Iceland’s precious ancient heritage lives in harmony with the most exciting innovations from today’s world of culture. From museums and art galleries to cutting-edge music festivals, you’ll find the arts are a part of everyday life.
The beauty of Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes is well-established among adventure travelers, but there is so much more to this unique island nation than meets the eye. The land of fire and ice also boasts an ancient heritage and quirky folklore that continues to shape the culture of Icelanders today.
Driving in Iceland, from food festivals to family traditions, there is much more to experience than the Northern Lights and exploding geysers. With an expert guide, you can see what life was like for Viking settlers at the National Museum of Iceland or get a deeper understanding of the world-famous Sagas.
As a literary nation, Icelanders take great pride in their literary heritage. Many are avid readers, and 1 in 10 Icelanders publish a book during their lifetime. They also love art, and the nation has many museums and galleries to showcase this, from modern and contemporary works to historical pieces.
Summer is all about music in Iceland, where the land that gave the world Bjork hosts a Secret Solstice festival to mark the longest day of the year, with 96 straight hours of daylight. As the days shorten in winter, men give gifts to their loved ones on Bondadagur (Women’s Day), and the country celebrates a twelve-night Christmas with festivities that include bonfires and fireworks.
One of the stops on Iceland’s Golden Circle, Geysir, is a sight. This well-known natural phenomenon is the namesake for the word “geyser,” and it’s not just a pretty sight to see; it’s also an important historical site, as it was the first location where the country’s parliament—the Althing—met.
Geysir was originally named Stori-Geysir and was the first geyser ever described in print, originating from the Latin verb geyser (to gush). It has eruptive cycles of around ten minutes, putting water high into the air with great force. It was the giant geyser in Europe at its peak and spouts more frequently than any other geyser on Earth.
While the eruptions are predictable, it’s still a magical experience. It’s a popular stop for tourists, but it’s possible to avoid crowds by visiting before 10 am or after 4 pm.
The geothermal area surrounding Geysir is like a bubbling cauldron, filled with belching mud pots of strange colors and hissing steam vents that give the place an otherworldly appearance. It’s an incredible sight and the perfect way to get a feel for Iceland’s geologically active underbelly. Strokkur, the geyser located just a few hundred meters south of Geysir, also erupts periodically with water and steam, reaching 30 meters.
When traveling to a new country, there are an infinite number of things that you can try and experience—from exploring the key monuments and natural sites to visiting the local, lesser-known attractions and, of course, trying the local cuisine and traditions.
Icelandic culture is a vibrant one that is evident in many ways. From their love of literature to their strong Viking roots, it is clear that the Icelandic people are proud of their heritage.
The food in Iceland is also very unique. This is because ingredients were scarce on the island during the early stages of settlement. Therefore, Icelanders developed a variety of dishes that are now considered very special. Thorramatur is a type of cuisine eaten during the ancient Nordic month of thorri (January and February on a modern calendar). It includes various offal dishes like rotten shark meat or Hakarl, putrefied duck breast or pig heads, singed sheep head jam, liver sausage, black pudding, and dried cod or haddock.
The puffin is a national bird of Iceland, which is evident in how it is treated. Although the IUCN has added Atlantic puffins to the endangered list, it is still legal to hunt them, and they can be found throughout the country. The Latrabjarg cliffs in the Northern part of the country are known for their puffin colonies, and you can see them all year round. They are often served smoked, giving the tender dark meat a flavor of game bird and salty fish.
Icelanders are proud of their history and ties to Viking culture but aren’t still in the past. Modern Icelanders are a stylish, tech-savvy bunch with many relaxed customs that might seem strange to an outsider. This is especially true when it comes to food.
For example, a famous Icelandic dish is hakarl, a fermented shark meat with a pungent smell and an acquired taste. It’s available year-round in Icelandic grocery stores and restaurants, but first-timers are advised to pinch their nostrils while chewing. It’s also recommended to drink a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic spirit, along with it.
Then there’s kjotsupa, a hearty lamb meat soup that contains stricter parts of the animal mixed with various Icelandic vegetables and herbs. It’s perfect to have during the colder months as it will warm you from the inside out.
Another unique Icelandic cuisine is plokkfiskur, a fish stew that’s very popular among locals. It’s made with a white fish mix, potatoes, milk, flour, seasoning, and other possible ingredients. It was initially a way for the Vikings to preserve food. Icelanders love this dish to this day, and it’s also an excellent option for those looking for healthy options. So, try it out on your next trip to Iceland!
Kimberly Fisher is a Pursuitist contributor. As a freelance writer and on-camera host, Kimberly has traveled the world and has published over 400 articles in over 44 publications including Sherman's Travel, Huffington Post, JustLuxe, Luxury Lifestyles UK, eHow, Examiner, Food Wine Travel Magazine, Luxe Beat, NiteGuide, Ocean View, and USA Today. Disclosure: Kimberly is under contract with Casa Del Sol.