Out in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean lies an island nation that is home to about 320,000 people spread over an area of about 40,000 square miles. What is it? Iceland, of course!

Iceland is a large island. In fact, it’s the world’s 18th largest island. Most of the population, however, lives in the southwestern part of the country, in or around the capital city of Reykjavik. Most other areas of the country are sparsely populated.

By its very name, you’d expect Iceland to be mostly ice. Looking at Iceland on a map, you’ll notice it sits just outside the Arctic Circle. Despite this location and its name, Iceland actually has a temperate climate, because it is warmed by the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream also helps keep Iceland’s coastal ports ice-free through the winter.

There is plenty of ice on Iceland, though. The interior of the country consists of a large plateau that features fields of sand, mountains and glaciers. Over 60% of Iceland is tundra. About 14% of Iceland is lakes and glaciers. Only about 23% of the country has plants or vegetation of any kind.

Many glacial rivers flow to the ocean through the lowlands near the coast. Iceland’s long coastline also features many fjords. In addition to lakes and glaciers, Iceland also has active volcanoes and geysers.

Iceland was settled in the late 800s and early 900s by Norsemen from the Scandinavian country of Norway. Other settlers also came from Ireland and Scotland, giving Iceland Celtic roots in addition to its Norse roots.

From the 13th century up until 1918, Iceland was part of the Norwegian and later Danish monarchies. For most of that time, the small Icelandic population relied upon fishing and farming to make a living. For hundreds of years, Iceland was one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

After World War II, international aid and industrialization of the fishing industry turned Iceland into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. In 1994, Iceland became part of the European Economic Area, which allowed its economy to diversify and grow even more.

Iceland boasts one of the youngest islands in the world. Surtsey rose out of the ocean during a series of volcanic eruptions between 1963 and 1968. Today, only scientists who study the growth of new life can visit the volcanic island of Surtsey.

36 Join the Discussion

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  1. That’s super cool! I have heard about Iceland but never knew so much about it. You guys always put a lot of facts for us in there and I really like learning new things so thanks. I loved the video.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about a book like Hunger Games, or a secret about how you do all this.

    • WOW, how WONDERful that you have been WONDERing with us about Iceland, Wondergirl101! Thanks for letting us know what you love about Wonderopolis! It’s just so much fun to hang out and Wonder with super friends like you!

      We can’t wait to find out what tomorrow will be… until then, have a terrific Thursday! :)

  2. Hi wonderopolis! I think Iceland is SUPER cool!!! The church was absolutely beautiful! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about cards or origami.

    • Hey there, Just Zoey! We’re so glad you shared your comment with us today! :) Thanks for letting us know how much you enjoyed today’s Wonder– that makes us so happy! We hope you’ll get to visit Iceland in the future, but it’s fun to Wonder about it even if we’re not there! Thanks for sharing your SUPER guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®! :)

  3. We loved the video. The landscapes were beautiful and made us feel like we were dreaming. Some of the landscapes looked like they were paintings. The video was so realistic that we thought we were there. The video inspires us to research more on Iceland.
    We do have a few more questions, which we hope you can help us answer:
    1. We saw in the article that only scientists can visit. Is that still true today?
    2. Do people still live there?
    3. Are there any animals that you can find only on Iceland?
    4. We noticed the beautiful colors of the sky and how low the clouds were. What makes the sky those colors?

    • YIPPEE, our Wonder Friends in 4th grade are here today! :) Thanks for telling us about your favorite parts of today’s cool Wonder!

      We are very impressed with the great questions you came up with, Wonder Friends! The volcanic island called Surtsey only permits scientists to visit it, but there are plenty of people who live in Iceland right now! We Wonder if you can do some WONDERing of your own about the animals who call Iceland home!? We’d love to hear about what you find! Finally, we think you’ll enjoy this Wonder from the past… it includes information about why the sky is blue (and other colors, too)!

      Wonder #306– Why Is the Sky Blue? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-is-the-sky-blue/ :)

  4. We wonder if this is true…
    Faith, a student in our class, says that legends has it that Pirates named Iceland and Greenland, they buried their treasure on Iceland, which is really Greenland. They did this to keep their treasure safe.

    • We’d love to visit Iceland in the future, too, Bryleigh! We think it would be a very cool adventure! Thanks for letting us know today’s Wonder was a “thumbs up” in your opinion! :)

  5. Madie thinks Iceland looks like a really “COOL” place and she would like to visit it. Kat thought it was cool to learn about geysers. We looked at pictures of various geysers and learned about “Old Faithful”. Kaitlyn felt badly that they were such a poor country, but she’s happy that they have changed now. Garrett wonders if the people of Iceland lived off the land happily. We assume they ate fish before it became a commercial industry. Were people happier before the change in their economy or are they happier now?

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about origami (YODA!!), paper airplanes, Darth Paper, homework, Fortune Wookie, fortune cookies, or making paper footballs.

    • We are so excited that our friends in Mrs. Ski’s AM class are here today– HOORAY! We bet Iceland would be a great place for WONDERING, too! Thank you, Madie, Kat, Kaitlyn, and Garrett for sharing your thoughts and Wonders about Iceland today! You’ve learned so much!

      We haven’t talked to any one that lives in Iceland to ask them if they are happier today, but there are a lot of people that live there, so we hope they enjoy their home!

