If you want to know some interesting facts about Iceland, then you’re in the right place. On this episode of Go, we’re listing some of the most amazing things about the Nordic island. Press PLAY to listen to the episode below or read the article further down.
Iceland is home to the first parliament in Europe. In the year 930 AD, the first Parliament, known as Althingi, met in what is now Thingvellir National Park. In fact, the word 'Thingvellir' translates into 'Parliament Plains'.
Every year Icelanders from across the island met for two weeks in June, around the summer solstice. During these sessions the country's leaders created laws and served justice. The elected, 'speaker' of Althingi, served three year terms and was required to memorize all of the laws. He stood with his back to a massive stone known as the 'Law Rock. '
This site is located along Öxará, which translates into 'Axe River'. The location is believed to have been chosen do to its proximity to Thingvellir Lake, which is Iceland's largest and is teeming with fish and other wildlife. In 1798, the last Althingi took place in Thingvellir before it was disbanded in 1800. Today, this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Iceland still refers to their parliament as the Althingi.
Iceland is home to the Arctic Tern. This small white bird spends time in Iceland during the summer months, then flies all the way to Antarctica during the southern hemisphere’s summer months. This bird has the longest migration known for birds. An Arctic tern ringed as an unfledged chick on the Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK, in the summer of 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982. Only three months after leaving the nest, it flew over 14,000 miles.
Reykjavik has the lowest murder rate in the world, per capita of cities with more than 100K people.
Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park is one of only two places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meeting above the earth's surface (the other is in Africa). These plates move apart about 2 cm per year. There’s even a place where you can scuba dive between the continents called the Silfra Fissure. Our 4th Episode covers the fissure, you should check it out.
Iceland has no forests. When settlers first arrived they chopped most trees down to build houses and use as fire wood. Iceland’s soil layer is also really thin and the ground is mostly volcanic rock, making it hard for trees to grow and plant deep roots. The cold weather and short summers don’t give trees enough time to grow either. Icelanders are trying to change that with restoration projects around the country.
Roughly 10% of Iceland is covered in glaciers.
The population of Iceland is about 333,000 thousand people. California alone has ten cities with bigger populations. Wyoming, the least populated state in the US, has 250,000 more people than Iceland.
94% of Iceland’s population lives within Reykjavík and 34 other towns.
Since Iceland sits right on top of the Mid-atlantic Ridge, it’s very geologically active. Every 4 years there’s a volcanic eruption, like the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. This eruption sent thick plumes of ash into the sky above Europe. This halted air traffic for 6 days in several countries. Volcanic ash may look like smoke, but it’s actually made of tiny volcanic rock particles. This can be dangerous for planes to fly through since it can damage their engines.
In 2010, Iceland banned strip clubs.
Icelanders eat fermented Shark meat. Some people say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever eaten. The meat comes from the Greenland Shark, which can live to be over 400 years old.
Iceland generates their electricity from the environment. 80% is gained from 8 hydro-electric power plants. The rest comes from 5 geothermal power stations.
Homes in Iceland don’t need a hot water heater. Geothermal power stations heat water that keeps the homes in Iceland warm.
Some sidewalks and roads in Iceland have hot water pipes running underneath them to melt the snow in the winter.
The Icelandic horses are a direct descendant from the horses brought by the first Vikings. They grow a thick coat in the winter to keep them warm, but their coats are often a different color from their summer coats. So a tan horse in the summer can turn into a dark brown horse in the winter. They're also the only horses in the world to have 5 different gaits, while all other horses have 3 or 4.
Iceland has the highest internet usage per capita in the world, with some of the best speeds. This could be the fact that Iceland is only 39,000 square miles, about the size of the state of Virginia.
The picture above shows the inside of the Laundromat Coffee Shop in Reykjavik. Iceland consumes the 3rd most coffee per capita, in the world.
Most Icelanders believe in Elves, Fairies and Trolls. This has been likened to the belief in Santa Claus, by Western cultures. Yet, enough Icelanders believe in trolls that construction projects have been forced to stop and even road plans have changed to go around sites where trolls are believed to live.
Iceland is so close to the arctic circle that during the summer, the sky never gets dark. In the winter, it’s almost always dark. This makes the winters great for seeing the northern lights.
10% of the Icelanders are published authors.
In 1915, alcohol was banned in Iceland. This is until 1921, when Spain refused to buy Iceland’s Cod unless they legalized wine. Spirits were still outlawed until 1933, but beer remained illegal. At the time, Icelanders wanted independence from Denmark and beer drinking was associated with the Danish. Eventually, Iceland became independent in 1944 but beer remained illegal until 1989. The only place you can buy alcohol in Iceland is at a government run store called a Vínbudin.
Icelandic telephone directories list Icelanders by first name alphabetically.
The Icelandic language is very similar to ancient the Norse language. 1,000-year-old books are still easily read Icelanders.
Icelandic police don’t carry guns. Only one person has ever been killed by the authorities there.
The picture above is of a blue whale's penis. Reykjavik is home to Iceland’s penis museum. They have penises from over 200 different mammals, including one from a human.
Although Reykjavik is near the arctic circle, the average temperature in January is about the same as New York City.
There are a limited number of names that you can give your newborn baby in Iceland. To preserve tradition, the Icelandic Naming Committee controls what names can or can’t be given to children. If you want to give your kid a name not previously approved, you have to submit a request to Committee, which will accept or reject it. Right now there are 1,712 male and 1,853 female approved names.
There are no Mosquitoes in Iceland.
The word "geyser" is an Icelandic word. In fact the first geyser ever named is called, Geysir.
In 1980, Iceland became the first country to elect a women president. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was president until 1996. Although the first female president was Argentina’s Isabel Martínez de Perón in 1974, she wasn’t elected president, she was serving as Vice President when the President died.
There are some places in Iceland where the ground is so hot from geothermal heat, that people use the ground to cook their food.
Iceland doesn’t have an army, navy or air force, but they do have a coast guard.
Since Iceland is a small island, a lot of people are related to each other. There’s a dating app called, Islendingabok, which translates into, The Book of Icelanders. The app lets people see if their love interest is closely related to them or not.
Iceland makes more money from whale watching tours than whaling.
Iceland was first inhabited by humans around the year 800.
Iceland has the highest rate of golf courses per capita. With 6 golf courses, this equates to 1 golf course per 4,825 Icelanders.
Iceland has over 120 swimming pools.
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