The origins of Icelandic culture may be found in North Germanic traditions. Icelandic literature, particularly the sagas and eddas produced throughout the High and Late Middle Ages, is well-known. Centuries of isolation have helped to protect Iceland’s Nordic culture from other influences; one notable example is the preservation of Icelandic, which is the closest contemporary Nordic language to Old Norse.
In comparison to other Nordic countries, Icelanders place a high value on independence and self-sufficiency; according to a European Commission public opinion poll, over 85 percent of Icelanders believe independence is “very important,” compared to 47 percent of Norwegians, 49 percent of Danes, and an average of 53 percent for the EU25. Icelanders also have a strong work ethic, putting in some of the longest hours of any developed country.
According to an OECD survey, 66 percent of Icelanders are happy with their lives, with 70 percent believing that their lives would continue to be satisfactory in the future. Similarly, compared to the OECD average of 72 percent, 83 percent of Icelanders reported having more good than negative events in a typical day, making Iceland one of the happiest nations in the world. According to a more recent 2012 poll, almost three-quarters of respondents said they were happy with their life, compared to a worldwide average of approximately 53%.
In terms of LGBT rights, Iceland is a liberal country. The Icelandic parliament enacted legislation in 1996 that established registered partnerships for same-sex couples, granting them virtually all of the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, parliament overwhelmingly decided to provide same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in the areas of adoption, parenting, and assisted insemination. The Icelandic parliament changed the marriage legislation on June 11, 2010, making it gender neutral and defining marriage as a relationship between two people, making Iceland one of the first nations in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The legislation went into force on June 27, 2010. Registered partnerships for same-sex couples are no longer available as a result of the legal change, and marriage is now their sole choice, just as it is for opposite-sex couples.
Icelanders are renowned for their strong feeling of community: according to an OECD study, 98 percent of Icelanders think they know someone who can help them in a crisis, which is greater than in any other industrialized nation. Similarly, just 6% said they socialized with others “occasionally” or “never.” This high degree of social cohesiveness may be ascribed to the population’s tiny size and homogeneity, as well as a long history of hard survival in an isolated environment, which has emphasized the need of unity and collaboration.
The people of Iceland place a high emphasis on egalitarianism, with economic inequality among the lowest in the world. Noble privileges, titles, and rankings are expressly prohibited under the constitution. Everyone is referred to by their given name. Equality between the sexes is extremely strong in Iceland, as it is in other Nordic nations; it is regularly rated among the top three countries in the world for women to live in.
The unique depiction of the Icelandic landscape by its artists may be connected to nationalism and the mid-nineteenth-century struggle for home rule and independence.
Pórarinn Prláksson, who returned to Iceland after receiving formal art instruction in the 1890s in Copenhagen, painted and exhibited works almost entirely depicting the Icelandic landscape from 1900 until his death in 1924, is often credited with establishing contemporary Icelandic painting. Several other Icelandic men and women painters trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at the period, notably sgrmur Jónsson, who collaborated with órarinn to produce a unique romantic realistic depiction of Iceland’s environment. Other landscape painters soon followed in órarinn and sgrmur’s footsteps. Jóhannes Kjarval and Jlana Sveinsdóttir were among them. Kjarval is known for his unique paint application methods, which he created in a deliberate attempt to depict the distinctive volcanic rock that dominates the Icelandic landscape. Einar Hákonarson is a figurative and expressionistic painter who is credited with bringing the figure back into Icelandic art. Many Icelandic painters dealt with the topic of new painting in their work throughout the 1980s.
In recent years, creative activity has expanded, and the Icelandic art scene has hosted many large-scale projects and exhibits. The artist-run gallery Kling og Bang, whose members subsequently founded the studio complex and exhibition venue Klink og Bank, has been a key element of the self-organized spaces, exhibits, and projects movement. The bigger, more established organizations organizing exhibitions and festivals include the Living Art Museum, Reykjavik Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavik Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Iceland.
Many aspects of Icelandic music are linked to Nordic music, such as vibrant folk and pop traditions, medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative and indie rock bands The Sugarcubes and Of Monsters and Men, jazz fusion band Mezzoforte, musicians Björk and Emilana Torrini, and post-rock band Sigur Rós. Lofsöngur is Iceland’s national anthem, penned by Matthas Jochumsson and set to music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson.
Traditional Icelandic music has a significant religious element to it. Due to the lack of musical instruments throughout most of Iceland’s history, hymns, both religious and secular, are a particularly well-developed genre of music. In the 17th century, Hallgrmur Pétursson composed a number of Protestant hymns. Magns Stephensen introduced pipe organs to Icelandic music in the 19th century, which were followed by harmoniums. Epic alliterative and rhyming ballads known as rmur are another important genre in Icelandic music. Rmur are a cappella epic stories with rich metaphors and sophisticated rhyme systems that may be traced back to skaldic poetry. Sigurur Breifjör (1798–1846) was the most well-known rmur poet of the 19th century. With the establishment of Iunn in 1929, a contemporary revival of the tradition started.
Bubbi Morthens, Megas, and Björgvin Halldórsson are examples of Icelandic current music. They range from pop-rock groups like Bang Gang, Quarashi, and Amiina to solo ballad singers like Bubbi Morthens, Megas, and Björgvin Halldórsson. mm, The Sugarcubes, HAM, Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Rós, Sóley, and Viking metal band Skálmöld, as well as individual musicians Emilana Torrini and Mugison, are all examples of Icelandic independent music.
