Country & Nature
| Glaciers | Reykjavik
- the Capital
For more complete information,
please visit Iceland.is.
Iceland is Europe's westernmost country, the second largest
island in the North-Atlantic ocean, a little over 3 hours
flight from London, Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The
first settlers came to Iceland from Norway and Ireland
in the 9th century. Althingi, the world's oldest functioning
legislative assembly, was established in the year 930
A. D. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment and
low inflation. Per capita income is among the highest
in the world.
In environmental terms, Iceland is unique. It is a large
country (103,000 km², about the same surface area
as Ireland or the State of Virginia), but is sparsely
populated, with only 3 persons per km² living mostly
along the coast. The interior of the country contains
stunning contrasts. It is largely an arctic desert, punctuated
with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls. Most
of the vegetation and agricultural areas are in the lowlands
close to the coastline.
Iceland has a relatively mild coastal climate. The average
summer temperature in Reykjavik, the capital, is 10. 6°C/51°F
in July, with average highs of 24. 3°C/76°F. The
average winter temperature in Reykjavik is similar to
New York City's, about 0°C/32°F in January (average
highs are 9. 9°C/50°C). Usually the weather is
The mild climate stems from the Gulf Stream and attendant
warm ocean currents from the Gulf of Mexico. The weather
is also affected by the East Greenland polar current curving
south-eastwards round the north and east coasts. For two
to three months in summer there is continuous daylight
in Iceland, and early spring and late autumn enjoy long
twilight. However, the days are very short in mid-winter.
Among the most distinctive features of Iceland are its
glaciers, which cover over 11,922 km² (4,600 sq.
mil. ) or 11. 5% of the total area of the country. During
the past few decades, however, they have markedly thinned
and retreated owing to a milder climate, and some of the
smaller ones have all but vanished. By far the largest
of the glacier caps is the Vatnajökull glacier in
Southeast Iceland with an area of 8,400 km² (3,240
sq. mil. ), equal in size to all the glaciers on the European
mainland put together. It reaches a thickness of 1 km
(3,000 feet). One of its southern outlets, Breidamerkurjökull,
descends to sea level.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the country's largest
city and the world's most northerly capital. The capital
area includes seven municipalities in addition to Reykjavik
itself, with a total population of about 170,000, of which
over 108,000 live in Reykjavik. Reykjavik means "Smoky
Bay", so named by the first settler in the 9th century
because of steam rising from geothermal hot springs. This
geothermal energy is utilized to provide economical, non-polluting
heating to the city's buildings. Hence Reykjavik is one
of the cleanest cities in the Western world. One of the
country's best salmon rivers runs right through the city.
Reykjavik offers historical sites, natural beauty, museums
and galleries, public parks, excellent shopping, a wide
range of leisure activities, hotels, restaurants and a
remarkably lively artistic scene. There are many theatres
and galleries and one can go to symphony concerts, the
ballet or opera.
Go to Iceland.is for
more information on Iceland, including Links, Maps, Animal
Life, Geography, Geology, Glaciers, Hot Springs, Rivers
and Lakes, Vegetation, Volcanoes and the Weather.