200 nmi (370.4 km 230.2 mi). [ citation needed ]

According to the 2011 Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, due to its lack of armed forces, low crime rate and high level of socio-political stability. [117] Iceland is listed in Guinness World Records as the "country ranked most at peace" and the "lowest military spending per capita". [118]

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. [119] Use of abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power has made Iceland the world's largest electricity producer per capita. [120] As a result of its commitment to renewable energy, the 2016 Global Green Economy Index ranked Iceland among the top 10 greenest economies in the world. [121] Historically, Iceland's economy depended heavily on fishing, which still provides 40% of export earnings and employs 7% of the workforce. [64] The economy is vulnerable to declining fish stocks and to falls 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. [122]

Until the 20th century, Iceland was a fairly poor country. It is now 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, [123] although in 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 second-highest quality of life in the world. [124] Based on the Gini coefficient, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world, [125] and when adjusted for inequality, its HDI ranking is 6th. [126] Iceland's unemployment rate has declined consistently since the crisis, with 4.8% of the labour force being unemployed as of June 2012 [update] , compared to 6% in 2011 and 8.1% in 2010. [64] [127] [128]

Many political parties remain opposed to EU membership, primarily due to Icelanders' concern about losing control over their natural resources (particularly fisheries). [129] The national currency of Iceland is the Icelandic króna (ISK). Iceland is the only country in the world to have a population under two million yet still have a floating exchange rate and an independent monetary policy. [130]

A poll released on 5 March 2010 by Capacent Gallup showed that 31% of respondents were in favour of adopting the euro and 69% opposed. [131] Another Capacent Gallup poll conducted in February 2012 found that 67.4% of Icelanders would reject EU membership in a referendum. [132]

Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, including software production, biotechnology, and finance industry accounts for around a quarter of economic activity, while services comprise close to 70%. [133] The tourism sector is expanding, especially in ecotourism and whale-watching. On average, Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually, which is more than three times the native population. [101] 1.7 million people visited Iceland in 2016, 3 times more than the number that came in 2010. [134] Iceland's agriculture industry, accounting for 5.4% of GDP, [64] consists mainly of potatoes, green vegetables (in greenhouses), mutton and dairy products. [64] The financial centre is Borgartún in Reykjavík, which hosts a large number of companies and three investment banks. Iceland's stock market, the Iceland Stock Exchange (ISE), was established in 1985. [135]

Iceland is ranked 27th in the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, lower than in prior years but still among the freest in the world. [136] As of 2016 [update] , it ranks 29th in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Index, one place lower than in 2015. [137] According to INSEAD's Global Innovation Index, Iceland is the 11th most innovative country in the world. [138] Unlike most Western European countries, Iceland has a flat tax system: the main personal income tax rate is a flat 22.75%, and combined with municipal taxes, the total tax rate equals no more than 35.7%, not including the many deductions that are available. [139] The corporate tax rate is a flat 18%, one of the lowest in the world. [139] There is also a value added tax, whereas a net wealth tax was eliminated in 2006. Employment regulations are relatively flexible and the labour market is one of the freest in the world. Property rights are strong and Iceland is one of the few countries where they are applied to fishery management. [139] Like other welfare states, taxpayers pay various subsidies to each other, but with spending being less than in most European countries.

Despite low tax rates, agricultural assistance is the highest among OECD countries and a potential impediment to structural change. Also, health care and education spending have relatively poor returns by OECD measures, though improvements have been made in both areas. The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland 2008 had highlighted Iceland's challenges in currency and macroeconomic policy. [140] There was a currency crisis that started in the spring of 2008, and on 6 October trading in Iceland's banks was suspended as the government battled to save the economy. [141] An assessment by the OECD 2011 [142] determined that Iceland has made progress in many areas, particularly in creating a sustainable fiscal policy and restoring the health of the financial sector however, challenges remain in making the fishing industry more efficient and sustainable, as well as in improving monetary policy to address inflation. [143] Iceland's public debt has decreased since the economic crisis, and as of 2015 [update] is the 31st-highest in the world by proportion of national GDP. [144]

Economic contraction

Iceland had been hit especially hard by the Great Recession that began in December 2007 because of the failure of its banking system and a subsequent economic crisis. Before the crash of the country's three largest banks, Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing, their combined debt exceeded approximately six times the nation's gross domestic product of €14 billion ($19 billion). [145] [146] In October 2008, the Icelandic parliament passed emergency legislation to minimise the impact of the financial crisis. The Financial Supervisory Authority of Iceland used permission granted by the emergency legislation to take over the domestic operations of the three largest banks. [147] Icelandic officials, including central bank governor Davíð Oddsson, stated that the state did not intend to take over any of the banks' foreign debts or assets. Instead, new banks were established to take on the domestic operations of the banks, and the old banks were to be run into bankruptcy.

On 28 October 2008, the Icelandic government raised interest rates to 18% (as of August 2019 [update] , it was 3.5%), a move forced in part by the terms of acquiring a loan from International Monetary Fund (IMF). After the rate hike, trading on the Icelandic króna finally resumed on the open market, with valuation at around 250 ISK per euro, less than one-third the value of the 1:70 exchange rate during most of 2008, and a significant drop from the 1:150 exchange ratio of the week before. On 20 November 2008, the Nordic countries agreed to lend Iceland $2.5 billion. [148]

On 26 January 2009, the coalition government collapsed due to public dissent over the handling of the financial crisis. A new left-wing government was formed a week later and immediately set about removing Central Bank governor Davíð Oddsson and his aides from the bank through changes in law. Davíð was removed on 26 February 2009 in the wake of protests outside the Central Bank. [149]

Thousands of Icelanders left the country after the collapse, many of those moving to Norway. In 2005, 293 people moved from Iceland to Norway in 2009, the figure was 1,625. [150] In April 2010, the Icelandic Parliament's Special Investigation Commission published the findings of its investigation, [151] revealing the extent of control fraud in this crisis. [152] By June 2012, Landsbanki managed to repay about half of the Icesave debt. [153]

According to Bloomberg, Iceland is on the trajectory of 2% unemployment as a result of crisis-management decisions made back in 2008, including allowing the banks to fail. [154]


Iceland has a high level of car ownership per capita, with a car for every 1.5 inhabitants it is the main form of transport. [155] Iceland has 13,034 km (8,099 mi) of administered roads, of which 4,617 km (2,869 mi) are paved and 8,338 km (5,181 mi) are not. A great number of roads remain unpaved, mostly little-used rural roads. The road speed limits are 30 km/h (19 mph) and 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns, 80 km/h (50 mph) on gravel country roads and 90 km/h (56 mph) on hard-surfaced roads. [156]

Route 1, or the Ring Road (Icelandic: Þjóðvegur 1 or Hringvegur), was completed in 1974, and is the main road that runs around Iceland and connects all the inhabited parts of the island, with the interior of the island being uninhabited. This paved road is 1,332 km (828 mi) [157] long with one lane in each direction, except near larger towns and cities and in the Hvalfjörður Tunnel where it has more lanes. Many bridges on it, especially in the north and east, are single lanes and made of timber and/or steel.

Keflavík International Airport (KEF) [158] is the largest airport and the main aviation hub for international passenger transport. It serves several international and domestic airline companies. [159] KEF is in the vicinity of the larger metropolitan capital areas, 49 km (30 mi) [160] to the WSW of Reykjavík center, and public bus services are available. [161]

Iceland has no passenger railways.

Reykjavík Airport (RKV) [162] is the second-largest airport, located just 1.5 km from the capital centre. RKV serves general aviation traffic, and has daily or regular domestic flights to 12 local townships within Iceland. [163] RKV also serves international flights to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, business and private airplanes along with aviation training.

Akureyri Airport (AEY) [164] and Egilsstaðir Airport (EGS) [165] are two other domestic airports with limited international service capacity. There are a total of 103 registered airports and airfields in Iceland most of them are unpaved and located in rural areas. The second-longest runway is at Geitamelur, a four-runway glider field around 100 km (62 mi) east of Reykjavík.