Outside of Iceland, several Icelandic jazz artists and jazz ensembles have developed a reputation. Mezzoforte, a jazz fusion band, and Anna Mjöll, a jazz singer living in Los Angeles, are two of the most well-known. Many Icelandic musicians and bands have achieved worldwide success, including Björk and Sigur Rós, as well as Quarashi, Hera, Ampop, Mnus, and mm. The biggest music festival is undoubtedly Iceland Airwaves, an annual event on the Icelandic music scene in which Icelandic and international artists perform for a week in Reykjavk’s clubs. Thor and GusGus are two examples of electronic artists.
Danel Bjarnason and Anna S. orvaldsdóttir (Anna Thorvaldsdottir) are two of Iceland’s most well-known classical composers. Anna S. orvaldsdóttir (Anna Thorvaldsdottir) won the Nordic Council Music Prize in 2012 and was named the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer in 2015, receiving a $50,000 cash prize and a commission to write a piece
Icelandic cuisine is mostly comprised of fish, lamb, and dairy products, with little to no use of herbs or spices. Fruits and vegetables are not often used in traditional recipes due to the island’s environment, but the development of greenhouses has made them more popular in modern cuisine. Orramaturi is a collection of traditional food made up of a variety of meals that is traditionally eaten throughout the month of orri, which starts on the first Friday following the 19th of January. Skyr, hákarl (cured shark), cured ram, singed sheep skulls, and black pudding are also traditional meals. Puffin is a local delicacy that is often cooked via broiling.
Pancakes, cereal, fruit, and coffee are common breakfast items, while a smörgsbord lunch is also common. Dinner is the most important meal of the day for most Icelanders, and it typically consists of fish or lamb as the main dish. Most Icelandic cuisine revolves on seafood, especially cod and haddock, but also salmon, herring, and halibut. It may be smoked, pickled, boiled, or dried in a number of methods. The most popular meat is lamb, which is either smoke-cured (known as hangikjöt) or salt-preserved (known as saltkjöt). Many older recipes, like as slátur, utilize every part of the sheep, including offal (internal organs and intestines) chopped with blood and served in a sheep stomach. Other common side dishes include boiled or mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, green beans, and rye bread.
Coffee is a popular drink in Iceland, where it is used during breakfast, after meals, and with a small snack in the afternoon. Coca-Cola is also extensively consumed, with the nation reportedly having one of the world’s highest per capita consumption rates. Brennivn (meaning “burnt (i.e. distilled) wine”), Iceland’s trademark alcoholic beverage, is comparable to Scandinavian akvavit. It’s a vodka produced from distilled potatoes that’s flavored with caraway seeds or angelica. It was given the moniker svarti daui because of its power (“Black Death”).
Because Icelanders are usually active, sport is an essential aspect of their culture. Glma, a type of wrestling believed to have originated in medieval times, is Iceland’s most popular traditional sport.
Association football, track and field, handball, and basketball are all popular sports. Iceland’s men’s national team is rated in the top 12 in the world in handball, which is frequently referred to be the national sport. In 2016, Iceland qualified for the UEFA European football tournament for the first time, and progressed to the quarter-finals, where they faced France. In the round of 16, they beat England 2–1 with to goals from Ragnar Sigursson and Kolbeinn Sigórsson. The Icelandic women’s team also performs well in football, despite the country’s small size, with the national team rated 15th by FIFA. For the first time in the country’s history, Iceland’s men’s national basketball team qualified for EuroBasket 2015.
Although the majority population prefers mountain climbing and hiking, Iceland offers great conditions for skiing, fishing, snowboarding, ice climbing, and rock climbing. Iceland is also a top location for alpine ski touring and Telemark skiing, with the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland serving as the primary hub. Despite the fact that the country’s climate is usually unsuitable for golf, Iceland boasts more golf courses per capita than Scotland, with over 17,000 registered players out of a population of about 300,000. The Arctic Open, an annual international golf event held in Iceland around the summer solstice, is played through the night at Akureyri Golf Club. Magns Ver Magnsson and Jón Páll Sigmarsson of Iceland have won the most World’s Strongest Man contests, with eight championships split equally. Iceland is also a major player in the sport of ocean rowing, with some of the sport’s most illustrious records. Fiann Paul, an Icelandic rower, has set overall speed Guinness World Records for crossing all three seas in a man-powered row boat, as well as the distinction of being the only rower to ever hold all three records at the same time, claiming a total of six rowing world records for Iceland by 2016.
In Iceland, swimming is quite popular. Swimming lessons are required as part of the national curriculum, and geothermally heated outdoor pools are common. For many Icelanders, horseback riding, which was formerly the most frequent mode of transportation on the island, is still a popular pastime.
The Reykjavk Shooting Association, established in 1867, is Iceland’s oldest sporting organization. With the support of politicians and nationalists fighting for Icelandic independence, rifle shooting became extremely popular in the 19th century. It has remained a popular hobby to this day.
During the Cold War, Iceland produced numerous chess champions and hosted the historic World Chess Championship in Reykjavik in 1972. There have been nine Icelandic chess grandmasters as of 2008, a significant amount considering the country’s tiny population. Bridge is very popular in Iceland, with the country competing in many international events. In Yokohama, Japan, Iceland won the international bridge championship (the Bermuda Bowl) in 1991, and in Hamilton, Bermuda, it finished second (with Sweden) in 1950.