A few years ago, whenever you asked people where they would like to go for their next travel destination, they would definitely answer places like The Maldives, Hawaii, and the usual countries and cities we know about.
However, when you ask any person now, they are more eager to go for a more adventurous destination that can bring new experiences and it isn’t as full of tourists and the others would.
Don’t believe us? Just think about this country: Iceland.
Iceland is a country that many people don’t know much about, but it’s quickly becoming one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
The place is unique in many ways, including the reason behind its nickname, The Land of Fire and Ice, which we will mention later on.
It isn’t only one of those places we recently visited but also one we decided we need to live in for at least a few years to enjoy what it has to offer not only for visitors but also for people trying to get the lifestyle it provides.
We want you and many others to know how precious Iceland is. For this, we couldn’t do something better than dedicate an entire article that could introduce you to its history, why it is becoming so popular, and why Iceland should be your next destination for more than a few days.
Inside the Land: Iceland’s Formation
Unlike other places we have covered in our blog, we can’t just mention a few things about the history of Iceland and leave the rest a bit out of the narrative. Why? Because we are talking about an entire country that has been around for quite a while.
Thus, prepare yourself some snacks and drinks because this could take a bit longer than usual.
After all, Iceland’s history is one of survival and success, starting with the fact that Norsemen and Celts settled it from Britain in the 9th and 10th centuries; this made Icelandic history shaped by the larger political events of the Nordic Countries.
However, before getting to these centuries, we will be going quite back for you to understand later why this country is worth adding to your travel list.
Iceland formed for the first time around 70 million years ago. The catalyst for this process is believed to be a large magma pocket that lies beneath the island today.
This magma pocket, also known as the “Iceland Plume,” is thought to originate at more than 2,000 meters below the Earth’s crust. It was responsible for a series of underwater eruptions that quickly shaped the island we now know.
These same forces are still visible in modern times, even in the case of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
This is illustrated by the Surtsey island, located in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago. It was formed from 1963 to 1967 through such underwater volcanic eruptions. Surtsey, which is now a protected reserve, allows only academics to visit the island.
Iceland’s location in the middle of the Mid Atlantic Rift makes it a hotbed of geothermal activity. This is why Iceland has over 200 volcanoes, geysers, and volcanic fissures, leading us a bit close to the reason behind its nickname.
While it may seem simpler to think of these elements as something that has been forgotten, the truth is that Iceland is still experiencing growing pains.
If you need a good example of this, take the ice-capped volcano Eyjafjallajokull as living proof, which erupted in 2010 after a 200-year silence.
After centuries of building pressure, Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption would change Iceland’s future. It created an enormous ash cloud that halted traffic over Europe and triggered the country’s growing tourist industry.
This is an odd dichotomy, considering that the eruption canceled 107,000 flights.
Although less important, there have been many other eruptions or earthquakes over time. Take Holuhraun, for instance, where there were eruptions at Bardarbunga stratovolcano in 2014-2015.
In 2011, another eruption took place at Grímsvötn volcano, and in 2017, Icelandic citizens watched closely as the ground beneath Hekla started to show signs that an eruption was imminent.
Iceland’s Settlement – A Look to Its History
After knowing how Iceland was formed and expecting the current status of the nation and terrain, we can proceed with a crucial part: How the country in specific was settled, and this is the part that will take us a while.
The Landnámabók or the “Book of Settlements,” which is a medieval manuscript, tells the story of how the Norsemen discovered and settled Iceland in the 9th and the 10th centuries.
This manuscript is a remarkable document due to its age. It contains over 1,400 settlements, 3,000 characters, anecdotal stories, family trees, and stories about the Norse Pantheon.
There are references to the Irish monks, also known as “the Papar,” who were the first to inhabit the island.
They left behind books and crosses, as well as bells for the Norse. This is only one example of the depth of the source but also the history behind the nation.
In the “Book of the Icelanders” by Ari Thorgilsson, they are also referred to as “wandering Christians,” who fled the island due to their hatred for the “northern Heathens.” These examples suggest that the Papar may have abandoned residence before the official Settlement Age.
With this in mind and following the evidence, Floki Viktordarson gave Iceland its name after he spotted drift ice in the fjords during winter.
Hrafna-Floki, or “Floki of the Raven,” was the first Norseman who set sail for Iceland, and his story is included in the Landnámabók for better understanding.
Although we have Floki, Ingolfur Arnarson is the first permanent settler in Iceland and credited as it. However, he arrived on the island along with Hjorleifr Hrodmarsson, who was his brother-in-law.
Legend has it that Ingolfur threw two carved pillars overboard and promised to settle wherever they landed. The pillars were eventually found in Reykjavik, where Ingolfur settled down with his family in 874.
