What Makes Iceland Unique? Part 1- Capital Region, Southern Peninsula

Intro

If you’re anything like me, you know you love to travel, discover new cultures, and learn about the beauty in this wonderful planet we live on. Today I want to introduce (or reintroduce?) you to a beautiful, remarkable little Nordic country called Iceland. And it’s very apropos that we start with a look at the uniqueness of these two places: the Capital Region and the Southern Peninsula. You’ll be able to find more posts like this about many parts of the world in Earth’s Face.

I want to be real with you all: I haven’t been to these places or a majority of the places I’m going to write about in this series. It’s not a list of recommendations for your travels, since I can’t recommend a place I haven’t been to. This is part of a personal project of mine where I research the world’s state divisions out of pure pleasure, looking on maps, watching videos, and reading articles. I want to share what I’ve learned with you, and I encourage you to discover more for yourself. This is not a travel list. I am only sharing what to me seems to make these places unique in the world, to encourage you (and myself) to visit, or at least appreciate them.

What makes these two places so special, after all? Let me make my case…

Höfuðborgarsvæðið or the Capital Region highlighted red on a map of Iceland
Capital Region – By Karte: NordNordWest

Höfuðborgarsvæðið

Capital region: Quick Geography

So if you’re not Icelandic and you know anything about Iceland, you know it has some difficult place names to pronounce. I mean, just try and read that subheading. Ho-fud-bor-ga… and then just give up. If I could transliterate it to English it might be “Hofudburgersvedid,” but that’s not much easier. In simpler terms, this is the Capital Region, and it has a lot that makes it unique.

Hallgrímskirkja church building in the Capital Region, Reykjavik, discussing what makes Iceland unique
famous Hallgrímskirkja – by Yves Alarie

Just to catch up on some basic geography, this (you probably can tell by the name) is where the national capital, Reykjavík, is located, which is also the region’s capital. In southwest Iceland, it has a coastline with hills and mountains in the interior. It’s in sort of a mixed Alpine and Tundra zone, though these features run the same for pretty much all of Iceland. Okay, so what makes it stand out?

Features & Places

One thing right off the bat is that this region is home to the biggest, most populous city in Iceland. Most Icelanders live in or around the capital, which is of great importance. That’s because most of the major cultural, economic, and tourism stems out from this region specifically. There’s no better place to get an introduction to this awesome country and its people than to start in the Capital Region.

A building with interesting architecture in Reykjavik, discussing what makes Iceland unique
Cool architecture – by Michael Held
a street in Reykjavik painted with rainbow colors on the pavement and with small shops and apartments, discussing what makes Iceland unique
street in Reykjavík – by Square Lab

There’s so much art here. Besides the urban art, you also get a surprising amount of museums. This includes even the Phallological Museum, a quirky (or kinky) museum full of phallic imagery. Who’d have known? There’s also tons of unique architecture, like the cultural Nordic House, the Perlan, and a rad Voyager Ship sculpture/statue right on the coast. And I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the almighty Hallgrímskirkja, the tall iconic church building. I had to look up the spelling on that one.

Capital Region is also a primary shoot-off point for lots of outdoor excursions in the area. Besides the famous whale watching, there’s this vast sweeping landscape of mountains, lava fields, volcanoes, and gorgeous rock formations right outside of the cities. This contrast makes the region really unique within Iceland itself. Some very interesting natural places to check out would be Heiðmörk, Reykjanesfólkvangur, and Krýsuvík, to name a few. That last one is actually in another part of the region which is broken into two separate sections, also unique in Iceland. This goes all the way to the southern coast where there are these long sharp cliffs staring out over the North Atlantic. If I can say anything else, the Northern Lights are a stunning backdrop to the city and mountains beyond.

Krýsuvíkurbjarg cliffs over the ocean in Capital Region, discussing what makes Iceland unique
Cliffs at Krýsuvíkurbjarg – By Wojciech Strzelecki “Wojtrix”
Suðurnes or Southern Peninsula region highlighted red on a map
Suðurnes – By A Red Cherry

Suðurnes

Southern Peninsula: Quick Geography

This is easy. The Southern Peninsula is just below the Capital Region in the far southwest corner of Iceland. It sits on a peninsula (surprise!) and right on a continental divide between the North American and European plates. Its capital is called Keflavík, part of a larger municipality called Reykjanesbær. I know, the names! But you’re here so you love it.

a sweeping landscape with clouds, snowy rock fields and grassy plains, discussing what makes Iceland unique
open landscape – by Chris Liverani

Features & Places

A big chunk of Iceland is actually in this geothermal, volcanic hot spot zone. That explains all the spewing bubbling landscape stuff. The Southern Peninsula is no different, and there are lots of awesome geological features like the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs. Those are a stunning set of steamy blue pools ahead of an icy, rugged backdrop. There’s Trölladyngja, a type of volcanic system with alluring colors and rocks. Besides this, there many signs of the Viking past, such as the ruins in Selatangar.

the Blue Lagoon in Southern Peninsula, steaming blue hot springs in a snowy setting, showing what makes Iceland unique
Blue Lagoon – by Jeff Sheldon

Several artifacts are well-preserved in the Viking Museum, set just outside of Reykjanesbær. There’s even an Icelandic Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum there if you want to see that. Lastly, I want to mention the town of Grindavík. This place is a stunning coastal town with awesome natural features just outside of it. Throughout Iceland are unique cottages and lodging you won’t find outside of the Nordic world. The remoteness and quaintness of them mixed with the inspiring backgrounds all add to what makes these regions special.

Culture (AKA Last Thoughts)

These two regions are the perfect introduction to Iceland. They have an impressive amount of culture, art, and natural features. Being the prime places of settlement and tourism in the country, it’s easy to find tours or things to see. This is where you want to go to get a taste of mainstream (or not so much) culture and identity in Iceland. Most of the country’s famous and influential persons come from these two regions, and most immigrants come to them. This makes for a more international and diverse experience as well. These were also significant locations for early Nordic settlement and a base camp for the Vikings that would go on to reach North America well before Columbus. The rich mixture of historic and current Nordic culture is part of what makes the Capital Region and the Southern Peninsula unique.

a brightly colored landscape of fields and rock formations and a cloudy blue sky above
colorful Arctic landscape

**I want to personally thank you for reading! I love that you love learning and exploring. Please share any experiences you have in these regions of Iceland or if there is anything you would add to this brief list. And one last thing: Go out and explore your world! It’s a beautiful place.

4 thoughts on “What Makes Iceland Unique? Part 1- Capital Region, Southern Peninsula

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