Glorious Iceland, where the floor really is made of lava and there’s enough natural beauty to make you say Ja Ja Ding Dong. If you’ve already been, congratulations! If not, what are you waiting for? In the next few lines, I’m going to tell you the 9 best facts about Iceland, so relax, pour yourself a large glass of Brennivín and let’s get reading.
Kick starting our list we come to the first fact. Iceland, although owing its name to Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, a Norwegian who settled there around 865 AD, was actually first inhabited by Irish monks. That is before they were chased off by marauding Viking settlers. Owing to their need for solitude and a desire to spread christianity, there has also been speculation that the man made caves of Hella, located in the south of Iceland, were also made by these Irish visitors. Today however, these caves are now used to house livestock by local farmers on the Island but stand as a testament to their existence.
Although hailed as the land of the Vikings, the days of swinging an axe into someone’s face in Iceland are long gone. In fact you might be surprised to know that today Iceland has no military force to speak of. The reason being that due to the small population size and the expense, Iceland simply cannot afford to have a standing army. However they are not completely defenceless and instead have the Icelandic coast guard which carries some light artillery and are also a member of NATO. So in case you were hoping to invade, you have been warned.
3. Bugs and Horses
Aside from the cold weather and the ever-erupting volcanoes there is an added benefit to Iceland. There are absolutely no mosquitos and very little dangerous animals. Unlike other countries which are home to an array of wild and dangerous insects and animals, Iceland has the advantage of being too harsh a climate to survive.
In fact what you will find instead is the Icelandic horse. These horses are unique for being the only horse breed in the world capable of performing five gaits (five ways of walking), as most horses have only two or three.
When we think of Iceland we think of Viking raids and history but did you know that the population of Iceland also has a link to the Emerald isle. Yes it seems that 62% of the population, on the maternal side, share the same gene pool as those from Ireland and Scotland. This is due to women from these countries being taken as slaves back to Iceland during the Viking era.
Despite a population of just over 300,000 people, books play a big part in the culture in Iceland. In fact 1/10 Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime and there is even a saying about it, “að ganga með bók í maganum” which roughly means “to carry the idea for a book around with you for a long time before writing it” or a simpler term, that “everyone is born with a book inside them”.
Either way it’s a pretty impressive fact and one that also lends itself to the Icelandic tradition of “jólabókaflóð”. This tradition, which translates as “Christmas book flood”, involves exchanging books on Christmas Eve and is the perfect way to enjoy those long dark winter nights over the festive period. Not bad huh?
For all of their friendliness, Icelanders appreciate law and order and so our next fact relates to the government. Iceland is home to one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world. Called the “Althing”, it was established around 930 and is one of the oldest running national parliaments in the world. Although abolished in 1800 by the Danes, it was re-established in 1845 in Reykjavik. How’s that for progress!
Amongst the many weird and wonderful culinary delights of Iceland, such as shark, whale and hotdogs, Icelanders also have a taste for fish. In fact, on December 23rd, they eat a fish called Skata or Skate to celebrate Iceland’s only saint, Þorlákur. This particularly pungent fish, that has been fermented (which is a nicer way of saying left to rot), is enjoyed with potatoes and is considered a delicacy. Whether you are able to keep it down after eating is another story but points for effort.
Aside from having laws over the naming of children, Iceland also has an unusual practice regarding their sleeping arrangements. Yes, the 8th fact on our list relates to the common practice of putting babies outside to sleep, even during the winter months. This has been a part of the culture for generations with many residents believing it is better for the child to be outside rather than being stuck inside a stuffy cafe or apartment. If you walk the streets of Reykjavik it is not uncommon to see prams parked outside cafes and restaurants whilst their parents are indoors.
Saving the best for last, our final fact has a little more girth to it. If you happen to be in Iceland and want to check out something more hairy then look no further than the penis museum. As it is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the display of phalluses, Iceland certainly gets points for creativity.
After all, nothing says a unique Icelandic experience than seeing a whale’s member in a glass tube. You can even buy a mini penis or vagina inspired Christmas ornament from the gift shop after your tour.
So there you have it folks, 9 facts about Iceland that attest to its uniqueness, people and history. Now go see for yourself.