FASCINATING FACTS: 20 Fascinating Facts About Iceland

There is perhaps no other country in the world more fascinating and alluring than Iceland. It has everything one needs and is the perfect touristic destination. It has picturesque landscapes, guilt-free electricity, exciting climate, rich culture and literature, magnificent volcanoes, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, the aurora borealis, and what not. Despite being a small country and sparsely populated, it ranks among the best countries in the world. Hence, here are some fabulous facts about Iceland that you’ve probably never heard of before.

1. Iceland is the only country in the world with no mosquitoes.

Image Source: businessinsider

Though mosquitoes are known to breed in places with various climatic conditions, including in Antarctica and nearby Greenland, they are very much absent in Iceland. According to scientists, the Icelandic climate helps keep them away. Unlike in other cold countries, where the pupa could hibernate during winters and hatch when the ice melts in spring, the climate in Iceland changes rapidly and unexpectedly. There could be a sudden rise in temperatures in the middle of winters, which thaw the ice, and then a sudden drop in temperature, all of which disrupt the life cycle of mosquitoes making it impossible for them to breed and multiply. (source)

2. 100% of Iceland’s population has access to the internet.

Image Source: internetlivestats

From a rate of 99.8 percent in 2015, Iceland has reached 100 percent of internet users according to the data collected from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), World Bank, and United Nations Population Division. The data refers to internet users as those who can access the internet at home on any device type and connection. (1, 2)

3. Iceland is located on the boundaries of two tectonic plates and was formed from volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, about 18 million years ago.

Image Source: amusingplanet

Iceland is a part of the ridge between Eurasian and North American plates. It was created because of the rifting and volcanic activity when the plates were pulled apart. The presence of the ridge also means that there are hundreds of volcanoes in Iceland with approximately 30 volcanic systems being active and a lot of geothermal phenomenon like geysers. Iceland sits directly above a hotspot, known as Iceland Plume, which is believed to be the cause for the formation of the country. (1, 2)

4. At 103,000 sq km, Iceland is around the same size as England. However, its population is only 332,529, and 60% of this population live in Reykjavik, the capital city.

Image Source: maps.google

Since the time of its original settlement, the population of Iceland had faced lots of calamities like cold winters, ash fall from volcanic eruptions, and bubonic plagues along with 37 famine years. All these tragedies affected the population severely. Until the mid-19th century, the population of Iceland varied between 40,000 to 60,000 and only reached 320,000 in 2008. (1, 2)

5. The language of Iceland, Icelandic, has remained vastly unchanged from Old Norse.

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Icelandic descended from Old Norse, and compared to other Nordic languages, its grammar and vocabulary did not change much. Instead of borrowing from other languages, Icelandic has developed its own vocabulary based on native roots, and so they preserved more noun and verb inflection. The reason the development of Icelandic had stayed puristic was because of conscious language planning that started in the 18th century as well as the country’s geographic isolation. (source)

6. More than 99% of the power generated in Iceland is from renewable sources like hydro power and geothermal power. 

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Owing to its unique geology, being located over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the resultant large number of volcanoes and geysers, Iceland became the world’s largest green energy producer and electricity producer per capita. Being located on the ridge makes the island tectonically active. This means there are over 200 volcanoes and 600 hot springs. There are over 20 high-temperature steam fields with temperatures of at least 150 0C and with many of them even reaching 250 0C. Because of their such features, they are harnessed to geothermal power. There are also many glacial rivers and waterfalls through which hydro power is harnessed. (1, 2)

7. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon, is actually man-made. It is filled with waste water from a nearby geothermal power plant, Svartsengi. This power plant takes the water superheated by lava from the ground to generate electricity and sends it to the lagoon when done.

