What Continent is Iceland In?

The island of Icelands sits of the ridge of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Iceland is an island nation. The main island that makes up basically all of Iceland is the 18th largest on Earth, being about the size of the state of Kentucky. With a population of around 332,000 people, Iceland is also one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth. Iceland also sits at a geographical crossroads.

The Location of Iceland

Iceland is located closest to Greenland, which is about 173 miles (280 kilometers) to its east. A remote nation-state, the next closest countries to it are the Faroe Islands and Scotland, which are located about 248 miles (400 kilometers) and 497 miles (800 kilometers) to is southwest respectively.

The country is located at the meeting point of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, while also being split between the North American and European continents. This is because the mid-Atlantic ridge runs right down the middle of the country and splits it in half between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The country is very volcanically active due to the mid-Atlantic ridge literally pulling it apart. Despite its location and name, Iceland actually has a temperate climate due to it being warmed because of the Gulf Stream.

History of Iceland

While the location of Iceland may make some question which continent it should be a part of, its history and culture make it considered to be a part of Europe and not North America. According to tradition and the Landnámabók, which is a medieval work describing the Nordic settlement of the island, Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson led the first permanent Norse settlers to the country in 874 AD.

Ari Thorgilsson (1067-1148), the most prominent medieval chronicler in Iceland, said that a few “Papar” (Irish monks and hermits) had been living on the island prior to Arnarson's arrival but that they soon left as they did not want to live with the new Norse pagan arrivals. Over time, more Norwegians and to a smaller extent other groups of Scandinavians arrived on the island.

Around the year 930 the Alþingi (Althing), the national parliament of Iceland was established, forming the Icelandic Commonwealth (c.930-1262). In 1262, the Commonwealth ended when the Old Covenant was signed between the major chieftains of the Island and King Haakon IV of Norway (c.1204-63).

This brought Iceland into a union with Norway, which would eventually be joined with Denmark in 1380 when Olaf II Haakonsson (1370-1387) became the King of both Norway and Denmark. This was later expanded as the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and their territories joined together in the Kalmar Union (1397-1523). When the Kalmar Union broke up, Iceland remained a part of Noway as part of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway (1523-33, 1537-1814).

In 1814, Denmark-Norway was broken up with the Treaty of Kiel, which gave Norway to Sweden and saw Iceland and other Norwegian areas remain as dependencies of Denmark. In 1918, the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union was signed, creating the Kingdom of Iceland (1918-1944) as a sovereign state in a personal union with Denmark. In 1944, as part of the act ending a national referendum was held. Citizens of Iceland overwhelmingly voted to have the country become the fully independent republic that it is today.

More in World Facts