Teach Through Educational Travel: Iceland

Iceland is an extraordinary destination – an island of few trees, with natural hot springs, and cold geothermal crevasses amidst tectonic plates, the largest national park in Europe, glaciers, a Golden Circle, and a Blue Lagoon. Iceland is located at the very top of Europe, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It’s famous for its volcanic and geothermal activity (including recent volcano eruptions and inexpensive, pollution-free heating for its residents). Over 11% of the island is covered with glaciers. The population of the entire island is just over 300,000 people, half of whom live in the capital city, Reykjavík.First settled by the Vikings in the 9th century, the language of the Vikings is still spoken today, although somewhat changed with pronunciation and the addition of modern words. The only wild mammal native to Iceland is the arctic fox. Other species, including the famed Icelandic horse, were introduced by humans. The Icelandic settlers founded one of the world’s very first republican governments in 930, which lasted until 1262. From 1262-1918, Iceland was part of Norway and then Denmark. In 1918, Iceland became independent. The present republic was founded in 1944.

There are so many things to see and do in Iceland – from the summer’s white nights (where the sun hardly sets) to winter, where the Northern Lights reflect upon black lava fields or snow-covered glaciers in the evenings. This is reflected in Icelandic literature, which started with the ancient Sagas and is continued today with a Nobel Laureate, among other writers. The Icelanders also believe in elves, trolls, stone people, and fairies. These have also been culturally relevant and written about from the ancient Sagas to modern times.

Teach Through Educational Travel
Download a larger image and share the photo with your class, then try these discussion questions and classroom activities:


  • Imagine getting into a hot spring, in the middle of winter! Or, more likely, in the middle of summer, when your nose won’t freeze. Take a look at this webcam to get a sense of being there. There are many hot springs located throughout Iceland, but this one is the most famous. Would you get into a hot spring?
  • Read of the geologic activity in Iceland, especially the volcanoes, here and here. Do you think living with the possibility of volcanic eruption changes your world view? Discuss how living on a remote island influences the way that people take care of the land.
  • The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, feature prominently in Icelandic life in the winter. Read about the science behind the Northern lights, and check out some of the incredibly beautiful photos. Have you seen the Aurora Borealis? What were the sights and sounds you experienced?
    This lesson was contributed by Jessie Voigts, get to know her!
    Want more lesson ideas? See last week’s Teach Through Educational Travel: The Eden Project – perfect for your next classroom activity.