Exploring the Unique Geography of Iceland

Northern lights by a waterfall in Þingvellir, Iceland

Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. The land formed due to volcanic eruptions along the ridge of the North Atlantic Ocean. Due to volcanic activity, deglaciation, and earthquakes, the land is constantly evolving. Iceland is located between latitudes 63-68°N and longitudes 25-13°W in Northern Europe, making it an ideal place to see the northern lights in the wintertime. Its eight geographical regions are the South, the Southern Peninsula, the Northeast, the Northwest, the West, the Westfjords, the East, and the Capital Region. The Highland of Iceland, a 42,000 km² [16,000 mi²] area of lava fields and mountains, takes up about 40% of the land. Approximately 25% of the country is under official protection, mainly as national parks. Vatnajökull National Park, Þingvellir National Park, and Surtsey island are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Population distribution in Iceland

Due to the Highland being uninhabitable, Iceland’s population of over 399,000 primarily lives along the coasts and surrounding islands. The capital, Reykjavik, and its suburbs host 64% of the population or about 255,000 people. Other large cities include Reykjanesbær, with a population of 23,000 and Akureyri, in the north of the island, with a population of 20,000. The rest live in smaller towns and rural communities. In addition, Iceland has over 30 islands, six of which are inhabited: Grímsey island, Hrísey island, Heimaey island, Flatey island, Vigur island, and Æðey island.

Gunnuhver, geothermal hot spring in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Gunnuhver hot spring.

Iceland’s energy and water

Iceland has an extensive amount of unpolluted freshwater resources. The tap water is fresh and ready to drink, and geothermal water is used to heat 85% of houses. Iceland is known for being the world’s largest green energy and electricity producer per capita. Iceland’s renewable energy provides almost 100% of its electricity production from hydropower and geothermal power.

The climate in Iceland

Iceland’s climate is classified as subarctic, with short, cool to mild summers and cold winters. In the capital region, the average temperatures in the summer are 10°C [52°F] and in the winter 0°C [32°F].

Lakes and waterfalls in Iceland

Iceland has over 60 lakes that exceed 2.5 km² [one mi²] in size. The largest is Þingvallavatn, with an area of 84 km² [32 mi²] and at its deepest point, 114 m [374 ft]. Out of thousands of mountains, the highest peak is Hvannadalshnjúkur, with its highest point at 2,110 m [6,920 ft]. Due to the many mountains and hills, you can find over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, the tallest being Morsárfoss in Vatnajökull National Park, towering at 240 m [787 ft].

The Icelandic Horse, Iceland
Photo: Golli.

The flora and fauna of Iceland

The only native wild mammal in Iceland is the Arctic Fox. Some of the more prominent animals include the Icelandic horse, the Icelandic sheep, the Icelandic sheepdog, cattle, goats, and 75 species of birds, including Atlantic puffins, skuas, and ptarmigans. Iceland has a rich marine life in its lakes, rivers, and oceans: over 270 species of fish, whales, dolphins, and seals. Fish is one of the country’s main exports, making it crucial to its economy.

Iceland’s greenery consists primarily of moss, downy birch, aspens, and flowers such as the Mountain Aven, Alaskan Lupine, and Marigolds. Despite the cold climate, geothermal energy makes it possible to grow vegetables and fruit outside, including potatoes, carrots, beets, rhubarb, cauliflower, and broccoli. Fruit grown outside includes wild berries like blueberries, crowberries, and redcurrants. Using geothermal energy, tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, and herbs are grown in greenhouses.

Volcanic Eruption in Reykjanes Iceland, 2023
Photo: Volcanic Eruption in Reykjanes Peninsula, 2023.

Iceland: The land of fire and ice

Iceland has 269 glaciers, including Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. This massive glacier is 8,100 km² [3,100 mi²] but sadly continues to decrease in size due to climate change.

