Confused about whether or not Iceland is part of Europe? You’re not alone.

Iceland has never been more popular than it is today in terms of tourism and general international interest. People flock to the massive volcanic island every year to see otherworldly sights and take in a unique culture. That growing interest means that there is an inherently growing number of individuals wondering about the country’s geography and politics.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about Iceland’s location and identity. We’ll start with the short and sweet, then move on to the more important details.

Is Iceland Part of Europe? – The Short Answer

Iceland is a part of Europe in some ways and separate from Europe in others. Iceland identifies as European in the general sense of the word and has close ties to European countries, but it’s split geographically between Europe and North America. Politically, it is part of the EEA, but not the EU.

If you’re confused by all of that, don’t worry. We’ll explain.

There’s really nothing simple about Iceland as a country or as a land mass. It’s one of the most unique places on the globe, so there’s no need to feel silly for not already knowing its geopolitical situation.

Travelers will be glad to know that Iceland is a part of the Schengen Area. This allows for a more seamless travel experience to and from Iceland and mainland Europe.

Iceland’s Geography: Europe or North America?

Geographically, Iceland is an anomaly in many ways. Its continental status is one of the most interesting.

Iceland is located directly on the Midatlantic Range. This means that that the island is split between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate.

So, technically, Iceland is geographically located in both North America and Europe.

Matter of fact, you can actually go on an excursion in Iceland and stand with one foot on each tectonic plate. The divide is clearly visible and continues to move about 2cm each year.

Officially, Iceland is considered to be the 2nd largest island in Europe and the 18th largest island in the world. That the island is counted as European in that ranking illustrates that it’s generally accepted as an extension of Europe.

Iceland’s Identity and Politics: European or Not?

If you thought Iceland’s geographical status to be convoluted, then you’re already prepared for the convoluted nature of its identity and politics.

Iceland History

The first step to understanding Iceland’s status is to understand its history.

The people of Iceland find their roots in Norwegian viking settlers mixed with a healthy dose of Irish. The settlers that came from modern-day Scandinavia took with them a large percentage of Irish/Celtic people and started off the Icelandic population we know today.

This foundation laid the groundwork for the development of Iceland’s culture alongside the rest of Europe. Today, Iceland shares many similarities with Scandinavia, even though it is usually considered separate from the “Scandi” designation.

Linguistically, Icelandic is much closer to Old Norse than what is spoken in true Scandinavian countries. So much so that Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes often have a hard time understanding Icelandic. The closest language to Iceland’s is actually with the Faroese people in the Faroe Islands.

Iceland Politics

Iceland’s relationship with the rest of Europe is very nuanced. Most countries are part of the European Union (EU), but Iceland is not.

However, Iceland is a part of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Confusing, right?

Basically, Iceland is a part of the EEA in order to be a part of Europe’s single market, but is not a member of the EU in order to avoid broad EU policies. This is the most important distinction for understanding the dynamic between Iceland and Europe.

The principal reason Iceland maintains independence from the EU is the protection of its valuable fisheries. These fisheries form the backbone of Iceland’s economy and the Icelandic people have done a fantastic job of managing them.

Until the late 1940’s, Iceland was counted as one of the poorest countries in its part of the world. Living conditions were less than desirable and survival depended on subsistence farming. This destitute situation took a sharp turn once Iceland began to take full advantage of its potential as a major seafood exporter.

Iceland would prefer not to allow their fisheries to be managed by the EU. And for good reason, as the EU has a questionable track record when it comes to the proper management of natural resources and the consequences of potential mismanagement would be dire for Iceland.

To put it plainly, a strong seafood-based economy and a strong cultural identity keep the Icelandic people perfectly content with staying outside of the EU. Their EEA membership gives them access to Europe’s single market without the burden of blanket EU policies. In lieu of the common euro, Iceland’s currency is the Icelandic krona.

The obvious trade-off is that Iceland’s independence from the EU means a smaller voice in European affairs. This isn’t really an issue that the average Icelander is concerned with though, as they do quite well on their own.

Conclusion

Iceland is a beautiful country, both geographically and demographically. The country has a fascinating history of balancing a more broad European heritage with a fierce independence. The Icelandic people’s will to carve out a uniquely successful role in the world is definitely inspiring.

Hopefully this helped to shed a little more light on the growing interest in Europe’s role in Iceland and vice-versa. It is a truly complicated dynamic that could easily fill an entire book on its own.

Anyone considering a visit to Iceland should absolutely take the leap. The whole country is amazing, especially for travelers who love the outdoors. There’s nothing quite like the Icelandic scenery anywhere else on earth. From the mountainous glaciers to the volcanoes rising directly out of the sea, it’s nothing short of amazing.

Some extra Iceland facts for the road:

  • Iceland’s resident population of approximately 340,000 is dwarfed each year by triple the amount of tourists
  • 60% of the Icelandic population is located in Reykjavik
  • Iceland was the last part of Europe to be settled
  • Vehicles in Iceland are driven on the right side of the road
  • Iceland is the only country in the world that does not have mosquitoes
  • Iceland’s standard electrical outlet is a Type C, the most widely used outlet in the world
  • Crime is extremely low in Iceland, especially violent crime
  • Icelandic law enforcement doesn’t carry firearms
  • The United States and Iceland have a close relationship, with the United States being the first to recognize Iceland as its own state after declaring independence from Denmark
  • There are 125+ volcanoes in Iceland, many of which are active
  • Iceland experiences an eruption on average once every few years
  • The arctic fox is the only mammal native to Iceland