Iceland is a North Atlantic island known mainly for its abundance of otherworldly scenery and geographical wonders. From glaciers to volcanoes to hot springs, there’s no shortage of breathtaking beauty to explore here. Before you go, it’s always fun to learn a few facts about Iceland!
Culturally, Iceland also happens to be an especially quirky country. What was once a hidden gem of the Nordic region, has since become a super popular destination in recent years. Take a look at these facts about Iceland to get to know this charming and mysterious land just a little bit better.
Fun Facts About Iceland
60% of Iceland’s population lives in the capital city
The capital city of Iceland is Reykjavik. It’s by far the biggest urban area in the country. Also, the majority of the nation’s people live there. The rest are in smaller villages and towns along the coast. The Highlands are basically uninhabited due to harsh conditions.
Iceland was the last place to be settled by people
Iceland was actually settled by Vikings from Norway in the year 800. It’s what you might call the “newest” country on the planet as it was the last bit of land to be settled by humans.
You can swim all year round in Iceland
There are natural hot springs in almost every county in Iceland. For a cold country, the geothermal activity underneath the ground sure warms things up a bit, the wild pools in particular. You can go for a relaxing dip at any time of the year here!
Iceland is a super sustainable country
Iceland really leads the way in environmentally friendly communities. They are one of the most eco-friendly countries in the whole world. Over 99% of their energy supply is renewable, produced by geothermal energy and hydropower.
Iceland has very long work weeks
On average, Icelanders work 45 hours every week which is one of the most interesting facts about Iceland. That’s definitely more than the typical American and it is significantly higher than almost every other country in Europe as well.
Beer was banned in Iceland until recently
Iceland went through a period of prohibition where beer was entirely banned for 74 years! That’s a serious dry spell. You can probably imagine the celebrations that took place country wide when in 1989 it was legalized once again.
Now, there’s even a day that celebrates when the ability to drink booze was reinstated. Craft beer has also become a hugely popular industry here since.
Iceland is a leading country for book publishing
You could say this country loves literature a little more than the average one. Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world.
One in ten people in Iceland will publish a book in their lifetime, which is one of the most interesting facts about Iceland. Reading is one of the most beloved pastimes here! Be sure to check out their impressive bookstores and libraries if traveling around.
There is only one horse breed in Iceland
The Icelandic horse was originally brought over by the Vikings in the 9th century. It’s one of the oldest breeds in the whole world.
They’re known for their many unique gaits and have not been mixed with any other horse breeds for over 1,000 years. Even stranger, if a horse leaves the island they are forbidden from ever returning.
Iceland is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are renowned as one of the world’s most stunning natural phenomena. People flock from all over to get a gander at this cosmo show in Iceland. It’s one of the best places to see it happen, especially between September and March when the skies are the clearest and the nights are longest.
The national sport of Iceland is handball
Icelanders are known for their love of playing sports! Many of them are popular pastimes here, including football, basketball, and volleyball. However, the national sport is actually handball. Playing and watching handball are both very common ways to enjoy free time in Iceland.
Iceland has one of the original parliaments
Iceland’s national parliament is one of the longest running institutions of its kind in the world. The original site it was developed on can still be visited today as they were the first ever created in Europe. It may look a little different, but the same parliament still exists in Iceland today. It’s called the Althing.
Iceland is very sparsely populated
According to the most recent number, the population of Iceland is around 360,000, averaging around eight people per square mile.
This is about one tenth of the size of the city of San Francisco. This is one of the reasons that so much of the natural wonder’s remain untouched here.
The word geyser comes from Iceland
It’s no surprise that Iceland is famous for its geysers alongside all of its other dramatic wild features. The word geyser comes from the very similar Old Norse word geysa, which means to gush forth. You can find one of the most famous Geysers on the Golden Circle!
Iceland has no army
Seen as a very peaceful nation, Iceland does not have an army, an air force, or a navy. There’s a coast guard, but they haven’t seen much action since the Cod Wars with England, of which they emerged victorious. Iceland is actually the only country that’s a part of NATO to be set up this way.
Iceland voted in the first female president
Vigdis Finnbogadottir held office in Iceland from 1980 to 1996. She was the first ever officially elected female head of state in the world.
Iceland is home to the largest glacier in Europe
Glaciers are considered a main attraction in Iceland. Over 10% of its landmass is covered by glaciers and over 250 of them have been named. Europe’s largest glacier is here. It’s called Vatnajokull and has a surface area of over 3,000 square miles.
Iceland has a naming committee
You probably won’t come across any Icelanders with wacky names while here. In fact, they actually have an official register of approved names that parents can pick from. There’s also a list of banned names that are strictly forbidden. If anyone wants to use an unapproved name, it must first be given the okay by a special committee.
