26 Fun Facts About Iceland

By Michael Chapman

How much do you know about the land of ice and fire?

26 Fun Facts About Iceland

By Michael Chapman

How much do you know about the land of ice and fire?

Iceland is a place like no other. Boasting a natural beauty that is both homely and alien and a cultural history rich with fascinating titbits and quirks, this island draws such phenomenal interest that it has reached almost mythic status.

No wonder then that fun facts about Iceland articles are ten-a-penny…

But how much does one really know about this place besides being able to recognise it from widely-shared photographs and videos? What makes the Icelanders tick, and how has living in this strange and beautiful land shaped their national character?

Without further ado, let’s take a look at 26 fun facts about Iceland.

26 Fun Facts About Iceland

A man standing too close to the shoreline at Reynisfjara beach in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Joshua Earle)

1) Iceland’s only native mammal is the Arctic Fox, thought to have crossed over from mainland Europe during a former ice age. Throughout this period, it is thought there were sufficient ice floats between the continent and Iceland so as to make migration population. Similar events sometimes occur with Polar Bears from neighbouring Greenland, though Arctic Foxes have long been able to sustain themselves on the island’s rich bird population.

2) The word Jólabókaflóð means Christmas Book Flood, and refers to that festive end of year period where Icelanders publish hundreds of new books, ready for reading over the holidays. Icelanders are incredibly passionate about literature, with roughly one in ten people will have published a book during their lifetimes.

3) Most local people can trace their lineage back to the Viking Age thanks to the Islendingabok, the Book of Icelanders, a meticulous online record of each generation. Thanks to a nationwide collection of surveys, obituaries and court documents, Icelanders can now trace their family back hundreds of years with a quick check of the internet.

A white arctic fox in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Sridhar Chilimuri)

4) Iceland is a volcanic island with over 130 active volcanoes. The largest is Bárðarbunga, which can be found in South Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park.

5) Any Icelandic horse that leaves the country is forever forbidden to return; such are the strict protocols that regulate breeding in Iceland. The Icelandic horse is among the world’s purest bred breeds, having been isolated for over 1000 years. Icelandic horses are small and muscular in stature and are capable of performing five unique gaits.

6) Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989. While those abroad necked golden pints without ever considering doing otherwise, Icelanders were forced to make do with home-brewed spirits, as well as any other alcoholic treasure smuggled in.


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
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bubble in iceland
Lava erupts from the ground in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Marc Szeglat)

7) Iceland is said to have the world’s oldest parliamentary documentary, the Althing, which formed amid the lava rocks and exposed tectonic plates of Þingvellir in 930 AD.

8) Visitors can find Europe’s largest glacier in Iceland. Known as Vatnajökull (“Water Glacier”), this enormous force of nature covers approximately 8% of the country’s total landmass, swallowing valleys, mountains and volcanoes beneath its dense layer of ice.

9) Iceland does not possess an army, air force or navy, instead relying on the defence capabilities of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). It does, however, have a coast guard which has previously seen action in a series of conflicts with the United Kingdom known as ‘The Cod Wars’. Iceland emerged as the victor of this dispute over fishing rights, and no one has dared challenge this fearsome Viking nation since.

A man jumps on a road in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Madara Parma)

10) The Icelandic language is relatively unchanged from Old Norse, which has been spoken on this island for over a thousand years. Icelanders will often merge terms to describe new words, creating portmanteaus that are as striking as they are creative. For instance, the word for ‘computer’, which is tolva, can be translated to ‘Numbers Witch.’

11) There are only two places on earth that do not have mosquitoes; Antarctica and Iceland. There are also no snakes, scorpions or poisonous spiders, which can be some relief when weighing up where in the world to visit next.

12) Iceland is a popular shooting location for Hollywood productions. Ridley Scott used the waterfall Dettifoss in his Alien-prequel, Prometheus, while the black sand beaches of the south provided an interstellar backdrop for Star Wars: Rogue One. Game of Thrones also used several locations in Iceland, many of which can be found nearby South Iceland’s Golden Circle sightseeing route.

There are no McDonalds restaurants in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Jurij Kenda)

13) There is not a single McDonald’s restaurant to be found in Iceland. The most popular fast food here is Domino’s  pizza, swiftly followed by KFC, though Subway operates more stores than any other franchise. Those who can’t imagine staying somewhere where beef patties aren’t readily available, Icelandic fast-food chains, including Aktu Taktu and Tommi’s Burger, can all help temper that craving.

