ABOUT Iceland is Europe's westernmost country, the second largest island in the North-Atlantic ocean, a little over 3 hours flight from London, Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The first settlers came to Iceland from Norway and Ireland in the 9th century. Althingi, the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, was established in the year 930 A. D. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment and low inflation. Per capita income is among the highest in the world. In environmental terms, Iceland is unique. It is a large country 103,000 km, about the same surface area as Ireland or the State of Virginia, but is sparsely populated, with only 3 persons per km living mostly along the coast. The interior of the country contains stunning contrasts. It is largely an arctic desert, punctuated with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls. Most of the vegetation and agricultural areas are in the lowlands close to the coastline.
CLIMATE The climate of Iceland is cold oceanic near the southern coastal area and tundra inland in the highlands. The island lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, which makes the climate of the island more temperate than would be expected for its latitude just south of the Arctic Circle. The island averages around 0 °C (32 °F) in winter, while the highlands tend to average around −10 °C (14 °F). The lowest temperatures in the northern part of the island range from around −25 to −30 °C (−13 to −22 °F). The lowest temperature on record is −39.7 °C (−39.5 °F). The average July temperature in the southern part of the island is 10–13 °C (50–55 °F). Warm summer days can reach 20–25 °C (68–77 °F). The highest temperature recorded was 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) at the Eastern fjords in 1939. Annual average sunshine hours in Reykjavík are around 1300, which is similar to towns in Scotland and Ireland.
BEWARE Petty theft and anti-social behaviour can occur, particularly around bars where people gather late at night in downtown Reykjavik. Distances between towns can be great, roads are narrow and winding, and speed limits are low. Driving takes longer than you think. Drink/drive laws are strictly enforced. Alcohol limits are far stricter than UK levels. Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are severe.