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Iceland is one of the most fascinating countries and geographical regions in which we have ever visited. In Iceland you can literally see how the earth has formed over time and how it continues to evolve. For this reason, visiting Iceland with kids is an extremely educational experience. It is truly a hands-on science lesson. From volcanic eruptions to melting glaciers, and Eco-friendly energy, Iceland has so many components that will inspire a love for science in you and your children. But it isn’t just science that makes it interesting, it is Iceland’s culture, political structure, and history that will captivate you. Here are a few strange, fascinating, and super fun facts about Iceland that will help you appreciate your trip and make you fall in love with this awesome country.
Fun facts about Iceland that will blow your mind
While some of these fun facts about Iceland are somewhat common knowledge others I didn’t know about until I visited. But it made the short 4-day trip to Iceland and the country itself that much more intriguing once I knew some of the more interesting tidbits about Iceland.
There aren’t many places in the world where it is still daylight in the middle of the night, but if you visit Iceland in summer, you will witness the natural phenomenon known as the midnight sun. From May through August, sunlight is visible even at midnight. During the months of June and July, particularly around the summer solstice in late June, the sun doesn’t ever set. For this reason, you will want to find a hotel with blackout curtains, or if you are camping, consider investing in a darkroom tent so you can get some sleep.
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While Iceland has the midnight sun in summer, those visiting Iceland in winter get to see an equally awesome natural phenomenon – the Northern Lights. The Northern lights are visible in Iceland from around September to April. If you want to know the science behind the aurora borealis, the dancing lights are a result of solar particles entering the earth’s magnetic field. You have to be near the earth’s poles to witness this effect, thus the closer you are to the Arctic Circle, the better your chances of seeing the sky light up green. So while Iceland isn’t the only place where you can see the Northern Lights, it is definitely one of the most popular destinations for Northern Lights seekers. Check out this Northern Lights guide to find out where else in the world you can see the aurora borealis.
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The largest glacier in Europe is in Iceland
Glaciers are another glorious act of nature you can see firsthand in Iceland. Glaciers are large blocks of ice that form on land. Many mountains and valleys have been carved from glaciers as the huge masses moved slowly over the land. Iceland is home to the largest glacier in Europe, but sadly the glacier is melting at 300 meters each year due to global warming. You can go glacier trekking, take a boat through a lagoon of icebergs to see the glaciers up close, or tour an ice cave. These are just a few ways to experience and appreciate this natural occurrence which may one day no longer be around.
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There are no forests in Iceland (or at least very, very few)
One of the most interesting facts about Iceland for me isn’t what you’ll see, but what you won’t see there. Trees. You won’t see them. OK, you might see a few, but you will see many more sweeping stretches of barren nothingness in Iceland. Believe it or not, there are hardly any forests in Iceland. This wasn’t always the case though. At one point, it’s estimated that at least 40% of the island was covered in dense forests. But those trees were chopped down by early settlers who wanted to use the land to raise cattle and sheep, and needed the lumber for homes and boats. The result was massive deforestation, which led to erosion and a landscape that resembles the surface of Mars rather than earth.
You can stand on two continents at once
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular regions of Iceland to visit, and with good reason. You can see geysers erupt, powerful waterfalls, volcanic craters, and you can even walk between two continents. At Thingvellir National Park in Iceland, you walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The two plates are slowly pulling apart (about 2.5 centimeters each year) so the rift between the two plates is getting ever-so-slightly larger every year. It is the only place in the world where the rift between the two tectonic plates is above sea level. Technically, I guess you are actually standing on one of the continents or maybe both.
For an even more exciting adventure, you can actually scuba dive or snorkel between the two tectonic plates.
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More people live in Wichita, Kansas than all of Iceland
One of the most surprising facts about Iceland was just how desolate most of the country is. You will drive for miles and miles without seeing a town, a gas station, or any evidence of human life. That’s because 80% of Iceland remains uninhabited. The population of Iceland is only about 340,000, and ⅔ of those people live in and around the Reykjavik metro area. The population has grown steadily over the last decade just as tourism has. But it still remains a relatively low-populated country.
The Vikings did NOT name the island “Iceland” to keep others away as commonly believed
There is an old running joke that Greenland is covered in ice and Iceland is actually green. There is some truth, and an age-old marketing scheme behind the joke. The Vikings did name “Greenland” in a way that it would encourage settlement, but Iceland’s founding and subsequent naming doesn’t have the same sneaky history. Still there is widely believed myth that the Viking named the island “Iceland” to prevent over settlement. In fact, the real story is actually much more simple and maybe less exciting to tell. Once upon a time, a Viking named Floki Vilgeroarson arrived on the island, climbed a mountain and saw a fjord covered in icebergs, which led him to call the island “Iceland”. The end. So perhaps this is actually one of the most un-fun facts about Iceland, but it’s better to know the truth than believe a myth.
