Location: island country in the North Atlantic Ocean
Iceland is an island of 103.000 km2 (39,756 sq.miles), about one-third larger than Scotland or Ireland. Its highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, rises to 2.119 m and over 11 per cent of the country is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest in Europe.
The climate of Iceland's coast is subpolar oceanic. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world. Regions in the world with similar climate include the Aleutian Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, and Tierra del Fuego, although these regions are closer to the equator. Despite its proximity to the Arctic, the island's coasts remain ice-free through the winter.
Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hot spot of volcanic and geothermal activity: 30 post-glacial volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating. Rivers, too, are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power.
Out of a population numbering more than 300.000, half live in the capital Reykjavík and its neighbouring towns in the southwest. Keflavík International Airport is located about 50 km from the capital. The highland interior is uninhabited (and uninhabitable), and most centres of population are situated on the coast.
In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world´s first republican governments; the Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence, and in 1944 the present republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althing (parliament), whose 63 members are elected every four years. four-yearly elections are also held for the presidency; President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was elected in June 1996 to succeed Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was re-elected in June 2000. The head of state plays no part in day-to-day politics.
Iceland has a long history, a rich culture and extremely resourceful and creative inhabitants. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that there are numerous museums in the country, focusing on a wide variety of themes. For visitors, this opens up whole new vistas of opportunity for finding out more about this unique island.
Many museums are dedicated to a particular theme, such as fisheries, ghosts, witchcraft, aviation, whales, textiles and handicrafts, theatre props, volcanoes, glaciers, photography, medicine, music, coins, stamps, individual Icelandic authors, etc.
Life expectancy, at 81.3 years for women and 76.4 for men, is one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive state health-care system aims to keep it that way.