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Facts about Iceland - 30 things you (might) not have known

Today we're giving you the facts about Iceland - 30 things you (maybe) didn't know. We have been to Iceland twice together and before that I (Helena) have lived in Iceland and returned several times. Let's summarise some exciting facts we learned along the way. 


Facts about Iceland

Iceland is an exciting country in many ways. The scenery is extremely dramatic, ranging from glaciers and volcanoes to waterfalls and mountains. geysers. Iceland also has an interesting history, with both Vikings and a female president.

Today, despite its small population, Iceland is a country rich in music, literature and innovative food culture. We've gathered some interesting facts about Iceland, so stay tuned!

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

1. independent state only in 1944

Iceland has only been an independent state since 17 June 1944, when its union agreement with Denmark expired. Following a referendum, the country proclaimed itself a republic, and National Day is now celebrated on 17 June.

2. The world's oldest (still active) democracy

Iceland is considered to be the world's oldest active democracy, having gathered for the first time in 930 at Tingvalla (Þingvellir National Park), to "keep things". The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

fakta om Island - Thingvellir

3. First democracy to elect a woman president

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was President of Iceland between 1980 and 1996. She was Europe's first female president, as well as the world's first democratically elected female city leader.

4. Most sparsely populated in Europe

Iceland has around 362 000 inhabitants, which is only slightly more than the population of Malmö. With only about three inhabitants per square kilometre, Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe.


5. Icelanders do not (usually) have family names

In Iceland, people primarily use their first names. They do not have family names in the same way as in the rest of Europe, but according to ancient custom they can tell you whose son or daughter they are. is. If your name is Björnsson, you are said to be Björn's son, and if you are a woman, you can be called Björnsdottir.

Fakta om Island

6. Iceland is not part of the EU

The small country of Iceland is going its own way and is not part of the EU, but it is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) along with Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. 

Fakta om Island

7. 85 % energy from renewable energy sources

More than 85% of all energy used in Iceland comes from renewable sources, thanks to geothermal and hydroelectric activity.

Fakta om Island - energikällor

8. Glaciers cover 11 % of the surface

An interesting fact about Iceland is that a significant part of the country's surface, 11%, is covered by ice in the form of glaciers. The largest is Vatnajökull, which covers 8 per cent of the surface.
Fakta om Island

9. Around 30 active volcanoes

There are around 30 active volcanic systems in Iceland, and several Icelandic volcanoes may erupt soon. Hekla, Katla, Öræfajökull, Grímsvötn, Bárðarbunga and Askja are among those expected to erupt.

Bárðarbunga, photo: Pixabay

10. The world's youngest island

The world's youngest island, Surtsey, belongs to Iceland and is located just south of the main island. Surtsey was created by a volcanic eruption in 1963. Today, only a few scientists have access to it.

Source: Flickr - Surtsey island Ron Cogswell - all Creative Commons

11. Two continental plates moving apart

Iceland lies across two continental plates (North America and Europe). The split is at the Almannagjá Gorge in Þingvellir National Park, and the rift increases each year by an average of 2.5 centimetres, and is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Fakta om Island
Peter in Tingvalla

12. There are no trains

Iceland has no rail transport at all, neither train, tram nor metro. Of course, the fact that the ground is moving makes things difficult, but trains to and from the airport have still been discussed.

Fakta om Island

13. There are (almost) no trees

There are no forests in Iceland, and during a visit to the country you will hardly see any trees either. At most, you may see a few small trees in a park.

Fakta om Island: Tingvalla

14. There are no mosquitoes

Iceland is completely free of mosquitoes, apparently because they don't like the Icelandic climate. Although the lake Mývatn means 'mosquito water', the insects you see here are actually a kind of two-winged creature.

15. The Icelandic horse is not a pony

The Icelandic horse has a mane height of about 125-145 centimetres, which is below the upper limit for a pony (148 centimetres). However, the Icelandic horse is still considered a horse, and Icelanders may take offence if you call their horses ponies.

Fakta om Island - Islandshästar

16. Reykjavik has a cock museum

The Icelandic Phallological Museum is located in the centre of Reykjavik and showcases something as odd as a large collection of animal penises. The penises are stuffed or soaked in alcohol and there are over 200 different types, including human.

Fakta om Island

17. Beer was banned until 1989

Strong beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 until 1989, but many people circumvented the ban by mixing light beer with spirits. Beer Day is celebrated every year on 1 March to commemorate the day when strong beer was allowed.

