Iceland was the last European country to be settled, mostly by Norsemen in the 9th and 10th centuries. They came mainly from Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia, and from the Norse settlements in the British Isles, from where a Celtic element was also introduced.
The language and culture of Iceland were predominantly Scandinavian from the outset, but there are traces of Celtic influence in some of the ancient poetry, in some personal names and in the appearance of present-day Icelanders. In the beginning, the first permanent settler of Iceland was Ingolfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who around 874 AD made his home where Reykjavik now stands. In 930 AD the Viking settlers of Iceland founded the world’s first parliament, known as the Althing. They established a constitution based on individual freedom and land ownership, with local chieftains gathering annually to elect leaders at Thingvellir, a natural amphitheater formed out of lava.
The climate of Iceland is subarctic (Köppen climate classification: near the southern coastal area and tundra inland in the highlands. The island lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, which makes its climate more temperate than would be expected for its latitude just south of the Arctic Circle. This effect is aided by the Irminger Current, which also helps to moderate the island’s temperature. The weather in Iceland can be notoriously variable.
The aurora borealis is often visible at night time during the winter. The midnight sun can be experienced in summer on the island of Grimsey off the north coast; the remainder of the country, since it lies just south of the polar circle, experiences a twilight period during which the sun sets briefly, but still has around 2 weeks of continuous daylight during the summer.
While Icelandic is the official language, most Icelanders speak English and in areas like Reykjavik they are fluent.
While the Icelandic Krona is the currency most Icelanders do not use cash. Most transactions are done on credit or debit cards.
While getting to Iceland can be economical, accommodations, food and drink can be extremely expensive.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH HINT
Because the weather is so changeable in Iceland, pack waterproof clothing and hiking boots. Dressing in layers is key!