In Iceland’s geothermal areas, there are hot springs and geysers. Forty-one volcanic systems are believed to be active in Iceland, the largest being the Bárðabunga system, responsible for most of the country’s largest lava fields. Some of Iceland’s most active volcanoes are Hekla, Katla and Grímsvötn. The volcanic systems on Reykjanes peninsula have had the most activity recently, erupting every year since 2021 after laying dormant for eight centuries. Its eruption on January 14th, 2024, caused lava to flow into the town of Grindavík. Three houses burned, but the town had been evacuated two nights prior. This was the first time lava entered an inhabited area since the eruption in Vestmannaeyjar islands in 1973.

 

Where Can I Do My Laundry in Reykjavík?

Laundry hanging outside in Iceland

Some accommodations in Reykjavík have laundry machines on the premises. For visitors who do not have access to laundry facilities, there are other possibilities, such as laundromats and dry cleaning services. You may be able to recognize these businesses by name, as most of the time, they include the Icelandic terms for laundry or dry cleaners: efnalaug and fatahreinsun.

Laundromats in Reykjavík

Wash Laundromat

In Reykjavík city centre on Grettisgata 3, you will find the self-service Wash Laundromat. This laundromat has new machines that take up to 10 kg [22 lbs] of laundry. As of 2024, the price is ISK 890 [$6.50, €6] for a wash, which includes a gentle detergent. It is the same price for 30 minutes of drying. Payment is by debit/credit card or coins. The laundromat has a seating area, but due to its central location, there is plenty to do to keep you occupied while you wait.

The Laundromat Cafe

Another laundry facility in downtown Reykjavík is The Laundromat Cafe on Austurstræti 9. As the name suggests, Laundromat Cafe is a coffee house with a laundry facility, which is located in the basement. The price is ISK 1,299 [$9.50, €8.70] for a wash and the same for drying. You can sit down and enjoy a snack or a beverage at the cafe while waiting for your laundry or use the time to explore the city centre.

Dry cleaning services in Reykjavík

Dry cleaners in the capital area, such as Úðafoss, Hraði and Fjöður, offer wash, dry and fold services in addition to their regular dry cleaning services. The rate for laundry is weight-based. Depending on your location, you may have the option of a pick-up/delivery service for an extra fee. Note that dry cleaners close earlier than the laundromats and are usually closed on Sundays.

 

Mixing Business with Beats, Play CEO Rejoins Metal Band Dimma

CEO of Play Birgir Jónsson rejoins Dimma

The CEO of the airline Play has announced his intention to rejoin the heavy metal band Dimma. His musical endeavours will, however, not affect his position at Play.

All work, all Play

Birgir Jónsson, CEO of the Icelandic airline Play, has decided to rejoin his old colleagues in the heavy metal band Dimma. Birgir, a drummer with experience in multiple bands, departed from Dimma in 2018 after being with the group since 2011.

“Life is strange and beautiful,” Birgir wrote in a Facebook post published earlier today. “I was offered the opportunity to rejoin my old mates in Dimma. Despite being very busy at work, I decided to go for it. We plan to play five to six concerts this year.”

Despite this decision, Birgir stressed that it would not impact his role as CEO of Play: “To clear up any doubts, I am definitely not leaving Play as it is my dream job.”

Dimma was founded in the early aughts by Icelandic brothers Ingólfur “Ingó” and Sigurður “Silli” Geirdal. The band has released six studio albums. Below, you will find a video of Birgir performing with Dimma at a 2014 concert at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall in Reykjavík.

As reported yesterday, PLAY has added two new destinations to their scheduled flights, Madeira in Portugal and Marrakesh in Morocco. The latter will be the first-ever destination in Africa for scheduled flights to and from Iceland.

How do I become president of Iceland?

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson outside the Bessastaðir Presidential Residence

Looking for a well-paid job in Iceland, which includes a spacious residence on the Álftanes peninsula and a fancy car with the exclusive number plate “1”? 

The race for the Icelandic presidency is on, and a job vacancy starting August 1, 2024, just opened up. But what are the requirements to run for president in Iceland? Read on to find out whether you’re a good fit!

Icelandic citizenship & being at least 35 years of age

If you think you need to be born in Iceland to become president, as is customary in many other countries around the world, there is good news!

