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Guide to Iceland Travel: Geography & Climate

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Many travelers visit Iceland year-round. Arctic cruises tend to embark in the summer months, when the air temperatures are slightly warmer on average. But given Iceland's relatively temperate climate and minor seasonal fluctuations, this has become a year-round destination for land tours to Iceland.

Iceland by the Seasons

Summer is by far the most popular time to travel to Iceland. The midnight sun makes for 24 hours of light, and hotter temperatures in general with average temperatures in Reykjavik being around 50 F and highs up to mid-70s.  Most of the country is more accessible and you don't have to worry much about a storm interfering with your plans. That being said, the larger tourist crowds at all of the main sites, as well as the higher prices for just about everything do give summer its setbacks. Try visiting in Spring instead. While the days may not be as long and the weather is not quite as warm and predictable, it does still offer a close comparison without the large crowds and high prices. Fall can be a very unpredictable time of year, with storms putting the day's plans at risk of being canceled. Fall is typically the wettest time of year, and therefore not recommended for camping or hiking trips. The fall colors can be beautiful, and you can see a good number of calm and beautiful days, so if you are not tight on time and able to be flexible, this can be a great time to visit. Fall (as well as late winter) are two of the best times for spotting the Aurora Borealis as well. Wintertime also has its pros and cons. While the weather is colder (average winter temperatures in Reykjavik are around 30 F) and roads can become impassable after a snowstorm, the lights glistening off the snow and the spectacle of Christmas lights against the white backdrop can make it a magical time to travel to Iceland. Be prepared for the lower temperatures and more rugged climate, but winter can also offer immense beauty.
 

Geography

Iceland is a volcanic island, about the same size as Portugal or the state of Kentucky, and is located just south of the Arctic Circle in the Atlantic Ocean east of Greenland. It is situated above the confluence of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and rests along the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates diverge. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs across Iceland from southwest to northeast and it is believed the island is growing by about 5 cm per year as the fissure splits apart adding more land mass.  Iceland is a hotspot for geologic activity and is believed to be one of the youngest landmasses on the planet. Its location over a hotspot creates many volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and naturally existing geysers.

Roughly half of Iceland is volcanic desert, with most of that being located in the Central Highlands area which is largely uninhabited. An estimated 10% of Iceland's land mass is also covered by glaciers, though they are in retreat.  The island mainly consists of plateau, mountains, and fertile lowlands. Few birch forests exist, however a reforestation project is underway to try and replenish them.

Only about a fifth of the country is used for grazing and pasture lands down near the populations bases along the coastlines, and only 1% of the entire island is used for cultivation.

Most settlements are located in the southwest of the country leaving roughly 80% of the island is uninhabited. As one of Europe's largest islands (second after Great Britain only) it is also one of the world's most sparsely populated countries.
 

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