Iceland is an island nation in the North Atlantic. Iceland has a striking climate and geographic and cultural contrasts because it is located on the continually shifting tectonic boundary between North America and Europe. Sparkling glaciers, including Europe's largest Vatna Glacier (Vatnajökull), cover its craggy mountain ranges; numerous hot geysers heat many of the nation's homes and buildings and enable year-round hothouse farming, and the offshore Gulf Stream maintains a surprisingly mild climate for one of the world's most northerly inhabited regions.
Over a thousand years ago, a community of mixed Norse and Celtic people established Iceland during the Viking era of exploration. The first community mostly made up of Norwegian seamen and explorers, encouraged additional forays to Greenland and the North American coast (which the Norse called Vinland).
Despite being geographically separated from Scotland, its closest neighbour in Europe, by about 500 miles (800 km), Iceland has remained an important element of European civilisation throughout its history. The Icelandic sagas are regarded as among the finest literary achievements of the Middle Ages, reflecting a European outlook while honouring the history and customs of a people far removed from continental centres of commerce and culture. Most of the sagas recounted heroic episodes when the island was settled.
The Greenland Sea borders Iceland's rugged coastline to the north, the Norwegian Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west, and the Denmark Strait, which divides Iceland from Greenland by about 200 miles (320 km), to the northwest. Iceland's coastline spans more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km).
Most of Iceland is a tableland that is shattered by geological faults. Although the country is, on average, 1,640 feet (500 metres) above sea level, one-fourth of it is below that level at 650 feet (198 metres). The highest point is 6,952 feet (2,119 metres) at Hvannadals Peak, the peak of Öraefajökull in Vatnajökull. The size of the glaciers varies, from the little ones in the nooks and crannies of the mountains to the massive glacial caps atop vast mountain ranges. Vatnajökull is more than 3,000 feet (900 metres) deep at its deepest point and spans an area of more than 8,000 square kilometres.