      Thanks for sharing all those SUPER guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder… we can barely contain our excitement! :)

  6. Merhaba! This means hello in Turkey. We love learning about other countries. We read about Iceland this week in our reading book called, Nights of the Pufflings. What a cool video.
    We’ve read about the animal pufflings and how they are found around Iceland. They’re nicknames are “Clowns of the Sea”.

    See you next week!

    • WOW, thanks for saying hello in Turkish! How cool, Third Grade Braves! It’s so cool that you have been reading a book that takes place in Iceland– what a WONDERful coincidence! :)

      See you soon, Wonder Friends! :)

    • We’re sorry to hear that, Ashley! Sometimes the Internet connection can be slow when you’re in a place like a library, school, or other place with lots of people. Perhaps you can check out the Wonder later in the day from another Internet connection? We hope you have a SUPER day! :)

  7. We thought today’s wonder was “Cool” in many ways. Max was intrigued by the picture of a traditional house in Iceland. He wants to know how the roof is cared for. Specifically, do they have to mow their roofs? This reminded Jacob of a book he read about a volcano and a farm in Mexico. JD wonders if there’s a certain part of Iceland where you can see the Northern Lights? Kaden wonders how cold winters are in Iceland.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about printers, origami, Origami Yoda, paper airplanes, or paper.

    • WOW, our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Ski’s PM Class have been doing some great WONDERing of their own! WAY TO GO!

      We’re not certain how to maintain the grass on top of the roof (perhaps you can Wonder, Max), but we do know it keeps the house warmer, like insulation! Jacob’s book sounds cool– we think volcanoes are so interesting! JD, you’ll have to go to the Southern half of Iceland to see the Northern Lights, but they can be unpredictable according to many travelers! Kaden, make sure you bring lots of warm clothes if you’re traveling to Iceland for the winter! It depends which part of the country you’re in, but it can be anywhere from -22 degrees F to 32 degrees! Phew! See you tomorrow, Wonder Friends! :)

    • WOW, we thought today’s Wonder video was very powerful, too Carlee C! It’s incredible to learn about cool places– maybe you’ll visit Iceland one day! :)

  8. Hi Wonderers.

    We are a homeschool family in Texas and know what, we are half Icelandic. Mom is from Iceland so we get to visit every other year. Last summer we spent three months in north west Iceland. One of our favorite things to do is to swimm in Iceland’s many geothermal pools. In Texas you swim in the summer to stay cool, in Iceland you swim to stay warm. Iceland has its own Icelandic horse and if you ever get the chance, ride one.
    Iceland is a place where kids still can run to the store for their mom, ride bikes to and from school, play all sorts of games outside with the kids on the street, go swimming on their own when they are 10 and other things we never get to do here in Texas.
    We loved seeing all the fun questions and think about what questions we would have about other countries.
    So to answer some of the questions; Iceland’s coast was invaded by pirates in the early 1600s. I don´t think they left any tresures but they stole many things and many people that they sold in to slavery in Algeria.
    The roofs on the traditional Icelandic home does need to be moved and watered but the compact turf provides great insulation from the cold 8 months of winter.
    After the resession Icelanders are quite happy, but it is hard to say if they are happier, Icelanders tend to be happy.
    One thing striking about the Icelandic language is the llllooooonnnnggggg words it has, so we will conclude by saying “happy Thanksgiving” here we go “gleðilega þakkargjörðarhátíð.”
    Ísold Anna, Finn Björn, Hinrik Fróði og Bríet Vala.

    • WOW, we are smiling ear-to-ear thanks to our new Wonder Friends in Texas! Thank you so very much for sharing the history about Iceland with all of our Wonder Friends– it is so cool to Wonder with new friends!

      Iceland sounds like a great place, and lots of us hope to visit the beautiful country in the near future! It’s interesting that many of us go swimming to cool off, but in Iceland you might swim to stay toasty!

      Thanks for answering some other Wonders that our friends asked today! What a SUPER example of a true WONDERer! Have a fantastic day!! :)

    • That’s so cool, Sadieorinko! Another Wonder Friend mentioned that today’s video was very touching, too! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

    • We bet Iceland is a very cool, beautiful place to live, too, Janhavi! We are so glad that our Wonder introduced you to a brand new place– maybe you’ll live there in the future! Have a SUPER day full of exploring, Janhavi! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How cool is Iceland?
  • Who settled Iceland?
  • Would you like to live in Iceland?

Wonder Gallery

IcelandVimeo Video

Try It Out

Would you want to live in Iceland? Why or why not? The northernmost parts of Iceland extend beyond the Arctic Circle and occasionally experience the midnight sun. This means that at midnight local time, you can still see the sun!

Do you think it might be fun to live somewhere where the sun was out past midnight at certain times of the year? If the sun was out at midnight where you live, what would you do with those extra hours of sunlight?

Write a journal entry or a poem about what you would do at midnight in the sunlight. If you prefer, you could also create a drawing or another type of art to show what you would do to make the most of that extra sunshine.

When you’re finished, share your writing or work of art with your other Wonder Friends on Facebook. We can’t wait to read about or see the creative ideas you have for what to do when the sun is shining at midnight!

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Viking Longhouse Science Update, hear how the discovery of a longhouse points to Vikings being in the new world long before Columbus.

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