Settlement in Iceland began in the late ninth century, though historians still debate its founding fathers. Some say that Irish monks traveled here first, quoting religious tracts and other anecdotal evidence found throughout the British Isles. The prevailing opinion, however, is that oceangoing Norseman were Iceland’s true colonials, arriving at Europe’s last unclaimed territory between A.D. 870 and 930. The region now occupied by the capital city, Reykjavik, was chosen for the first homes.
Iceland became a commonwealth in the 10th century, and its people soon converted to Christianity. As law and religion spread, so did a love of poetry and epic storytelling that persists to this day; the 13th century’s “Saga Era” taught Icelandic warrior bards the art of the Viking legend. Another batch of seafarers, traders from the Netherlands and British Isles, opened medieval Iceland to additional ideas, including the export of dried cod. “Stockfish,” as it’s now known, is still an important staple of the regional diet.
Denmark and Norway traded ownership of Iceland from the 13th to the 20th century. World War II introduced another claim on the country when British and U.S. forces invaded for protective purposes. Despite the ongoing threat of German invasion and disapproval of former colonials, Iceland declared itself an independent republic in 1944, and NATO membership followed in 1949. The regional economy flourished despite the “Cod Wars,” a battle with Britain over northern fishing territories, which plagued Iceland between 1958 and 1976.
Iceland has suffered a few setbacks over the last decade, including a diplomatic squabble over a U.S. Air Force base at Keflavík and a large-scale economic crisis that rocked the country in 2008. But modern Iceland is still a tourist’s dream -- a nation of warm, hard-working people and bountiful natural wonders easily accessible by cruise ship.