14) According to the latest surveys, only 31% of Icelanders now believe in elves, or Huldufolk (“Hidden Folk”). With that said, the number of those who would not willingly speak out against Iceland’s elves is far more extensive. To this day, certain areas are still considered linked to the elves, so they must be avoided when laying roads and infrastructure.

15) Iceland had the first elected female head-of-state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who held office as President between 1980 to 1996. Iceland was also where the first elected openly-gay prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, attempted to repair the fallout of the financial collapse that occurred one year prior to her taking the role.

16) Iceland is among the few places on the planet where one can witness the Northern Lights in action. According to local folklore, if two lovers conceived a baby beneath the auroras, then it would likely be born cross-eyed. (Just a word of warning for visiting couples looking to get close beneath this cosmic light show).

17) Most native Icelanders do not have surnames but instead have patronymic and matronymic last names. If you were to lookup an Icelandic person in the local telephone registry, you would have to rifle through the first and middle names to locate them. Parents can only choose their child’s name from a list compiled by the Icelandic naming committee, an issue that has caused some division in local politics in the past.

18) The towering rock faces of Látrabjarg, located in the remote and ancient Westfjords region, marks Europe’s tallest bird cliffs, as well as its westernmost point. Visitors can spot many species here including the Arctic Skua, guillemots and Atlantic Puffins.

A mountain in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Robert Bye)

19) Icelanders have a long history of bathing in geothermal baths, and to this day, consider a visit to the swimming pool and saunas top among social activities. Beware; there are strict rules about showering naked before taking a dip, so the prudish among you should be wary. This is no joke; changing room guards regularly watch out for anyone trying to skip out on hygiene. Iceland’s oldest outdoor swimming pool, The Secret Lagoon, can be found as part of the Golden Circle sightseeing route.

20) Over two-thirds of Iceland’s 360,000-strong population live in the Capital Region. The vast majority of towns and villages in Iceland are located along the coast, with the Highlands left uninhabited. (How are these for some fun facts about Iceland?)

21) Iceland is considered at the forefront of sustainable energy, with most homes and buildings being heated through geothermal or hydro-electrical means.

Geothermal energy billows from the ground
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Matt Palmer)

22) According to local Christmas traditions, there are 13 Santa Clauses called the Yules Lads, who bear somewhat unappealing names like “Sausage Snatcher” and “Window Peeper”. To make the holidays more uncomfortable, a giant Yule Cat stalks the countryside, ever on the hunt for children who have not been gifted clothes for Christmas. 

23) Icelanders have a reputation for being beautiful specimens. The Miss World competition has seen four Icelandic champions in the run; Hólmfríður Karlsdóttir, Linda Pétursdóttir and Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir. Guðrún Bjarnadóttir, paved the way for those who would come after, having won Miss International in 1963.

24) Icelanders are also known for their strength. The World’s Strongest Man’s Hall of Fame has only six members as of 2020, with two of them from Iceland; Magnus Ver Magnusson and Jon Pall Sigmarsson. Another strong man of note is Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, who, aside from having won the World’s Strongest Man, famously played The Mountain in Game of Thrones.

fun facts about Iceland
(Photo Credit: Kevin Bridges)

25) When counting only those of sovereign states, Reykjavik is the planet’s northernmost capital. The city is relatively temperate throughout much of the year, though the winter is often a different story altogether.

26) On the Westman Archipelago, south of the Icelandic mainland, guests can observe the world’s largest puffin colony. These tiny tuxedoed birds arrive en masse during the summer, leaving behind their solitary lives on the waves. There are an estimated 8 – 10 million puffins in Iceland throughout this period, which accounts for roughly 60% of the earth’s population.

27) During the summer, Iceland experiences up to 24 hours of daylight, courtesy of the Midnight Sun. Such a wealth of sunlight allows for guests to spend much longer on the road, as well as enjoy natural sites and attractions well into the night.

If you are looking to learn more fun facts about Iceland, we suggest checking some of our feature articles. Should, for instance, you be looking to know about the auroras, then The best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland will surely be a fine companion. 

Alternatively, if the sightseeing, or any other attraction in South Iceland, has piqued your interest, might we direct you towards The Golden Circle in Iceland | All You Need to Know.  Even About Iceland’s Breathtaking Black Sand Beach has plenty of fun facts about Iceland worthy of reading!

Whatever side of this island has you longing to know more, nothing can substitute a real visit; appreciating the people’s friendliness, the drama and poetry of the landscape, the fresh air and wide-open spaces is all something that guests must experience first hand.

Fun facts about Iceland can only get you so far. Nothing compares to the real thing.


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person