Iceland, the land of fire and ice, has become a popular travel destination over the past few years. From the country’s magnificent glaciers, thundering waterfalls and epic natural nighttime displays, it’s easy to see why travellers are escaping to the edge of the world. There are many characteristics that make this country so unique, but these 13 strange and interesting facts about Iceland may surprise you…
1. More than 60% of the Icelandic population live in the capital city, Reykjavik
Although very small, Reykjavik is the most northern capital city in the world and is home to more than half of the Icelandic population. This colourful and quirky city is packed with numerous restaurants, cafes, bars and museums and is extremely walkable, making it a perfect destination to explore by foot.
2. Iceland was the last place on earth to be settled by humans
Save the best for last? Iceland is known as one of the youngest landmasses on the planet and was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. Surprisingly, over 1,100 years ago Vikings from Norway discovered Iceland by accident.
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3. Many Icelanders believe in elves and trolls
The belief in elves, trolls and other mystical creatures traces back to the Viking age. The stories are plentiful so be sure to set some time aside to speak to an Icelander to hear a tale or two!
4. You can swim outdoors in hot springs all year round
An Icelandic experience is not complete without a dip in a hot spring! The outdoor experience of bathing outdoors in volcanically heated pools dates back to Viking times. Hot springs can be found all around the country and come in all sizes and shapes. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled and your bathing suit in close reach. You don’t want to miss this experience!
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5. Iceland is one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world
Iceland was recently ranked one of the eco-friendliest countries in the world and since almost all of the electricity in Iceland is produced using renewable energy sources, it’s easy to see why! The capital city of Reykjavik won the Nordic Nature and Environment Prize in 2014 and is working towards a goal of being a carbon-neutral city by 2040.
6. Iceland has the longest workweeks in Europe
One of the most interesting facts about Iceland is that, on average, Icelanders work 45 hours a week – longer than any other country in Europe! Did you know?
7. Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989
Iceland went through a prohibition of beer which began in 1915 and ended in 1989 after a referendum vote by the population. Now, every March 1st, the country celebrates “Bjórdagurinn” or “Beer Day” commemorating the end of a 74-year beer ban.
8. About 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers
Studies show that 11% of the country of Iceland is covered by glaciers! Glaciers are one of the main attractions in Iceland, and to-date there are almost 269 named. Iceland is also home to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, which is equivalent to three times the size of Luxembourg or Rhode Island!
9. One in 10 Icelanders will publish a book
As facts about Iceland go, this one’s pretty awesome. The tradition of reading in Iceland dates back to the 13th century and with one out of ten Icelanders publishing a book in their lifetime, it is clear Iceland is a very literary-focused country! Looking to add some Icelandic literature to your reading list? Be sure to include some novels written by Halldór Kiljan Laxness, one of the country’s most noted authors, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.
10. The national colours of Iceland are red, white and blue
The three national colours of Iceland that also appear on the country’s flag represent the elements that the land is made up of. Iceland’s volcanic fires are represented by the colour red, white for the snow and ice and blue for the ocean.
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11. The Icelandic horse is the only horse breed in Iceland
The Icelandic horse has played a very important part in Iceland’s history. They are believed to be one of the purest breeds in the world and are known for their muscular bodies and their ability to grow long hair in the winter and shorter hair in the summer. Icelandic horses can be found all around the country and are known to be both friendly and curious (and always ready for a photoshoot – so be sure to have your camera on standby)!
12. The Northern Lights can be seen in Iceland from September to March
Is witnessing the Northern Lights in person on your bucket list? Many travellers are attracted to Iceland as it’s a spectacular destination to experience the Aurora Borealis. September to March is the best time for this natural light show, although of course it is never a guarantee. This incredible natural occurrence is created when solar particles interact with the atmosphere in the Earth’s magnetic field. Isn’t science so cool?
13. Iceland’s national sport is handball
Icelanders love to play sports including football, basketball, volleyball and horseback riding, but did you know the national sport of Iceland is actually handball? The game is played between two teams consisting of seven players in a rectangular field and the objective of the game is to score by driving the ball into the opposing net. After 60 minutes, the team with the most goals, wins! Icelander’s love to play (and watch) handball and in 2008, the national team took home a silver medal at the Olympics in Beijing.
Have you travelled to Iceland before? What are some of your favourite facts about Iceland? Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comments below…