Iceland rose to prominence on the world stage after a volcanic eruption caused chaos for flights over Europe. In 2010, the volcano Eyjafjallajökull fired out huge quantities of ash, disrupting air travel for six days. After this, many eyes turned to Iceland. Travelers wondered what the land of ice and fire offered apart from volcanoes. And so, millions of tourists have come here to discover the countless delights of this country. What is Iceland famous for? Much more than an ash cloud.
What is Iceland Famous For: Food
When settlers first arrived here in the ninth century, they explored an island with almost no land mammals. The ground and climate were not the most conducive to agriculture. The settlers brought sheep, horses and other livestock with them, and relied heavily on the fish-rich ocean around the country. Some of the local’s traditional dishes have existed for a thousand years, and some are more modern. Here are a few long-surviving examples:
Fermented Shark (Hákarl)
Shark meat is fermented and cured over several weeks, then hung outside to dry for up to six months. It has a strong taste but an even stronger smell, due to its high ammonia content. It’s not for everyone.
A cultured dairy product made from low-fat milk, skyr has a yogurt consistency and a slightly sour flavor. It can be eaten plain but is normally topped with sugar or given a fruity flavor. You will see skyr in every shop in Iceland and many Icelanders eat it on a regular basis.
Icelandic Lamb Soup (Kjötsúpa)
The recipe for this meal varies for individual families but generally consists of lamb or mutton, potatoes, rice, and herbs. Other vegetables such as leeks, carrots, and turnips are added, creating a filling meal to warm you up. Several restaurants downtown offer Kjötsúpa, using centuries-old family recipes.
What is Iceland Famous For: Landscapes
The land of ice and fire contains both glaciers and volcanoes. These geological features create impressive backdrops to any scene, with lava fields and ice sheets covering huge amounts of space. Over 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers, and the 32 volcanic systems have spread their lava far and wide. But aside from the lava rock and ice, what are some of the country’s more iconic natural features? Let’s take a look at some places you may have seen pictures of:
Gullfoss (Golden Falls)
Gullfoss is Iceland’s most famous waterfall (and that’s saying a lot; we have a lot of incredible ones). It’s part of the renowned Golden Circle route, the most popular tourist route in the country. Massive amounts of water cascade down a series of ‘steps’ for 32 meters into a gigantic canyon. Whether seen in summer or winter, Gullfoss is always awe-inspiring.
Located on the south coast next to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, Diamond Beach is certainly a wonder. Consisting of black sand, the beach is covered with chunks of glacial ice. These chunks have broken off from the nearby glacier and floated across Jökulsárlón, to be deposited on the other side.
Another black sand beach in south Iceland, this is an example of the basalt rock formations created by volcanic eruptions. The tightly packed hexagonal basalt columns look so neat it’s hard to believe they were created by nature alone. This site has not gone unnoticed by popular media; it featured in season seven of the series Game of Thrones.
Geysir Geothermal Area
This site is another stop along the Golden Circle. You can see boiling, bubbling mud pools, steam vents and the famous Strokkur, the geyser that erupts every few minutes. Have your camera ready; it’s an impressive sight to see Strokkur shoot water 30 meters (100 feet) into the air.
Silfra is a fissure between the two tectonic plates that Iceland sits on: the Eurasian and North American plates. It’s found in Þingvellir National Park, another stop on the Golden Circle. The fissure filled with meltwater from the nearby Langjökull glacier and can be dived or snorkelled in. It’s regarded as some of the clearest water in the world, with a visibility of over 100 meters. But it is also on the colder side, with an average temperature of 2°C – 4°C year-round.
Interesting Facts about Iceland
For decades, Iceland has been at the forefront of progressive political practices. They were the first country to elect a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in 1980. They rank first in the world on gender equality according to the World Economic Forum. Iceland also consistently ranks as the safest country in the world, with a very low crime rate. Sounds like a pretty wonderful place, right? Indeed it is. The locals have also developed unique habits and ways of living that make it an even more interesting country.
Icelanders Love Ice Cream
Every town in Iceland will have an ice cream shop, and in Reykjavík, there are too many to count. No matter the season, temperature or weather, an Icelander will always go for ice cream.
The Language Has Barely Changed in Hundreds of Years
Due to continuous efforts to restrict the introduction of foreign words, Icelandic has barely changed since the thirteenth century. This means that Icelanders today can still read the Sagas, historical texts that were written over 800 years ago.
Icelanders Have Patronymic Names
When a new baby is born in Iceland, their name must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. Most Icelanders don’t have a family name, so their surname becomes the name of their father, plus -son or -dóttir. So, if your father’s name is Gunnar and you are male, your surname would be Gunnarsson. If you are female, your surname would be Gunnarsdóttir.These are only a few of the many things that make Iceland the incredible country that it is. The locals possess a deep respect for their culture and nature, and they invite you to enjoy it too. Enjoy it responsibly; do your best to minimize your impact on the environment. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Grab your rental car in Iceland and explore the sights, sounds, and subtleties of Iceland.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.