June 19, 2019

18 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About Iceland

by Ragnheidur Harpa
Ragnheidur studied anthropology with a minor in media so it might not come as much of a surprise that she is curious about the nature. She loves educating others about her findings or her home country, Iceland. Ragnheidur is into country living, traveling, Icelandic horses, the Icelandic naming system, plants and all things having to do with food and beer. Her favorite places in Iceland are the Westfjords and the South Coast but she has lived in downtown Reykjavik for the last few years.
18 Interesting Things You Didn’t Know About Iceland

Iceland is often nicknamed the land of ice and fire. The ice stands for the glaciers and the fire for the volcanoes. For many this is the only thing they know about Iceland but, we are here to tell you that there is so much more. Let’s go on a fact ride about Iceland!


18. Iceland is the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup in soccer

It all started with the adventure the Icelandic National team in men’s soccer took the nation on at the European Cup in 2016. From there we made it to the World Cup and actually did okay. This is when many found out about this tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean with the Viking Clap and incredible spirit. Many decided to travel to Iceland because of it!

17. Icelanders have only been independent since 1944

Icelanders got their independence from Denmark in 1944 and have been celebrating it every 17th of June since. Before Denmark ruled Iceland the country was ruled by Norway and when it gained its independence it had not been independent since the 12th century.

Icelandic Flag

16. The population has never been bigger, now about 357.000

This number, which is actually 356.991 is from a count on the 1st of January in 2019. Icelanders are very proud of their growing population and will constantly tell you about it!

15. Icelanders pretty much only live on the coast line

The middle of Iceland is a rural and rough land with glacier volcanoes and sharp lava fields. It is not the ideal place to settle and to be honest there is plenty of space still at the coast. Maybe when the population goes up to the next hundred.

14. Icelanders talk while they are breathing in

It is quite important to most Icelanders not to be interrupted while they are speaking. So, to make sure they aren’t they keep a steady flow of words. Even while they breathe in. This is especially common with connection words or hesitation words such as ‘allt svo’.

13. Icelandic have this thing called “infant swimming”

As if this didn’t sound weird enough, just wait for the explanation. It really doesn’t get any better.

Swimming and attending the swimming pool scene is very important to Icelanders. It is a tradition reaching back to the Viking age and is one of the first things parents will want to teach their children.

Due to this reason, Icelanders start the children’s’ lessons as soon as 12 weeks old. They learn how to dive, the grown-ups sing some playful songs and the babies adjust to being in the water. Some even go so far as having underwater photoshoots when the children dive for the first time. They can actually be quite adorable but some simply hilarious. However, these lessons do take place in the indoor pool and parents hold their babies at all times.

12. The water smells a bit but is some of the cleanest in the world

This is for many the first thing they notice, the odd smell of the hot Icelandic water. The showers smell a bit like eggs but once you get over it make use of the cheap water flow and enjoy a long hot shower.

Gullfoss waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall in south Iceland

The reason for the smell is sulfur. The sulfur comes from the geothermal origins of the warm water. The water is taken straight from the ground and is not filtered. it is therefore ideal for bathing but not consuming. However, the drinking water runs from natural springs and is not smelly like the hot water. It is naturally filtered and perfect for consuming.

11. Icelanders eat ice cream in any weather

This is a fact there is no denying. No matter the weather, be it a sunny day, a rainy one, a frosty one or even in the middle of a snowstorm Icelanders will line up for ice cream. Maybe it’s the Viking blood or simply the Icelandic ice cream recipe that keeps people coming we do not know. But, whatever it may be it is truly a real phenomenon.

Ice Cream Iceland

10. Icelanders have a naming committee which decides which human names are approved and declined

In the Icelandic constitution, you’ll find a few regulations Icelanders must follow to have a name approved. To make sure these rules and regulations are followed a special naming committee was established. In it sit professionals: Icelandic experts and lawyers that together take on the new applications. The meet up almost monthly and their decisions are always news material.

Infant Baby

Noteworthy: once the name is approved everyone can use it without going through the committee. Icelanders have about 9000 approved names.

Noteworthy volume II: names like Satan and Lucifer have been declined.

9. The police do not carry guns or tasers

…And there really is no reason to either. The SWAT is brought in if guns would be needed and this has worked well in the past. The crime rate is very low and the police have everything under control without any guns. The Icelandic Police would much rather be helping people in need and being relatable on Instagram.

8. Many of Iceland’s volcanoes are under glaciers

This is what we call a stratovolcano. Famous ones are Eyjafjallajokull, Snaefellsjokull, Katla and Oraefajokull. When those kinds of volcanoes erupt it can often cause flooding.

7. Iceland has no trains, trams, subways or a railway system

Icelanders are very keen on their own private cars and then there is the public bus, named Straeto. Up until a few years ago we really didn’t feel there was any need for additional options. Nowadays you’ll hear some people talk of a rail system cutting through the city and some even mention a fast train to Keflavik but nothing has been decided yet.

6. It is custom for babies to sleep outside during their lunch nap

From a very young age children are dressed up in wool and a sleeping bag, places in their baby carriage and places outside for their lunch or afternoon nap. This has been custom since the oldest can remember and we don’t see it coming to an end. Imagine the privilege of sleeping a few hours a day outside in the fresh Icelandic air.

Lupins in Iceland

Plus there really is no need to worry about their safety – everyone does it and respects it. Even if you are at a restaurant or a café, you just get the window seat and watch the carriage from there. You will see this a lot strolling around in Reykjavik.

5. Glaciers cover about 11% of the island

Iceland isn’t named Ice-land for no reason. The number is now 11% of the total terrain, 8% being Vatnajokull Glacier, the biggest in Europe.

4. Strip Clubs are banned in Iceland

Icelanders pride themselves of their leading position as feminists in the world. To coincide with this declarations strip clubs were banned a few years ago. It was hard controlling them and women were moving to Iceland to work without being registered and some were treated badly. This simply had to end and so it did.

Horses Iceland

You’ll find a lot of things in Iceland, a Penis museum included, but Strip Clubs aren’t one of them.

3. Worldwide the Icelandic horse is known as the Icelandic pony but Icelanders get offended by that name

To us the Icelandic horses are not small, they are comfortably sized. Perfect some would even say.

Icelandic horses

You can talk about the Icelandic pony to other people but as soon as an Icelander joins the conversation switch to the term ‘the Icelandic horse’. It is our pride and joy and we will simply not have it.

2. Icelanders don’t have family names

The Icelandic idea of a family name is a name that runs in the family. For example, in my family, the male name ‘Einar’ is very common. Einar is, however, a first name. It was my great grandfather’s and many have been named after him. This still has nothing to do with anyone’s last name.

Reykjadalur Iceland

When it comes to last named Icelanders do it differently. We take up our father’s first name, simply adding -son at the end if we are male and -dóttir is we are female. If a man named Jón has a son his surname will be Jónsson and if Jón then has a daughter her surname will be Jónsdóttir.

1. Icelanders make up new words to modernize and preserve the language

Most nations have adopted English words for this like computer, helicopter or volcano but Icelanders have not. They make up new words for each thing and are still doing it today.

A computer is ‘tölva’ made from the words tala (number) and völva (predictor).

A helicopter is ‘þyrla’ but was originally þyrilvinda made from the words þyrill (swirl) and vindur (wind).

A volcano is ‘eldfjall’ made from the words eldur (fire) and fjall (mountain).

We even have never example like fidget spinner became ‘þyrilsnælda’ and a tablet became ‘spjaldtölva’.

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