1. Iceland was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. Over 1,100 years ago, Vikings from Norway migrated across the North Atlantic and discovered Iceland accidentally. Iceland is also one of the youngest countries on earth in geological terms and a microcosm of a world being made.
2. Many Icelanders believe in elves, trolls and other mythical creatures. Iceland has a rich storytelling tradition, and its folklore includes stories of Huldufólk, meaning "hidden people" (akin to elves) who are said to live in the lava fields. Before construction can take place in certain lava fields, those who claim to be able to communicate with the Huldufólk consult them to make sure it can go ahead - the message being to always respect and protect nature.
3. Iceland has no standing army. It is the only NATO country which does not have a professional full-time military force. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Yoko Ono decided on Iceland as the location for the beautiful Imagine Peace Tower.
4. Iceland has the oldest parliament in the world. The popular Golden Circle Tour includes a visit to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, the place where Icelandic chieftains settled all the way back in 930 CE to create the first parliament.
5. The Icelandic language has changed very little since the Viking age. In fact, it’s so similar to Old Norse, that many Icelanders today would be able to read and understand the ancient texts written in this language!
6. The Icelandic language has changed very little since the Viking age. In fact, it’s so similar to Old Norse, that many Icelanders today would be able to read and understand the ancient texts written in this language!
7. Did you know that beer was banned in Iceland until 1989? Iceland’s prohibition of beer began in 1915 due to fears over alcohol abuse and unproductivity, but was abolished in 1989 after a referendum vote by the population. Now, the 1st of March marks “Bjórdagurinn” (meaning “Beer Day), which celebrates the end of the lengthy 74-year beer ban
8. Icelanders still use the traditional Scandinavian naming system in which there are no family names but instead the use of a patronymic and matronymic reference. The last name of a male Icelander ends in the suffix ‘son’ and a female’s ends in ‘dóttir’. For example, the current president of Iceland is Guðni Jóhannesson. His first name is Guðni and his father’s first name was Jóhannes. And for former Icelandic president Katrín Jakobsdóttir, her first name is Katrín and her father’s name was Jakob. There are also strict rules to naming a child in Iceland, with a list of accepted first names a parent can choose from. Any other name not included in the list must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee!
9. There are more sheep than people in Iceland and with a mere human population of only 366,425, it is not surprising. This makes Iceland one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, and 60% of the population live in the capital, Reykjavik.
10. There are no McDonalds in Iceland. The fast-food chain did once establish itself in the country in 1993, but left after the financial crash of 2008. The last McDonald’s burger ever sold in Iceland can be found on display at a guesthouse in the south of the country!
11. The national colours of the Icelandic flag represent the landscape and elements of the country. Red being Iceland’s volcanoes, white for the snow and blue for the mountains and ocean.
12. Iceland has its very own breed of horse and is believed to be one of the purest in the world. There are strict laws prohibiting other horses from entering the country and exported horses are not allowed to return.
13. There was no television broadcast on Thursdays nor during the holiday month of July until 1987 because the government wanted to promote social interaction and encourage Icelanders to do something more productive with their time!
Intrigued yet? Come and discover Iceland for yourself! Not only is this endearing little island completely brimming over with some of Mother Nature’s most spectacular delights, there are many quirky oddities to discover that make it an extra special and unique visit.
Text by: Ella Berger Sparey
Photos by: Steinunn
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