77 Interesting Facts About Iceland

Iceland, country of geothermal pools and northern lights, volcanoes and glaciers, is a prosperous nation. Visitors to this starkly beautiful island will find much to admire and enjoy. Here are 77 interesting facts about Iceland to help stimulate your curiosity and desire to travel to the Land of Fire and Ice.

Historical facts

Fact 1. The settlement of Iceland began in the year 874 AD when a Viking chieftain from Norway, Ingólfr Arnarson, became the island’s first permanent settler. More Norwegians some Scandinavians as well followed through the centuries.

Fact 2. Except for a brief interruption from 1799-1844, Iceland’s independent commonwealth has been governed by the Althingi parliament since 930, the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution. Iceland is the oldest democracy in the world.

Fact 3. Greenland was colonized by people from Iceland in 986.

Fact 4. Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule after a period of civil strife in the 13th century. In later centuries it was under Denmark’s rule.

Fact 5. During the final quarter of the 18th century approximately 20 to 25 percent of the population of Iceland emigrated to the United States and Canada because of famine in the country.

Fact 6. Iceland became independent in 1918 and founded the Republic of Iceland in 1944. Relying on subsistence agriculture and fishing, the country was among one of the poorest in Europe.

Fact 7. Following World War II, Marshall Plan assistance and industrialization of the fisheries brought prosperity to Iceland. It became one of the most developed and wealthiest nations in the world and remains so today.

Fact 8. Joining the European Economic Area in 1994 further diversified the nation’s economy into manufacturing, finance and biotechnology and continued its prosperity.

Fact 9. Just south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland is considered to be part of Europe for political, historical, cultural and practical reasons. The population of the country reached 300,000 in 2006.

Fact 10. The world’s first democratically directly elected female president was an Icelander. Vigdis Finbogadóttir was elected in 1980. Jóhanna Sigurŏardóttir became Iceland’s first female Prime Minister in 2009, and also the first openly lesbian head of government in the world.

Geography

Fact 11. Iceland was the last land in Europe to be settled and populated. It is the youngest country in the world in terms of land form.

Fact 12. Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world and Europe’s second largest island after Great Britain.

Fact 13. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the northernmost national capital in the world. Approximately 60 percent of the country’s population lives in Reykjavik.

Fact 14. East Iceland has the country’s largest forest, lush farmlands, and many natural harbors with fishing villages.

Fact 15. The South coast is home to some of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions, including the Golden Circle. Dettifoss Waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in the Europe.

Map of Iceland

facts about Iceland: Iceland with its geographical regions.
Iceland map

Fact 16. West Iceland is one of the island’s most geologically diverse regions with one of the greatest concentration of geysers in the world as well as the famous Snæfellsjökull glacier.

Fact 17. The Westfjords in the uninhabited northwest corner of the country are preserved as a relatively unspoiled wilderness area with a variety of geological features of their own.

Fact 18. North Iceland has dramatic lava fields and hills carved out by rivers with turbulent waterfalls. The small fishing town of Húsavík is the whale watching capital of Europe.

Fact 19. The Reykjanes lava fields are a geothermal wonder and a beautiful place where lighthouses outnumber villages. About 30 percent of Iceland is lava fields. The famous Blue Lagoon are found here.

Fact 20. Vatnajökull glacier is the largest ice cap in Europe. It is actually larger than all the other glaciers in Europe combined.

Geological facts

Fact 21. The volcanic zone in central Iceland is a “constructive junction” between the western part of Iceland belonging to the North American tectonic plate and the eastern part on the Eurasian plate.

Fact 22. Located on this Mid-Atlantic Ridge running through its center, Iceland is divided in half by volcanoes and has the most active volcano area in the world with a volcano erupting, on average, every five years.

Fact 23. The island’s location makes it geologically very young and active. Laki’s eruption in 1783-84 caused a famine that killed almost one fourth of the island’s population. Iceland is responsible for more than a third of all the fresh lava on earth in the last six hundred years.

Fact 24. Iceland has many geysers. The English word geyser is derived from Iceland’s famous Geysir. Today Geysir doesn’t erupt often, but nearby Strokkur erupts every eight to ten minutes.

Fact 25. In the south of Iceland a volcano in Eyjafjallaökull erupted on March 21, 2010 for the first time since 1821, sending 600 people fleeing. More eruptions in April forced hundreds to abandon their homes. The ash clouds were a major disruption to air travel across Europe.

Fact 26. Under the thick ice of Vatnajökull the Grimsvötn volcano erupted in May of 2001. One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, its eruption was much more powerful than that of Eyjafjallaökull, with a 12 mile (20 km) ash and lava spray.

Fact 27. There are between 30 and 40 active volcanoes today. There are over a hundred more volcanoes which have not erupted in the past thousand years.

Fact 28. Parts of the country are often shaken by tremors and earthquakes of varying intensity. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes follow each other.

Economy

Fact 29. Iceland was ranked as the 13th most developed country in the world in 2013 by the U.N.’s Human Development Index.