Six main ferry services provide regular access to various outpost communities or shorten travel distances. [166] [ circular reference ]


Renewable sources—geothermal and hydropower—provide effectively all of Iceland's electricity [167] and around 85% of the nation's total primary energy consumption, [168] with most of the remainder consisting of imported oil products used in transportation and in the fishing fleet. [169] [170] A 2000 report from the University of Iceland suggested that Iceland could potentially convert from oil to hydrogen power by 2040. [171] Iceland's largest geothermal power plants are Hellisheiði and Nesjavellir, [172] [173] while Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant is the country's largest hydroelectric power station. [174] When the Kárahnjúkavirkjun started operating, Iceland became the world's largest electricity producer per capita. [175] Iceland is one of the few countries that have filling stations dispensing hydrogen fuel for cars powered by fuel cells. [ citation needed ] It is also one of a few countries capable of producing hydrogen in adequate quantities at a reasonable cost, because of Iceland's plentiful renewable sources of energy. [ further explanation needed ]

Despite this, Icelanders emitted 16.9 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2016, the highest in EFTA, mainly resulting from transport and aluminium smelting. [176] Nevertheless, in 2010, Iceland was reported by Guinness World Records as "the Greenest Country", reaching the highest score by the Environmental Sustainability Index, which measures a country's water use, biodiversity and adoption of clean energies, with a score of 93.5/100. [177]

On 22 January 2009, Iceland announced its first round of offshore licences for companies wanting to conduct hydrocarbon exploration and production in a region northeast of Iceland, known as the Dreki area. [178] Three exploration licences were awarded but all were subsequently relinquished. [179]

As of 2012 [update] , the government of Iceland was in talks with the government of the United Kingdom about the possibility of constructing Icelink, a high-voltage direct-current connector for transmission of electricity between the two countries. [180] Such a cable would give Iceland access to a market where electricity prices have generally been much higher than those in Iceland. [181] Iceland has considerable renewable energy resources, especially geothermal energy and hydropower resources, [182] and most of the potential has not been developed, partly because there is not enough demand for additional electricity generation capacity from the residents and industry of Iceland the United Kingdom is interested in importing inexpensive electricity from renewable sources of energy, and this could lead to further development of the energy resources.

Education and science

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for the policies and methods that schools must use, and they issue the National Curriculum Guidelines. However, playschools, primary schools, and lower secondary schools are funded and administered by the municipalities. The government does allow citizens to home educate their children, however, under a very strict set of demands. [183] Students must adhere closely to the government-mandated curriculum, and the parent teaching must acquire a government approved teaching certificate.

Nursery school, or leikskóli, is non-compulsory education for children younger than six years and is the first step in the education system. The current legislation concerning playschools was passed in 1994. They are also responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is suitable so as to make the transition into compulsory education as easy as possible. [ citation needed ]

Compulsory education, or grunnskóli, comprises primary and lower secondary education, which often is conducted at the same institution. Education is mandatory by law for children aged from 6 to 16 years. The school year lasts nine months, beginning between 21 August and 1 September, ending between 31 May and 10 June. The minimum number of school days was once 170, but after a new teachers' wage contract, it increased to 180. Lessons take place five days a week. All public schools have mandatory education in Christianity, although an exemption may be considered by the Minister of Education. [184]

Upper secondary education, or framhaldsskóli, follows lower secondary education. These schools are also known as gymnasia in English. Though not compulsory, everyone who has had a compulsory education has the right to upper secondary education. This stage of education is governed by the Upper Secondary School Act of 1996. All schools in Iceland are mixed-sex schools. The largest seat of higher education is the University of Iceland, which has its main campus in central Reykjavík. Other schools offering university-level instruction include Reykjavík University, University of Akureyri, Agricultural University of Iceland and Bifröst University.

An OECD assessment found 64% of Icelanders aged 25–64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, which is lower than the OECD average of 73%. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, only 69% have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, significantly lower than the OECD average of 80%. [101] Nevertheless, Iceland's education system is considered excellent: the Programme for International Student Assessment ranks it as the 16th best performing, above the OECD average. [185] Students were particularly proficient in reading and mathematics.

According to a 2013 Eurostat report by the European Commission, Iceland spends around 3.11% of its GDP on scientific research and development (R&D), over 1 percentage point higher than the EU average of 2.03%, and has set a target of 4% to reach by 2020. [186] A 2010 UNESCO report found that out of 72 countries that spend the most on R&D (100 million US dollars or more), Iceland ranked 9th by proportion of GDP, tied with Taiwan, Switzerland, and Germany and ahead of France, the UK, and Canada. [187]

The original population of Iceland was of Nordic and Gaelic origin. This is evident from literary evidence dating from the settlement period as well as from later scientific studies such as blood type and genetic analyses. One such genetic study indicated that the majority of the male settlers were of Nordic origin while the majority of the women were of Gaelic origin, meaning many settlers of Iceland were Norsemen who brought Gaelic slaves with them. [188]

Iceland has extensive genealogical records dating back to the late 17th century and fragmentary records extending back to the Age of Settlement. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics has funded the creation of a genealogy database that is intended to cover all of Iceland's known inhabitants. It views the database, called Íslendingabók, as a valuable tool for conducting research on genetic diseases, given the relative isolation of Iceland's population.

The population of the island is believed to have varied from 40,000 to 60,000 in the period ranging from initial settlement until the mid-19th century. During that time, cold winters, ash fall from volcanic eruptions, and bubonic plagues adversely affected the population several times. [14] There were 37 famine years in Iceland between 1500 and 1804. [189] The first census was carried out in 1703 and revealed that the population was then 50,358. After the destructive volcanic eruptions of the Laki volcano during 1783–1784, the population reached a low of about 40,000. [190] Improving living conditions have triggered a rapid increase in population since the mid-19th century—from about 60,000 in 1850 to 320,000 in 2008. Iceland has a relatively young population for a developed country, with one out of five people being 14 years old or younger. With a fertility rate of 2.1, Iceland is one of only a few European countries with a birth rate sufficient for long-term population growth (see table below). [191] [192]

In December 2007, 33,678 people (13.5% of the total population) living in Iceland had been born abroad, including children of Icelandic parents living abroad. Around 19,000 people (6% of the population) held foreign citizenship. Polish people make up the largest minority group by a considerable margin and still form the bulk of the foreign workforce. About 8,000 Poles now live in Iceland, 1,500 of them in Fjarðabyggð where they make up 75% of the workforce who are constructing the Fjarðarál aluminum plant. [193] Large-scale construction projects in the east of Iceland (see Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant) have also brought in many people whose stay is expected to be temporary. Many Polish immigrants were also considering leaving in 2008 as a result of the Icelandic financial crisis. [194]

The southwest corner of Iceland is by far the most densely populated region. It is also the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost national capital in the world. More than 70 percent of Iceland's population live in the southwest corner (Greater Reykjavík and the nearby Southern Peninsula), which covers less than two percent of Iceland's land area. The largest town outside Greater Reykjavík is Reykjanesbær, which is located on the Southern Peninsula, less than 50 km (31 mi) from the capital. The largest town outside the southwest corner is Akureyri in northern Iceland.

Some 500 Icelanders under the leadership of Erik the Red settled Greenland in the late 10th century. [195] The total population reached a high point of perhaps 5,000, and developed independent institutions before disappearing by 1500. [196] People from Greenland attempted to set up a settlement at Vinland in North America, but abandoned it in the face of hostility from the indigenous residents. [197]

Emigration of Icelanders to the United States and Canada began in the 1870s. As of 2006 [update] , Canada had over 88,000 people of Icelandic descent, [198] while there are more than 40,000 Americans of Icelandic descent, according to the 2000 US census. [199]


Iceland's 10 most populous urban areas:


Iceland's official written and spoken language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. In grammar and vocabulary, it has changed less from Old Norse than the other Nordic languages Icelandic has preserved more verb and noun inflection, and has to a considerable extent developed new vocabulary based on native roots rather than borrowings from other languages. The puristic tendency in the development of Icelandic vocabulary is to a large degree a result of conscious language planning, in addition to centuries of isolation. Icelandic is the only living language to retain the use of the runic letter Þ in Latin script. The closest living relative of the Icelandic language is Faroese.

