Geyser erupting at sunrise, Iceland
22 November, 20215 minute read

9 unique facts about Iceland

Volcanoes and glaciers. Trolls and elves. Northern Lights and Midnight Sun. If you’re looking for a holiday destination with a difference, point yourself north to the little island nation of Iceland. It really is a place like no other, with cultural quirks and local traditions that are just as appealing as the wildly photogenic landscapes. Intrigued? Here are a few facts that might surprise you about Iceland… 

It’s one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world

Iceland is big on green energy – more than 99% of its electricity and nearly 80% of the island’s overall energy comes from renewable sources like hydropower (the highest proportion of any country in the world). Iceland’s volcanic nature means that geothermal energy is big, too, with 90% of houses heated this way. The government has also pledged to make Iceland carbon-neutral by 2040.

There was a long-standing beer ban

Until 1989, beer was actually forbidden in Iceland as part of a 74-year ban on the alcoholic beverage. After Prohibition, the bans on wine and liquor were quickly lifted, but – supposedly – those in charge felt that allowing beer sales would encourage heavy drinking among young people. Nowadays, there’s a booming craft beer scene in Iceland, and locals rowdily celebrate the lifting of the ban each year on ‘Beer Day’, or ‘Bjórdagurinn’ (1 March, if you’re interested).

It’s the emptiest country in Europe

Iceland is the least densely populated country in Europe, with just under 345,000 citizens spread across an area of 40,000 square miles (that’s just three people per square kilometre). Most of them are concentrated in cities like Reykjavik, Kopavogur and Hafnarfjoerdur, leaving swathes of the country wild and unspoilt – and its this rugged emptiness that helps to make Iceland tours so appealing.

There are authors everywhere

According to a recent study by the BBC, Iceland is a nation of writers – and 1 in 10 of them will publish a book in their lifetime. In fact, this little island apparently has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.

A resident once tried to sell the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights is a pretty spectacular experience, so it’s no wonder a canny entrepreneur once tried to sell them for a tidy profit. Icelandic poet and visionary Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940) allegedly travelled around Europe touting his celestial wares, and managed to broker a deal to sell them to a group of businessmen from Switzerland. The story goes that the deal fell through once Benediktsson couldn’t come up with a concrete way to transfer ownership of the Northern Lights – so they’ve been left for everyone to enjoy for free! (Side-note: if you’re looking for a short break to Iceland for the Northern Lights, might we suggest our Breathtaking Iceland tour?)

Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the night sky over illuminated skyline of Reykjavik

There are a lot of volcanoes

Ever wondered where Iceland’s ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ nickname comes from? Home to 32 separate volcanic systems (and around 130 active and inactive volcanoes), Iceland is one of the most tectonically active countries on earth. We have volcanoes to thank for Iceland’s deliciously warm thermal pools, and its awe-inspiring geysers. They make for some spectacular scenery, too – think black-sand beaches, lava fields and vast craters.

Mythical creatures are a big deal

Folklore is a huge part of Icelandic culture, and many residents believe in the likes of trolls and elves. There are plenty of legends and stories to uncover, often influenced by Celtic fairytales and Norse mythology. Travelling around Iceland, you might even see roads and paths curving around ‘elf houses’ so as not to disturb the residents.

It’s home to the oldest surviving Parliament in the world

In 930 AD, the first Parliament assembled in what is now Thingvellir National Park. The name ‘Thingvellir’ translates as ‘Assembly Plains’, and it was here that Iceland’s Parliament would meet from 930 until 1798. As well as being steeped in history, Thingvellir National Park is an incredibly beautiful part of the country, with sweeping vistas across winding rivers, tree-studded plains and babbling waterfalls. We stop by on our Breathtaking Iceland organised tour. 

It doesn’t have an army

Iceland prides itself on being a fiercely peaceful nation. As such, it doesn’t have a standing army. Instead, it has an ICRU (Iceland’s Crisis Response Unit) of about 200 citizens.

Find out more about our Iceland tours or contact our travel advisors to book your next adventure. 

Image of blog author Laura Weeden

Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.

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