What makes Iceland unique? Part 3 – Northeastern & Northwestern Regions

If you haven’t noticed yet, Iceland has a lot that makes it a unique country in and of itself. Making our way around the island, this post will dwell a bit on the two northern regions. Being so far up there, these are the two parts of the country that reach closest to the Arctic. Here you can read parts one and two of Iceland. It’s a little colder and more remote so far north. But what is it that makes the Northwestern and Northeastern Regions so unique? Let’s start by getting acquainted with this part of Iceland, shall we?

Location of Northeastern Region (Norðurland eystra) on the map
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Location of Northwestern Region (Norðurland vestra) on the map
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Quick Geography: Norðurland Vestra & Norðurland Eystra

The names of both of these regions describe exactly where they stand on the map, and that goes for both in Icelandic and English. So, we at least know where they are. Common for subarctic countries, they also have some big fjords (though not quite like the Westfjords).

The capital of Northwestern is Sauðárkrókur (Saudarkrokur), and Akureyri for Northeastern. Both of these regions have pretty extensive coastlines and mountains, though there are some full-blown ice sheets down in the south of them. The northernmost points in both the island and the country of Iceland are in the Northeastern Region, where there are a few isles that reach above the Arctic Circle. Now on to the uniqueness!

Fjord and harbor with a scenic mountainous landscape around the town of Akureyri, capital of the Northeastern Region, Iceland
Public Domain

Features & Places

1. The Capitals

Since we already mentioned them, let’s just start with the capital towns. I know the names might be a little confusing, so I’ll just refer to them here as S-Town and A-Town. Both of these northern regions look to be quite rural and country, even for Iceland standards. Still, this gives these towns even more of a cozy feel within the country.

Not only are these towns surrounded by scenic landscapes like sweeping harbors and snowcapped peaks. Especially with A-Town, there are a couple of other places to see like the Into the Arctic center, Iceland’s Motorcycle Museum for those who like motor grease, and a quiet Botanical Garden for those who like to sit in nature.

2. Northwestern: The Countryside

Of course, there is plenty to see outside of the capitals. In the Northwestern Region, Blönduós and Skagafjörður (Skagafjordur) come to mind out of the many idyllic countrysides here. In the area, there are even more scenes of majestic nature and landscapes stooped with watery valleys. A very cool feature of both these regions is that you can find many of those traditional sod-roof Nordic houses covered in grasses. When the ice has melted away, these homes and cabins are a pretty sight to see.

Panoramic view east across Skagafjörður valley, from Vatnsskarð pass, Northwestern Region
Skagafjörður valley – By Debivort

3. Special Lakes

If you like lakes, this is your place! 😀 Well, there are some interesting bodies of water out here. In Northwestern is a big one called Lake Hóp. Something really cool about it is that there are parts that seem to be shallow where groups of people can ride across the water on horseback!

If that doesn’t spark your interest, then check out this other place called Askja. Now, Askja itself is an active volcano or a series of calderas, really. Besides the feeling of being way out in the central highlands of a country that’s already pretty isolated, there are also a couple of big crater lakes, including the very large Lake Askja herself. Big beautiful bodies of water surrounded by snow-powdered hills and steamy calderas has to make a case for Northeastern Region being a special one.

3. Dettifoss & Vatnajökull

Particularly in Northeastern, you can find a few second-placers of Europe. Two of these would be Dettifoss (considered the second-most powerful waterfall) and the Vatnajökull (second largest glacier). With that said, they are definitely in first place inside of Iceland’s watery borders.

By writing this, you can probably picture for yourself the powerful, roaring waters and vast sheets of rugged ice and frozen caves. The glacier itself does stretch across a few different regions, but the larger part of Vatnajökull National Park is in Northeastern which is exactly where Dettifoss Falls are located. Okay, done with that.

Culture

I noticed doing research that these places seemed to be even more rustic and rural than the other regions of Iceland. It looks like there’s a stronger horse and farm life culture out here, and that’s great for giving some separation from the rest of the country. This area was traditionally (and still is) the least contacted for being so far up top. This has allowed the region to preserve certain aspects of rural and traditional Icelandic life that have fallen away in other parts.

There are still lots of amazing places to see and explore, and I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface. Ride a horse on a lake, catch the 2nd-most powerful waterfall in Europe, and reach the Arctic. All can be done in the wonderful Northeastern and Northwestern regions of beautiful Iceland!

**Thanks again for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed learning more about these regions of Iceland with me. I appreciate your thirst for knowledge and interest in other worlds. Please take care of yourselves and have happy travels!

