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Anthem: Lofsöngur
and largest city
64°08′N 21°56′W / 64.133°N 21.933°W / 64.133; -21.933
Official languages Icelandic (de facto)
Ethnic groups 93% Icelandic,
7.0% other
(see demographics)
Government Unitary parliamentary republic
Legislature Althing
 -  Settlement 9th century 
 -  Commonwealth
Founding of the Althing
 -  Union with Norway
Signing of the Old Covenant
 -  Kalmar Union 1397–1523 
 -  Denmark–Norway 1523–1814 
 -  Treaty of Kiel
Ceded to Denmark
14 January 1814 
 -  Constitution and limited home rule
Minister for Iceland appointed
5 January 1874 
 -  Extended home rule 1 February 1904 
 -  Sovereignty
Danish–Icelandic Act of Union
1 December 1918 
 -  Republic 17 June 1944 
 -  Total 103,125[1] km2 (106th)
39,699 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 2.07 (as of 2015)[2]
 -  2022 estimate 376,248 (171st)
 -  2022 census 387,800[3]
 -  Density 3.66/km2 (240th)
9.48/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2023 estimate
 -  Total increase $27.078 billion[4] (152nd)
 -  Per capita increase $69,833[4] (15th)
GDP (nominal) 2023 estimate
 -  Total increase $30.570 billion[4] (109th)
 -  Per capita increase $78,836[4] (8th)
Gini (2018)23.2[5]
HDI (2021)increase 0.959[6]
very high · 3rd
Currency Icelandic króna (ISK)
Time zone Greenwich Mean Time/Western European Time[7]
Date format
Drives on the right
Calling code +354
Patron saint Saint Thorlak
Internet TLD .is

Iceland, officially the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic island country of north-western Europe, comprising the island of Iceland and its outlying islets in the North Atlantic Ocean between the rest of Europe and Greenland. As of July 2007, it had a population of 387,800. Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík.

Due to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is volcanically and geologically active on a large scale; this defines the landscape in various ways. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterized by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many big glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Because of the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a temperate climate relative to its latitude and provides a habitable environment and nature.

Iceland has a history of habitation since about the year 874 when, according to Landnámabók, the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the next centuries, people of Nordic and Gaelic origin settled in Iceland. Until the twentieth century, the Icelandic population relied on fisheries and agriculture, and was from 1262 to 1944 a part of the Norwegian and later the Danish monarchies. In the twentieth century, Iceland's economy and welfare system developed quickly.

Today, Iceland is a developed country, the world's fifth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and second in human development. It is based upon a free market economy where service, finance, fishing and various industries are the main sectors. Tourism is popular, as many people are attracted to Iceland's exotic scenery. Iceland is a member of the UN, the NATO, the EFTA, the EEA and of the OECD, but not of the European Union.


Although there is some evidence indicating an early presence of Celtic monks, it is generally believed that Iceland was discovered and settled by North Germanic explorers in the second half of the 9th century AD. Swedish Viking explorer Garðar Svavarsson was the first to circumnavigate Iceland in 870 and establish that it was an island. The first permanent Norse settler was Ingólfur Arnarson, who built his homestead in Reykjavík in 874. Ingólfur was followed by many other emigrant settlers, largely Norsemen and their slaves. By 930, most arable land had been claimed and the Althing, a legislative and judiciary parliament, founded as the political hub of the Icelandic Free State. Christianity was peacefully adopted in 1000. The Free State lasted until 1262, at which point the political system devised by the original settlers proved unable to cope with the increasing power of Icelandic chieftains.

The internal struggles and civil strife of the Sturlung Era led to the signing of the Old Covenant, which brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed to Denmark-Norway in the late 14th century when the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark were united in the Kalmar Union. In the ensuing centuries, Iceland became one of the poorest countries in Europe. Infertile soil, volcanic eruptions and an unforgiving climate made for harsh life in a society whose subsistence depended almost entirely on agriculture. Around the middle of the 16th century, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. The last Catholic bishop in Iceland was beheaded in 1550, with two of his sons, after which the country became fully Lutheran. Lutheranism has remained the dominant religion ever since.

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel. Iceland, however, remained a Danish dependency. The country's climate worsened during the 19th century, leading to mass emigrations to North America, largely Canada. Meanwhile, a new independence movement arose under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, inspired by the romantic and nationalist ideologies of mainland Europe. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland home rule, which was expanded in 1904. The Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on December 1, 1918, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state under the Danish king.

During World War II, the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940 severed communications between Iceland and Denmark. A month later, British military forces sailed into Reykjavík harbour, violating Icelandic neutrality. Allied invasion and occupation of Iceland lasted throughout the war. In 1941, responsibility for the occupation was taken over by the United States Army. Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944. The occupation force left in 1946. Iceland became a member of NATO on March 30, 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. On May 5, 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States -- American troops returned and stayed as part of the defence agreement throughout the Cold War and until the autumn of 2006.

The immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialization of the fishing industry and by the rebuilding, Marshall aid and Keynesian government management of the economy throughout Europe, all which promoted trade. The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars – several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland's extension of its fishing limits. The economy was greatly diversified and liberalized following Iceland's joining of the European Economic Area in 1994.


Iceland is divided into regions, constituencies, counties, and municipalities. There are eight regions which are primarily used for statistical purposes; the district court jurisdictions also use an older version of this division. Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliament elections were the same as the regions, but by an amendment to the constitution, they were changed to the current six constituencies:

  • Reykjavík North and Reykjavík South (city regions);
  • Southwest (three suburb areas around Reykjavík);
  • Northwest and Northeast (north half of Iceland, split); and,
  • South (south half of Iceland, excluding Reykjavík and suburbs).

The redistricting change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country, since a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the Reykjavík city area. The imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system, but still exists.

Iceland's twenty-three counties are, for the most part, historical divisions. Currently, Iceland is split up among twenty-six magistrates that represent government in various capacities. Among their duties are running the local police (except in Reykjavík, where there is a special office of police commissioner), tax collection, administering bankruptcy declarations, and performing civil marriages.

There are seventy-nine municipalities in Iceland which govern most local matters like schools, transportation and zoning.


Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small island of Grímsey off Iceland's northern coast, but not through mainland Iceland. Unlike neighbouring Greenland, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe, not of North America, though geologically, the island belongs to both continents. Because of cultural, economic and linguistic similarities, Iceland in many contexts is also included in Scandinavia. It is the world's eighteenth-largest island, and Europe's second largest island following Great Britain.

Approximately eleven percent of the island is glaciated. Many fjords punctuate its 4,970 kilometre (3,088 mi) long coastline, which is also where most towns are situated because the island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sands and mountains. The major towns are the capital Reykjavík, Keflavík, where the international airport is situated, and Akureyri. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland.

The only native land mammal when humans arrived was the arctic fox. It came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. There are no native reptiles or amphibians on the island. There are around 1,300 known species of insects in Iceland, which is rather low compared with other countries (there are about 925,000 known species in the world). During the last Ice Age almost all of the country was covered by permanent snow and glacier ice. This explains the low number of living species in Iceland.

When humans arrived, birch forest and woodland probably covered 25–40% of Iceland’s land area, but soon the settlers started to remove the trees and forests to create fields and grazing land. During the early twentieth century the forests were at their minimum and were almost wiped out of existence. The planting of new forests has increased the number of trees since, but this can not be compared with the original forests. Some of those planted forests have included new foreign species.

Iceland has four national parks: Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Skaftafell National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park.


  • Whole country: 103,000 km² (39,768.5 sq mi)
  • Vegetation: 23,805 km² (9,191 sq mi)
  • Lakes: 2,757 km² (1,065 sq mi)
  • Glaciers: 11,922 km² (4,603 sq mi)
  • Wasteland: 64,538 km² (24,918 sq mi)

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both a geological hot spot, thought to be caused by a mantle plume, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This combined location means that geologically the island is extremely active, having many volcanoes, notably Hekla, Eldgjá, and Eldfell. The volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783–1784 caused a famine that killed nearly a quarter of the island's population; the eruption caused dust clouds and haze to appear over most of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa for several months after the eruption.

There are also geysers (a word derived from the name of one in Iceland, Geysir). With this widespread availability of geothermal power, and also because of the numerous rivers and waterfalls that are harnessed for hydro power, residents of most towns have hot water and home heat for a low price. The island itself is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism like Hawaii. There are, however, a variety of volcano-types on Iceland that produce more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite.

Iceland controls Surtsey, one of the youngest islands in the world. It rose above the ocean in a series of volcanic eruptions between November 8, 1963 and June 5, 1968


The climate of Iceland's coast is cold oceanic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. The winters are mild and windy while the summers are damp and cool. Regions in the world with similar climate are: Aleutian Islands, Alaska Peninsula and Tierra del Fuego.

There are some variations in the climate between different parts of the island. Very generally speaking, the south coast is warmer, wetter and windier than the north. Low lying inland areas in the north are the most arid. Snowfall in winters is more common in the north than the south. The Central Highlands are the coldest part of the country.

The highest air temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) on 22 June 1939 at Teigarhorn on the south-eastern coast. The lowest temperature was -38 °C (-36.4 °F) on 22 January 1918 at Grímsstaðir and Möðrudalur in the interior of northeast. The temperature records for Reykjavík are 24.8 °C (76.6 °F) on 11 August 2004, and -24.5 °C (-12.1 °F) on 21 January 1918.

