Iceland in a Nutshell
- 320,000. Growing at a rate of approximately +1% annually.
- The most densely populated region is the southwestern corner of the country.
- Approximately 200,000 people live in the larger Reykjavik area (more than 60% of the total population).
- The rest – 120,000 people – are spread around the country, living in villages, on farms etc.
- Median age is close to 36 years.
- Life expectancy is high; 80 years for males and almost 84 years for females.
- Infant mortality is very low and usually the lowest in Europe (1-2,5%).
- Close to 10% of the population is foreign-born.
Area, geology and climate:
- 103,000 sq. km (40,000 sq. miles); more than double the size of Denmark and bigger than Hungary.
- 10% of the country is covered by glaciers. They are the main source for Iceland’s hydropower.
- The population lives in the lowlands all around the edges of the country, generally close to the coastline.
- Large parts of the Icelandic interior are highlands without any population.
- Certain areas in the country have volcanic activity. Most of the urban areas are outside of these areas.
- Despite its name, Iceland has a temperate climate and enjoys fairly mild winters, thanks to the warm North Atlantic Current / Gulf Stream.
- Summers are somewhat cooler and windier than most of Scandinavia.
- The mean annual temperature in Reykjavík is -0.5°C (31°F) in January and 10.3°C (51°F) in July.
Major urban areas:
- Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and has approximately 120,000 inhabitants.
- Adjacent large municipalities are Kópavogur (30,000) and Hafnarfjördur (25,000).
- The larger Reykjavik Metropolitan Area has a total population of 200,000, which is around 62% of the total Icelandic population.
- This makes Iceland one of the most urbanized nations in the world.
- The largest towns outside of the larger Reykjavik Metropolitan Area are Akureyri (17,000) in N-Iceland and Reykjanesbær (14,000) in SW-Iceland.
- Flight times to Iceland are approximately 3 hours from major gateways in Europe and 5-6 hours from the East Coast of North America.
- Most travelers coming to Iceland arrive by scheduled international flights, landing at the international airport of Keflavik in Southwest Iceland.
- This airport is 50 km from Reykjavik. It is a border point for entering European countries under the Schengen Agreement.
- As Keflavík-airport lies in somewhat barren environment, many travelers’ first impressions of the country are scenes of mostly black lava with minimal vegetation. In fact, the Icelandic nature is much more diverse than first meets the eye.
- Besides the airport in Keflavik, there are two other international airports; one at Akureyri in North Iceland and another in Egilsstaðir in Northeast Iceland. They are used mainly for scheduled domestic flights.
- There is also an airport close to the city center of Reykjavik. That one is mostly used for domestic flights.
- Iceland is a parliamentary constitutional republic.
- The parliament (Alþingi) is a legislative body of 63 members, elected for a term of four years by popular vote.
- Most executive power rests with the government of ministers, supported by a majority of parliamentarians.
- The head of government is the prime minister.
- Normally, ministers are people that have been elected to the parliament. However, ministers can also come from outside of the parliament.
- Iceland has a president, elected by direct popular vote for a term of four years. The president has very limited constitutional powers.
- Judicial power lies with the Supreme Court and district courts.
- Icelandic is a Northern Germanic language, derived from the language spoken in Norway a millennium ago (old Norse).
- Icelandic has a strong resemblance to modern Norwegian, Danish and Swedish (and even more to the language spoken in the Faroe Islands).
- English is widely spoken and understood by Icelanders.
- Danish is also quite commonly understood.
- Both English and Danish are part of the compulsory school curriculum.
Society and economy:
- Iceland is a full member of the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United Nations (UN).
- Iceland has very strong relationship with the European Union (EU) through the EEA Agreement.
- Iceland has a free market economy and has relatively low corporate taxes compared to the EU and most other OECD countries.
- In general all citizens and companies from the countries within the EU and the EEA can work or offer services in Iceland and vice versa (reciprocal agreements).
- There are no special restrictions on foreign investment in the Icelandic energy sector, as long as the investment complies with the EEA regulations (derived from EU legislation).
- Certain limitations apply to foreign investment in some business areas, such as the Icelandic fishing industry.
- Despite recent economic troubles resulting from the global banking crisis and devaluation of the Icelandic currency, Iceland is one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world.
- Historically Iceland’s unemployment rate has been very low (usually below 3%). The economic troubles of 2008 resulted in unusually high unemployment rate (currently around 7%).
- Generally speaking, Icelandic education, healthcare, and social welfare systems have a strong resemblance to that of other Nordic countries.
- The Icelandic monetary unit is the Icelandic króna (ISK) or krónur in the plural form.
- Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). It does not have Daylight Savings Time.