12 Fun Facts About Iceland

12 Fun Facts About Iceland

Michael Baikepi Michael Baikepi
25. May 2022 (Updated: 2. Nov 2022) ∼ 9 min. read


Iceland's popularity has skyrocketed in recent times. The Nordic island entertains close to 2 million visitors every year now. This is no surprise, as the country boasts a diverse topography that enables tourists to visit breathtaking waterfalls, blue glaciers, and black beaches. Visitors can also gaze at the mysterious Northern Lights or go whale-watching.

The country has reached an almost mythical status on social media, which is how you end up reading facts about Iceland blog

Well, sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee because this article contains all the fascinating information about the Land of Fire and Ice.

1. Iceland used to be called "Snæland" (Snowland).

In the 9th century, a Viking named Naddodur was blown off course from the Faroes, only to land on a stark, uninhabited island. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he was the first Norseman to reach this place. The island snowed a lot during the autumn months, which is why he called it "Snæland/Snowland." As the temperatures became more and more unbearable, he returned to the Faroes.

In AD 860, a Swedish Viking Gardar followed Naddodur's footsteps and visited the island. Gardar settled north at Húsavík, where he built his house and later named the island after himself, "Gardarsholmur."

A few years later, a Norwegian Viking, Floki, sailed to Gardarsholmur. He brought his family and livestock along with him. During the summer, he would hunt and fish to feed his family. Unfortunately, he forgot to harvest hay for his livestock, and his attempt to settle in Gardarsholmur failed. Nevertheless, the sagas show us that on a stop in Greenland, he climbed a mountain and saw a fjord full of drift ice, prompting Floki to call the island "Iceland."

A disgruntled Floki arrived safely in Norway, only to badmouth the island because of his settlement failures. Most people didn't believe him, as, within the first 50 years, over 20,000 people left Norway for Iceland.


You can read more about that in our article: "Iceland vs. Greenland."

2. Icelanders are said to be the happiest people on Earth.

If you look at the history of Iceland, you'll find that we have gone through a share amount of adversities. From confronting natural disasters to famine to the colonial denomination and isolation - Icelanders have experienced it all!

Fishermen in Iceland used to stand by the shore and ask themselves two questions:

  • Do I get on my boat and risk my life at sea?
  • Or do I stay alive onshore but starve?

People happy in iceland

Their resilient history has helped them build resilient relationships, which studies show is the key to their happiness. Families are very close in Iceland. And it's easy to contact your loved ones, as most live within driving distance.

Icelandic people are also very optimistic. They love trying new things, which helps them not feel stuck.

3. Over 60% of the population in Iceland lives in Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, where most of the population resides. The town is quirky and very colorful. It's packed with numerous museums, bars, cafes, and restaurants, making walking around easy. Most of the population lives in the capital because most of the country isn't ideal for human settlement.

For example, you can't build a house near an active volcano or on Vatnajökull, a glacier that covers 8% of the island's landmass. 

Reykjavik Iceland

As a result of the harsh landscape, Iceland has become one of the most sparsely populated countries globally.

With a rental car in Iceland, you will quickly be able to escape the crowds of Reykjavik and find peace and quiet. 

4. There's a website that helps prevent you from dating a relative.

There is an issue of everyone being related, which can be a problem in the local dating scene. Many Icelanders now use a website called Íslendinga bók to check if the person they are interested in is related or not.

5. Many older Icelanders believe in trolls and elves.

Icelandic beliefs are intriguing and unique compared to many around the world. 

In the 19th century, scholars Magnus Grimsson and Jon Arnason went around the country collecting various short stories that filled close to 600 pages! When reading their compilation, you'll quickly realize that most stories were anecdotes about trolls and elves.

But where do these elves and trolls come from?

According to one anecdote, the elves go as far back as the book of Genesis. After Creation, God paid Adam and Eve a visit. But, unfortunately, the two had not prepared their children for the visit. And so those that were not dressed or washed before God arrived were hidden away.

When God arrived, he was angry because He knew what they had done. He then declared, "All that's hidden from me shall also be hidden from man's eyes. So elves are descendants of the children hidden by Adam and Eve. That is where elves got the name 'Huldufolk' from, which translates to "Hidden People."

Conversely, trolls were conjured up to explain the harsh reality of living in Iceland. For example, teaching people, they can disappear without a trace, as the country is at the edge of existence. These stories instilled fear in Iceland's people, who were already hopeless against inclement weather and natural disasters. However, they also helped control people's behavior and helped them persevere through tough times.

6. You can swim outdoors at any time in Iceland.

Most volcanic activity translates into geothermal heat, spas, and hot springs. Iceland has a fair share of these, which people love swimming in all year round.

Be aware that some famous hot springs like the Blue Lagoon and Seljavallalaug hot Springs are artificial. However, the water is heated naturally.

Secret swimming pool in the valley, Iceland

If you want to dip into the warm waters outside Reykjavik, rent a car in Iceland and venture into the countryside.

7. Iceland is the eco-friendliest country in the world.

Iceland is rated the eco-friendliest country worldwide, as most of our electricity uses renewable energy sources, generating 99% of its energy from renewable resources. The capital city, Reykjavik, also won the Nordic Nature and Environment Prize for working towards being a carbon-neutral city by 2040. 

The country is pioneering the transition from non-renewable to sustainable energy production. Iceland's remarkable geology and geography provide hydro- and geothermal resources that provide abundant clean energy

  • 73% of electricity is from hydropower plants.
  • 26% of electricity is from geothermal energy.

8. Beer Was Banned in Iceland Until 1989.

In 1908, Iceland voted to ban alcohol. However, the government amended the prohibition when their import/export business with countries like Spain and Denmark was affected. 

After a referendum in 1915, Iceland went through a prohibition of beer period until 1989, when the government lifted the ban. This also led to a robust home-brewing culture! 

Now, Iceland's most popular alcoholic beverage is beer. Every year on March 1st, it's "Bjórdagurinn" or "Beer Day," though the national holiday is unofficial. You might encounter locals imbibing some beers or engaging in a pub crawl. Don't judge when you see this. Remember that for 74 years, beer was banned in this country, so they are making up for lost time!

9. One in Ten Icelanders Will Publish a Book.

The love for reading by the Icelanders dates as far back as the 13th century. Statistics show that one out of ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. Demonstrating to you how literary-focused the country is. For years Iceland published a book at the highest rate per capita. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK has taken that title away.

Suppose you want to read a book written by an Icelander. In that case, I suggest you read "Independent People" by Halldór Laxness, the only Nobel Prize Winner in Iceland.  

Book iceland

When in the capital, you can go to the annual Reykjavik International Literary Festival or head to the National Library of Iceland to immerse yourself in Icelandic literature.

10. Iceland has no standing army.

The explosive geography of Iceland can strike fear into many foreigners' hearts. Still, once you visit, you'll find it unusually peaceful here. 

Although Hollywood films depict Vikings as violent people, you'll unlikely experience or hear of any violent crime when you visit.

Iceland is so peaceful that it has no standing army, navy, or air force. We are a country that believes in talking things through.

Snow road in iceland

Iceland relies on NATO for military support. Locally, we have a peacemaking force called the Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) of about 200 staff. These peacemakers don't wear a uniform or carry any arms in most cases.

We also have an air defense system and the national coast guard. However, the lack of a standing army means no full-time professional military force.

11. Icelanders treat their celebrities as ordinary citizens.

Because of the small population, famous Icelanders don't stand out. However, most Icelanders know each other, so it's not a big deal to come across Björk or the president at the city park.

You might even come across her without security, as the country is ultra-safe.

12. Your name has to be approved.

Iceland uses the patronymic naming system. Patronymic means a person's name is based on their parent's name. No wonder Icelandic names end in -dóttir (daughter of) or -son (son of).

Your name must be approved by the naming committee. If the name you want to name your child is not on the approved list, you'll have to apply for permission and wait for the approval.