Iceland averages one volcanic eruption every 4 years
The world’s largest concentration of active volcanoes is in, you guessed it, Iceland. A third of all the lava that has spewed out of the earth in the last 500 years has occurred in Iceland. Driving across the country, this will be very evident, because large portions of the country are covered in old lava fields. There are a total of 30 active volcanic systems on the island, and the country averages one volcanic eruption every 4 years. If volcanoes fascinate you, as they do me, you can hike to the top of Eyafjallajokull Volcano, which famously erupted in 2010 causing massive flight problems from North America to Europe, take a lava tunnel walk, or visit the Lava Centre in Selfoss to learn about these incredible forces of nature in Iceland.
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Iceland is nicknamed the “Land of Fire and Ice”
Iceland is appropriately called the “land of fire and ice”. With more than a 10th of the country covered in ice, plus constant volcanic activity making world headlines, the country is a land of two extremes. And for science lovers, this is what makes the country one of the most fascinating places in the world.
Iceland is home to the majority of the world’s puffin populations
Puffins are a fun, cute seabirds that somewhat resemble penguins with their black and white bodies. Although not considered an endangered species, puffins can only be found in a few areas of the world. You can find puffins in several North Atlantic places like the eastern Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Greenland, Russia and the northeastern corner of the United States, but Iceland is home to an estimated 60 percent of the puffin population. So, your chances of seeing this unique seabird are greater in Iceland than anywhere else in the world where puffins live. Puffins are great swimmers and survive on fish, so your chances of spotting one of these amazing creatures is better if you book a boat tour or are near the coast.
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People don’t have water heaters in Iceland
Unlike many parts of the world, Iceland doesn’t have a need for hot water heaters. Because the entire island is basically built on geothermal activity, the hot water is pumped directly out of the ground. While the country has its own supply of hot water, there is a catch. The hot water is not drinkable and has a pungent sulfur smell. It took a few days to get used to the smell, but after awhile we barely noticed it. The smell of the water doesn’t linger either. So don’t worry, you won’t step out of the shower smelling like sulfur.
The cold tap water is drinkable (and delicious)
Despite the hot water having a stinky sulfur smell, the cold water comes from pure natural springs. It tastes crisp and clean directly out of the tap and doesn’t contain chemicals like chlorine or nitrate. So save your money, skip the bottled water, and bring a refillable water bottle with you instead. A reusable bottle is better for the environment, too. Icelanders will thank you for keeping their country clean!
The famous Blue Lagoon is man-made
The Blue Lagoon is the most popular attraction in Iceland, perhaps due to its close proximity to Keflavik Airport, which makes it an easy place to visit on a layover in Iceland. While many consider this pool of warm, milky-blue, mineral-rich water a natural wonder, the Blue Lagoon is actually man-made. The lava fields that shape the pool are natural but the water is run off from the geothermal plant next door. Although it is a man-made wonder, it is nonetheless still a wonder, and the Blue Lagoon is worth visiting if you travel to Iceland. Make sure you book your time slot in advance, as space is limited and tickets often sell out.
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Iceland sets the world standard for civil liberties and LGBT rights
When it comes to tolerance, acceptance, civil liberties and equal rights for all, Iceland is definitely leading the charge. It was one of first countries to legalize same sex marriage, and the first to elect an openly gay, female prime minister. Women also hold nearly half the seats in Iceland’s parliament. Going one step further, Iceland is one of the strictest countries when it comes to enforcing equal pay laws. Companies in Iceland are required to confirm they are paying men and women equally for equal work and must receive certification proving that they are not discriminating against employees based on gender.
Family members do not share the same last name
Another one of the most fun facts about Iceland is that family members do not share the same surname. For one, women do not take their husband’s last name when they get married. Beyond that though, children do not even share their father’s last name. Instead, they take their father’s first name as their last and add the suffix ‘son’ or ‘dottir’, depending on gender. In more recent years, to encourage gender equality, children can choose to use their mother’s first name instead of their fathers or can use both names as a double surname. This peculiar naming system in Iceland, in my opinion, would make it hard to track one’s lineage or find and identify distant family members.
Iceland practically functions as a cashless society
No need to exchange foreign currency when you arrive in Iceland. Your credit card or debit card will be accepted practically everywhere. And you won’t have a minimum purchase fee required either. Even small purchases can be made on credit cards. We found places even in remote areas of Iceland accepted (and very likely preferred) credit cards as the method of payment. Make sure your credit card has a pin number though. You’ll need it when pumping gas if you plan to rent a car and drive in Iceland. Pin numbers for credit cards aren’t common in the United States, so we ended up using our debit card when we purchased gasoline for our rental car.