Animal and Plant Life

Iceland has very few mineral or agricultural resources. The short time since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, has provided very little time for plants and animals to immigrate from elsewhere or evolve locally. Approximately three-quarters of the island are barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland which is regularly grazed by livestock. The only tree native to Iceland is the northern birch Betula pubescens.

Permanent human settlement has caused great disturbance to an isolated ecosystem with thin, volcanic soils and limited species diversity. The forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation resulted in a loss of critical top soil due to erosion, greatly reducing the ability of birches to regrow. Today, only a few small birch stands can be found in isolated drainages.

The animals of Iceland include the Icelandic sheep, cattle, and the sturdy Icelandic horse. Many varieties of fish live in the ocean waters surrounding Iceland, and the fishing industry is a main contributor to Iceland’s economy, accounting for more than half of its total exports. Wild mammals include the arctic fox, mink, mice, rats, rabbits and reindeer. Before and around the 1900s polar bears occasionally visited the island, traveling on icebergs from Greenland. Birds, especially sea birds, are a very important part of Iceland's animal life. Puffins, skuas, and kittiwakes all nest on its sea cliffs. Iceland also has a commercial whaling fleet that is active despite international protests.


Iceland's written and spoken language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse. It has changed less from Old Norse than the other Nordic languages, has preserved more verb and noun inflection, and has to a considerable extent developed new vocabulary based on native roots rather than borrowings from English. It is the only living language to retain the runic letter Þ. The closest living language to Icelandic is Faroese.

In education, the use of Icelandic Sign Language for the Deaf in Iceland is regulated by the National Curriculum Guide.

English and Danish are widely understood. Studying both these languages is a mandatory part of the school curriculum. Other commonly spoken languages are Swedish, Norwegian and German. Danish is mostly spoken in a way largely comprehensible to Swedes and Norwegians – it is often referred to as "Scandinavian" in Iceland.


The original population of Iceland was of Nordic and Celtic origin. This is evident by literary evidence from the settlement period as well as from later scientific studies such as blood type and genetic analysis. One such genetics study has indicated that the majority of the male settlers were of Nordic (Germanic) origin while the majority of the women were of Celtic origin. The modern population of Iceland is often described as a "homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norse and Celts" but some history scholars reject the alleged homogeneity as a myth that fails to take into account the fact that Iceland was never completely isolated from the rest of Europe and actually has had a lot of contact with traders and fishermen from many nations through the ages.

Iceland has extensive genealogical records dating back to the late 1600s and fragmentary records extending back to the Age of Settlement. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics has funded the creation of a genealogy database which attempts to cover all of Iceland's known inhabitants. It sees the database, called Íslendingabók, as a valuable tool for conducting research on genetic diseases, given the relative isolation of Iceland's population.

The population of the island is believed to have varied from 40,000 to 60,000 in the period from initial settlement until the mid-19th century. During that time, cold winters, ashfall from volcanic eruptions, and plagues adversely affected the population several times. The first census was carried out in 1703 and revealed that the population of the island was then 50,358. After the destructive volcanic eruptions of the Laki volcano during 1783–1784 the population reached a low of about 40,000. Improving living conditions triggered a rapid increase in population from the mid-19th century to the present day - from about 60,000 in 1850 to 310,000 in 2007.

In 2004, 20,669 people (7% of the total population) who were living in Iceland had been born abroad, including children of Icelandic parents living abroad. 10,636 people (3.6% of the total population) had foreign citizenship. The most populous foreign residents are Poles (7,000), Danes (890), ex-Yugoslavians (670), Filipinos (647) and Germans (540).

The south-west corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region and the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost capital in the world. The largest towns outside the capital region are Akureyri and Reykjanesbær.

Most Icelanders are descendants of Norwegian settlers and Celts from Ireland and Scotland, brought over as slaves during the age of settlement. Recent DNA analysis suggests that 80 percent of the male settler-era population was of Norse ancestry, whereas the female population was 60 percent Celtic. The Icelandic population today is remarkably homogeneous. According to Icelandic government statistics, 99% of the nation's inhabitants live in urban areas (localities with populations greater than 200) and 60% live in Reykjavík and the surrounding area. Of the Nordic languages, the Icelandic language is closest to the Old Norse language and has remained relatively unchanged since the 12th century. Because of its small size and relative homogeneity, Iceland holds all the characteristics of a very close-knit society.

About 84% of the population belong to the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, or other Lutheran Churches. However, Iceland has complete religious liberty, and other Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations are present (about 3.5%), along with small communities of major world religions. The most notable new religious community in Iceland, and in 2003 the fastest-growing one, is the Ásatrúarfélagið, a legally recognized revival of the pre-Christian religion of Iceland.