Icelandic Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2011. In education, its use for Iceland's deaf community is regulated by the National Curriculum Guide.

English and Danish are compulsory subjects in the school curriculum. English is widely understood and spoken, while basic to moderate knowledge of Danish is common mainly among the older generations. [200] Polish is mostly spoken by the local Polish community (the largest minority of Iceland), and Danish is mostly spoken in a way largely comprehensible to Swedes and Norwegians—it is often referred to as skandinavíska (i. e. Scandinavian) in Iceland. [201]

Rather than using family names, as is the usual custom in most Western nations, Icelanders carry patronymic or matronymic surnames, patronyms being far more commonly practised. Patronymic last names are based on the first name of the father, while matronymic names are based on the first name of the mother. These follow the person's given name, e.g. Elísabet Jónsdóttir ("Elísabet, Jón's daughter" (Jón, being the father)) or Ólafur Katrínarson ("Ólafur, Katrín's son" (Katrín being the mother)). [202] Consequently, Icelanders refer to one another by their given name, and the Icelandic telephone directory is listed alphabetically by the first name rather than by surname. [203] All new names must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.


Iceland has a universal health care system that is administered by its Ministry of Welfare (Icelandic: Velferðarráðuneytið) [204] and paid for mostly by taxes (85%) and to a lesser extent by service fees (15%). Unlike most countries, there are no private hospitals, and private insurance is practically nonexistent. [205]

A considerable portion of the government budget is assigned to health care, [205] and Iceland ranks 11th in health care expenditures as a percentage of GDP [206] and 14th in spending per capita. [207] Overall, the country's health care system is one of the best performing in the world, ranked 15th by the World Health Organization. [208] According to an OECD report, Iceland devotes far more resources to healthcare than most industrialised nations. As of 2009 [update] , Iceland had 3.7 doctors per 1,000 people (compared with an average of 3.1 in OECD countries) and 15.3 nurses per 1,000 people (compared with an OECD average of 8.4). [209]

Icelanders are among the world's healthiest people, with 81% reporting they are in good health, according to an OECD survey. [101] Although it is a growing problem, obesity is not as prevalent as in other developed countries. [209] Iceland has many campaigns for health and wellbeing, including the famous television show Lazytown, starring and created by former gymnastics champion Magnus Scheving. Infant mortality is one of the lowest in the world, [210] and the proportion of the population that smokes is lower than the OECD average. [209] Almost all women choose to terminate pregnancies of children with Down syndrome in Iceland. [211] The average life expectancy is 81.8 (compared to an OECD average of 79.5), the fourth-highest in the world. [212]

Iceland has a very low level of pollution, thanks to an overwhelming reliance on cleaner geothermal energy, a low population density, and a high level of environmental consciousness among citizens. [213] According to an OECD assessment, the amount of toxic materials in the atmosphere is far lower than in any other industrialised country measured. [214]


Affiliation by religious movement (1 January 2018) [215]
Affiliation % of population
Christianity 78.78 78.78

Icelanders have freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution, although the Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body, is the state church:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State.

Approximately 80 percent of Icelanders legally affiliate with a religious denomination, a process that happens automatically at birth and from which they can choose to opt-out. They also pay a church tax (sóknargjald), which the government directs to help support their registered religion, or, in the case of no religion, the University of Iceland. [217]

The Registers Iceland keeps account of the religious affiliation of every Icelandic citizen. In 2017, Icelanders were divided into religious groups as follows:

  • 67.22% members of the Church of Iceland
  • 11.56% members of other Christian denomination
  • 11.29% other religions and not specified
  • 6.69% unaffiliated
  • 1.19% members of Germanic Heathen groups (99% of them belonging to Ásatrúarfélagið)
  • 0.67% members of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association
  • 0.55% members of Zuist groups.

On March 8, 2021, Iceland formally recognized Judaism as a religion for the first time ever. Iceland's Jews will have the choice to register as such and direct their taxes to their own religion. Among other benefits, the recognition will also allow Jewish marriage, baby-naming and funeral ceremonies to be civilly recognized. [217]

Iceland is a very secular country as with other Nordic nations, church attendance is relatively low. [218] [219] The above statistics represent administrative membership of religious organisations, which does not necessarily reflect the belief demographics of the population. According to a study published in 2001, 23% of the inhabitants were either atheist or agnostic. [220] A Gallup poll conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Icelanders considered themselves "religious", 31% considered themselves "non-religious", while 10% defined themselves as "convinced atheists", placing Iceland among the ten countries with the highest proportions of atheists in the world. [221] Registration of Icelanders in the state church, the Church of Iceland, is declining at a rate of more than 1% per year.

Icelandic culture has its roots in North Germanic traditions. Icelandic literature is popular, in particular the sagas and eddas that were written during the High and Late Middle Ages. Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country's Nordic culture from external influence a prominent example is the preservation of the Icelandic language, which remains the closest to Old Norse of all modern Nordic languages. [222]

In contrast to other Nordic countries, Icelanders place relatively great importance on independence and self-sufficiency in a public opinion analysis conducted by the European Commission, over 85% of Icelanders believe independence is "very important", compared to 47% of Norwegians, 49% of Danes, and an average of 53% for the EU25. [223] Icelanders also have a very strong work ethic, working some of the longest hours of any industrialised nation. [224]

According to a poll conducted by the OECD, 66% of Icelanders were satisfied with their lives, while 70% believed that their lives will be satisfying in the future. Similarly, 83% reported having more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones, compared to an OECD average of 72%, which makes Iceland one of the happiest countries in the OECD. [101] A more recent 2012 survey found that around three-quarters of respondents stated they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a global average of about 53%. [225]

Iceland is liberal with regard to LGBT rights issues. In 1996, the Icelandic parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, conferring nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, parliament voted unanimously to grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment. In 2010, the Icelandic parliament amended the marriage law, making it gender-neutral and defining marriage as between two individuals, making Iceland one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriages. The law took effect on 27 June 2010. [226] The amendment to the law also means registered partnerships for same-sex couples are now no longer possible, and marriage is their only option—identical to the existing situation for opposite-sex couples. [226]

Icelanders are known for their strong sense of community and lack of social isolation: An OECD survey found that 98% believe they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, higher than in any other industrialised country. Similarly, only 6% reported "rarely" or "never" socialising with others. [101] This high level of social cohesion is attributed to the small size and homogeneity of the population, as well as to a long history of harsh survival in an isolated environment, which reinforced the importance of unity and cooperation. [227]

Egalitarianism is highly valued among the people of Iceland, with income inequality being among the lowest in the world. [125] The constitution explicitly prohibits the enactment of noble privileges, titles, and ranks. [228] Everyone is addressed by their first name. As in other Nordic countries, equality between the sexes is very high Iceland is consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world for women to live in. [229] [230] [231]


In 2011, Reykjavík was designated a UNESCO City of Literature. [232]

Iceland's best-known classical works of literature are the Icelanders' sagas, prose epics set in Iceland's age of settlement. The most famous of these include Njáls saga, about an epic blood feud, and Grænlendinga saga and Eiríks saga, describing the discovery and settlement of Greenland and Vinland (modern Newfoundland). Egils saga, Laxdæla saga, Grettis saga, Gísla saga and Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu are also notable and popular Icelanders' sagas.