You can drink water straight from the rivers in Iceland
You don’t have to worry about buying bottled water in Iceland. The taps are all safe to drink from. The water is so clean throughout the country that you can sip it straight from the lakes, rivers, and streams wherever you find them! It’s pure, refreshing, and even said to be extra hydrating.
Iceland is home to one of the most popular museums
One of the most popular museums in Iceland, and maybe even the world, is the infamous Penis Museum. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like, an entire space dedicated to phallic imagery of all kinds as well as the scientific study of phallology.
Iceland has been voted the best place to live as a woman
Iceland has been known as a global trailblazer in gender equality for decades. A progressive lifestyle is often one of the main draws for people to visit this country, especially for anyone identifying as a girl or woman.
Iceland was the first country to have an openly gay Prime Minister
The first Prime Minister in Iceland was Johanna Siguroardottir. She was elected in 2009 and was also the very first openly gay head of state in the world. She legalized same sex marriage while in office!
Iceland has a universal health care system and no private hospitals
There are no private hospitals at all on the island of Iceland. Their universal healthcare system is considered top tier and is provided through taxes that are paid by the citizens.
Iceland sits on top of two tectonic plates
Iceland happens to be right on top of two major tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Eurasian plate. It’s called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Not only can you actually see the divide with the naked eye, which is fairly mind blowing, you can actually snorkel between them, which is one of the best things to do in Iceland! Just another geological facet totally unique to Iceland.
Icelanders believe in elves
Iceland is a place with a strong culture of folklore and myth. Commonly called hidden folk here, who are said to live beneath the lava fields, elves have played a major role in the beliefs of the population. Surveys have said that over 30% of Icelanders still believe in elves, or at least are unwilling to deny their existence entirely without proof either way.
Iceland has over 100 words for wind
For those of us that don’t speak the language, a lot of Icelandic words can look like real tongue twisters. Much of this dialect is dedicated to describing their unusual and erratic weather patterns, which are known to change drastically in a matter of minutes. There are over 100 words for wind alone!
There are 13 Santas in Iceland
Instead of just one Santa Claus who comes during Christmastime, Iceland has 13 Yule Lads. These mischievous guys each have a name based on their specific silly behavior, such as Sausage Snatcher or Pot Licker. Children will put a shoe in their window for 13 nights leading up to Christmas day and receive a present every evening.
Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world
Iceland is famous for its lack of violent crimes. It’s at the top of the list for the world’s safest countries, boasting one of the lowest crime rates anywhere. This is thought to be due to the smaller population, which increases community trust, as well as a greater level of equality between all residents here.
Dogs were once banned in the capital of Iceland
From 1924 to 1984 there was not one adorable pup to be seen in the capital city of Iceland. Cats roamed, and owned the streets, but it was widely accepted that the busy streets were no place for dogs.
Iceland has a midnight sun season
Over the summer season in Iceland there’s daylight for 24 hours. This is referred to as the midnight sun and lasts from June to July. Who needs sleep when there’s so much to see and do here?
Iceland is the smallest country to make it to the World Cup
Iceland is the tiniest country to ever qualify for the super famous sporting event, the World Cup. What makes this fact even funnier; a lot of the team members were still working their day jobs when they made the cut.
Iceland is the third happiest country in the world
Right behind Finland and Norway, Iceland was once voted to be the third happiest nation in the world. This was due to their well-documented, extremely high quality of life.
The only native mammal in Iceland is the Arctic Fox
The arctic fox came over to Iceland from Europe way back during the Ice Age. Today it’s considered such a special sighting when exploring the wild lands of Iceland. They survive by preying on Iceland’s abundant bird population.
Iceland is a volcanic island
There are over 100 volcanoes spread throughout the country of Iceland. It may come as a surprise for such a cold country, but they actually experience an eruption every four years or so. While these towering peaks make for some seriously scenic landscapes, many of them are still active today.
Iceland doesn’t have any mosquitoes
We’d venture to say that no one is a fan of mosquitos, so this may be one of the best facts about Iceland. Lucky for everyone who comes to this beautiful country, they simply don’t have any at all!
This is thought to be because of the peculiar weather patterns. Spending time in the natural wonders of Iceland is especially easy without having to worry about these buzzing and biting pests.
The Icelandic language has barely changed since its Old Norse origins
It’s common for most languages, including English, to change and evolve over time. So it’s surprising to learn that this really isn’t the case with Icelandic.
It remains practically identical to the Viking tongue it was originally founded in. Remarkably well preserved, anyone who speaks the language now would be able to easily read Old Norse.
We hope you enjoyed these fun Iceland facts! See below for more facts around the world!
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