10 Things You Might Not Know About: ICELAND

🇮🇸 Volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, polar lights, geysers, and endless expanses – Iceland is pure nature! Iceland is the largest volcanic island in the world while it’s the second-largest island in Europe. It’s also the most sparsely populated country with a current population of ~364,000. People are said to be the happiest in the world with the longest life expectancy after Japan, and Reykjavík is the world’s northernmost capital. And, which is quite unusual for such a small country, Iceland is located on both the North American and Eurasian continental plates. 

But have you also heard about these unusual facts about the picturesque island in the North Atlantic? 

1) Iceland is home to only one horse breed

Iceland is the only country in the world with just one horse breed – the Icelandic horse. These horses played a significant part in Iceland’s history since they are direct descendants from the horses the Vikings brought over when they first settled on the island. These sturdy little fellas are believed to be one of the purest breeds in the world. To maintain the purity of the breed, once a horse leaves the island, it’s not allowed to come back. 

2) Iceland once had the biggest banana plantation in Europe

Due to the natural geothermal energy of Iceland, electricity, and heating has always been much more affordable than in some other countries. This means that even though Iceland’s climate is not ideal for growing bananas, there’s plenty of energy resources on the island to heat the greenhouses since 1941. 

3) A nation of book lovers

Iceland is indeed a nation of book lovers. For many years the island held the title of having the most books published per capita. The literary-focused country even dedicates a holiday to books: Jólabókaflóðið (“Icelandic Christmas Book Flood.”)

4) Preserved Language

Even though the Icelandic language is pretty close to Danish and Norwegian, it remains completely unique remained very close to its original roots, the ancient Norse. Meaning, that Icelanders can f.e. still easily read a bible from the early 1500s. Icelandic is also a so-called “agglutinative language,” which means that one term is often composed of several smaller words, similar to German. This might happen when there are no suitable existing words to choose from to instantly describe an object or situation. 

5) No mosquitos

Everyone hates mosquitos, besides Icelanders. Why? Well, because the island is entirely free from these tiny monsters, which leave scientists puzzled to this day. But it doesn’t mean that there are no substitutes – Icelanders are still bothered by sandflies, which can even be worse than mosquitos (is this even possible??). 

6) Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989

Yep, beer once was considered illegal on the island. The ban lasted from January 1st, 1915 to March 1st, 1989 – that’s 74 beer-free years. So when the restrictions lifted, Icelanders thought it a wonderful occasion to celebrate “Beer Day” ((Bjórdagurinn) each year on March 1st. Prost! 🍻

7) It was the last place on earth to be settled by humans

Iceland is a relatively “young” country since it was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. It was only about 1,100 years ago, that Vikings from Norway found their way up to Iceland, discovering it entirely by surprise. 

8) No trains or trams in Iceland

You’ll be disappointed to expect trains, trams or subways in Iceland. If you want to use public transport, you’ll have to take the bus. Although there have been proposals even in the early 1900s for a railway system on the island, when compared to the advantages of roads, the plans for railways were always terminated again. 

9) There are no last names in Iceland

Besides their very unique language, Icelanders have their own tradition when it comes to last names – because there are none, at least not in the traditional sense, as in many other cultures. Icelanders don’t pass down their last names through generations. Instead, they use the so-called “patronymic system” where their last names derive from their father’s (or mother’s) first name, preceding -son (for son) or -dottir (daughter). This also leads to addressing someone with their first names, no matter how formal the meeting. Even the phone book lists subscribers by their first name. 

10) Owning a pet snake, lizard, or turtle is against the law

This restriction is based on two reasons: For one, you won’t find any native reptiles or amphibians in Iceland due to the island’s climate. This also means that those animals wouldn’t have any natural predators either to keep their numbers at bay. The second reason is based on an incident in the early 1990s where a turtle infected his owner with deadly salmonella. This case ultimately led to the ban of snakes, turtles, and lizards by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).