Girl in a yellow rain jacket stands in front of a waterfall in south Iceland.

Iceland – A Short Guide

Iceland is one of the world’s most beautiful, fascinating, and culturally appealing locations. There is nowhere else on the globe quite like Iceland!

The Hotel Rangá team created an Iceland guide to get our guests ready for their upcoming visit. Keep reading to learn about our country’s unique culture, natural beauty and much more!

A photo at a waterfall in Iceland
Photo by Benjamin Hardman

Iceland manages what most other nations have failed at – to preserve the integrity of its history and culture while simultaneously moving forward with the times. At the same time, the incredible landscapes of this beautiful island remain relatively unspoiled. In fact, Icelanders strive to show respect and regard for the natural world. Visitors from around the world regularly fall in love with this utterly unique location. However, a place so different from the global norms is a bit of an unknown. Here, therefore, is a short guide to Iceland.

Iceland guide: the landscape

Geologically speaking, Iceland is really quite young. The island is one of the ‘newest’ pieces of land on the face of the planet. This is to say that it is a youthful 16-18 million years old (a baby, in geological terms). Its relative youth along with its positioning between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates means that Iceland has a lot of tectonic activity – but don’t worry! Most of this is only beneficial (its geothermal activity that blesses Iceland with its famed hot springs). In fact, the volcanic landscape is a great contributor to some of Iceland’s most breathtaking scenery.

Gjáin in Þjórsárdalur Valley in south Iceland
Gjáin in Þjórsárdalur Valley

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Iceland’s beauty is wild and rugged. The interior of the island is largely lava fields, which provide a hauntingly eerie yet tremendously beautiful alienesque landscape. Human settlement is concentrated around the island’s edges, where the might of the sea meets dramatic cliffs and green moorlands. It’s a haven for wildlife, photographers, and nature enthusiasts alike! Often at night, the sublime vistas of Iceland are lit by the flashing curtains of the Aurora Borealis.

Those who wish to explore (and who wouldn’t?) will probably need a car to take in Iceland’s best locations. You don’t need a special international driving license if your country is an EU member state, but you will need to have your vehicle properly insured. Alternatively, there are tour buses which run to many of Iceland’s most incredible areas!

Iceland guide: the culture

Iceland maybe a newbie as far as European settlements go, but its culture is still quite ancient. The first settlers made landfall in Iceland in the ninth century AD. They were Scandinavian explorers – ‘Vikings’, if you will – searching for new land, as the tribal and political situation in their native Scandinavia was going through a time of change.

The Saga Centre at Hvolsvöllur Village, less than a 10 minutes drive from our hotel.
The Saga Centre at Hvolsvöllur Village, less than a 10 minutes drive from our hotel.

Many of the famed Icelandic sagas relate to this time of political conflicts and the settlement of Iceland. The settlers brought with them a Scandinavian culture which survives and thrives in modern Iceland. Indeed, most modern Icelanders can trace their ancestry right back to the original settlers. Today, while retaining many of the cultural markers and traditions of their Viking forbears, the people of Iceland hold an open, friendly, and tolerant culture. They are welcoming, and pleased to aid visitors. They have a pride in their land which is palpable, and an in-depth knowledge of their own fascinating history.

The food

Icelandic food has a dubious reputation in the rest of the world. Given the nature of the landscape, the people of Iceland learned to be inventive with what they ate in the past.

Dishes like ‘hákarl’ – i.e. shark meat which has been fermented and left to rot for four or five months – are certainly an acquired taste. Then there’s singed sheep’s head – which looks deeply suspect to anyone used to more continental cuisine, but actually tastes rather nice.

Platter of hangikjöt, Icelandic smoked lamb.
Hangikjöt is Icelandic smoked lamb. Photo by Hreinn Magnússon.

Don’t worry, it’s not all this eclectic! Iceland does a wonderful line in smoked lamb – ‘Hangikjöt’ – and the seafood is simply to die for. Iceland is also quite cosmopolitan enough to be able to supply visitors with plenty of the kinds of foods they’re used to back home, as well, if you’re not feeling particularly adventurous.

Hotel Rangá even has its own Rangá Restaurant that features many local ingredients served with a cosmopolitan twist. Enjoy our famous wild mushroom soup, fresh caught fish and locally grown vegetables. In fact, every season, our chefs create a new seasonal menu.

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