General Information About Iceland
- Located at the juncture of the Arctic and North Atlantic ocean.
- Closest island is Greenland (290 km/180 miles away) and closest European island is Faroe Islands (420km/ 260 miles away).
- 18th largest island in the world and the 2nd largest in Europe after Great Britain.
- The main island is 101.826 km2 and the whole country is 103.000 km2, in size, of which 62.7% is tundra.
- There are 30 minor islands in Iceland, one example being Grimsey.
- 14,3% of the surface is covered by lakes and glaciers, and 23% is vegetated.
- Geologically very active because Iceland is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Icelandic Hotspot for volcanoes.
- Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes of many types but only 30 are active.
- The climate is subarctic. However, temperatures are higher than in many places of that latitude thanks to the warm north Atlantic current. Although it is located close to the Arctic, the coasts of Iceland stay ice-free in the winter.
- The climate is different throughout the country, with a typically warmer, windier and wetter south coast compared to the north and its low lying arid area. Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country. There’s more snowfall in the north than in the south.
- The average high temperatures are around 7 degrees Celsius in Reykjavik whereas the average low temperatures are approximately 1.9 degrees Celsius.
3 typical Icelandic landscapes
- Most sparsely populated country in Europe, as its population of only 338, 349 (in 2017) lives in a huge area of 103, 000 km2.
- Population density is 3 inhabitants per km2.
- 97% of the population lives in urban cities.
- Reykjavik, the capital, is the most populated city with 118, 918 inhabitants. The second largest town is Kopavogur with 31,179 inhabitants. This shows the huge gap between the capital and the rest of the country.
- There are no cities with more than a million inhabitants, one city with over 100, 000 and four from 10,000 to 100,000.
- The official language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language that originated from Old Norse.
- It is the only living language to have kept the runic letter Þ in Latin script.
- Faroese is the language that is the most similar to Icelandic.
- In terms of the languages taught at school, Danish and English are compulsory, enabling most inhabitants to master them.
- Other languages that are commonly spoken are Norwegian, Swedish, German and French.
The Constitution of Iceland ensures that Icelanders have their freedom of religion, even though there is a state church “The church of Iceland” which is Lutheran.
Formal religious affiliation in Iceland :
- Church of Iceland (63.47%)
- Free Lutheran Church in Reykjavík (2.75%)
- Free Lutheran Church in Hafnarfjörður (1.98%)
- Independent Lutheran Congregation (0.89%)
- Catholic Church (4.02%)
- Other Christian denominations (2.05%)
- Ásatrúarfélagið (1.31%)
- Humanism (0.96%)
- Zuism (0.33%)
- Buddhism (0.42%)
- Islam (0.35%)
- Other and unspecified (14.30%)
- Unaffiliated (7.17%)
- High level of education and very strong educational system.
- Four levels in the educational system of which only one is compulsory.
- Pre-school education: from 12 months to 6 years old. The majority attend this first level education, which is highly funded by local councils.
- Compulsory education: from 6 to 16 years old. It is complimentary.
- Upper secondary education: 16 to 20 years old. Except for one private school, this level of education is also free of cost. State universities are complimentary, although there are registration fees. Student loans are also available.
- Higher education: anyone who has completed upper secondary education can apply for further studies at university. The University of Iceland, one of the 7 higher education institutions in Iceland, has to accept all students that have completed upper secondary education.
- Fish, lamb and dairy products are the main components of Icelandic cuisine.
- The climate inhibits a diet based on fruits and vegetables, although the growing establishment of greenhouses has helped.
- Traditional dishes include hákarl (cured shark), black pudding, and singed sheep heads.
- Seafood is omnipresent in Icelandic cuisine, particularly haddock, cod, herring, salmon and halibut.
- 3.2% of the population eats whale meat on a regular basis (the increased demand of whale meat served in restaurants comes from tourists who have been on a whale watching trip in Iceland).
- Iceland is a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA, Council of Europe and OECD.
- It has strong diplomatic and economic relations with almost all nations, but especially with Nordic countries, Germany, United States and other NATO members.
- Iceland, being a Nordic country, engages in intergovernmental collaboration through the North Council.
- GDP = $15,15 billion. Unemployment rate: 3%.
- Iceland was one of the world’s poorest countries in the world until the 20th century.
- It’s Scandinavian type social market economy connecting a capitalist design and free market principles with a welfare system, economic growth has been abundant, unemployment has drastically decreased, and income has been remarkably distributed, making Iceland one of the most developed countries in the world.
- The economy is heavily reliant on fishing with a high percentage of exports and a significant whaling industry. Depleting fish stocks is a very real risk that the country faces.
- Whale watching is now one of the biggest tourist attractions generating around $13 million annually.
- 85% of the primary energy in Iceland is domestically produced renewable energy, through the harness of their numerous rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectric power, as well as the strong accessibility to geothermal power.
- Iceland’s financial services sector grew substantially in the first decade of the 21st century, catalyzed by financial globalization and deregulation in the 1990s and the privatization of two commercial banks, which was completed in 2003.
- By year-end 2007, the banking system’s assets were nearly 10 times GDP.
- In autumn 2008 and early 2009, roughly 97% of the banking system (measured in terms of assets) collapsed.
- The financial system has changed radically since then. Three new banks were established and took over the domestic operations of the collapsed banks, and other smaller financial institutions have also undergone financial restructuring or lost their operating licenses.
- Four commercial banks and four savings banks are currently operating in Iceland.
- Tourism has significantly grown in the past 15 years.
- It accounts for over 5% of the GDP and tourism industry employs 12% of the workforce. (1.7 million tourists in 2016 with expectation of 2.5 million in 2017 =45 percent of Iceland’s foreign income.)
- Iceland’s unique nature and atmosphere offer unforgettable experiences such as bathing in the Blue Lagoon, visiting breathtaking fuming volcanoes and geysers, watching whales or puffins or even gazing at the Northern lights.
- Iceland’s wildlife is mainly composed of birds, sea birds and marine mammals.
- Domestic animals include the Icelandic sheep, chicken, goats, the Icelandic sheepdog and horses.
- Wild animals include minks, the Arctic fox, rabbits, reindeers etc.
- Dolphins, whales, seals and over 300 other species of fish are abundant in Icelandic waters.
- There are around 20 whale species in Iceland. However, whaling and the depletion of the whales’ prey species have led to a decrease of the number of whales, with the example of Minke whales that have decreased from 44,000 in 2001 to 20,000 in 2007 and only 10,000 in 2009.
- There are around 470 species of vascular plants, of which about half are believed to originate from the Ice Age.
- As previously mentioned, there are several different types of landscapes, therefore offering rich vegetation and biodiversity.
- However, due to deforestation and forest exploitation, only around a quarter of Iceland has a plant cover.