Iceland was settled in the 9th century by Norse vikings. The first settlement to last was that of Ingolfur Arnarson in Reykjavik. This is where most of the people of Iceland live. Reykjavik has a bustling nightlive, an exciting arts scene, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore the countryside in short trips to areas such as Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir.
If you are interested in nature, Iceland is a great place to visit. In the summer, many companies offer guided bus trips that will take you around the country. You can also take the bus by yourself and go on hikes near places such as Thorsmoerk, Snaefellsjoekull, and more. Another alternative is to ride horseback across the highlands.
Additional Notes: The terrain in Iceland is so rugged due to centuries of volcanic activity, this is where the US tested their lunar landing module that eventually drove on the moon!
Also because of Norse woodcutting and volcanic activity, there are virtually no trees on the island! There is one small “forest” that is a national landmark.
Word has it that Leif Ericsson named Iceland and Greenland like he did to get explorers to go to Greenland (only to find millions of square miles of ice). Iceland, though Greenland’s neighbor, benefits from the gulf and jet streams.
Iceland’s capital is different from other European cities. It is the world’s northernmost capital, and one of the newest, having established itself only in the late 19th century.Reykjavík offers all the pleasures of a modern European city and addditionally an interesting old town, white-washed wooden buildings, and lines of brightly painted concrete houses. Almost all places of interest are within a walking distance of the old settlement.
The Old Town, the city’s hub, is a rustic area of parks, lakes, markets and museums. Anybody interested in Norse and Icelandic culture should head for the National Museum, which houses objects of religious and folk relics, and tools dating from the period of Settlement. The most renowned is a church door, carved around 1200, which depicts a Norse battle scene, while residing in the basement are nautical and agricultural tools and models of early fishing boats and ingenious farm implements. Immediately behind the museum is the Árni Magnússon Institute, a must-see for Saga fans with a famous collection of works, including the Landnámabók and Njáls Saga.
Modern Reykjavík starts east of the Old Town, and features several attractions such as Hallgrímskirkja, an imposing church resembling a mountain of lava. It is the city’s most memorable structure. Begun in the late 1940s and completed in 1974, the church is named after Iceland’s best-known poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson. You can wander its stark, light-filled interior, then take a lift to the top of a 75m-high (246ft) tower which offers superb views of the city. On the lawn is a statue of Leif Eriksson, triumphantly identified as the ‘Son of Iceland, Discoverer of Vinland’ (believed to be Newfoundland or Labrador).
Budget accommodation, cheap eats and bargain shopping are found in the Old Town area of Reykjavik. For entertainment, there is cinema, cultural performances and light shows (sagas, Settlement and Viking extravaganzas)and also “Runtur”, which is a Northern equivalent of pub crawling.
Akureyri is the second town in Iceland with a popolution of 15000. It is located on Eyjafjordur Fjord. It’s mostly an industrial town with shipping and dairy industries.
Sights include the folklore museum and the botanical gardens. A trip to nearby Lake Myvatn shuld also be on your list.
Referred to by Icelanders as the Capital of the North, Akureyri has a surprisingly active cultural life for such a small town. A number of art galleries operate year round, and a professional theater company operates during the winter. Akureyri also is the site of the second oldest gymnasium (high school/college) in Iceland.
Vestmannaeyjar- Westman Islands- Vestman-islands
The Westman Islands are a group of 15-18 islands, depending on how they are classed, and about 30 skerries sand rock pillars, located off the mainland’s south coast. The islands were formed by submarine volcanic eruptions along a 30-km long fissure lying southwest to northeast. The largest island is Heimaey, 13.4 km2.Most of the islands have steep sea cliffs, and are well vegetated. Bird hunting and egg collecting are traditional to the islanders’ culture.
A Norse timber church, a gift from the Norwegians to commemorate 1000 years since Christianity was accepted in Iceland, was consecrated on Heimaey. The only church of its type in Iceland, it has been situated at the Skanssvæði area where a stone wall, built after the Turkish kidnapping in 1627 occurred, has been rebuilt. Population 4,416.
Hunting and fishing are the traditional mainstays of the island economy. Rich fishing grounds surround the islands. For many years Heimaey was one of Iceland´s largest fishing stations. During the main season, people, from all places and walks of life, flocked here to work long hours and earn money. The population of the town trebled and the number of boats multiplied. Today, ships are larger and more technologically advanced, production has moved from landbased freezing plants to factory ships and consequently the hustle and bustle of the main season is much a thing of the past.
A New Island Emerges- Surtsey
On the morning of 14th November, 1963, crew aboard Ísleifur II saw a column of black dust rising from the sea, south-west of Heimaey. An eruption had begun on the seabed which was to last almost four years. By the second day of the eruption the island, Surtsey, was already 10 metres high. When the eruption ended, on 5th June, 1967, the island covered 2,8 square km and reached a height of 170m. Surtsey is protected by law and Icelandic scientists continue to document the colonization of the island by plant and bird life.
The Eruption on Heimaey, 1973
The eruption on Heimay began on 23rd January, 1973, just before two o´clock in the morning. A fissure opened on the eastern side of the island, only 300-400 metres from Kirkjubæir, the most easterly houses in the town. The inhabitants of Heimaey were woken by the police and firebrigade as they drove around, raising the alarm with their sirens. People streamed down to the docks. Fortunately the weather had been stormy the day before and most of the island´s fleet of 60-70 fishing boats had stayed in harbour. The boats ferried the town´s people to safety in Þórlákshöfn. In March, moltern lava threatened to close the harbour approaches. In a desperate attempt to stop the flow, seawater was pumped on to the lava. This method proved very effective. Today the harbour is considered to be even better than before. The eruption ended on 3rd July, 1973. In six months a new volcano, 225m high, had appeared on the island and a new lava field lay to the east and covered 3.3 square km. Around 360 houses had been buried and many others badly damaged. Before the eruption 5300 people lived on Heimaey, 2000 of these moved back immediately after the eruption ended. Slowly but surely more families returned and began to rebuild their community.
Vik is a lovely little town, placed in between high hills that give it a very secluded and cosy feeling.
The town gas station is a sure stop for all travellers that continue eastwards through the Myrdalssandur, a big plain of sand and grid left by numorous glacial floods.
The black beach of Vík is one of the loveliest ones that are easily reacheble, with a panoramic view of the special rock formation just off the coast. In the neighbourhood of this little town is also the road leading to Dyrholaey, a stone arch on the shore that is big enough to fit boats.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.