18. McDonald's does not exist

There used to be a number of McDonald's restaurants in Iceland, but during the financial crash of 2008, the American chain decided to close down. Now the crisis is over, but McDonald's has not come back.

19. Sheep's head was a common picnic food in the past.

In the past, Icelanders thought that a boiled sheep's head (svið) was the perfect picnic food. Today's young people probably opt for modern delicacies, but sheep's heads can still be seen at certain festivals.


20. Icelanders like to drink fish liver oil

In hotel breakfast buffets you will often see a bottle of lýsi (fish liver oil). This is simply because many Icelanders like to take a shot of it in the morning.


21. Fermented shark and sheep testicles eaten at party

In February every year it is time for the pagan old festival Þorrablót, where they feast on traditional "goodies" such as fermented shark, smoked mutton, liver sausage, sheep's testicles and the brandy "Black Death".

Fakta om Island

22. There are 13 Santas

In Iceland, they are not satisfied with and Santa Claus, but you have 13 Santa Claus. All of the Santas are a bit of a handful and arrive one at a time, until they all arrive on Christmas Eve.

Isländska traditioner
Some of Iceland's Santas, photo:

23. creating new words to avoid borrowed words

To avoid borrowing words from other languages, old words have been used to create new ones. For example, TV is called 'sjónvarp', telephone 'sími' and police 'lögregla'.

Fakta om Island

24. All words are emphasised on the first syllable.

The Icelandic language has one rule without exception, and that is that all words are emphasised on the first syllable. Try saying "Helena" or "America" with the accent on the first vowel. Now you know how to emphasise all Icelandic words!

Fakta om Island

25. Elves (may) live in Iceland

It may not be a fact about Iceland, but according to folklore, there are plenty of "huldufólk" and other supernatural beings in nature. For example, people have been upset when a road was to be built in an elf-dense area.


26. it's not as cold as you think

Iceland is not as cold as you might think, at least not in winter. Typical winter temperatures are around 1-2 degrees centigrade. However, there's a lot of wind and rain, so it is feels often cold.

27. App to check if you are related.

Iceland has an app called 'Íslendingabók', which is used to check if you are related. Perfect for first dates - there are only about 360,000 people in the country, so the chances of being related are higher than in most other places.

Fakta om Island

28. Many films have been filmed in Iceland

Iceland is popular as a film location. Some films and TV shows that have filmed scenes in Iceland include: Game of Thrones, Interstellar, Batman Begins, Die Another Day, A View to a Kill, Tomb Raider and Prometheus.

Fakta om Island: Game of Thrones film locations

29. Gregor Clegane played by an Icelander

If you have seen the TV series Game of Thrones you have seen the giant Gregor Clegane, or 'The Mountain' as he is known. He is played by Icelandic actor and strongman performer Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.

30. Icelanders are literary

Already in 1220 he wrote Snorre Sturlasson the work Eddan. In 1955, Halldór Laxness won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Today there are many mystery writers and, according to BBC News, one in 10 Icelanders plan to publish their own book.

Books, photo: Pixabay
Helena and Peter at Gullfoss waterfall

interesting facts about Iceland

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland: Vatnajökull National Park, the volcanic island of Surtsey and Thingvellir National Park.
  • Reykjavik is the northernmost capital of the world
  • Reykjavik means a bay with smoke in it
  • Iceland's neighbours is Greenland and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.
  • Iceland's most famous music artist is Björk
  • Iceland has an opera in Reykjavik called "Harpa Concert Hall"
  • Iceland's most famous street is called Laugavegur in the centre of Reykjavik.
  • Everywhere is a large geothermal area full of boiling mud and hot springs. In some places it is 80 degrees on the ground with Lake Mývatn.
  • The word Geysers comes from the largest geyser in Haukadalur called Geysir and was also recognised in writing around the world. In Icelandic, the verb 'geysa' means something like 'rush forward', 'plunge forward' or 'eject'.
  • In the centre of Reykjavik A huge church that looks like a space rocket called Hallgrimskirkja took 41 years to complete The church tower is 74.5 metres high, making it the second tallest building in the country. 
  • Icelandic spirits (brennivín) is called the 'black death'
  • Iceland's most famous chef is Hrefna Rósa Sætran with her own cookbook and restaurant Fish Market.
  • Blue Lagoon is the hugely famous turquoise blue geothermal hot tub. 200 metres below the pool the water is 240 degrees, but before it reaches the pool the temperature is reduced to a comfortable 38 degrees (36-39 degrees). Here you can get mud for your face in the pool or buy beer at the bar in the pool with your key fob. A drink (beer, wine, bubbly, soft drink or smoothie) is included in the price, and you can also get beauty treatments, massages or take a sauna in many locations directly from the pool. The spa is located in the centre of a huge lava field, at Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, not far from Keflavik Airport.
  • There is whale watching in Iceland and you can see humpback whales, sperm whales, blue whales, dolphins and orcas.
  • Leifur Eriksson (Leif Eriksson) also Leif the Lucky, probably born around 970 in Iceland, died around 1020, was a seafarer and explorer and was probably the first European to land in North America. This is thought to have happened around the year 1000.
  • Special food in Iceland are sheep testicle, sour shark/fermented shark, puffin, boiled sheep head, dried fish. They have their own throat lozenges called Opal and they love chocolate with liquorice in it. They also have (bolludagur) which is eaten on Fat Tuesday with fillings like jam, chocolate, cream etc.