A translation of the Bible was published in the 16th century. Important compositions since the 15th to the 19th century include sacred verse, most famously the Passion Hymns of Hallgrímur Pétursson, and rímur, rhyming epic poems. Originating in the 14th century, rímur were popular into the 19th century, when the development of new literary forms was provoked by the influential National-Romantic writer Jónas Hallgrímsson. In recent times, Iceland has produced many great writers, the best-known of whom is arguably Halldór Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 (the only Icelander to win a Nobel Prize thus far). Steinn Steinarr was an influential modernist poet during the early 20th century who remains popular.

Icelanders are avid consumers of literature, with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world. For its size, Iceland imports and translates more international literature than any other nation. [228] Iceland also has the highest per capita publication of books and magazines, [233] and around 10% of the population will publish a book in their lifetimes. [234]

Most books in Iceland are sold between late September to early November. This time period is known as Jolabokaflod, the Christmas Book Flood. [232] The Flood begins with the Iceland Publisher's Association distributing Bokatidindi, a catalogue of all new publications, free to each Icelandic home. [232]

The distinctive rendition of the Icelandic landscape by its painters can be linked to nationalism and the movement for home rule and independence, which was very active in the mid-19th century.

Contemporary Icelandic painting is typically traced to the work of Þórarinn Þorláksson, who, following formal training in art in the 1890s in Copenhagen, returned to Iceland to paint and exhibit works from 1900 to his death in 1924, almost exclusively portraying the Icelandic landscape. Several other Icelandic men and women artists studied at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at that time, including Ásgrímur Jónsson, who together with Þórarinn created a distinctive portrayal of Iceland's landscape in a romantic naturalistic style. Other landscape artists quickly followed in the footsteps of Þórarinn and Ásgrímur. These included Jóhannes Kjarval and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir. Kjarval in particular is noted for the distinct techniques in the application of paint that he developed in a concerted effort to render the characteristic volcanic rock that dominates the Icelandic environment. Einar Hákonarson is an expressionistic and figurative painter who by some is considered to have brought the figure back into Icelandic painting. In the 1980s, many Icelandic artists worked with the subject of the new painting in their work.

In recent years artistic practice has multiplied, and the Icelandic art scene has become a setting for many large-scale projects and exhibitions. The artist-run gallery space Kling og Bang, members of which later ran the studio complex and exhibition venue Klink og Bank, has been a significant part of the trend of self-organised spaces, exhibitions, and projects. [235] The Living Art Museum, Reykjavík Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavík Art Museum and the National Gallery of Iceland are the larger, more established institutions, curating shows and festivals.


Much Icelandic music is related to Nordic music, and includes folk and pop traditions. Notable Icelandic music acts include medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative and indie rock acts such as The Sugarcubes, Sóley and Of Monsters and Men, jazz fusion band Mezzoforte, pop singers such as Hafdís Huld, Emilíana Torrini and Björk, solo ballad singers like Bubbi Morthens, and post-rock bands such as Amiina and Sigur Rós. Independent music is strong in Iceland, with bands such as múm and solo artists such as Daði Freyr.

Traditional Icelandic music is strongly religious. Hymns, both religious and secular, are a particularly well-developed form of music, due to the scarcity of musical instruments throughout much of Iceland's history. Hallgrímur Pétursson wrote many Protestant hymns in the 17th century. Icelandic music was modernised in the 19th century, when Magnús Stephensen brought pipe organs, which were followed by harmoniums. Other vital traditions of Icelandic music are epic alliterative and rhyming ballads called rímur. Rímur are epic tales, usually a cappella, which can be traced back to skaldic poetry, using complex metaphors and elaborate rhyme schemes. [236] The best-known rímur poet of the 19th century was Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798–1846). A modern revitalisation of the tradition began in 1929 with the formation of Iðunn. [ clarification needed ]

Among Iceland's best-known classical composers are Daníel Bjarnason and Anna S. Þorvaldsdóttir (Anna Thorvaldsdottir), who in 2012 received the Nordic Council Music Prize and in 2015 was chosen as the New York Philharmonic's Kravis Emerging Composer, an honour that includes a $50,000 cash prize and a commission to write a composition for the orchestra she is the second recipient. [237]


Iceland's largest television stations are the state-run Sjónvarpið and the privately owned Stöð 2 and SkjárEinn. Smaller stations exist, many of them local. Radio is broadcast throughout the country, including some parts of the interior. The main radio stations are Rás 1, Rás 2, X-ið 977, Bylgjan and FM957. The daily newspapers are Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið. The most popular websites are the news sites Vísir and Mbl.is. [239]

Iceland is home to LazyTown (Icelandic: Latibær), a children's educational musical comedy program created by Magnús Scheving. It has become a very popular programme for children and adults and is shown in over 100 countries, including the Americas, the UK and Sweden. [240] The LazyTown studios are located in Garðabær. The 2015 television crime series Trapped aired in the UK on BBC4 in February and March 2016, to critical acclaim and according to the Guardian "the unlikeliest TV hit of the year". [241]

In 1992, the Icelandic film industry achieved its greatest recognition hitherto, when Friðrik Þór Friðriksson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his Children of Nature. [242] It features the story of an old man who is unable to continue running his farm. After being unwelcomed in his daughter's and father-in-law's house in town, he is put in a home for the elderly. There, he meets an old girlfriend of his youth, and they both begin a journey through the wilds of Iceland to die together. This is the only Icelandic movie to have ever been nominated for an Academy Award. [243]

Singer-songwriter Björk received international acclaim for her starring role in the Danish musical drama Dancer in the Dark, directed by Lars von Trier, in which she plays Selma Ježková, a factory worker who struggles to pay for her son's eye operation. The film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where she won the Best Actress Award. The movie also led Björk to nominations for Best Original Song at the 73rd Academy Awards, with the song I've Seen It All and for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama. [244]

Guðrún S. Gísladóttir, who is Icelandic, played one of the major roles in Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's film The Sacrifice (1986). Anita Briem, known for her performance in Showtime's The Tudors, is also Icelandic. Briem starred in the film Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), which shot scenes in Iceland. The James Bond movie Die Another Day (2002) is set for a large part in Iceland. Christopher Nolan's film Interstellar (2014) was also filmed in Iceland for some of its scenes, as was Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012). [245]

On 17 June 2010, the parliament passed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, proposing greater protection of free speech rights and the identity of journalists and whistle-blowers—the strongest journalist protection law in the world. [246] According to a 2011 report by Freedom House, Iceland is one of the highest-ranked countries in press freedom. [247]

CCP Games, developers of the critically acclaimed EVE Online and Dust 514, is headquartered in Reykjavík. CCP Games hosts the third-most populated MMO in the world, which also has the largest total game area for an online game. [ citation needed ]

Iceland has a highly developed internet culture, with around 95% of the population having internet access, the highest proportion in the world. [248] Iceland ranked 12th in the World Economic Forum's 2009–2010 Network Readiness Index, which measures a country's ability to competitively exploit communications technology. [249] The United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranks the country third in its development of information and communications technology, having moved up four places between 2008 and 2010. [250] In February 2013 the country (ministry of the interior) was researching possible methods to protect children in regards to Internet pornography, claiming that pornography online is a threat to children as it supports child slavery and abuse. Strong voices within the community expressed concerns with this, stating that it is impossible to block access to pornography without compromising freedom of speech. [251] [252] [253]


Much of Iceland's cuisine is based on fish, lamb, and dairy products, with little to no use of herbs or spices. Due to the island's climate, fruits and vegetables are not generally a component of traditional dishes, although the use of greenhouses has made them more common in contemporary food. Þorramatur is a selection of traditional cuisine consisting of many dishes and is usually consumed around the month of Þorri, which begins on the first Friday after 19 January. Traditional dishes also include skyr (a yoghurt-like cheese), hákarl (cured shark), cured ram, singed sheep heads, and black pudding, Flatkaka (flatbread), dried fish and dark rye bread traditionally baked in the ground in geothermal areas. [254] Puffin is considered a local delicacy that is often prepared through broiling.

