Iceland is a country of extreme contrasts. Widely known as “The Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, and some of the world's most active volcanoes. Iceland is also the land of light and darkness. Long summer days with nearly 24-hours of sunshine are offset by short winter days with only few hours of daylight.
WHERE IS ICELAND?
Iceland is a North Atlantic island and the westernmost country in Europe, midway between North America and mainland Europe. It lies about 800 km northwest of Scotland and 970 km west of Norway, and its northern coast is just below the Arctic Circle. Iceland is the same distance from London as Athens. The distance from New York to Iceland is the same as from New York to Los Angeles. Reykjavík is the world's northernmost capital city. It takes approximately five hours to fly from New York to Reykjavík, and three hours from London.
Iceland is a relatively large island in the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest neighboring country is Greenland, just 286 km (180 miles) away, followed by the Faroe Islands 420 km (260 miles), Scotland 795 km (495 miles), and Norway 950 km (590 miles).
Iceland is located near the arctic circle, and in fact, half the land-mass of Grímsey, an island off the North coast of Iceland, lies within the Arctic Circle.
Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, following Great Britain, and the 18th largest island in the world. The island itself stretches across 103,000 km2 (40,000 square miles), which is about the same size as Hungary and Portugal, or Kentucky and Virginia. In its widest parts Iceland measures 500 km (305 miles) east to west and 300 km (185 miles) north to south. The coastline is 4,970 km, and Iceland maintains a 200 nautical-miles exclusive economic zone. It is possible to drive right around the island on the lovely coastal route on a 10-day holiday.
With almost 80% of the country uninhabited, much of Iceland's terrain consists of plateau, mountain peaks, and fertile lowlands. There are many long, deep fjords and glaciers, including Europe's largest, Vatnajökull. The landscape is characterized by waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, black sand beaches, and otherworldly steaming lava fields. Iceland's highest peak is Hvannadalshnjúkur, standing 2,119 m (6,852 ft) over sea level. More than 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers. Its landmass comprises glaciers (12,000 km2), lava (11,000 km2), sand (4,000 km2), water (3,000 km2), and pasture (1,000 km2).
Formed about 25 million years ago, Iceland is one of the youngest landmasses on the planet, and consequently home to some of the world's most active volcanoes. The island owes its existence to a volcanic hotspot created by a fissure in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet. The landmass is still growing by about 5 cm per year, as it splits wider at the points where the two plates meet. The last volcanoes to erupt were Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and Grímsvötn in 2011. Iceland even has the world's newest island, Surtsey, formed in a volcanic eruption in 1963.