12 Fun Facts About Iceland

12 Fun Facts About Iceland

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 of a diverse topography that enables tourists to visit breath-taking 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 probably what made you search for amazing facts about Iceland

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

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

In the 9th century, a Viking by the name of 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. He forgot to harvest hay for his livestock, and his attempt to settle in Gardarsholmur failed. The sagas show us that on a stop in Greenland, he climbed a mountain and saw a fjord full of drift ice which prompted 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: "Why is Iceland called Iceland?".


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!

Fisherman 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?

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. 

People happy in iceland

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 city is quirky and very colorful. It's packed with numerous museums, bars, cafes, and restaurants, and it is easy to walk around. Most of the population lives in the capital because most of the country isn't ideal for human settlement.

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

Consequently, 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 your own peace and quiet. Browse our range of rental cars in Iceland here.

Reykjavik Iceland

4. There’s an app 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 an app called Íslendinga-App to check if the person they are interested in is related or not. Guess what the app's slogan is.

"Bump the app before you bump in bed.”


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. 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 that were hidden by Adam and Eve. That is where elves got the name ‘Huldufolk’ from, which translates to "Hidden People."

Trolls, on the other hand, were conjured up to explain the harsh reality of living in Iceland. Teaching people that they can disappear without a trace, as the country is at the edge of existence. These stories instilled fear in the people of Iceland, who was already hopeless against inclement weather and natural disasters. 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 activity, then geothermal 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 Mývatn Nature Baths are actually artificial. However, the water is heated naturally.

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

People in hot spring in iceland

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

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

Iceland generates 99% of its energy from renewable resources.

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 allow for an abundance of 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. 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.

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 run into 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 a 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.

And with statistics showing that one out of ten of them will publish a book in their lifetime. It shows you how literary-focused the country is. For years Iceland published a book at the highest rate per capita. Since the pandemic hit, the UK swooped that title away.

If you want to read a book written by an Icelander, I suggest you read “Independent People” by Halldór Laxness, the only Nobel Prize Winner in 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.

Book iceland

10. Iceland has no standing army.

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

Although Hollywood films depict Vikings as violent people, it’s unlikely you’ll 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.

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 national coast guard. However, the lack of a standing army means no full-time professional military force.

Snow road in iceland

11. Icelanders treat their celebrities as ordinary citizens.

Because of the small population, famous Icelanders don't stand out. Most Icelanders know each other, so it's not a big deal coming 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 parents' 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.

That's 12 fun facts about Iceland. If you are not already jumping in your seat of excitement and planning a trip to Iceland after reading those fun facts then I can recommend you read 10 Best Things to do in Iceland. If you are, then what are you waiting for? Check out our great selection of rental cars available on our website!

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