Europe’s westernmost country, Iceland’s strategic ocean location straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Its spectacular landscape is largely uninhabited, aside from coastal towns.
Geography: Grassy coastal lowlands, with fjords in the north. Central plateau of cold lava desert, geothermal springs, and glaciers. Around 200 volcanoes, with numerous geysers and solfataras.
Climate: Its location in the middle of the Gulf Stream moderates the climate. Mild winters and brief, cool summers.
People and Society: Icelanders share a strong national identity, with few foreign residents. Their language has changed little in 700 years, in part due to the country’s isolation. There is high social mobility, free health care, and low-cost heating (geothermal and hydropower). Iceland’s recent banking collapse and near financial ruin has swung the long-running debate over EU membership in favor of joining.
The Economy: Once reliant on fish. Aluminum smelting. Tourism. Banks overexposed in 2007–2008 “global downturn.” Nation bankrupt, króna depreciated 90%.
Insight: The word geyser is taken from Geysir (the “gusher”) in southwest Iceland
Official Name: Republic of Iceland
Date of Formation: 1944
Total Area: 39,768 sq. miles (103,000 sq. km)
Density: 8 people per sq. mile
Religions: Evangelical Lutheran 93%, nonreligious 6%, other (mostly Christian) 1%
Ethnic Mix: Icelandic 94%, other 5%, Danish 1%
Government: Parliamentary system
Currency: Icelandic króna = 100 aurar