Most Icelandic surnames are based on patronymy, or the adoption of the father's first given name, followed by "son" or "daughter". For example, Magnús and Anna, children of a man named Pétur Jónsson, would have the full name Magnús Pétursson and Anna Pétursdóttir, respectively. Magnús's daughter Sigríður Ásta would be Sigríður Ásta Magnúsdóttir, and would remain so for the rest of her life regardless of marriage. An Icelandic patronymic is essentially only a designation of fatherhood, and is therefore redundant in Icelandic social life except to differentiate people of the same first name — the phone directory, for example, lists people by their given name first, patronymic second. Thus it has little in common with traditional surnames except for its position after the given name. It is legally possible in Iceland to rework the patronymic into a matronymic, replacing the father's name with the mother's. Use of the patronymic system is required by law, except for the descendants of those who had acquired family names before 1913 (about 10% of the population). One notable Icelander who has an inherited family name is football star Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen.


The modern parliament, called "Alþingi" (English: Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish king. It was widely seen as a reestablishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. It currently has sixty-three members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state, but who can also block a law voted by the parliament and put it to a national referendum.

The head of government is the prime minister, who, together with the cabinet, takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Althing; however, this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide among themselves after discussions which parties can form the cabinet and how its seats are to be distributed (under the condition that it has a majority support in Althing). Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercise this power and appoint the cabinet himself. This has never happened since the republic was founded in 1944, but in 1942 the regent of the country (Sveinn Björnsson, who had been installed in that position by the Althing in 1941) did appoint a non-parliamentary government. The regent had, for all practical purposes, the position of a president, and Björnsson in fact became the country's first president in 1944.

The governments of Iceland have almost always been coalitions with two or more parties involved, due to the fact that no single political party has received a majority of seats in Althing in the republic period. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office of the president is disputed by legal scholars in Iceland; several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions suggest differently. Iceland elected the world's first female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in 1980 and she retired from office in 1996. Elections for the office of town councils, parliament and presidency are all held every four years. The next elections are going to be held in 2010, 2011 and 2008, respectively.

Following the May 2007 parliamentary elections, the current government is a coalition of the right wing Independence Party and the social democratic Alliance under Prime Minister Geir Haarde of the Independence Party. The government enjoys a vast majority in Althing, with 43 out of 63 members supporting it.

During 2008, when the rest of the world was doing huge bailouts to the corporate criminal Rothschild-owned banks, Iceland's people rose up, had a mini-revolution and refused to pay them. They kept their money with their people.[8][9] Iceland bailed out the people instead of the rich banks. In 2013, Iceland’s government wrote off up to 24,000 euros of every household’s mortgage even as the international banking community opposed it.[10]


Icelanders enjoy freedom of religion under the constitution, though there is no separation of church and state. The National Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body, is the state church. The national registry keeps account of the religious affiliation of every Icelandic citizen. In 2005, Icelanders divided into religious groups as follows:

  • 82.1% members of the National Church of Iceland.
  • 4.7% members of the Free Lutheran Churches of Reykjavík and Hafnarfjörður.
  • 2.6% not members of any religious group.
  • 2.4% members of the Roman Catholic Church, which has a Diocese of Reykjavík
  • 5.5% members of unregistered religious organisations or with no specified religious affiliation

The remaining 2.7% is mostly divided between around 20–25 other Christian denominations and sects, with less than 1% of the population in non-Christian religious organizations, the largest of those being Íslenska Ásatrúarfélagið, a neo-pagan group.


Icelandic culture has its roots in Viking and Norse traditions. Icelandic literature is popular, in particular the sagas and eddas which were written around the time of the island’s settlement. Icelanders generally have a traditional liberal Nordic outlook, similar to other Nordic countries such as Norway and Sweden. Until the Christianization of Iceland, many traditional Viking beliefs held strong, remnants of which remain today. For example, some Icelanders either believe in elves or are unwilling to rule out their existence. Iceland has ranks very high on the Human Development Index, and was recently ranked the fourth happiest country in the world.

The majority of national foods are based around fish, lamb and dairy products. Þorramatur is a national food, consisting of many different dishes; this is not consumed on a daily basis but usually around the month of Þorri. Traditional dishes include skyr, cured ram scrota, cured shark, singed sheep heads and black pudding.

Though changing in the past years, Icelanders remain a very healthy nation. Children and teenagers participate in various types of leisure activities. Popular sports today are mainly football, track and field, handball and basketball. Sports such as golf, tennis, swimming, chess and horseback riding on Icelandic horses are also popular.

Iceland is home to the television station Nick Jr.'s animated program LazyTown (Icelandic: Latibær), a children's television program created by Magnús Scheving. It has become a very popular program for children and adults, and is shown in over 98 countries, including the US, Canada, Sweden and Latin America. The LazyTown Studios are located in Garðabær. Iceland was also the home of The Sugarcubes, a popular 80's and 90's pop group; whose members included the now famous singer Björk.

In 1996, Parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, covering nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, by unanimous vote of Parliament, further legislation was passed, granting same-sex couples the same rights as different-sex couples in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment.