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What is Iceland Famous for?

    Updated: 29th January 2024

    Geography and Nature

    Iceland is a treasure trove of natural wonders, from the roaring heat of volcanoes to the crystalline beauty of ice caves. It’s a place where the power of nature is visible and accessible, offering you a diverse landscape like no other.

    Volcanoes and Geothermal Activity

    With its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hotspot for volcanic and geothermal activity. You’ll find numerous active volcanoes here, such as the famous Eyjafjallajökull, which gained worldwide attention after its 2010 eruption. Geothermal activity heats numerous hot springs and geysers, providing a natural spa experience amidst spectacular settings.

    Glaciers and Ice Caves

    Ice cave, Iceland
    Credit: Andrew Russell

    Home to some of Europe’s largest glaciers, like Vatnajökull, Iceland boasts awe-inspiring glaciers and ice caves. Some of these ice caves are accessible to you year-round, giving a fantastic glimpse into a frozen world where ice forms in stunning patterns and colours. Remember, it’s essential to visit with a guide for your safety.

    Fjords and Waterfalls

    The Icelandic landscape is dramatically carved by fjords and waterfalls. Majestic fjords like those in the Westfjords region offer serene beauty and deep waters bordered by towering cliffs. Waterfalls such as Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss are must-see attractions, captivating with their power and the rainbows often visible in their mists.

    Aurora Borealis

    Iceland is one of the premier locations in the world to witness the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. These celestial lights dance across the sky, especially during winter months. Your best chance to view this natural light display is away from city lights, under clear, dark skies.

    Cultural Heritage

    Iceland’s cultural heritage is a rich tapestry that tells the story of a nation with deep ancient roots. From the sagas of Viking explorers to the unique tradition of storytelling and a language that’s changed little over the centuries, you’ll discover a world brimming with history and myth.

    Viking History

    Sólfar Sculpture, Reykjavik, Iceland
    Credit: Rob Young

    Iceland was settled by Norsemen, also known as Vikings, during the late 9th century. These seafaring warriors and traders made their mark on the island, and today, you can still feel their presence in the names of places, in festivals, and through archaeological sites. Visiting the Reykjavík area, you can explore museums that exhibit artefacts and tell the story of these formidable explorers.

    Sagas and Folklore

    Iceland’s sagas, a collection of historical narratives and epic tales, are a cornerstone of Icelandic literature and a window into medieval Scandinavian life. These stories of heroism, feuds, and romance, penned in the 12th to the 14th centuries, remain a testament to the country’s oral storytelling tradition. Along with sagas, Icelandic folklore, filled with elves and trolls, is still ever-present in modern culture, colouring the landscape with enchanting tales.

    Language and Literature

    Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is one of the oldest and best-preserved languages in Europe. Its literature began with skaldic poetry and has blossomed into a nation that boasts one of the highest per capita rates of book publishing in the world. When you delve into Icelandic literature, you’re engaging with works that span a millennium and reflect a profound respect for the power of the written word.

    Modern Icelandic Life

    In your exploration of modern Icelandic life, you’ll discover the vibrant heart of Reykjavik, a thriving music and arts scene, and rich cuisine and culinary traditions that define this island nation.

    Reykjavik: The Capital City

    Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of the world, stands as a beacon of cultural and economic activity. Here, you can immerse yourself in a city where modern architecture meets historical landmarks. A significant portion of Iceland’s population resides in Reykjavik, making it a bustling hub for your cultural discoveries.

    Music and Arts Scene

    Iceland might be small, but its music and arts scene punches well above its weight on the global stage. You’ve likely heard of artists such as Björk or Sigur Rós, showcasing the unique sounds inspired by Iceland’s landscapes. Reykjavik’s halls frequently host concerts and exhibitions, offering you a taste of local creativity that spans from traditional folk music to contemporary visual arts.

    Cuisine and Culinary Traditions

    Icelandic cuisine is a direct reflection of the island’s connection to the sea and land. You’ll savour dishes centred around seafood, lamb, and dairy products. Don’t miss out on trying hákarl, a traditional dish of cured shark, or enjoy conventional foods like skyr, a thick yogurt-like dairy product that’s both tasty and nutritious. Your culinary journey in Iceland will be as unique as its volcanic soil.

    Economy and Resources

    Your exploration of Iceland’s economy reveals a robust mixed system characterised by high levels of free trade paired with significant government intervention. Unlike other Nordic nations, Iceland maintains less government consumption.

    Major Industries:

    • Fisheries: A cornerstone of the Icelandic economy, contributing to both exports and local cuisine.
    • Tourism: With vibrant landscapes and unique natural phenomena, tourism has surged in recent years.
    • Energy: Notably, hydropower and geothermal energy are prominent, capitalising on Iceland’s volcanic activity for a clean, sustainable energy supply.

    Notable Resources:

    • Renewable Energy: You’ll find that most of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower and geothermal sources.
    • Marine Products: Seafood, critical for export and domestic consumption, drives a significant portion of the economy.
    • Aluminium: Powered by renewable energy, aluminium smelting is a key industry due to the abundance of cheap electricity.

    Your insight into Iceland’s economic landscape is grounded in the knowledge that its abundant natural resources have been harnessed sustainably, thus providing a stable bedrock for growth. The shift towards renewable energy and a burgeoning tourism industry reflects Iceland’s adaptability and commitment to sustainable development.


    Iceland is a magnet for travellers seeking extraordinary experiences, from rejuvenating geothermal spas to the stunning natural scenery along the famed Golden Circle. You’re about to discover exciting adventures that make Iceland a must-visit destination.

    Blue Lagoon

    The Blue Lagoon is likely the most iconic spa attraction in Iceland, enticing you with its milky-blue geothermal waters. Rich in minerals like silica and sulphur, it promises a spa experience that not only relaxes but also benefits your skin.

    Golden Circle Route

    Embark on a journey along the Golden Circle Route to witness some of Iceland’s most celebrated natural wonders. This popular tourist loop features Thingvellir National Park, the powerful Gullfoss waterfall, and the impressive Strokkur geyser, which erupts every few minutes.

    Adventure Tours and Activities

    For a small island, Iceland packs a punch with adventure tours and activities. Challenge yourself with glacier hiking, ice climbing, or take a more leisurely approach with wildlife watching tours to spot puffins and whales. The diversity of landscapes from volcanoes to ice fields ensures you have an array of adventures to choose from.

    Find out more about the history of Iceland with our town guides!

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