Breakfast usually consists of pancakes, cereal, fruit, and coffee, while lunch may take the form of a smörgåsbord. The main meal of the day for most Icelanders is dinner, which usually involves fish or lamb as the main course. Seafood is central to most Icelandic cooking, particularly cod and haddock but also salmon, herring, and halibut. It is often prepared in a wide variety of ways, either smoked, pickled, boiled, or dried. Lamb is by far the most common meat, and it tends to be either smoke-cured (known as hangikjöt) or salt-preserved (saltkjöt). Many older dishes make use of every part of the sheep, such as slátur, which consists of offal (internal organs and entrails) minced together with blood and served in sheep stomach. Additionally, boiled or mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, green beans, and rye bread are prevalent side dishes. [ citation needed ]

Coffee is a popular beverage in Iceland, with the country being third placed by per capita consumption worldwide in 2016, [255] and is drunk at breakfast, after meals, and with a light snack in mid-afternoon. Coca-Cola is also widely consumed, to the extent that the country is said to have one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world. [256]

Iceland's signature alcoholic beverage is brennivín (literally "burnt [i.e., distilled] wine"), which is similar in flavouring to the akvavit variant of Scandinavian brännvin. It is a type of schnapps made from distilled potatoes and flavoured with either caraway seeds or angelica. Its potency has earned it the nickname svarti dauði ("Black Death"). Modern distilleries on Iceland produce vodka (Reyka), gin (Ísafold), moss schnapps (Fjallagrasa), and a birch-flavoured schnapps and liqueur (Foss Distillery's Birkir and Björk). Martin Miller blends Icelandic water with its England-distilled gin on the island. Strong beer was banned until 1989, so bjórlíki, a mixture of legal, low-alcohol pilsner beer and vodka, became popular. Several strong beers are now made by Icelandic breweries.


Sport is an important part of Icelandic culture, as the population is generally quite active. [258] The main traditional sport in Iceland is Glíma, a form of wrestling thought to have originated in medieval times.

Popular sports include football, track and field, handball and basketball. Handball is often referred to as the national sport. [257] The Icelandic national football team qualified for the 2016 UEFA European football championship for the first time. They recorded a draw against later winners Portugal in the group stage, and defeated England 2–1 in the round of 16, with goals from Ragnar Sigurðsson and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson. They then lost to hosts and later finalists France in the quarter finals. [259] Following up on this, Iceland made its debut at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. For both the European and the world championship, Iceland is to date the smallest nation in terms of population to qualify.

Iceland is also the smallest country to ever qualify for Eurobasket, having done so in both 2015 and 2017. However, they have not managed to win a single game in the European Basketball final stages.

Iceland has excellent conditions for skiing, fishing, snowboarding, ice climbing and rock climbing, although mountain climbing and hiking are preferred by the general public. Iceland is also a world-class destination for alpine ski touring and Telemark skiing, with the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland being the main centre of activity. Although the country's environment is generally ill-suited for golf, there are nevertheless many golf courses throughout the island, and Iceland has a greater percentage of the population playing golf than Scotland with over 17,000 registered golfers out of a population of approximately 300,000. [260] Iceland hosts an annual international golf tournament known as the Arctic Open played through the night during the summer solstice at Akureyri Golf Club. [261] [262] Iceland has also won the second most World's Strongest Man competitions of any country with nine titles, including four by both Magnús Ver Magnússon and Jón Páll Sigmarsson and most recently Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in 2018.

Iceland is also one of the leading countries in ocean rowing. Icelandic explorer and endurance athlete Fiann Paulholds the highest number of performance-based Guinness World Records within a single athletic discipline. As of 2020, he is the first and only person to achieve the Ocean Explorers Grand Slam (performing open-water crossings on each of the five oceans using human-powered vessels) and has claimed overall speed Guinness World Records for the fastest rowing of all four oceans (Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Arctic) in a human-powered row boat. He had achieved a total of 41, including 33 performance based Guinness World Records by 2020. [263] [264] [265] [266] [267]

Swimming is popular in Iceland. Geothermally heated outdoor pools are widespread, and swimming courses are a mandatory part of the national curriculum. [262] Horseback riding, which was historically the most prevalent form of transportation on the island, remains a common pursuit for many Icelanders.

The oldest sports association in Iceland is the Reykjavík Shooting Association, founded in 1867. Rifle shooting became very popular in the 19th century with the encouragement of politicians and nationalists who were pushing for Icelandic independence. To this day, it remains a significant pastime. [268]

Iceland has also produced many chess masters and hosted the historic World Chess Championship 1972 in Reykjavík during the height of the Cold War. As of 2008 [update] , there have been nine Icelandic chess grandmasters, a considerable number given the small size of the population. [269] Bridge is also popular, with Iceland participating in a number of international tournaments. Iceland won the world bridge championship (the Bermuda Bowl) in Yokohama, Japan, in 1991 and took second place (with Sweden) in Hamilton, Bermuda, in 1950.

Swedish Viking Silver Hoard: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Discovery

The 8,000-square meter (86,000 square foot) site is located in a remote coastal bay and is currently being excavated in preparation for urban construction. Back in the Iron Age , however, the site was a “prehistoric Viking farm .” Researchers have unearthed layers of ancient dwellings from different historical eras, according to an August 2020 DW article.

Iron Age Viking house excavation at the site where the Viking silver hoard was found. ( The Archaeologists )

Earlier this year archaeologists excavated the foundations of over twenty ancient longhouses and pit houses dating back to the Late Iron Age and the early Middle Ages. According to Archaeology News Network , archaeologist Magnus Lindberg told the Swedish press that while they were investigating the homes “In one place, the metal detector went off the charts.” This was the moment they made what he describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery.

8 Best Things to do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik has a real array of sights to see and things to do, and you may find yourself returning again and again to this colorful city to uncover all the hidden gems that are just waiting to be discovered. Here are are our top picks of things to do in Reykjavik.

1. Take in the Museums

Iceland is a nation with an infinitely interesting history, and a history that has at times been as turbulent as the landscapes you find across the country. Reykjavik has many interesting museums to visit that explore the history of Iceland and of the city.

The best place to start is at the National Museum, where you can embark on a journey through the long history of the settlement of Iceland through to the modern-day challenges faced by this northern nation.

Those with an interest in Norse history can visit the excellent Saga Museum, which through mannequins and mock displays that brings the stories of the early Viking settlers to live in a colorful and at times gruesome manner.

The equally informative Settlement Museum is built around the ruins of a Viking longhouse that was unearthed during construction work in the city, while the Whales of Iceland Museum will help marine lovers to see the long relationship that locals have shared with the sea and with the whales that have always been an integral part of Icelandic culture.

2. Take a Walking Tour of Reykjavik

If it’s not too cold, then one of the best things to do in Reykjavik is to simply stroll through the streets. The city is easy to navigate and you will find much of interest along the way, from the colorful, vibrant townhouses to the unique works of art and sculptures that are hidden across the city.

Stop for a classic Icelandic hotdog, or pop into a cafe to try some local delicacies or to enjoy a warming, hot drink.

Our top recommended tours:

3. Visit the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions, and it’s found just outside the city center, close to the international airport. Be sure to book tickets in advance, as this popular, man-made thermal spa only has limited spots each day, and those spots fill up quickly.

The huge lagoon is fed from the runoff of a geothermal power plant, providing hot, mineral water that’s perfect for relaxing and revitalizing in, while also continuing the centuries-old Icelandic tradition of outdoor bathing.

Our top recommended tours:

4. Try out the Public Swimming Pools

If the Blue Lagoon is too touristy for you, however, when you are in Reykjavik itself make sure to pay a visit to one of the many public swimming pools that are found across the city.

These outdoor pools, like the Blue Lagoon, are heated with geothermal energy and fed by mineral waters, but the ones in the city, although not as glamorous, are where the locals actually go to enjoy their bathing time.

5. Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja is one of the city’s most iconic attractions. This elegant, yet unusually designed church is an architectural wonder, and if you eventually travel across Iceland, you will soon realize that the locals around the rest of the country too also have a thing for unusual churches.

