Here are 16 interesting facts about Iceland that you always wanted to know (but were afraid to ask)…
Iceland lies in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, forming a boundary between Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. For this reason it is very active geologically and volcanically. There are around 8000 earthquakes each year, and many volcanic eruptions. Luckily, most of them are minor and many don’t even get reported in the media.
Heating and hot water in 85% of Icelandic homes come from geothermal sources and are very cheap by Iceland standards – heating of a 200m2 house costs around $60 a month. Hot water contains a lot of sulphur and has a characteristic strong smell – take off silver jewellery before showering or bathing if you don’t want it to change colour.
Geothermal energy has been used to grow crops in greenhouses since 1920’s. Could it be the reason why Iceland is Europe’s biggest consumer of cannabis?
Cold water in Iceland can be drank directly from the tap – thanks to being filtered through layer upon layer of volcanic rocks, it is fresh, clear and tastes great. Forget about bottled water – it’s exactly the same water that comes out of the tap (and tap water is completely free!)
Good news for the summer campers – there are no mosquitoes in Iceland. None at all. It’s rather unexpected, as the eastern coast of Greenland has a lot of them. There are also very few other nasties, like flies (with the exception of blackflies, found near some bodies of water) and spiders.
Icelandic people are very sociable and love to spend time together. It is very common for groups of friends to meet for a chat at swimming pools before work. There are over 200 amateur choirs in the country, but only half of their members can actually sing – the rest use them as an opportunity to socialise.
Icelanders like to think about themselves as a nation of artists, with many people singing, playing instruments, painting or writing books and poems in their spare time. 1 in 10 will publish at least one book in their lifetime.
Around 5% of Icelandic people believe in elves (álfur), mythical creatures that are generally harmless, but can pull a nasty trick when annoyed. The belief in elves can take a rather bizzare turn, like when a road construction was disrupted because it was passing through the area inhabited by the pointy-eared creatures.
Iceland has a close-knit history with Denmark, reaching back to 14th Today there are thousands of Danish people living in Iceland, and they are a favourite object of unrefined and often politically incorrect (though not entirely hostile) jokes. When visiting Iceland, it’s almost impossible not to hear at least one.
Iceland comes at the top in the rankings of the most peaceful countries in the world. There’s no army and firearms are strictly prohibited, even the police is unarmed. Crime rate is extremely low, with statistically only one murder every 8 years.
Fireworks are only permitted for 4 days a year, 2 days before and 2 days after the New Year’s Day. During these 4 days the displays barely cease, with people blowing up 500 tonnes of fireworks each year. It’s not uncommon to spend entire month’s salary on New Year’s fireworks.
Alcohol other than “light beer” (max. 2.25% alcohol) is sold exclusively in state-run liquor stores (Vínbúðin). There are 46 such stores in all of Iceland, they have rather limited opening hours and the prices are quite steep due to high taxes on alcohol. As a result, many people distil their own moonshine, called landi.
Since the ban on “strong beer” was lifted in 1989, after 74 years of prohibition, many breweries cropped up across the country, brewing all sorts of beer, from the rather horrible Gull lager to fancy craft beers. Two of the biggest producers of good beer are Borg from Reykjavik (it’s beers include the usual stouts, IPAs and amber ales, but also less typical brews like smoked beer, honey-spiced braggot and barleywine) and Einstok from Akureyri (we particularly recommend their Arctic Pale Ale and Doppelbock).
Most of Icelandic restaurants offer whale meat, but it’s eaten mainly by tourists. Local people tend to avoid it, and there are many campaigns raising awareness of whale population declines and discouraging visitors from consuming whale meat. If you can, choose whale-watching over whale-eating, it’s so much more satisfying and there are plenty of other tasty things to try.
In order to protect the economy, Icelandic government imposed very high taxes on import. They also apply to ordering items from abroad by individuals, e.g. online. If you want to have an item sent to you in Iceland, you have to prove that you owned it before – the clerk at the post office will check the sales receipts, private photos showing the items etc. If you fail to provide the proof, you may end up paying a hefty tax.
There are relatively few foreign chain stores on Reykjavik’s high street, with the exception for some Nordic brands. Instead, there are plenty of independent boutiques and Icelandic chain stores, including some very good outdoor brands like 66°NORTH and Cintamani. Unfortunately the prices are truly Icelandic, i.e. very high.