I've recently started gathering facts about the destinations covered here on the blog and I felt some amazing facts about Iceland should be next. It's a place I haven't yet been to myself, but my dad has and he's written about it on here a couple of times.
It's an intriguing country and I was curious to learn more about it.
45 amazing facts about Iceland
This post is part of a series of fun facts posts I'm doing for every country I have articles about here on the blog. Given their nature, these posts are research-based and even though a lot of time has gone into them, it's still possible a mistake has snuck in. If you see something that looks incorrect about these fun Iceland facts, please let me know at wanderer [at] wonderfulwanderings.com and I'll look into it. Thanks!
1. Forbes lists Iceland as the best country for personal freedom in the world in 2015.
2. 80% of the country remains uninhabited.
3. Reykjavík is the country’s capital and largest city, home to 60% of Icelanders.
4. The city capital’s former mayor, Jón Gnarr, was a standup comedian with no political background yet he was able to restore the city’s finances from crisis and debts during his term.
5. The country’s total population is only around 320,000, just a tenth of those living in San Francisco, California.
6. Because it is just a small country and almost everyone is somehow related, the Islendiga-App for mobile phones was developed to check exactly how closely related you are to someone. Apparently, it has become helpful to avoid incestual relations especially when dating.
7. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is Iceland's first female Prime Minister and the first head of state who was open about her sexuality as a lesbian.
8. Here's another fun Iceland fact: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former director of the Reykjavik Theatre Company, was the first woman to be democratically elected President.
9. The Icelandic flag’s colors represent: blue for mountains, red for fire and lava, and white for ice and snow. Its colors and design show its historical links with Norway. The use of the cross is a distinct feature of the flags of the Nordic countries.
10. Another one of those weird facts about Iceland is that despite its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s climate is actually milder and more temperate than expected. The average temperature in winter is 0°C, and between 10°C to 20°C during summer.
11. Iceland is also known as the “The Land of Fire and Ice”, being home to more than a hundred volcanoes, dozens of which are still active, and glaciers covering nearly ten percent of the island.
12. Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland with an area of about 8,100 square kilometers, which covers 8% of the country’s landmass. It is also the largest glacier in Europe.
13. With a height of 2,110 meters, Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s tallest mountain, could be found at the Southern part of this huge glacier.
14. The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, can be seen from September through March.
15. The English word “geyser” originated from the Icelandic word “geysir” which means gusher. One of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions, the Great Geysir, used to burst water and steam as high as 60 to 80 meters when it was still active.
16. Iceland is the only NATO member country without an army, navy or air force.
17. There are no mosquitoes in Iceland.
18. Látrabjarg is the largest bird cliff in Europe serving as breeding ground for millions of birds.
19. Húsavík, Europe’s whale watching capital, is considered among the best destinations in the world to spot mink whales, humpback whales, blue whales and orcas. Whale-watching tours are usually offered to tourists.
20. Björk Guðmundsdóttir, more popularly know as Björk, is a singer and songwriter born in Reykjavík and perhaps one of the most famous Icelanders.
21. The puffin, also called “sea parrot”, is an adorable small bird with black and white feathers and an oversized beak, which is eaten for food. Its raw heart is considered a delicacy. My dad chose the more animal-friendly route and went in search for the best spots to see puffins in Iceland.
22. Brennivín or “Black Death” (because the word translates to “burning wine”) is an alcoholic beverage native to Iceland made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds. This is the drink recommended when eating the hákarl or fermented shark meat, notorious for its putrid smell.
23. A typical Icelandic food is pylsur—a hot dog made mostly from lamb with some pork and beef. It’s ordered “ein með öllu” translated as “give me one with the works”, and the “works” mean ketchup, mustard, raw and fried onions, and remoulade (mayonnaise with relish or coleslaw).
24. McDonald’s closed its last restaurant in Iceland in October 2009 at the time of an economic crisis. The last cheeseburger sold is currently on display at the reception of Bus Hostel which could also be viewed through a live video stream for those who want to see it decay.
25. Starbucks cannot be found anywhere in Iceland.
26. Tap water in Iceland is very safe to drink.
27. Beer was banned from 1915 and was only allowed again on March 1, 1989; hence, Beer Day is celebrated every 1st of March.
28. “Appelsinusafi” means orange juice.
29. Skyr tastes and feels like yogurt, but it is NOT yogurt. It’s actually soft cheese made from pasteurized skimmed milk and bacteria culture.
30. Harðfiskur or dried fish is a popular snack.
31. One of the cool things about Iceland is that the majority of Icelanders either believe in or entertain the possibility of the existence of huldufólk or hidden people, and that they live and behave like humans. It is actually a common concern during road construction because elven believers would protest works to be done on land or property of what they believe to be homes of elves.