What Makes Iceland Unique? Part 2 – Western Region, Westfjords

Welcome back to another post about Iceland! We’re going to continue our curious quest to learn what makes different parts of the world stand out from all the rest. Moving on within the nation of Iceland, this post explores how unique the Western Region and Westfjords are. This isn’t really a travel list, more a letter of admiration for these two incredible places. You can read Part 1 about Iceland here. Check the links to discover more, or feel free to research some of these places for yourself. But read this first!

Hornstrandir area, a protruding rock formation on the coast, a unique place in Iceland's Westfjords Region
Hornstrandir – By Steenaire

Okay. What does make the Western Region and the Westfjords so special?

Vesturland

Quick Geography

As far as place-names go in Iceland, this one is about as simple as it gets. The Western Region is named so for being in the west. It sits just north of the Capital Region, with its capital at Borgarnes. It has coastlines, highlands, mountains, and glaciers like all the other regions do. The climate doesn’t differ much either. Okay, moving on.

the Höfrungur AK 91, a shored boat in Akranes, Western Region of Iceland
shored boat in Akranes – by Luke Hodde

Features & Places

Even though Borgarnes is the capital, the biggest town in the region is Akranes. Akranes is a coastal city with several interesting features like a lighthouse that looks spectacular underneath the sunset or aurora lights. There’s this ship from the 1950s called Höfrungur AK 91 that was just left on the shore and turned into a tourist attraction. There’s a sandy beach too, although the water’s a little chilly for diving.

It’s not the biggest, but Borgarnes is still worth the visit. The saving feature of this town is the majestic landscape surrounding it. There are winding peninsulas and harbors with snowy mountains in the backdrop. Like with most of the country, the elevation rises the further inland you go. With this, you can see an impressively tall waterfall called Glymur high above the surrounding canyons and tumbling birds.

Glymur, iconic waterfalls in the Western Region of Iceland
section of Glymur falls – by Alexander Milo

A mention of landscapes couldn’t go without Snæfellsnes. It’s a natural region on a peninsula that happens to be one of the most photographed and iconic parts of Iceland. There are these unbelievable rock formations covered in green pastures alongside roaring white waterfalls. The whole thing is like a fantasy setting. The coast is just as impressive with twisty stones and rugged shores alongside many uniquely shaped rocks. There are natural bridges, arches, and tunnels carved out by the constantly beating waves.

rock formations and a volcano in the background, part of Snæfellsnes area in Iceland's Western Region
Snæfellsnes region – by Martin Brechtl

In this same area is Snæfellsjökull, a big volcano that overlooks beaches and shorelines. It’s a pretty sight considering the glacier sitting on top of it, and even more amazing when the whole area is covered in snow during the winter. Inland you can see even taller mountains and larger glaciers. Isn’t that awesome?!

Vestfirðir

Quick Geography

The Westfjords are named so for being in the northwest of the country (naturally) and being full of fjords. It’s actually the part of Iceland furthest to the west and is the closest to Greenland. Its capital is a town deep inside a fjord called Ísafjörður. Now let’s see what you’ve got.

Dynjandi waterfall, a unique feature of Iceland's Westfjords
Dynjandi Falls – By Diego Delso

Features & Places

Now, the Westfjords or West Fjords — really you can write it either way — is a very pretty area similar somewhat to the Western Region. What makes it stand alone are its complex systems of fjords (imagine that!), cliffs, and very very twisty roads. These kinds of roads are famous and highly memorable for those that have driven them. The winding roads take you past some pretty amazing sights, including the mighty Dynjandi Falls. These suckers cascade over cliffs around the bend of some big road curves. Because of the rugged landscape, summer in these parts becomes really beautiful. As the snow melts, it creates all sorts of streams and waterfalls that run down into the ocean. One of the more interesting places to see this is in Ísafjörður, where the green and the streams really stand out around the edges of the town’s harbor.

Capital town and pretty scenery of the Westfjords region, Isafjordur (Ísafjörður), calm harbor in the summer time
town of Ísafjörður – By Sturlast~iswiki

The highest cliffs on the North Atlantic can be found at Látrabjarg. This place is a refuge for many sea birds like puffins that you can watch and get close to. The feeling of standing over the sea and watching birds fly under you must be an incredible sensation. The region is also full of green meadows that cover the hills and misty clouds that shift in between cliffs and mountains. The best showcasing of this unique beauty is found in Hornstrandir, an area with protruding mountains and cliffs like rhino horns that jut out over the sea. The setting is spectacular!

some high cliffs at Látrabjarg, Westfjords Region
Cliffs at Látrabjarg – by Einar H. Reynis

Culture (AKA Last Thoughts)

It’s easy to imagine why these regions are some of the most photographed and celebrated parts of Iceland. Just look up Iceland on Google Images and you’re bound to see a few locations from these iconic places. It goes to show from their almost unbelievable landscapes pressing right against the sea, their iconic winding roads, seaside volcanoes, and tall grassy cliffs. The Western Region and the Westfjords are definitely important for tourism, being not too far from Reykjavík. Still, they are remote enough to preserve the old customs and lifestyles while being open to welcome in newcomers. Go and check it out!

**Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning more about these unique regions of Iceland. I appreciate that you like to learn about the world and have a passion for exploring! Please share with us anything you’d like to add about these regions. What was the most interesting place on this list? Would you ever visit these regions? As always, take care of yourself. And go explore your world 😉

Weren’t the British the colonizers of the U.S.A.? – Colonization of the USA

This is a great question! After all, Americans mostly speak English. We’ve all heard about the original 13 colonies and how the British came to set up shop in the new continent. But the story goes a little deeper than that. Let’s look at some of the powers that had their hands in the American pie.

To start, there were a bunch of failed colonies along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts by the English, Spanish, and French early on (include Scandinavian Vikings if we really want to go back). The Portuguese and the Basques were also frequent visitors along the Atlantic in the 1500s and before, though they didn’t stop to settle.

The English/British

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of England.svg
  • the first to establish permanent colonies in the U.S. (not the continent, though)
  • had two main original settlements that grew and expanded out of New England and Chesapeake Bay
  • at first, were mostly groups like the Puritans seeking more religious freedom, or poor servants and farmers mostly from England
  • some colonies got lots of Irish-Scots settlers and expanded west into Native American territory, others got many more diverse settlers
  • we all know about the Atlantic slave trade

The main thing to think about with the British is that their culture, language, and society were the most influential early on in American history which is why the states maintained the English language and other cultural influences from the British after so long.

The Spanish

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  • established some of the first settlements still inhabited in the U.S., including the oldest at St. Augustine, FL
  • owned huge expanses of land in North America, including a portion of the Deep South and the whole western half of the current United States (mostly Luisiana or Alta California), even some areas of Canada, not to mention some territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • they either lost or gave up a lot of this land to England or the U.S. over the centuries
  • states Oregon, Montana, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida names all come from Spanish words, literature, or colonies

Spain had a pretty big cultural impact on the Gulf Coast and the American Southwest. Many place names (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Santa Fe, etc.), lots of architecture, and cultural events come from Spanish and Mexican traditions.

The French

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  • had lots of colonies spread out through the central U.S. and east Canada
  • had lots of fights against England and confusing conflicts and alliances with Native Americans, they later gave up most their land to the English or Americans

France also had a big impact on place names (New Orleans, Des Moines, St. Louis, Eau Claire, Vermont) and cultural events, such as Mardi Gras and Cajun culture in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

The Dutch

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Flag of Netherlands
  • set up colonies mostly in present-day New York and New Jersey
  • the British took over their main city, New Amsterdam, and changed it to New York, but Dutch culture stuck around in those rural areas for centuries after

The Dutch paved the initial way for America’s biggest and most iconic city. Some of its boroughs and surrounding towns are even named in honor of the Dutch (Brooklyn or Breuckelen, Staten Island or Staaten Eylandt, Harlem or Haarlem).

The Swedes

Flag of Sweden
  • made a small colony that only lasted 17 years before being sucked into New Netherland
  • the Bronx (after Bronck’s River) is named after a Swedish captain

Sweden’s colony was short-lived, but they introduced the first log cabins and some of the oldest churches to the future nation.

Also, let’s not forget Russia who colonized Alaska. The U.S. later purchased it, though, and most of the Russians left.

As you can see, there were a lot more European powers that settled the U.S. other than the English. Despite the obvious impact of the British here in the States, we also had a few other countries reaching in for a chance to colonize the future U.S.A.

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P.S. I know that the Native Americans were already on the continent, and the colonial powers took these lands away from them. This includes First Nations in Alaska and Polynesians in Hawaii, among others. This answer is just to focus on the aspect of European colonial and cultural influence in the U.S., not to focus on the destructive aspect of their settlement in the region.

Kenai Peninsula's Historic Russian Churches - Northwest Travel Magazine
Russian Church in Alaska: from here
Old Swedes Church - First State National Historical Park (U.S. National  Park Service)
Old Swedes Church, Delaware: from here
A Stroll Along State Street in Albany, New York —
Dutch architecture, New York: from here
Home Architecture 101: French Colonial
French colonial architecture, Louisiana: from here
Historic Architecture in California
Spanish architecture in California: from here
New England Architecture | Guide to House Styles in New England
English colonial architecture, New England: from here

Check out these resources and other articles here on CultSurf!

Colonial History of the United States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_history_of_the_United_States#Russian_colonies

First Arrivals of Europeans to Settle the U.S.: http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/settlement/text1/text1read.htm

Origins of New York City Borough Names: https://www.amny.com/news/nyc-boroughs-names-1-32096222/