Iceland is a fascinating place – culturally, historically and geographically – both as a visitor and as a resident, but the experience will be quite different if you choose to make it your home. If you can bear the long winters and the high rents, here are some of the best reasons to learn a few lines of Icelandic and start your adventure on this North Atlantic island.
Live in a progressive society
While the popularity of recent female empowerment movements such as #FreeTheNipple and SlutWalk have been extremely popular in Iceland, this tiny island has had a long and surprisingly radical women’s rights agenda. In 1850, Iceland became the first country to grant unconditional equal inheritance rights to men and women. Not long after that, women got the right to vote, in 1915, five years before women in the United States.
Inspiring landscape scenes
Iceland has an aesthetic beauty that is picturesque and sublime. There are many incredible places to choose from that will stay with you for the rest of your life. The immensity of shapes, forms and colours in the landscape are perhaps something that only poetry or other art forms can capture.
Iceland is unique in celebrating its native culture. In June each year, the Viking Village in Hafnarfjörður, the neighbouring town to Reykjavik, hosts the Viking Festival. This week-long event is a step back in time as most visitors are in full Viking costume, perfect for LARP enthusiasts. It features live battle scene reenactments by actors, storytellers sharing tales from the Icelandic sagas, workshops on how to make your own Viking-era crafts (such as spears) and activities such as axe throwing and bow shooting.
Abundant cultural activities
For such a small population – around 330,000 inhabitants – Iceland’s creative impact on the world has had a surprisingly profound influence; considering how isolated the country is both culturally and geographically, this makes the creativity it displays even more significant. In fact, creative industries in Iceland employ a larger proportion of the population than the fishing and agriculture industries combined, and, in turn, generate a larger percentage of the country’s GDP.
Plenty of nightlife
Iceland has a lot of nightlife to discover, both in the capital of Reykjavik and beyond. No matter what you decide to do during your visit, having a drink at one of Reykjavik’s many fun bars should definitely be on the list. Many of the bars in Reykjavik have their own unique atmosphere, with all kinds of events taking place throughout the week; there is also an abundance of quiet, relaxed places.
Pick up a new language
The North Germanic language spoken by the 330,000 native speakers is notoriously difficult to grasp, and rather strange-sounding to outsiders. However, the Icelandic language is a source of national pride, and Icelanders take great care in ensuring that it sustains itself, though younger generations speak Icelandic with many loan words from English. Living in Iceland, the only place in the world where Icelandic is spoken, would definitely be a unique experience and enable full immersion into this rare language.
Iceland is one of the rare places on earth where glaciers are abundant, making up 11% of its land surface, and there is ample access for hiking along the glaciers’ crevasses and walls. The immense beauty and force of this natural feature will become apparent on a glacier hike with guides who can advise you on traversing the ridges safely. There is also an abundance of other hiking trails in Iceland, as well as horse riding, skiing and fishing – no matter the season, there is always a way to enjoy the island’s nature.
Burgeoning foodie scene
Iceland’s cuisine has made several great strides over the past few centuries and has moved on from basic preparations of lamb, whale, puffin and cod. With no big shoes to fill in terms of gastronomy, unlike some other European countries, chefs are free to be their own creative masters. Thanks to the combination of artisanal ingredients with a bit of tradition and all kinds of global twists, the island now boasts a buzzing food scene.