Image Source: landlopers

The Blue Lagoon spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, southwestern Iceland. The waters of the spa are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, and have average temperatures between 37 and 39 0C. The geothermal power plant Svartsengi uses the superheated water (240 0C) from the ground near a lava flow to run turbines to generate electricity. After that, the water is passed through the heat exchanger to heat the municipal water and is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal use. (source)

8. Iceland has more books written, published, and sold per capita than any other country. An average Icelander reads four books a year while one out of ten publishes something in their lifetime. 

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Iceland has a rich literature and a majority of the population that indulges in it. The prevalence could be due to the fact that the long winters and the long distances to between places like movie theaters make it difficult to go out very often. More importantly, there is also a great amount of pre-Christian literature in the form of The Sagas, the folklore and mythologies which remain an intrinsic part of Icelandic identity and culture. Also, taking the small population into account, it comes as no surprise that reading and writing are so common.

During Christmas Eve, Icelanders give so many books as gifts that it has become a national tradition called Jólabókaflóð, or “Christmas Book Flood”. Typically, most books are published between September and December, and during the early November, the Iceland Publishers Association releases a catalog of new publications called Bokatidindi, which is distributed for free to almost every home. (12)

9. Despite being so far in the north, the climate in Iceland is remarkably mild. In fact, New York would feel comparatively cooler than Reykjavik.

Image Source: notendur

Iceland lies in the path of the North Atlantic Current, which means that the climate is more temperate than can be expected in a place that is situated so close to the Arctic Circle. Also, the Irminger Current keeps the island’s temperature moderate. Iceland’s winters reach an average temperature of 0 0C (32 0F) while the summers reach an average of 10 – 13 0C (50 – 55 0F) in the south, while the lowest recorded was -39.7 0C (-39.5 0F) and the highest was 30.5 0C (86.9 0F). (1, 2)

10. The parliament of Iceland, established in 930, is the oldest active parliament in the world.

Image Source: qz

The Althing (meaning “all the assemblies”) is the national parliament of Iceland and was first formed around 930, about 60 years after first settlement on the island. It consisted of district leaders, members, and a speaker whose responsibility was to say the laws and decisions out loud to people. During the 13th century and until mid 19th century, this form of administration was replaced with a legislative power shared with Norwegian king and progressed to absolute monarchy, Althing only serving as a court of law. In July 1843, Althing was recreated, elections were held a year later, and a new parliament established by 1845.  Consequently, it is considered “the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy.” (1, 2)

11. Iceland has no army and is recognized as the world’s most peaceful country.

Image Source: cnn

According to 2016 Global Peace Index Report, Iceland stands first as the most peaceful country, followed by Denmark and Austria. Iceland does not even have a standing army. It only has Coast Guard which also maintains Iceland Air Defense System and an Iceland Crisis Response Unit to support peacekeeping missions. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as “Country ranked most at peace” and “Lowest military spending per capita”. Since it became an independent republic in 1944, only one person has been killed by armed police in Iceland. (123)

12. There is an anti-incest app in Iceland that stops you from accidentally hooking up with a cousin as many Icelanders share common ancestors considering the small population. 

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Developed by three app developers from Sad Engineer Studios, the Islandiga App uses a database to find out how an Icelander is related to another. It also has family trees, family statistics, and birthday calendar including the birthdays of all the relatives which gives notifications on their birthdays. The app also has a feature that notifies via text and sound if the user bumps into someone who is related. (1, 2)

13. Iceland has the world’s first directly elected female head of state and first openly gay prime minister. Also, it was ranked 2nd in the strength of its democratic institutions.

Image Source: wikipedia, ellafestival

Iceland has a unique political situation as the governments of the country have always been in a coalition as no single party received the majority of seats in Althing throughout the republican period. Thus, two or more parties were involved in the coalition. It was also the first country to have a political party, Kvennalistinn (Women’s List or Women’s Alliance), formed entirely by women in 1983. In 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected as president, the first directly elected female head of state, and in 2009 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first openly gay prime minister. (source)

14. Icelanders do not have family names. Instead, they carry names derived from the first names of their father or mother.