Beer was illegal until 1989
Having a beer with friends at the end of the long work day may be a cultural norm among many in the United States and other parts of the world, but in Iceland it was actually illegal until somewhat recently. Although wine and other alcohols were legalized in the 1920s and 1930s, beer remained illegal until March 1, 1989. The first of March is now celebrated as “Beer Day” throughout the country. Of course, you’d never know it was once illegal if you visit the country. When we were in Iceland, bars were open and full of people until 5 a.m. But if you plan to drink in Iceland, be prepared, beer is expensive! How expensive? Just one will set you back about $10 USD.
Many Icelanders believe in elves and trolls
Elves, trolls, and fairies have long been a beloved part of ancient folklore, not only in Iceland but in numerous countries around the world. But while many people believe these creatures are just a fun part of mythical legends, some Icelanders really believe elves and other “hidden people” actually exist. This was one of the more fascinating facts about Iceland for me. The legends are ingrained in the country’s history, and with the tales being passed down and told now for hundreds of years, some Icelanders have accepted them as fact, not fiction.
Iceland is considered the safest country in the world
Perhaps it’s partially due to its low population and the isolated nature of the island country, but Iceland has repeatedly been named the safest country in the world. There is practically zero crime in Iceland! Sure, there may be an occasional theft or act of vandalism, but even small, petty crimes are rare in Iceland. It is so safe, in fact, that parents will at times leave their babies outside to nap in a stroller or buggy on a nice day, while they shop or dine in a restaurant. As a parent living in the United States, that seems crazy! But just knowing the low crime rate in Iceland definitely helps ease the minds of any traveler, particularly parents traveling with kids or women traveling alone. Safety is always a top priority when we travel internationally with our daughter, so Iceland was a refreshing place to visit.
Iceland doesn’t have an army
When it comes to the issue of national safety, one of the most fun facts about Iceland is that it hasn’t had a standing army since 1869. It is the only active member of NATO that does not have an army. The country does have a coast guard, which patrols the water and airspace around Iceland. But its lack of a standing army has not seemed to hurt the country’s ability to remain safe and secure.
Texas Bluebonnets have nothing on Iceland
For years, my family has made the short drive (for us) to Texas in spring to take photos of the beautiful fields of Bluebonnets that grow wild there. Perhaps we should have been making those annual trips to Iceland instead, because Texas has nothing on Iceland when it comes to the purple wildflower known as the lupine, more commonly called bluebonnets in Texas. Lupines were brought to Iceland in 1945 to combat erosion. (Remember the no forest thing?) But since then they have spread like crazy. These purple flowers in Iceland are found all over the landscape. While they are beautiful, many in Iceland want to stop them from spreading any further. The hardy lupines are threatening a form of moss that grows on the lava rock that locals and many environmentalists want to preserve.
Commercial whaling is still legal
One area in which Iceland is notably behind the times is its practice and acceptance of commercial whaling, or the hunting of whales for meat or blubber. Although most whale species are considered endangered, Iceland still allows whaling, although in a more limited capacity nowadays. Iceland isn’t alone in its acceptance of this controversial industry. Whaling is legal in countries like Norway and Japan, also. Although the practice of hunting whales is legal, the country actually makes more revenue from whale watching in Iceland than they do commercial whaling. Although you can buy and consume whale meat in Iceland, I recommend taking the responsible and ethical route. As a tourist or visitor to the country, please don’t buy or order whale meat. Instead, book a whale watching tour and get the rare glimpse of these beautiful, massive creatures in their natural habitat.
Iceland is home to the world’s northernmost capital city
While there are numerous cities around the world that lie within or slightly below the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world. Iceland is located just outside the Arctic Circle, and its capital city sits at the 64° North line of latitude. Other Nordic capitals, including Helsinki, Stockholm, and Oslo aren’t far behind (or below) Reykjavik. They arel located around the 59° North line of latitude.
There are no mosquitoes in Iceland
For all of you who, like me, are prone to mosquito bites each summer, you may never want to leave Iceland. That’s because the country doesn’t have these pesky insects that leave itchy welts anytime they bite. Because there are no shallow lakes to serve as breeding grounds and because the weather doesn’t stay warm long enough for mosquitoes to reach adulthood, the country is one of only a few that can tout a mosquito-free status.
Iceland runs 100% on renewable energy
Renewable energy is another big bragging point for Iceland, and one that makes the country incredibly Eco-friendly. Iceland is the only country in the world that runs entirely off renewable energy sources. That means 100% of its electricity and heat come from renewable sources such as hydro-power and geothermal power. Great job Iceland! Here’s hoping other countries someday follow your lead.
Why these fun facts about Iceland make it an awesome country to visit
While Iceland is admittedly an expensive country to visit, it is fascinating and can truly be a great learning experience for kids and adults alike. It’s natural beauty is incomparable, and I hope these few fun facts about Iceland will inspire you to plan a trip to this remarkable country soon.
Have you been to Iceland? If so, what are some of the fun facts about Iceland that you learned while you were there? Let us know in the comments below!