Fact 30. Commercial whaling is practiced as well as scientific whale hunts, but Iceland makes more money from whale watching tours than the whaling industry.

Fact 31. Iceland is the most eco-friendly country in the world in terms of their energy sources. Thirty percent of their electricity is of geothermal origin (the world’s highest percentage) and the rest is generated by hydro power.

Fact 32. The fishing industry accounts for the vast majority of their exports and 40 percent of the nation’s economy and 31 percent comes from manufacturing unwrought aluminum.

Fact 33. The Cod Wars of 1958 with Great Britain increased Iceland’s exclusive fishing waters range from the original 6.5 kl ( 4 miles) to 320 kl (200 miles), boosting the fishing industry.

Flag of Iceland

Flag of Iceland
Flag of Iceland. Red is for the island’s volcanic fires, white recalls the snow and ice fields of the island, and blue is for the surrounding ocean. Image credit – CIA

People

Fact 34. The Icelandic people are descended from the Norwegian Vikings founders and native Celtic populations of Scotland and Ireland who were captured and brought as slaves to the island.

Fact 35. Iceland is the most sparsely populated nation in Europe, with less than three inhabitants per square kilometer.

Fact 36. The nation’s official language, both spoken and written, is Icelandic, descended from Old Norse. It has changed so little that today’s students can read books written hundreds of years ago. Danish and English are compulsory subjects in school.

Fact 37. The people of Iceland have a seriously strong work ethic, working some of the longest hours of any industrialized country in the world. They value independence and self-sufficiency.

Fact 38. Iceland was one of the first countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriages. Equality between sexes is high and income inequality is among the lowest in the world. Iceland is ranked in the top three countries for women to live in.

Culture

Fact 39. Family names are not used as surnames. Icelanders carry patronymic surnames based on the first name of their father (e.g. Elisabet Jônsdôttir means Elisabet, Jôn’s daughter).

Fact 40. Icelanders call each other by their given names, even the president. The telephone directory is even listed alphabetically by first name rather than surname. All new first names never used before in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee.

Fact 41. The cornerstone of Icelandic culture is their language and literary tradition dating back to their ancient Sagas. This tradition still thrives in Iceland today where authors publish more books per capita than anywhere else in the world. Almost everyone writes.

Fact 42. Iceland has no standing army, but the Coast Guard maintains the Iceland Air Defense System and patrols coastal waters. The police forces carry no guns.

Fact 43. Iceland’s people watch more movies at the cinema than any other country. Icelanders average five films each per year. That is twice the Western European average and five times that of the Japanese.

Fact 44. The national sport of Iceland is handball. The Icelandic Men’s Team ranked among the top 12 in the world. The main traditional sport is called Glima which is a form of wrestling thought to be from medieval times. Football (soccer) is the most popular team sport.

Fact 45. Icelanders’ festivals and holidays celebrate church or ancient Norse traditions. These include Bóndadajur (“husband’s day”), and Thorrablot, a midwinter celebration based on an ancient pagan sacrificial winter fest. Jónsmessa celebrates Midsummer Night.

Fact 46. As many as 80 percent of the population of Icelanders still believe in the existence of elves. Even today some roads have been rerouted so as not to disturb rocks or other places said to be the homes of elves.

Fact 47. Instead of Santa, the thirteen Yule Lads help children celebrate Icelandic Christmases.

Icelandic food facts

Fact 48. Distinctively Icelandic foods include fish, skyr ( a yogury-like dairy product), hanhikjöt (smoked lamb), sviŏ (singed sheep’s head),hákari (cured shark), and harŏfiskur (dried fish pieces eaten with butter or coleslaw for a snack).

Fact 49. Puffin is considered a local delicacy. It is prepared through broiling and served shredded. Raw puffin heart is considered a delicacy. (Puffins are listed by the IUCN as an endangered animal, so keep that in mind before you dine.)

Fact 50. Cereal, pancakes, fruit and coffee is the traditional breakfast fare while lunch may take the form of a smŏrgásbord. Dinner is usually the main meal of the day, with lamb or fish served as the main course.

Fact 51. Seafood is key to most Icelanders’ cooking, particularly haddock and cod. They also enjoy herring, salmon and halibut. It is prepared either dried, smoked, pickled or boiled.

Fact 52. Lamb is by far the most commonly eaten meat and is served either smoke-cured( hanhikjöt) or salt-preserved (saltjöt). Side dishes include mashed or boiled potatoes, green beans and rye bread.

Fact 53. Coffee is a popular beverage for every meal and an afternoon treat. Coca-Cola is consumed at one of the highest per capita rates in the world. The native alcoholic beverage is Brennivin (“burnt or distilled wine”).

Fact 54. Famous for its whale meat, Iceland is one of the few places worldwide where it is possible to eat Minke whale. It is eaten more by tourists than the locals.

