Iceland was first settled by vikings in the 9th century, where they established the Icelandic Commonwealth. The Althing, founded in 930, has been described as the world’s oldest parliament. Today there are over 300.000 people living in Iceland, in a welfare state of the Nordic model. The country is one of the wealthiest and most developed in the world.
Iceland is famous for its dramatic geological activity, as it is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where two continental plates are slowly diverging. There are many volcanoes, including Hekla, Eldgjá and Eyjafjallajökull, and there is one eruption every five years. The island of Surtsey rose out of the ocean in 1963 as a result of volcanic activities. There are also many geysers, including Geysir, from which the word is derived, and Strokkur, which erupts every five minutes.
Iceland is also a cold country, located just below the Arctic Circle. More than half of the island is tundra, and only a small part is vegetated. The interior of the island is mostly uninhabitable, consisting of sand, mountains and glaciers. Most people live near the coast, in particular around the capital Reykjavik.
The nature and geology of Iceland is also the country’s greatest tourist attraction. Thousands of people take a swim in the Blue Lagoon every year, a spa with sulfuric water heated by geothermal activity. Husavik on the north coast is the best place for whale watching.
The golden circle is a popular tourist route. Stops include the starchase-shaped waterfall Gullfoss, the golden falls, the geysers of Haukdalur and the rift valley of Þingvellir. It was at Þingvellir that the Althing was established in 930 and held gatherings.
The capital Reykjavik has a many cafés, restaurants, galleries and a vibrant night life. Laugavegur is the main shopping street, although the prices can be quite high. A cheaper alternative is Skólavödustígur, which has turned into a hot shopping area. The famous Icelandic sweater Lopapeysa can be bought at most stores.