Many Norwegian chieftains followed Ingolfur throughout the following decades to escape the oppressive King Harald of Norway. As a result, Iceland was finally settled in 60 years, and it is believed that all the arable land of Iceland had been settled by 930 AD.
Not long after the settlement, the country experienced rapid growth to the point of requiring a new legislative body. Therefore, the ruling chiefs established the Althingi, which many believe to be the oldest national parliament in the world.
After the parliament was established and we had the first inhabitants, we moved to the country’s early life and the religions they adopted.
It is believed that Iceland’s natural birchwood forests covered approximately 40% of Iceland at the time of the first settlers. The new settlers quickly reduced this percentage and used the material to build homes, shops, and farms.
Trees that weren’t used for building were burned for heat, and it is believed that Iceland was completely deforested within a century. This would have had consequences for soil arability, which has endured to the present.
The earliest settlers built traditional Viking longhouses up until the 14th century. Due to the lack of timber, Icelanders continued to build Sod houses. Also known as the Icelandic Turf house.
Iceland’s early inhabitants needed to trade with other countries in order to survive.
While Iceland had plenty of provisions, such as cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs, the people still lacked many essentials and luxuries of daily life.
Since the nation’s merchants were mostly farmers, trade was usually made on short routes to Europe and Scandinavia.
Greenland was the place where Icelanders imported walrus ivory and fur, and Byzantium provided fine goods such as jewelry, silver, and gems. Early Icelanders were provided with wheat, tin, and honey from England, while Russia and the East Baltic offered amber and slaves.
The Icelanders retained their belief in Norse mythology for a while, thanks to an oral tradition that dates back to their Scandinavian ancestors.
However, in 995 AD, Olaf Tryggvason ascended to the Norwegian throne, and he decided to concentrate his efforts on converting the people under his control to Christians.
Olaf sent a few missionaries to Iceland with only partial success. After another failed conversion attempt in 999 AD, Olaf closed all trade routes to Iceland and refused entry to Norwegian ports to Icelandic merchant vessels.
In order to avoid civil war, the pagan lawmaker Thorgeir Thorkelsson was elected as the judge of whether Iceland should become a Christian nation.
Thorgeir concluded that Iceland should adopt new faith after deliberating over a period of one and a half days. He brought his pagan idols to a waterfall and threw them away in celebration.
The Age of Sturlungs: The 13th Century & Today
The Age of the Sturlungs, a civil war that erupted in Iceland during the 13th century, is well-known in history.
This strife began in 1220 and saw Iceland’s powerful chieftains (Godar) fight it over whether Iceland should be a subject to Hakon, the Old, or King Norway. This conflict is named after the Sturlungs, who were a powerful family from Iceland during that period.
Snorri Sturluson served as chieftain for the Sturlung clan and was also a vassal to the Norwegian King. Sturla Sturlasson was Snorri’s nephew. While his uncle is better known for writing Sagas, Sturla aggressively fought rival clans that refused to submit to the Norwegian monarch.
The Battle of Orlygsstadir, the largest battle in Icelandic history, was where Sturla was decisively defeated.
However, skirmishes erupted in the years that followed, and the Norwegian King was no less persistent in stirring up trouble.
Gissur Thvaldsson was a former opponent of Sturla and a chieftain. He was made a Jarl in 1262 and was a strong advocate for the King, and the Gamli Sattmali (“Old Covenant”) was finally signed in 1262 thanks to his participation.
The Icelandic Commonwealth was ended, and the island became a vassal of Norway. The Danish, however, would eventually be granted Iceland to them one century later.
Christian III of Denmark challenged Icelanders’ open religion practices and forced Lutheranism upon them. To this day, the majority of Icelanders are Lutherans.
Following this event, Iceland was peaceful until the violent eruption of the Laki volcano in the 18th century, which led to the death of many Icelanders (over 9,000).
This mischief was followed by hunger and hard times since the lava wiped out almost all the nation’s livestock and left the survivors without almost anything to survive.
The eruption was also an indirect influence to triggering the French Revolution.
Then, the country’s position in the globe is of great importance for any party in international warfare. This led to having Iceland taking part in World War II and a long story due to its strategic location and the next part of great relevance to know about the country.
Finally, Iceland was able to declare independence and became a republic in 1944 after many hardships.
To this date, Iceland had to deal with the presence of foreign affairs but reached the point of having great relevance as an independent nation.
It has been using its resources to produce green energy and has constructed numerous dams and geothermal power plants.
This has brought great benefits and devastating effects to the Icelandic people, sparking a heated debate about preserving nature and using energy sources.
Why Is It So Great to Visit? – Activities & Places
Well, that was a wild ride, and we even made sure to include the essential parts.
But now, focusing on the part you are more interested in, we can assure you there are many reasons to visit Iceland.
First, Iceland is known as “The Land of Fire and Ice” since you can find both volcanic and glacial terrains all over the land.
Both elements shape Iceland’s culture greatly, and their presence cannot be denied considering the natural beauties you can witness when taking a look and visit to the country.
Now, is Iceland full of mountains, glacial and volcanoes to visit only? We wouldn’t complain if this were the case, but there’s more to it than just these attractions.
We know you will love looking at nature and the formations due to eruptions and previous events in the land.
However, if you are trying to understand what people enjoy doing, we can start mentioning everyone’s favorite activities, including ours.
The first one we need to mention? You would think it is the icebergs, but the whale watching tour was definitely a highlight during our trip.
You can find over twenty cetacean specials in Iceland’s coastal waters, and if you decide to have a trip and watch your, you will see minke whales and humpback whales, among many other rare animals, including killer whales.
Based on the country’s culture, you can also expect horseback riding to be available, but the Icelandic horses are something to look up to. In fact, they are part of the most popular four-legged species in the country since they have diminutive stature, short legs but are greatly muscular.
Other mentions? We have quite the list:
- Take the time to visit Lake Mývatn or “Fly Lake” to look upon the Skútustaðagígar pseudo-craters.
- Have a bath in the Blue Lagoon Spa, the most famous spa in the country, thanks to its healing silica mud and soothing and warm weather while being able to enjoy stunning surroundings. You can also visit the Secret Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths during your visit.
- Go have a look at the Dettifoss waterfall in North Iceland, located in the Vatnajökull National Park. It is known as the most powerful waterfall in all Europe and the most stunning one compared to the ones in most European countries.
- In the east, you can find the West Fjords, which are full of magic and mysticism.
- We can’t forget about the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which is decorated with glittering icebergs, and you can have a great time sightseeing by just looking at the glaciers.
- Choose the most popular sightseeing route: The Golden Circle.
- Hiking and ice caving are a must, as well as sea cliffs, sightseeing, and visiting downtown Reykjavík.
Finally, don’t think we forgot about them, and if we have to admit something, we wanted to mention them first, but we thought it would be more interesting adding them here: The Northern Lights.
Many believe the aurora borealis appear in Norway, Alaska, and Tasmania only, but there are over five places to see them, and northern Iceland happens to be one of the best to do so.
We don’t really need to explain much about them, and instead, we will just say: You need to enjoy the view as much as you can.
The Northern Lights seem to be a very good reason to rank Iceland pretty high in travel destinations.
However, people just love traveling to it thanks to all the beautiful places you can find and even when we visited once for over a month; we still feel like there isn’t enough time to enjoy everything and expect to visit quite soon again.
So Popular that People Film Movies… For Real!
It is only natural for directors and people to want to film in Iceland in such stunning and breathtaking places as a second scenario. Thus, you can find quite many movies that took place (partially) in the country.
James Bond Series, more specifically, “A View to a Kill” (1985) and “Die Another Day” (2002), are two of the most popular movies that chose a place in the country: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
However, if there’s one that impresses us quite a lot, that’s definitely the Star Wars Saga considering that most epic locations in the films took place across Iceland.
“The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” had many main pictures and scenarios in the country, making us jealous to capture such good views.
“Game of Thrones,” “Tomb Raider,” “Batman Begins,” “Interstellar,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Oblivion” are only a few more we can add.
Most of the films and series that chose the place for their scenes aren’t “low-budget,” as some people would call them.
In fact, they are all quite popular, and we have to admit that every time we watch any of them on TV or computer, we go crazy appreciating the places now that we know these details and have been there.
8 Mesmerizing Facts About Iceland You Must Know
- There’s a National Beer Day in Iceland, which is on March 1.
- Did you know? There are ZERO mosquitoes in Iceland (we lived a dream with just this).
- There are dozens of cascades and waterfalls all over the country. One is more impressive than the other.
- You can find many hot springs to get warmed up.
- Icelanders believe in elves and trolls and believe they existed (or exist) to the point of considering the 15 meters high Hvítserkur monolith in North West Iceland to be a petrified troll.
Iceland has gone through one of the quickest economic recoveries and growth over the last 20 years.
- It is considered one of the happiest places in the world due to its quality of life and the lowest ratio of citizens in jail (and it is the most sparsely populated European country).
- You can find a penis museum in the capital (crazy!).
- It is one of the most eco-friendly countries worldwide.
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