Despite being an isolated island country—or perhaps because of it—Iceland has developed a rich and varied culture that invites travelers to come and experience. Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. During your Iceland cruise you are such to notice the passion Icelanders have for literature and the arts. Iceland’s literary heritage dates back to the 12th century and has been captured in the heroic poetry that was written during that time. Icelandic poetry was followed by epic sagas of settlement, vendettas, mythology, and romance. In modern times, several of the island’s writers have gained international acclaim, most notably 1955 Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, for his novel Sjálfstætt folk (Independent People).
Iceland’s long artistic history began with several centuries of religious art, with secular artists coming into their own in the 19th century. Much of the artwork was centered on the beauty and uniqueness of the landscape. On a trip to Iceland today, you will find that painting is still an important part of Iceland’s artistic culture. Traditional arts such as silver working, weaving from Icelandic wool, and woodcarving also hold a significant position in the local culture.
Björk of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes may be Iceland’s most famous singer. Due to the success of various Icelandic pop singers, in recent years Reykjavik has become an important performing center for musicians throughout Europe. Icelanders also have a rich classical music tradition. If you have time during your Iceland cruise, enjoy the popular Iceland Symphony, or the National Theatre and Icelandic Opera.
A tour of Iceland presents the country’s history, well preserved in old houses and ruins throughout the country, largely due to the work of the National Museum of Iceland. The museum exhibits artifacts dating back to the Viking Age. One Viking cultural artifact that is still enjoyed today by many Icelanders is chess—chess clubs proliferate throughout the country and have produced a number of world-class grandmasters.
Ninety-five percent of the population consists of Icelanders, which are a homogenous mixture of Norse and Celts, while the remaining five percent is of foreign origin. Because of its homogenous population, Iceland has been the subject of various genetic studies in recent years. Icelandic is the country’s primary language, and is closest in origin to Old Norse, but on a trip to Iceland you will also hear English, German, and other Nordic languages spoken. Iceland’s religion is as homogenous as its people and its language, as the Reformation took firm hold in the country in the mid-1500s. Ninety percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Church of Iceland.
Icelanders take pride in their independence and self-reliance, developed out of necessity due to their country’s relative isolation. The people engage in a variety of sports, from wrestling, swimming, horseback riding, ice and rock climbing, fishing, and kayaking. The rugged landscape of Iceland makes it a wonderful spot for rock climbers, and some brave souls on their Iceland cruise will enjoy the challenge of making their way up frozen waterfalls and glacial crevasses. Fortunately, Iceland has hundreds of hot springs and geothermal pools to soothe strained muscles and tired bodies.