Surprising facts about Iceland?

Were these perhaps some surprising facts about Iceland, or did you already know everything? Do you have any more exciting facts about Iceland to share?

Facts about Iceland

  • Capital city: Reykjavik 120 000 inhabitants
  • Population: Around 362 000 (2019)
  • Language: Icelandic (most are also good at English and some speak a Scandinavian language).
  • Statehood: Republic
  • Currency: Icelandic krona
  • Time difference: None
  • Country number: 354
  • National Day: 17 June
  • National bird: Hunting falcon
  • Nationalhelgon: Þorlákr Þórhallsson year 1198
  • The flag of Iceland: Sky blue, fire red and snow white. Sky blue with a horizontal white and red cross.
  • Highest mountain/point: Hvannadalshnjúkur 2110 metres 
  • Biggest lake: Þingvallavatn
  • Longest river: Þjórsá ca 230 km
  • Iceland's national anthem: Song of praise 
  • Electricity in Iceland: Same as in Sweden
  • Drinking water in Iceland? The water is very good
  • Watch out for? Forces of nature (wind, fog, earthquakes, etc.) - be aware that your mobile phone may not have coverage in the interior. You can swim anywhere in Iceland and they have many warm streams, rivers and lakes. Beware of jumping straight in as it can be over 80 degrees centigrade.
  • Think about? Iceland does not have summer time, so the time difference is one hour in winter and two hours in summer. Don't forget windproof and rainproof clothing!
  • Weather? The average temperature in summer is 12-13°C. Sometimes temperatures can rise to around 20°C. In winter, the average temperature in January is minus 1°C. It can get colder, but a few degrees above zero are also common.

Information on Iceland for travellers

More fun facts

Many fun facts that you (maybe) didn't know? Click on the image!

Mixed facts about Iceland

Geysers and springs

  • Geyser is located in the geothermally active Haukadalur valley, along with several other hot springs. Geysir occurs a few times a year and completely unannounced and can shoot up to 70 metres high.
  • Strokkur located just 50 metres from Geysir has regular eruptions about every 5-10 minutes with splashes around 15-20 metres high
  • Little Geyser (Little Geyser) is a spring with boiling water in the same area.
  •  Kingship (King's Spring) is also located in Haukadalur


There are more than 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland and here are some of the more famous ones, the most powerful in Europe and the four highest in Iceland.

  • Gullfoss is a waterfall on the river Hvítá in Suðurland. The waterfall has a total height of 32 metres and falls in two stages, first 11 metres and then 21 metres into a gorge 20 metres wide and 2.5 kilometres long.
  • Goðafoss is a 30 metre wide waterfall, with a 12 metre high drop. The waterfall is located just east of Akureyri.
  • Faxi waterfall 12 km from Gullfoss with lots of salmon along the Golden Circle.
  • Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall in the river Seljalandsá and is 65 metres high.
  • Kirkjufellsfoss is a waterfall from Mount Kirkjufell.
  • Skógafoss which is 25 metres wide and has a drop of 60 metres, is one of Iceland's largest waterfalls and is located on the Skogá River in Suðurland.
  • Öxarárfoss is a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. It flows from the river Öxará over Almannagjá.
  • Aldeyjarfoss is a waterfall in northern Iceland. The river Skjálfandafljót flows down here at a height of 20 metres.
  • Bruarfoss with a drop of only 10 metres in many places but considered the most beautiful.
  • Dettifoss is a 45-48 metre high waterfall located in the Mývatn area of northern Iceland in the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. It is the most powerful waterfall in Europe
  • Svartifoss is a waterfall in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. In and around the entire waterfall is black lava in hexagons that were formed after an eruption.
  • Hengifoss waterfall, whose height is 118 metres. It is the fourth highest waterfall in Iceland. 
  • Háifoss is a waterfall near the Hekla volcano. The Fossá River flows down here with a drop of 122 metres. This is the third highest waterfall in Iceland.
  • Glymur is Iceland's second highest waterfall. The waterfall has a total height of 198 metres and is located at the end of Hvalfjörður, and is located at the end of Hvalfjörður.
  • Morsárfoss is Iceland's highest waterfall. The waterfall has a total head of 227.3 metres and is located in Vatnajökull National Park.