Candidates are not required to be born in Iceland but must have Icelandic citizenship. For people who immigrated to Iceland, obtaining Icelandic citizenship is generally possible after living and having permanent residence here for seven years. There are multiple fast-track options to become an Icelandic citizen, like being a Nordic citizen or being married to an Icelander. You can check out all options here.

Another prerequisite is reaching the minimum age of 35 on election day, you know—life experience and all. 

Collecting a minimum of 1,500 signatures

If you fulfil these requirements above, then you can start collecting endorsements for your presidential candidacy. Luckily, this does not require collecting horrendous sums reaching millions of dollars like in the US elections. Each candidate must turn in at least 1,500 (up to 3,000) endorsements (basically signatures of support), which are proportionally divided by the number of voters in each quarter of the country. Each voter can only support one candidate.

Iceland has four voting quarters: 

  • Southern quarter: Minimum number of “signatures” is 1,233 and maximum number 2,465.
  • Western quarter: The minimum number of “signatures” is 56 and the maximum number is 112.
  • Northern quarter: Minimum number of “signatures” 157 and maximum 314.
  • Eastern quarter: The minimum number of “signatures” is 54 and the maximum number is 109.
Election Quarters Iceland
Voting Quarters in Iceland, graphic provided by Lands­kjör­stjórn (Island.is)

All of these endorsements are collected online via Island.is or old school via signatures on paper, which should include each supporter’s kennitala (Icelandic social security number) for easy verification. After the endorsements have been collected, the candidate turns in a notice of candidacy and their collection of endorsements to the National Electoral Commission.

The commission reviews each collection of endorsements after the deadline on April 26, 2024, and they announce the candidates 30 days before election day. In case there should be only one candidate, that person will be president without any election taking place.

This year, the presidential election will be held on June 1, 2024.

Read our 2018 interview with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson here.

Iceland’s New ID Cards Double as EEA Travel Documents

Registers Iceland's new ID card

Registers Iceland has introduced new ID cards as valid personal identification for all Icelandic citizens, featuring options for standard ID or travel documents within the EEA. Cards issued before January 1, 2013, expired on December 1, 2023, while those issued up to March 1, 2024, will expire by December 31, 2025.

Valid passports within the EEA

Registers Iceland has begun issuing new ID cards, available as standard personal identification or travel documents valid within the European Economic Area (EEA) serving as an alternative to passports.

Standard ID cards, which do not display the holder’s nationality, are not valid as travel documents. ID cards as travel documents can be used within the European Economic Area (EEA) instead of a passport and “contain a chip like passports and comply with international standards and EU regulation,” a press release on Registers Iceland’s website reads.

As noted on the website, the difference between ID cards as travel documents and passports is that passports are valid as travel documents to all countries worldwide. In contrast, ID cards are valid within the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Upgraded security features

The latest rollout of ID cards also introduces upgraded security features to address growing requirements for personal identification documents. These cards, now available in a user-friendly size, sport a refreshed design that is based on a new standard from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“Iceland is the first country in the world to issue documents according to this new standard. The main change is that the facial image is much larger, facilitating easier comparison with the cardholder,” Registers Iceland’s website notes.

The changes align with European Union regulations aimed at bolstering the security of personal and travel documents across the EU and EEA: “With the new issuance of ID cards, their security is being increased to meet the heightened demands made on personal identification documents, while also being conveniently sized and updated in design.”

The new rollout also addresses society’s increased demands for individuals to identify themselves with valid personal identification documents, which makes it necessary to accommodate groups that cannot present, for example, a driver’s licence.

“With the new ID cards, young people and other groups can prove their identity by presenting them, especially domestically.”

Must apply in person

Applying for the new ID cards requires a specific application process. Applications are submitted to District Commissioners along with embassies and consulates abroad, similar to passports.

“Even if an applicant has a valid passport with a photo, they must still appear in person at the application site, both domestically and abroad, to specifically apply for an ID card. The same photo as in the passport cannot be used,” Registers Iceland’s website notes.