Fact 55. Iceland also enjoys some local cuisine that visitors may find off-putting. These include hákari (putrescent shark meat), súrsaöir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram’s testicles), and lundabaggi (sheep’s loins cured in lactic acid).

Tourism

Fact 56. Conditions are excellent in Iceland for skiing, snowboarding, rock and ice climbing as well as mountain climbing, hiking, fishing, cycling and ski touring.

Fact 57. The beautiful therapeutic Blue Lagoon spa is fed warm water from the nearby geothermal plant. Daub in white silica mud and come out silky smooth and relaxed. Book your spot ahead of time, though.

Fact 58. The pink and red sands of Rauðasandur beach in the Westfjords are backed by a huge serene lagoon. Watch for seals and walk the path to the nearby bird cliffs.

Fact 59. A fantastic destination for hiking is the wilderness area of Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, with its craggy mountains, sea cliffs and plunging waterfalls. See seals, Arctic foxes, whales and a variety of bird life.

Fact 60. Near the Bjargtangar Lighthouse are the famous Látrabjarg bird cliffs, so named for the mobs of nesting seabirds who make them their home each summer. Puffins, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants, gulls, fulmars and kittiwakes nest here from June to mid-August.

Fact 61. Take a boat trip or scout for seals through the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, beside the Ring Road between Höfn and Skaftafell. See the spectacular icebergs drift and admire all the ice sculptures striped with layers of volcanic ash. The lagoon is only 80 years old and still expanding in size.

Fact 62. Skaftafell is the jewel in the crown of Vatnajökull National Park, the country’s favorite wilderness area. It has a breathtaking collection of glaciers and peaks, waterfalls, and rivers, and twisted birch woods.

Fact 63. Snæfellsjökull National Park includes lava tubes, protected lava fields which are home to native Icelandic fauna, and prime coastal bird, and whale-watching spots. The park is full of hiking trails, and during nice weather it is possible to visit the glacier with a tour or guide.

Fact 64. Gulfoss, also known as the Golden Circle, is Iceland’s most famous waterfall with its double cascade pushing up magnificent walls of spray as it thunders down a rocky ravine. The mist is full of shimmering rainbows on sunny days. Above the falls is a small cafe and shop.

Fact 65. Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site east of Reykjavík. Not only is it the original site of the longest running parliament in the world, it’s also where the North-American and European continental shelf plates are being torn apart. A path runs along the fault.

Animal and Plant Life

Fact 66. The only mammal native to Iceland is the Arctic fox. Settlers brought over all others today including the Icelandic sheep, cattle, goats, chickens, Icelandic horse and Icelandic Sheepdog are all descendants of those animals. Wild ones include mink, rabbits, rats and reindeer.

Fact 67. Only a fourth of the island has any vegetation and only one percent of the soil is arable. The once extensive forests are depleted and now almost non-existent. The remaining trees are mostly birch, spruce, aspen and willow.

Fact 68. The number of insect species are low compared to other countries. Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland.

Fact 69.  Polar bears occasionally arrive on an ice flow from Greenland but do not live in Iceland.

Fact 70. The Icelandic horse has two additional gaits more than any other breed.

Random Facts

Fact 71. The Icelandic government has banned prostitution in 2009 and banned strip clubs in 2010.

Fact 72. Despite its name, Iceland’s surface is only ten percent ice and it has surprisingly mild winters due to the warming effect of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Icelanders joke that they should be Greenland and Greenland should be Iceland.

Fact 73. It is illegal to own a pet lizard, snake or turtle in Iceland. There are no reptiles or amphibians there.

Fact 74. The Phallological Museum is one of the nation’s most unusual attractions. It houses the world’s largest collection of penises and penile parts, including 55 whale penises.

Fact 75. The annual Arctic Open Golf Tournament in Akureyri has a midnight tee time during the midnight sun and attracts participants from around the world.

Fact 76. The most common female name in Iceland – “Hekla,” is also the name of one of its most active volcanoes. It is 1,491 m in height and it is in south of Iceland.

Fact 77. This land of long winter nights and short summer days is shaped by the four basic elements – earth, wind, fire and water – in a dramatic way that make it an adventure playground.

Some quick facts about Iceland

Capital CityReykjavík
64°08′N 21°56′W
Largest cityReykjavík
64°08′N 21°56′W
Total area103,000 sq km
Population335,878 (July 2016 est.)
ContinentEurope
Independence1 December 1918
National anthem"Lofsongur" (Song of Praise)
National symbolgyrfalcon
National colorsblue, white, red
Official LanguagesIcelandic
Government typeparliamentary republic
BordersSweden, Norway and Russia
ReligionLutheran 73.8%, Orthodox 1.1%, other or none 25.1% (2014 est.)
Life expectancy83 Years (2016)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$48,100 (2016 est.)
Agricultural land18.7%
Birth rate13.8 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)
Death rate6.3 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)
Sex ratio1.05 male(s)/female
Time ZoneWET (UTC+0)
Internet country code.is
CurrencyIcelandic króna (ISK)
Calling Code+354
Drives on theRight

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