Iceland has a stunning natural landscape and is on the bucket list of many avid travellers. The formation of the island is fascinating to geologists and geographers alike. Lying in the North Atlantic Ocean, many people question what continent Iceland is a part of. Is it in Europe? Is it a part of the North American Continent? This blog post will give you the answer!
Where is Iceland on a map?
Iceland has a latitude of 63-68 degrees North and for that reason, it is very cold – hence the name. The island is often referred to as the Land of Fire and Ice due to the presence of volcanoes and huge glaciers. Iceland sits 1300 km north of the United Kingdom and so is only a short flight away. It sits between Greenland and Norway on a world map. It’s a very small country with an area of just 103,000 sq km. Iceland has great varying terrain with low valleys and tall volcanoes, but the most remarkable area for hikers would be its glaciers.
Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik is located to the southwest of the country. To get to Reykjavik, travellers can fly into the city’s international airport, Keflavik International Airport (KEF), which is located about 40 km outside of the city. The city is just a short bus or train journey from the airport. Alternatively, travellers can avail of a ferry service from Denmark.
How was Iceland formed?
Iceland’s formation is a result of the volcanic activity caused by the split of two tectonic plates at the North Atlantic Ridge. The North American Plate is being dragged west. The Eurasian Plate is travelling eastwards. The spreading of these plates has caused the magma to rise to the surface of the sea bed. Eruptions occur on the sea floor and over time an island forms as it grows in height and size.
The country is relatively young compared to other surrounding countries, only beginning to be formed 60 million years ago. The volcanic activity that formed Iceland is still continuing. The island has over 130 volcanoes with 30 systems which feed them.
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland
The most recent eruption on the island occurred in August 2022, when Fagradalsfjall began to erupt again after first being awoken in 2021. This eruption was surprising to geologists as the volcano had not erupted for over 800 years. However, in comparison to other eruptions, the one that occurred at Fagradalsfjall caused little damage.
One of the most devastating eruptions that happened in Iceland while it has been inhabited occurred in 2011. Grímsvötn volcano is topped by a glacier, making eruptions all the more dangerous. The huge explosion of ash into the atmosphere rose 20 km. The continued ash fall led to the cancellation of 900 flights. This meant not only Icelandic residents were impacted but internationals too. While the eruption was not detrimental to human life, the economy was greatly impacted.
Is Iceland in Europe?
While the country is split geographically into the North American and European boundaries, Iceland is in fact a part of the continent of Europe. The divide between the two tectonic plates is recognised across the country. Many tourist attractions highlight the split between North America and Europe. So, while you may have travelled to Iceland which is in Europe, within a few steps you can cross into the continent of North America.
Iceland is the world’s 18th-largest island and Europe’s 2nd-largest after Great Britain. It has been classed as a part of Europe since 1262 when it was officially recognised by the Norwegian King as being an independent country.
Where can I walk between the two plates?
Thingvellir National Park is the only place in the world where you can stand between two tectonic plates. It is part of the Golden Circle and so is on the itinerary of many Icelandic tour groups. Thingvellir has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status and also has an important historical meaning to the locals. Having walked through it myself on a tour, I was overwhelmed by the size of the rock forms that you walk between.
Other locations around Iceland also mark the position of the split. Hveragerði Sunnumӧrk Shopping Center has information boards displayed and glass flooring and replica plates representing the location of the divide between North America and Europe.
Is Iceland a part of the EU?
Iceland is a part of the Scandinavian Union with Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Faroe Islands. Its ties to Scandinavian culture are still very strong across the country.
However, Iceland is not a part of the European Union (EU).
It is part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which allows free trade between Iceland and EU countries. The island is not subject to the majority of EU legislation, regulations or foreign policy.
To sum up…
Iceland is an explosive little island south of the Arctic Circle. The continent that Iceland lies in is confusing to some people. The geology which underlies the island means that it sits on the boundary of the North American continent and Europe. In practice, Iceland is concluded to be a part of Europe. It is not a part of the EU but complies with some trade agreements to promote the free movement of goods between the island and EU countries. Many tourists love the opportunity to boast about crossing two continents on must-see trips to the plate boundary splits.