Education and the arts are essential to Icelanders. English is one of three widely spoken languages, along with Danish and Icelandic. The nation boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Writers, painters and filmmakers flourish here, and the Reykjavík Art Festival is one of Northern Europe’s premier cultural events. Reykjavik offers a symphony, opera, two professional theater companies and the acclaimed Icelandic Dance Company. The country also is a springboard for avant-garde performers and indie rockers (most notably Bjork).
Favorite sports include golf, handball and horseback riding on Iceland’s famed steeds. Chess, introduced here in the Middle Ages, can be just as competitive as your average team sport. Outdoor recreation is a must, especially when summer days stretch to some 22 hours of sunlight. Hiking, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking are common interests. Skiing isn’t as popular as Iceland’s name suggests.
Iceland’s spa culture is another perk for visiting cruise ship passengers. What better way to unwind after a day on sea or shore than with a trip to the sauna? Geothermic hot springs are popular here, too, and prevalent even around busy Reykjavik.
Fresh seafood and smoked game are abundant no matter what your Icelandic destination is. Those with very adventurous palates might attempt traditional fare: Dishes here can incorporate fermented shark, boiled sheep’s head and slatur, a type of blood sausage.