Even though Iceland did not win the EURO 2016 football championship, this small country, separated from the rest of the continent by hundreds of miles of Atlantic waters, immediately became an object of interest and sympathy for sports fans and the international media. Even though Iceland is a homeland for just 300 000 people, it is also a homeland to surprising number of important cultural realities. Read on to get to know four of them!
Although the Icelandic national football team was the smallest participant in the EURO 2016 tournament, its team members won the hearts of European sport fans with their passion for the game
The homeland of creative musicians and cool festivals
Icelandic musicians do not lack creativity or originality. Recognized internationally for their music, Björk, Sigur Rós, Múm, and Of Monsters and Men are just a few of many examples proving this statement to be completely true. Music festivals enjoy great popularity all around the country, from big cities to small towns, and are a perfect chance for visitors to listen to great Icelandic music talents. One of the biggest events of this kind is the Iceland Airwaves festival that takes place every year in Reykjavík, promoting both established and emerging Icelandic musicians. The first show took place in the last year of the ‘90s and was thought to be a one-time event taking place in an airplane hangar at the Reykjavík Airport. However, it was so successful that it quickly gained a reputation as one of the top festivals for new music in the whole world! According to Rolling Stone, it is "the hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar". Why is it so awesome? Aside from great music performances, the enthusiasm and energy of the host nation make the event one of the kind.
One of the greatest hits recorded by Björk
The homeland of the Vikings
The beginning of Icelandic history was marked by settlement by Viking explorers. No wonder that the culture of the Vikings is kept alive in Iceland. There are many museums, culture centers, and festivals that commemorate the first men who set foot on Icelandic shores. One of these is the Vikingworld museum, located in the town of Reykjanesbær, with a stunning view overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The biggest attraction there is a Viking ship that was built in 1996 as a model of an authentic ninth century ship used by Vikings. Moreover, it was built with the same materials and by the exact same methods the Vikings used.
The builder of the replica, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson, sailed his Viking boat to New York in 2000 to celebrate the millennium of Leifur Eiríksson’s journey to the New World | ⓒ Leon Petrosyan / Wikicommons
The homeland of elves
Do you know that eighty percent of Icelanders either believe in supernatural beings or at least do not rule out their existence? According to polls, more than half of Iceland's population expresses a positive believe in elves and fairies while a quarter of Icelanders claim to have seen them. There is even a map with details about where the “hidden people”, as Icelanders call them, have been encountered. The elves, fairies, ghosts, and monsters that have persisted in the culture of Iceland from its folk traditions are thought to live among rocks, therefore sometimes the plans for new roads and housing projects need to be changed in order to avoid stressful situations for the supernatural beings. Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? Those who want to get to know the “hidden people” should visit the Icelandic Wonders museum, which is dedicated to Elves, Trolls, and Northern Lights.
Álfhóll (Elf Hill) is the most famous home of elves in Kópavogur. The road narrows in order not to disturb the elves | ⓒ Christian Bickel / Wikicommons
The homeland of ancient horses
Icelandic horses have been proven by archaeological research to be descendants of an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland. These small horses - sometimes even mistaken for ponies - came to Iceland with the first settlers about 11 centuries ago and are known for being sure-footed and able to cross rough terrain. They are used for farm work, but also for recreation. There are many companies offering tours throughout the country suitable for beginners. As Icelandic horses are used to difficult terrain, they are perfect for exploring what the country is most proud of – its unspoiled and indescribable scenery.
The homeland of unique scenery and wildlife
Explored by horse, on foot, or by bicycle, the scenery of Iceland is simply spectacular. Picturesque hillsides, glacial rivers, and volcanoes make up an uncanny landscape that will amaze the most demanding traveler. This small country has three national parks, each different but all equally stunning. One of them, Þingvellir, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and “The Birthplace of the Nation” as the oldest existing parliament in the world had its first assembly there, in 930. Those who visit Iceland between September and April will not only experience the well-known Arctic darkness, but also a phenomenon that makes it more bearable – one of nature’s most magnificent displays – the Northern Lights.