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Icelanders use the traditional Nordic naming system, which includes a family name (or last name) that is comprised of their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son. If you look at a phonebook in Iceland, you will find the names sorted by first names, rather than last names. Therefore, everyone in Iceland calls each other by their first name. There is also an Icelandic Naming Committee that keeps a list of officially approved given names that a parent can give their child, and any new name not in the register has to approved by the law. (1, 23)

15. In Iceland, you can hand-draw a map on a piece of mail without an address, and it will still make it to its destination.

Image Source: cntraveler

According to a Reddit thread, a tourist in Reykjavik mailed an envelope to a farm in Hvammsveit, West Iceland, with a hand-drawn map instead of an address. It only included the name of the village and the country, and the words “a horse farm with an Icelandic/Danish couple and three kids and a lot of sheep” at the top and “the Danish woman works in a supermarket in Búðardalur” at the bottom instead of the names of the receivers. The letter successfully made it to the farm. (source)

16. There is a natural rock formation off the coast of Iceland that looks like a giant elephant.

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The Elephant Rock is a natural rock formation on the island of Heimaey (literally Home Island) in Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. The island is the largest and most populated island of Iceland and home to around 4,500 Icelanders. It is also home to a volcano named Eldfell which means Mountain of Fire in Icelandic. (source, 2)

17. There’s a penis museum in Iceland. It’s the world’s largest display of penises with the collection of 280 specimens.

Image Source: wikipedia

The Icelandic Phallological Museum was founded in 1997 by Sigurður Hjartarson who received a bull’s penis when he was a boy. He meant to use it as a cattle whip, but then it started a lifelong interest in penises. He received four more bull penises from his friends who heard the story, and some of his acquaintances later gave him whale penises. The collection slowly started growing with penises from slaughterhouses and commercial whaling stations. The museum now houses a collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals including whales, seals, land mammals, and allegedly also those of elves and trolls. The collection also includes lampshades made from the scrotums of bulls. (source)

18. A study of DNA passed from mother to child among 80 Icelanders revealed a genetic variation found mostly in Native Americans. It is believed that a Native American woman might have traveled to Europe with the Vikings 500 years before Columbus sailed to America. 

Image Source: missgien, shermanindianmuseum

Before 1000 AD, the Vikings had reached Greenland and had gone on to explore further into Canada. They even established a colony, which only lasted a decade. The authors of the study theorize that the DNA signature might have entered the Icelandic bloodlines during that time when the first Viking-American Indian child was born. However, the authors also think of a possibility that the DNA variation might have come from mainland Europe, during the infrequent contact it had with Iceland before 1700 AD. (source)

19. There is not a single McDonald’s restaurant in Iceland. 

Image Source: news

Though McDonald’s did first open in 1993 in Iceland, the country’s financial crisis in 2009 and the “unique operational complexity” of doing business with such small population forced the restaurant to pull out. Also, it cost too much to import onion from Germany, which meant despite being quite busy, McDonald’s had really low profits. (source)

20. Icelanders have a strong love for the folklore and mythology, with some of them believing in elves, fairies, and hidden people. They guard them so much that the roads that are going to be newly constructed or even old ones would be altered so as not to disturb the elves.

Image Source: ancient-origins, rauserbegins

Huldufólk, Icelandic for “hidden folk”, are elves in Icelandic folklore and are believed to live in the rocks in Iceland. There have been several instances in which construction work had been altered to prevent damaging their dwellings. In the late 1930s, the construction of a road which required demolishing of a hill known as Álfhóll (Elf Hill) was instead made around it.

Another road construction in 2013 from the Álftanes peninsula to Reykjavík was stopped because elf supporters and environmental groups protested by stating that the elf habitat and the local cultural beliefs would be destroyed. In another incident in 1982, 150 Icelanders went to NATO to look for the “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets and AWACS reconnaissance planes.” (1, 2)


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