32. “Midnight sun” is a natural phenomenon wherein 24 hours of daylight is experienced during summer months, particularly from June to July.
33. Handball is a popular sport similar to soccer but hands are used instead of feet.
34. Iceland’s counterpart to Father Christmas or Santa Claus are the thirteen Yule Lads namely: Gimpy, Gully Gawk, Stubby, Spoon-Licker, Pot-Scraper, Bowl-Licker, Door-Slammer, Skyrgámur, Sausage-Swiper, Window-Peeper, Doorway-Sniffer, Meat-Hook and Candle-Stealer. Each Yule Lad is believed to bring gifts to children for each of the thirteen days leading up to Christmas Eve.
35. An Icelandic last name is not the last name of one of the parents. Instead, the last name is taken either from the father or mother’s first name plus -dóttir (for daughter) or -son. For example, the surname of famous football player, Heiðar Helguson, was taken from his mother’s name, Helga.
36. Icelanders address each other by their first name, even when talking to a professional or high-ranking government official. Iceland’s President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, is both formally and casually addressed as Ólafur. Also, telephone directories are alphabetically arranged by first name.
37. Water heaters and furnaces are not needed because steam and hot water come from natural geysers and hot springs through a network of pipes into homes and buildings.
38. Þingvellir National Park, a World Heritage Site, is one of the only two places in the world where two tectonic plates drifting apart are clearly seen. (The other one is the Great Rift Valley of East Africa.) The plates move apart about 2 centimeters annually. This was also where the first parliament in the world—the Althing—was created.
39. With a depth of 144 meters and an area as big as the Grand Canyon, Þingvallavatn Lake is the largest and deepest lake in Iceland. It lies in the divergent rift zone of Þingvellir and people could actually go diving and snorkeling in it.
40. The Icelandic alphabet has a lot of vowels: a, á, e, é, i, í, o, ó, u, ú, y, ý, æ and ö. The letters c, q, w and z are not included in the alphabet.
41. Another one of those interesting things about Iceland is that over there, it's normal and safe for mothers to leave their babies outside while napping in their strollers or carriages. You would often find these little ones right outside cafes, restaurants, and groceries, or in balconies or backyards with their parents nearby. Thanks to a very low, virtually zero crime rate in Iceland.
42. Icelanders love swimming in outdoor hot springs; however, you have to be naked once you step in the shower. You cannot wear a swimsuit while bathing. Also, most showers don’t have doors or curtains but males and females have separate locker rooms.
43. Surtsey Island, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was formed between 1963 to 1967 making it one of the youngest islands in the world.
44. Icelandic horses are unique for having five gaits; they could do tölt and skeið (flying pace) in addition to the usual normal walk, trot and canter/gallop.
45. The preferred payment method in Iceland is debit or credit cards instead of cash even for small transactions.
Now tell me, which of these cool Iceland facts really struck you?
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While I was doing the research for this post, Iceland Guide let me know they have a ton of information for anyone who wants to plan a trip to the island of puffins. We decided to partner up and bring you this post together. As always, the content is entirely mine.
Something you might find even more interesting about the Icelandic horse than the unique gaits, is the fact that they are the only breed in Iceland. Horses have not been allowed to be imported into Iceland for around 1000 years. Icelandics that leave Iceland cannot return. Iceland is free from many equine diseases due to this law.
Thanks Jess! Can’t believe I forgot about that one. I believe my dad told me abut it when he came back from Iceland:)
How about Iceland’s peaceful revolution that happened in 2012 (after their own baking scandal)? They fired the entire firemen and rewrote their whole constitution.
BANKING scandal, not baking scandal. Autocorrect fall.
That’s a good one! Thanks for adding!
No new constitution yet, despite the parliament has had some extended discussions
Samantha @ Our Traveling Blog says
Thanks for the great list. The land of fire and ice is definitely on our list. I remember when we first started looking into going to Iceland that I found it interesting that they have “Midnight sun”. I didn’t think about it before, but it does makes sense. Thanks again for sharing.
My pleasure, Samantha. Glad you liked it:)
An amazing read! Thanks for the insightful facts :) Looking forward towards visiting Iceland around Jan end, hoping to witness the Northern Lights. Any tips on that front, do share!
Thanks so much! I’m happy that you found them useful.
I haven’t been to Iceland in winter yet so I’m afraid I don’t have any tips, but I’m sure a quick Google will help! January should be a good month to go for the lights, but keep in mind that you do need to get lucky :)
I am writing a fun fact file and I need a good tip any more
45 isn’t enough? :)
I extremely Love This Iceland; why? I don’t Know. May be Its Amazing Nature & Culture.
Might be that :)