According to Registers Iceland’s website, the new ID cards are valid personal identification documents that all Icelandic citizens can apply for regardless of age and use for identification. Older ID cards issued before January 1, 2013, expired on December 1, 2023, and cards issued from that time until March 1, 2024, will expire on December 31, 2025.

Over 100 Officers Involved in Major Crime Operations Yesterday

police station Hlemmur

Police conducted extensive operations yesterday due to suspicions of human trafficking, money laundering, and organised criminal activities. About 100 police officers nationwide were involved in the operations, which may be the most extensive ever undertaken.

One of the biggest operations of its kind

In one of the biggest operations of its kind, approximately 100 police officers participated in raiding numerous locations, homes, and businesses yesterday in relation to suspected human trafficking, money laundering, and organised crime activities.

As noted by RÚV, dozens of police officers, along with staff from the customs authorities, the Directorate of Immigration, and welfare and child protection agencies, took part in the operations, which targeted the businesses of Davíð Viðarson, a Vietnamese man (also known as Quang Lé) who owns several companies and restaurants in Iceland.

According to RÚV, Davíð is suspected of violating his employees’ rights. Among his businesses are the restaurants Pho Vietnam and Wok On, which were closed yesterday. At least five individuals have been arrested, according to RÚV’s sources.

The police actions included house searches, arrests, and interviews with potential victims of human trafficking. A special measure was also activated in collaboration with ASÍ (the Icelandic Confederation of Labour) and Bjarkarhlíð, a centre for victims of violence, to address this potential group of victims. No information is available on how many people belong to this group.

The police operations concluded at around midnight yesterday.

Up to 80% of Flocks Could Be Scrapie-Free in Next Five Years

icelandic sheep réttir

The ARR gene, associated with scrapie resistance, was recently discovered in sheep in West Iceland, igniting optimism for breeding scrapie-resistant herds. Experts estimate that with strategic breeding, up to 80% of sheep herds could possess the protective gene within four to five years.

A landmark discovery

In early 2022, researchers discovered several sheep from an East Iceland farm that carried the scrapie-resistant gene ARR. This was the first time the genotype had been found in Iceland, and genetic researchers recognised that the discovery could prove pivotal to winning the fight against the disease, which has plagued Icelandic farms for over a century.

As noted in an article in IR magazine, scrapie is not transmitted through bacteria or viruses but is believed to originate from a prion protein, which leads to a deadly, progressive disease that deteriorates the nervous system of the affected animals. Unlike bacteria and viruses, prions present a unique challenge, being almost indestructible. Before the discovery of the ARR gene, when the disease was diagnosed in a sheep, veterinarians would need to cull the entire herd – and sometimes even sheep from surrounding farms, as well.

As reported by RÚV yesterday, the ARR gene has now also been unexpectedly discovered in sheep in West Iceland, more specifically in Vífilsdalur in Dalasýsla. Further investigations of related livestock in the region revealed its presence on three additional farms: Háafell, Geirshlíð, and Sauðafell.

80% resistance over next four or five years

Speaking to RÚV, Eyþór Einarsson, a sheep farming consultant at the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre, suggested that the unexpected discovery of the gene gave reason for increased optimism in breeding scrapie-resistant sheep.

Eyþór noted that several farmers are now in the position to exclusively breed lambs that possess the protective, or potentially protective gene, ensuring that all lambs surviving the winter would carry the gene. He estimated, therefore, that these farmers could breed up to 80% of their herds with the protective gene within the next four to five years.

Eyþór added that with the gene being identified in this unrelated livestock — that is, in West Iceland — the process could be significantly accelerated. The unexpected discovery of the gene in the region raises hopes that it could be found more widely across the country; he encourages farmers to continue diligently sampling.

Eyþór also mentioned that a certain diversity was beginning to emerge in the stock carrying the gene. In addition to the two coloured rams previously identified, several yellowish ewes, both horned and polled, have now been added. This discovery should make it relatively easy to breed a colourful and diverse stock within a few years.