This is the pick of them all though, and the tall tower can even be climbed for outstanding views across the city and out across the bay.

Our top recommended tours:

6. Harpa Concert Hall

The Harpa Concert Hall is Reykjavik’s premier opera house, and throughout the year there is always an excellent performance of some kind on the schedule here. Even if you aren’t interested in seeing a concert, however, the building itself is uniquely Icelandic and the setting overlooking the bay is stunning.

Take a tour of the Harpa Concert Hall during your visit to Reykjavik.

7. Go Whale Watching

Although whales may be seen cruising by off the coast of Reykjavik throughout most of the year, the best time to guarantee a sighting is in the summer, and in particular between June and August, when the annual migrations bring these majestic creatures along the shore.

There are many companies offering whale watching tours during the summer, and it’s a beautiful way to see the spectacular scenery of Reykjavik and the surrounding coast and to hopefully have the once in a lifetime experience of spotting a whale in the open ocean.

Our top recommended tours:

8. Tour the Golden Circle

Just outside of Reykjavik can be found some of Iceland’s most spectacular natural attractions. The Golden Circle is a tourist trail that takes visitors through the wild, rugged landscapes of the countryside.

The route passes through the incredibly beautiful Thingvellir National Park, where the European and North American tectonic plates are cracking apart from each other to the humbling Gullfoss Waterfall and the powerful, steaming Geysers.

The Golden Circle can be easily visited on a day trip from Reykjavik, and it makes for an excellent way to enjoy Iceland’s unusual and strangely wonderful natural scenery, without straying too far from the city itself.

You can book onto a tour, but it’s recommended to self-drive, in order to really enjoy the trip at your own pace and to add in any of the countless other stops along the way that you will run into.

Our top recommended tours:

Family Travel: Visiting Iceland with Children

With its imagination-stoking natural wonders — volcanoes, glaciers, and puffins — Iceland is practically made for kids. And yet, when we set out to work on our Rick Steves Iceland book, we realized few guidebooks do justice to family travel. So with the help of our co-author, Ian Watson (who raised his kids in Iceland), we wrote an “Iceland for Children” chapter, loaded with 11 pages of advice on where to stay, what to pack, where to eat, and the top sights and activities for kids around the country. Here are a few highlights from that chapter.

Iceland is packed with unique geological features, which are fun both to explore, and to learn about. If your child takes an interest in volcanoes or glaciers, deputize them to become an expert and play “tour guide” when you reach key sights. Help them figure out what their name would be in Icelandic (I’m “Cameron Kemptonson.” Rick would be “Rick Dicksson.”) And challenge them to master the pronunciation of the famous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull.

In the Mývatn volcanic area, your family will discover unique land formations, steaming geothermal landscapes, and easy nature walks. (But be careful! Iceland’s many geothermal areas are full of boiling water and hissing steam. Be sure your children understand how important it is to stay on marked trails at all times, and keep younger kids close at hand.)

In the Westman Islands, you can walk up onto a lava flow that partly covered the town in 1973, visit the excellent Volcano Museum, hike up to the still-warm summit of Eldfell, and meet a puffin at the local aquarium.

Iceland also offers many opportunities to get up close to waterfalls. Surefooted kids particularly enjoy Seljalandsfoss, on the South Coast, where they can walk behind the falls. (Just be sure to bundle up, with waterproof shoes and jackets.)

The mellow, spa-like atmosphere at Iceland’s premium baths — such as the famous Blue Lagoon — feel very grown-up and may not be the best choice for kids. However, the thermal bathing scene at Iceland’s many municipal pools is perfectly kid-friendly. Many of the larger pools have colorful waterslides and other activities that are designed just for children, and there’s usually a shallow wading section for tiny tots.

Kids also love wandering among the life-size models at Whales of Iceland, a pricey but riveting attraction tucked in a big-box store zone near Reykjavík’s harbor. The “whales” are impressively detailed and bathed in a shimmering, blue light, and you’re invited to wander under and among them (with the help of the engaging, free-to-download audioguide). You’ll find yourself face-to-face with majestic giants: pilot whale, humpback whale, sei whale, bowhead whale, minke whale, Moby Dick-style sperm whale, and the largest specimen, the blue whale — which can grow up to 110 feet long. The exhibit may sound gimmicky…but it’s genuinely cool. (And many families prefer this to actual whale-watching cruises, which can come with rough waves, unpredictable weather, and a less-than-guaranteed chance of seeing more than a fleeting glimpse of whales.)

In West Iceland, the Háafell Goat Farm is a fun, hands-on activity for kids. On a remote, unpaved road about an hour east of Borgarnes, this farm represents a one-family project by Jóhanna Þorvaldsdóttir and her clan. A few years ago, they set out on an idealistic quest to breed Iceland’s nearly extinct goat stock — descended from animals brought by the first settlers. Now the family invites travelers to visit their farm, meet (and, if you like, cuddle) some adorable baby goats, learn about their work, watch the goats butt heads playfully, and peruse the wide variety of products they make from their goats: feta cheese, ice cream, soap and lotions (from tallow), and goat-hide carpets and insoles.

Lastly, if none of these suggestions seem quite right for your jaded, older kids, you may be able to get their attention by mentioning that Reykjavík has a penis museum. Excuse me: Phallological Museum. Tucked at the far end of the city’s main walking street, Laugavegur, you’ll find a one-room collection of preserved animal penises and various depictions of phalluses in folk art. Surprisingly, it’s more educational than crass. And yet, it’s impossible to visit this place without making juvenile jokes. In some ways, 12-year-old boys are the most fitting audience possible for this collection. A 12-year-old-boy-at-heart, I spent quite some time wandering around here, cracking myself up as I scrawled notes in my little notebook. Here’s my writeup for the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook:

You’ll see more wieners than you can shake a stick at — preserved, pickled peckers floating in jars of yellow liquid. You’ll see a seal’s schlong, a wolf’s wang, a zebra’s zipper trout, a fox’s frankfurter, a giraffe’s gherkin, a dog’s dong, a badger’s baloney pony, a squirrel’s schwanz, a coyote’s crankshaft, a horse’s hardware, a reindeer’s rod, an elephant’s equipment, and lots of whale willies. If you can’t get through this description without giggling, maybe you should visit. If you’re about to set down this book and write me an angry letter…don’t.

And with that…happy travels to you and your whole clan!

Vikings Burnt and Buried Their Own Houses

As Heritage Daily reports , Marianne Hem Eriksen, a postdoc at the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo has investigated these uncommon &ldquodeaths&rdquo and burials of Scandinavian longhouses for quite some time now. She says, &ldquoI studied seven different house burials from the Iron Age in Scandinavia, in five different locations: Högom in Sweden Ullandhaug in Rogaland Brista in Uppland, Sweden Jarlsberg in Vestfold and Engelaug in Hedmark.&rdquo

Eriksen believes that the burial mounds were not always tied with human death, but instead they could possibly mark the cremation and burial of a house within Viking society. She explained to Heritage Daily, &ldquoIn some cases we have been unable to find human remains, even in places where we could expect such remains to have been preserved. Nevertheless, archaeologists have more or less implicitly assumed that somewhere or other, there must be a deceased individual.&rdquo

The Joys and Tribulations of Argentine Travel

Marker on Argentina border with Chile

We shoulda, coulda, woulda have been more prepared. But as other gobsmacked travelers said to us: we had no clue, why is no one writing online about the everyday challenges of independent travelers in Argentina?

25 amazing tips to travel in Argentina would be more helpful

We knew Argentine peso was fluctuating and we did remember well how 20 years ago on our first trip Argentina had just defaulted and peso plummeted. It made for one cheap vacation then! And now again!

Our first stumbling blocks were right at the arrival to the Buenos Aires International airport. After arriving to a new country and picking up our luggage we always head straight to the ATM to get an initial supply of local cash to get us into the country, to pay for taxi/bus/coffee/water.

