Iceland

In many aspects, Iceland is a superlative country in Europe – it is the northernmost, the most secluded, with the highest standard of living and literacy rate. As its name indicates, it is partly covered by ice, or more precisely glaciers, but don’t be afraid of Arctic weather; the climate is mild thanks to the nearby ocean and the proximity of the Gulf Stream and Hekla, a volcano. Moreover, there are hot springs and geysers, which along with picturesque fjords contribute to the unique attractiveness of Iceland’s landscape. The historical heritage of Iceland is also impressive, since its history dates back to the times of Vikings.

The island has only 300,000 inhabitants and the vast areas are very scarcely populated, so the country can be a paradise for lovers of wild, primeval nature. The landscapes of Iceland are really outstanding: extensive plains covered with pristine snow and mountains contrast with volcanos, geysers and hot springs, thus it’s not uncommon to see swimmers in mid-January. A very popular tourist activity is visiting geothermal pools and spas, such as the Blue Lagoon in Grindavik. It might be a boring sight with the endless plateaus of snow, but it’s worth visiting at the end of the year, when the sun doesn't rise and the northern lights wreak havoc in the sky. Icelanders call them ‘the lights of the fox’.

Of all the unbelievable natural attractions in Iceland, you shouldn’t miss Dettifoss, the largest waterfall in Europe, or the scenic Gullfoss, or Golden Falls. Thingvellir National Park, Skaftafell National Park, Geysir geothermal spot, the Jokulsar Lagoon, Landmannalaugar region, Lake Myvatn and the West Fjords are among the other unusual natural attractions, worth visiting for their surreal, unearthly beauty. If you’re a ski enthusiast, Iceland is the right place, offering ample opportunities for skiing. There are popular winter resorts in Blafjoll, only a half-hour drive from the capital. Cross-country skiing is also a popular sport there.

Reykjavik, whose name can be translated as 'city of smoke', is located near the volcano. Most of Iceland’s population live there, and it’s the economic and cultural centre of the country. The city is calm and pretty, with small houses covered with colourful roofs. There are many other notable cities in Iceland. If you seek extreme activities, you must go to Thule, once believed to be the end of the world.

The country has been isolated for such a long period of time that common beliefs of old are frequently still upheld. Strangely enough, some adults still believe in elves, and when they build their houses they first check for elfish habitats on the terrain. It’s more than worth listening to a few sagas of times past and of Viking heroes winning or losing historical battles. These traditions coexist with modernity without trouble – this land of ice and fire is among the leaders in the field of IT.

Iceland has a unique cultural heritage and its most recognizable landmarks are sagas and Viking culture. Viking settlers began arriving in Iceland in the 9th Century, ousting several herdsmen and Irish monks. Today, some Icelanders speak the only ancient language in the world besides the Latin of the Vatican – a dialect which was spoken as far back as the Viking Age. Nowadays, the best-known Icelander is Bjork, a singer with an unbelievable voice and exotic appearance.