Known for Bjork, fish, ice and ash clouds, Iceland is a truly unique location. This Nordic island is often compared to the moon, thanks to its lunar-like landscape, sculpted by lava flows and volcanic activity. It’s also home to some amazing spectacles of nature and some of the happiest people in the world.
If you’ve never been, here are just a few of the reasons why Iceland should be on your “to-do” list.
Iceland is host to a number of animal species which can be observed by visitors.
Known as ‘clowns of the sea’, thanks to their extravagant plumage, these much-loved birds have matching brightly-coloured bills, eyes and legs with black and white faces and bodies. Puffins are one of few birds that nest underground, where they bring up their chicks, known as pufflings. The best puffin watching months being between May and August.
Iceland is one of the best locations in Europe for whale watching. On whale watching trips you can see minke whales, humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, sperm whales, orcas, pilot whales and white-beaked dolphins. In fact, one quarter of cetacean species have been found in Iceland waters, and many are spotted regularly feeding and breeding off the coast.
The arctic fox is the only land mammal native to Iceland. Arctic foxes were in Iceland before Nordic people settled on the island in the ninth century, and change color from brown in summertime to white in winter, making them pretty difficult to spot in the snow.
Freshwater fish, including Arctic char, trout and salmon are a key part of many Icelandic meals. Many of Europe’s most-famous salmon rivers are located in Iceland, and the fact that a salmon river runs through the capital city Reykjavik, is testament to the clean environment of the country as a whole.
Unforgettable Natural Beauty
Iceland is one of the most beautiful and unique locations on the planet, allowing travellers to experience rare natural wonders such as geysers, waterfalls, fjords, volcanos, lava deserts and geothermal pools. The country’s surprising, memorable and photogenic landscape is due to its volcanic activity, thank to its position on the constructive boundary of the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which marks the division between the European and North American tectonic plates.
Eyjafjallajökull isn’t Iceland’s only volcano, and many are safe for tourists to visit. Making great use of natural resources, Iceland has five geothermal power plants which produce around a quarter of the country’s energy.
Offering visitors the chance to relax in its warm, buoyant water, the Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s top attractions. Situated in the middle of a black basalt lava field, this geothermal spa is rich with minerals such as silica and sulphur.
Kept at a relaxing 35-40 degrees Celsius, the waters are reported to offer health benefits to those who take the plunge in the mineral-rich waters.
Image via Ragnar TH Sigurdsson
The Northern Lights (or ‘aurora borealis’) are considered one of the most amazing natural spectacles in the world. Although no visitor to Iceland is guaranteed to see the Northern Lights, increased cosmic activity boosts the chances of spotting the elusive rays of multicoloured lights.
Thanks to rain, snow and glaciers, Iceland is home to more than 20 waterfalls. Being able to get close to such majestic and powerful natural phenomena is an unforgettable experience. Gullfoss, Skógafoss, and Svartifoss are some of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland.
Icelandic people were recently found to be some of the happiest in the world by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index. The study took into consideration a range of factors, include life satisfaction. Despite the fact that Iceland is one of the most sparsely-populated countries on the planet, the people are a key reason to visit. With a population of just 320,000, it can feel more like a village. Nearly two-thirds of those people live and work around the capital city Reykjavik.
Image via oecdbetterlifeindex.org
Icelanders have plenty to be happy about – great quality of air, water, spacious environment and one of the longest life expectancies of any country on earth, trumped only by Japan, who also consume their fair share of seafood.
A recent study published by the World Economic Forum found that Iceland is the best country to be a woman in the world– meaning that women experience the greatest degree of equality in Iceland compared to other countries. The study also found that Icelanders were the friendliest to foreign tourists, just ahead of New Zealand, Morocco and Macedonia.
With vibrant nightlife, great overall quality of life and long life expectancy, Iceland is clearly a great place to live, especially when you consider these stats fly in the face of high unemployment and a struggling economy. Maybe it’s the natural beauty, maybe it’s the lack of over-population, but Iceland is a happy place.
Images courtesy of Discover the World.
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