Darn if we can find an ATM anywhere! After asking around in broken Spanish and getting responses in broken English we finally find two ATMs hidden behind the big McDonald’s. We join a few other befuddled foreigners trying to procure some cash. One of the lost looking American ladies asks us if we could please message her husband, arriving later, that she had lost her iPhone on one or the other of her flights. Poor woman!

We all try withdrawing money from different debit cards with no success. Finally a security guard watching us bemused, explains that we all want too much money. The max withdrawal allowed is $4000. Huh? Let’s get confused even more– the Argentine peso is in fact marked as $. 1 US $ is worth about Argentine $ 64. Well, it actually depends. There are many exchange rates as we learn in the ensuing days. A lousy 55 pesos to a US$ if/when you manage to withdraw some from ATM, 70-75 pesos if locals exchange cash on black market and 82 if you go to Western Union with a transfer through an app. If the teller is savvy enough to know how to do it, which will only happen in a few big tourist areas.

One can feel frustrated, but then feel really bad for the Argentines, who are only allowed to officially exchange US$ 100 in the bank every month. And if they travel outside the country any credit card transaction they make is taxed at additional 30% by their government. Impossible to travel, unless you are filthy rich. Certainly not if you are a retiree with the average retirement of US$ 200 per month.

At the end we don’t manage to withdraw even the minimum at the airport, but we do manage to get an official cab to downtown and we split it with a youngish German couple, paying with cash in a combination of dollars and Euros.


Uber we understand is cheap and plentiful in Buenos Aires. We have the app, it is simple, let’s try it!

Nothing is simple or straightforward in Argentina. The first driver cancels just before pick up. Another comes and explains that he will only take cash as Uber doesn’t pay drivers. A third one we use doesn’t want our cash, because we already paid by app with our credit card, but says he won’t get paid, so we give him cash. It is very small amounts, so we feel ok paying twice. We dig on the Internet and find conflicting information. Uber is banned in Buenos Aires. Uber is not banned, but Argentinian credit cards are banned for Uber use by the government and all Argentines pay cash. International cards work, but drivers cancel pick ups when they see you paying by card, because it takes time and there is a surcharge to receive money.

Finally we find instructions how to switch our payment method in the app to cash

Change to Green bucks Cash, not Uber Cash

And when we order Uber, we also immediately send a message to the driver that we will pay cash. Nobody cancels on us again. Uber is indeed cheap and plentiful and gets us everywhere. Just for fun we also try the local bus. Very helpfully our Airbnb host left us two Sube cards that you need to use public transport. We top them up in one of the many Kioscos (where you can also purchase the Sube card itself cheaply) with a dollar each and off we go for 20 cents a ride. Clean, air conditioned bus. Some lines are particularly helpful as they have stops in all the main tourist areas.

Forewarned is forearmed. We did read plenty of scary stories about renting a car in Argentina, the scams and the problems. We also remember well how we arrived at the airport with three kids in tow twenty years ago and the rental car they presented us with wouldn’t even fit the people let alone more than one piece of luggage. A real disaster and a good cause for Mom’s nervous breakdown.

We have written about our frustrating experience with Hertz in Bariloche (in our post Blue, Blue Lakes of Patagonia). We have heard of similar experiences from other travelers going across the board of all rental car companies. While in some other parts of the world it often happens that the rental car agency will not have a small size of car upon your arrival, but will then automatically upgrade you to the next category, here it is exactly opposite. Much less acceptable when you have reserved and paid for a larger car and they claim they only have small cars available.

And you can be happy they even have a car. If you think you can wing it by flying in and finding a car at the airport, don’t. We can’t offer much advice on the car rental front, except in Mendoza. Should you find yourself in the wine capital of Argentina, upon recommendation from our Airbnb host we rented a great car from a wonderful small local car rental company Bace Rent a Car company. https://www.bacerentacar.com.ar/index_i.html. [email protected]

Talking of cars and driving, while we hear others complain, we find Argentines quite decent drivers. They generally obey traffic rules, even if some do like to overtake recklessly over a full line before the blind curve or try to mow down people on pedestrian crossings. I guess we have driven in many much much worse countries to be excited about that. We have seen surprisingly few accidents and very few traffic police on the roads.

A quick deployment of special department of Accidentologia)

When thinking of driving in Argentina it is Ruta 40 that immediately jumps to mind. I have seen some epic road photos through the front car window before our trip and imagined the ruta as a grand, albeit lonely road.

It is indeed such in small glorious chunks, but at other times it is hard to believe you are on a road at all. Sometimes it is used by four legged inhabitants.

At times it inexplicably becomes a one lane dirt path, or it gets totally lost in the detours through the many small out of the way towns.

Then there are plenty of dirt roads meant to be dirt roads. Of course if they are there, they are meant to be driven. That is our motto.

And because you will meet the best wildlife on a dirt road.

We break for llamas!

If you think adventure is dangerous, routine is deadly.

Lest I come across as an entitled American tourist prick, I must remind you that English is for both of us our second language and no, I am not as arrogant as to expect that the whole world should learn English and yes, I feel a certain obligation to try to communicate in the local language of the country I am visiting. I have never studied Spanish, but because I did learn French in high school and travelled enough in Spanish speaking countries I can understand quite some Spanish and always try to put a few basic words together, even if I am sounding like a two year old.

Still, we are taken aback by how little English is spoken even in the tourist areas and even by young people. We know a lot of school English around the world is really lacking in quality and the teachers are lousy (what do you expect when you train and pay them so badly?)

But, but, … young people around the world all listen to the same international music and watch movies and play video games and use Internet. I do know people around the world that managed to learn a decent conversational English without school and only through big effort and help of all that media.

Just like in Turkey, our last travel destination before South America, and many other places on our travels, we keep coming across young Argentinians (we pick up hitchhikers, whenever possible) that are dying to travel or study or work abroad, yet can not put together a simple sentence in English.

English or no, the good news is that Argentines are warm hearted, friendly, helpful, and welcoming people.

In case you think English is important language, see its placement on this toilet sign

And then there is Argentine Spanish. You might be well aware that Spanish (just like English) is not a universally same spoken language in different parts of the world. There is of course much discourse about which is the purest form of Spanish, but we will not get into this now. Suffice it to say that even though written Spanish is so much easier to pronounce than ridiculously crazy English, there is a particular twist in Argentine Spanish that makes it harder for us to cope. The lovely coffee shop in ask Bolson we enjoyed so much, is called Jauja and actually unexpectedly pronounced Hauha (not dzaudza) and Villa is pronounced vidza (not viya).

Add to this a decent amount of Native Indian (Guaraní, Aymara, Quechua) geographical names and we are struggling, indeed. Try this tongue twister Lake Huechulafquen. Lovely lake underneath a grand volcano, thankfully called simply Lanin.

Our pronunciation makes for some bafflement and entertainment of the locals and difficult names make for some entertaining moments for us as well as we try to remember words by approximation. Pichi Traful becomes Pick a Truffle and so on.

You better check the opening hours if you want to eat.

Who hasn’t heard of a juicy Argentinian steak? It can make grown men weep, I heard.

Carnivore’s Delight

Famous asado is a great memory from our first trip, especially as we were treated to this spectacle of Argentine version of bbq at somebody’s home garden. The huge complicated contraption with chains to lower and lift the grill over the fire would fit well into any medieval castle, in off hours moonlighting as a torture rack. Lamb is also famous in some areas and so is goat.

Just like with New Zealand lamb, there is a certain amount of bemoaning the fact that all the best beef is exported overseas.

It took a little persuasion for us to try lama meat, (oh, they are just so cute), but once we did, we were so impressed by a lama steak, we returned for seconds the next evening. We also enjoyed a stick of lama salama for healthy low fat snacking.

Deli best

But these days I am leaning more and more towards vegetarian and Mirek is careful to not let his old gout rise up its ugly head. Therefore we were happy to find non meat alternatives with plenty of Italian pasta dishes and some lovely trout in the mountains.