There are about 130 volcanoes in Iceland

  • Hekla, KatlaEyjafjallajökull, Öraefajökull, Grímsvötn, Bárðarbunga, Askja are the most active.
  • Krafla, Eldfell, Snæfellsjökull and Thrihnúkagigur are large but less active right now in 2021.


Iceland has 13 slightly unpleasant gnomes The first Santa comes on 12 December and then the others come day after day until Christmas Eve. On the day after Christmas Eve they disappear one by one and when they are all gone the people light bonfires to celebrate. Santa's parents are called Gryla and Leppaludi and are two evil trolls who eat disobedient children. 

  • 12 December: Stekkjastaur (Klumpfoten)
  • 13 December: Giljagaur (The Gorge Tomb)
  • 14 December: Stúfur (Stump)
  • 15 December: Þvörusleikir (Slevslickaren).
  • 16 December: Pottaskefill (Kastrullkraparen)
  • 17 December: Askasleikir (The Bowl Lick)
  • 18 December: Hurðaskellir (The Door Slammer)
  • 19 December: Skyrgámur (Filglupsken)
  • 20 December: Bjúgnakrækir (The Raven Thief)
  • 21 December: Gluggagægir (the Spaniard)
  • 22 December: Gáttaþefur (The Snuffer)
  • 23 December: Ketkrókur (Köttkorpen)
  • 24 December: Kertasníkir (Light Tiger)


Iceland has 35 islands here are some facts about some of them

  • Grímsey is an Icelandic island and together with the uninhabited small island of Kolbeinsey, Grímsey is the only part of Iceland north of the Arctic Circle. 61 people live here.
  • Ön Viðey is located 15 minutes outside Reykjavik in Faxaflói Bay. It has Iceland's oldest stone house from 1755, a church, restaurant and the Imagine Peace Tower designed by Yoko Ono and dedicated to John Lennon. The island has a 1000-year history and may have been Iceland's first inhabited place.
  • Surtsey which belongs to Iceland and is located just south of the main island.
  • Westman Islands has eleven islands and only one is inhabited as a home island (about 5000 residents).


There are seven glaciers in Iceland and one is the largest in Europe.

  • Vatnajökull is Europe's largest glacier with its beautiful ice lake Jökulsárlón.
  • Öræfajökull is the glacier that covers most of the southern part of Vatnajökull with Iceland's highest peak at 2110 metres.
  • Tungnafellsjökull is a small glacier between Vatnajökull and Hofsjökull with a highest peak of 1,540 metres.
  • Mýrdalsjökull is a glacier in southern Iceland whose highest point is 1,480 metres above sea level.
  • Langjökull is a glacier located in the western part of Iceland near the mountain Bláfell and north of the glacier is the vast moor Arnarvatnsheiði.
  • Hofsjökull is an ice cap in central Iceland with a highest point of 1 764 metres.
  • Eyjafjallajökull  is Iceland's fifth largest glacier, located north of the village of Skógar. The glacier rests on a 1,666 metre high stratovolcano of the same name.

National parks

There are three national parks in Iceland

  • Vatnajökull national park accounts for 13 % of Iceland's area and is the second largest national park in Europe.
  • Thingvellir  (Tingvalla) is located right in the rift between the European and American geological plates. Lake Tingvalla is home to fish that are found nowhere else and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Snaefellsjökull National Park (Snöfjällsjökel) is located at the foot of a glacier-covered volcano. It is the only national park that extends from the beach to the mountain peaks.


Some words from the Icelandic language...

  • Farfuglaheimili - hostels (aka "migratory bird shelters")
  • Immediately - immediately
  • Public Prosecutor - police (eg "rule of law")
  • Rental car - taxi (eg. "lego car", similar to "mercenary")
  • Bandaríkin - USA (eg. "bandits" approximately?)
  • Svartfjallaland - Montenegro (aka 'Black Mountain Country')
  • Knivur - knife
  • House - House
  • Cattle - Cat
  • Elda - cook
  • Energy - Energy
  • Meat - Meat

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