But the fact remains the menus are predominantly colored red with very little green mixed in.

7 lamb cutlets for dinner

A very familiar, Central European diet, I feel, with lots of meat and potatoes (or perhaps gnocchi or spetzle) heaped high on the plate. A few pieces of rucola or cherry tomatoes are considered more garnish than anything else.

A very special (and very expensive) treatment of vegetables at a fancy restaurant

What is most interesting is the lack of salt and pepper on the table. We get an explanation that it is a government health directive, and salt in particular can only be brought to the table if the customer specifically asks for it. That is all fine and well, but then you look at the tables laden with bowls of sugar. At breakfast I observed a young man put four packets of white sugar into a small cup of black coffee, accompanied by a pile of cookies and cakes.

The more sweets, the better breakfast

Ah, breakfast!! Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day and alas, Argentine breakfast is sadly a big disappointment. I understand Argentines are a bit like the French and they usually only have a few small croissants (medialunas) and coffee for breakfast. No wonder, since their stomachs must still be full from the very late, rarely started before 11 pm, enormous steak dinner accompanied by bottles of wine or beer.

Toasted ham and cheese sandwich is a lucky breakfast improvement in our favorite Mendoza bakery

Unfortunately even the best medialunas are a far cry from crispy, whispy French croissants and the jams being served at breakfast are another sugar overkill. If I can’t have a good Mediterranean or American breakfast, I will quite happily enjoy an assortment of jams and breads. I love different creative home made jams with a dash of ginger or chili pepper perhaps, though nothing beats my sister’s wild raspberry jam! But no matter what interesting fruit the jams are made from here (rosehips, anyone?) they all taste the same – Diabetes Goo!

Light breakfast

My second favorite meal of the day is desert and man, I am struggling here, too. Same problem, too much refined sugar that kills any possible patisserie refinement. A typical example of a sugar explosion is beloved dulce de leche, sugar cooked in condensed milk! Good for my waist, bad for my taste buds!

Dulce de leche desert with cream

Same goes for well known artisanal Bariloche chocolate, I heard so much about. And even good old desert fall back – ice cream is ruined. We spend a long time collecting the little plastic taster spoons at a well known busy Heladeria Jauja trying the many different fruity ice creams, and finally just had to go with dark chocolate and lemon. What a pity Italians did not manage to transplant their fantastic gelato along with pasta and gnocchi.

If I seem to be harping just a bit too much, the good news is food and drinks are extremely affordable.

2x 2 $ US

Especially coming from the exceedingly expensive San Francisco we cherish the low prices and nowhere more than in (craft) beers

Beer institution of Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires

Happy hour at the brewery offers less than US$2 for a great double IPA and fabulous local wines at any time for US$20 for a bottle of top Malbec at a nice restaurant. I have loved Malbec since I first discovered it twenty years back and I am happy to drink lots of it this time around.

Free wine tasting on arrival at Mendoza airport

Sad bear cappuccino

As mentioned above coffee is generally drunk with lots of sugar and many places have premixed coffee combos to make cappuccino or latte. You need to clarify that you want your coffee “sin azucar”. Of course in Buenos Aires you can find top notch coffee shops that make excellent cappuccinos and flat whites. We had a nice discussion with a young medical student moonlighting as a barista who told us about how she is educating coffee drinkers, “Try it once without sugar. If you have good quality espresso or cappuccino, correctly made, it will be sweet and creamy and not be bitter at all!”

Airplane Flights and Tickets

Our transport plan

We start our two months trip with quite a stack of Internet bought air tickets taking us all over Argentina and into neighboring countries. It is high summer season here and personally I just don’t like the extra stress of winging it when flying. There is enough stress in decisions that have to be made daily: where to sleep and eat, which road to take, which places to visit and which to skip.

Not buying air tickets ahead of time certainly gives you more travel flexibility, but with long distances, it might also sentence you to a 24 bus ride instead of a few hours flight. Or having to buy a last minute expensive fare or getting stuck somewhere extra days paying for accommodation and food.

Buying tickets far in advance brings the risk of changes in flight schedules. Right upon arriving to Argentina we are welcomed by an unpleasant email. our Norwegian flight leaving Argentina for London two months down the line has been cancelled and rescheduled for a day later and thus we loose our Easy Jet connection to the next European flight that we purchased separately. And of course they don’t care and it is our problem to solve. And the only solution is to throw away the Easy Jet tickets and buy new, much more expensive ones. C’est la vie!

At the end of the day we get caught in COVID 19 travel disaster and are buying tickets left and right to get ourselves out of the country. You can read about our last minute escape in our post “I Cry for You Argentina, I had to Leave You”.


We relied on our standard accommodation options Booking.com and Airbnb. For one night accommodations we usually choose a hotel through Booking. Since you don’t have to pay a cleaning fee and booking fee, a one night is generally cheaper in a hotel and you get free breakfast to boot. It is also easier to arrive at night and check in with a receptionist, than waiting for someone to show up with a key to the apartment. Airbnb can be an affordable option if you stay longer and where there is enough competition, like in Buenos Aires, where the prices are kept quite low.

Lovely Airbnb apartments

With Booking now encroaching on Airbnb apartments rental, it is sometimes possible to find the same listing on both platforms. Booking will possibly be cheaper as you don’t have to pay a fee as a guest on their platform. And last minute cancellations might be easier and free. Plus you get an aditional Genius discount (10%) and treatment once you have a few bookings under your belt.

Payment is a different sorry. Airbnb is easy, as everything is paid through their app. To our surprise Booking would inform us ahead of time that payment will be handled at the property, or we were told at the property that we have to pay them directly.

We carried quite a large amount of cash, both in US$ and in local currency. If it was inconvenient, it was necessary and/or advantageous. Sometimes hotels did not accept a credit card or the cc machine did not “work”. At other times they wanted a large surcharge for paying by credit card (20-30%) or they offered us a discount for paying cash. Combined with our blue market US $ exchange, paying in pesos made it even cheaper. Sometimes they were happy to accept US $ and calculated them in blue market exchange rate. Always check that you as a foreign tourist are not charged the tourist surcharge. (It is another 21%). Some cities are charging an extra eco tax, but it is a negligible amount.

One of our favorite hotels with beautiful wood everything.

In tourist areas you could get help from Tourist Information centers. We only relied on this once in El Bolson, where we arrived towards the evening and it was a challenge as their English was very limited and they only have the information about availability in those establishments that they have an arrangement with.

Personally I do like knowing where I will lay my head down in the evening, so I tend to book things ahead of time. As we don’t get local SIM cards in different countries, but rely on our T Mobile international plan, we don’t always have the best of internet service, so it is difficult to look for accommodation on the phone in the car. So I try to choose a place the night before.

Choosing accommodations is a bit more challenging in Argentina because of the many names used for different (or the same?) kinds of lodging. That can be very confusing, and even Argentinians can’t explain what is what. We have come across these different names for places to sleep, besides of course, hotel: parador, hostal, hostel, hospedaje, hosteria,

Hosteria by Cero Tronador

Our apartment with a great and needed pool at Iguazu

We have tried all sorts of establishments and had great luck finding lovely places to stay.

At the end it is generally the price that determines the quality. I will address in another post some tricks of how to parse out a good place from descriptions and reviews.


With utmost delight I have to report that Argentina is one of the cleanest countries around. And if I could nominate the cleanest town in Argentina and beyond it would surely be San Martin de los Andes. There is no plastic bottles, wrappers, bags or even cigarettes buttes lying around.

Does that mean you will find a lot of trash cans and recycling systems in place? Not at all. They have adopted a very different approach called:

Leave with your trash

Take your garbage with you! You will see such signs everywhere in National parks and along tourist routes. It seems to work very well!

If any of you are planing a trip to Argentina when this virus craziness is over, we are always happy to talk travel with anyone. Get in touch!