Iceland is a magical Nordic destination located east of Greenland, a land of volcanoes and Viking sagas. You probably know a bit about Iceland — facts such as that, despite their names, Iceland is lush and green, and Greenland is icy — but if you've never heard of huldufólk or caught a glimpse of the volcanic island of Surtsey, there's a lot left for you to discover. To find out more, check out these 10 fun facts about Iceland!
- It has 24 hours of darkness — and beautiful lights.
Iceland is located near the Arctic Circle; as a result, the country experiences long summer days and perpetually dark winter nights. Did you know that Iceland experiences up to 23 hours of darkness during the month of December and approximately 22 to 24 hours of daylight in the month of June? If you've ever wanted to experience the famous "midnight sun," when the sun remains visible as late as midnight, or stand beneath the sparkling northern lights, this is the place to be.
- It's lush with Viking lore.
Settled by Norse Vikings who arrived from Norway in the 800s CE, Iceland has a unique cultural background full of history and colorful tales. Even Icelandic horses have been bred from Vikings' horses that were brought over from mainland Europe hundreds of years ago.
- Its tectonic plates are visible.
Þingvellir (pronounced "Thingvellir"), Iceland, is one of only a few destinations across the globe where you can easily see two tectonic plates drifting apart above sea level.
- It's home to as many people as St. Louis.
There are approximately 320,000 people living in the country of Iceland — that's about the size of St. Louis, Missouri. Over two thirds of the population resides in and around the northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavík. How's that for a close-knit community?
- It's a hot spot.
Iceland is considered geologically active, with approximately 130 volcanic mountains, about 30 of which are still active today. Even the slightest change in the country's geology could awaken some of the most dormant volcanoes. Currently, one volcanic eruption occurs every four to five years, on average. As a result, several parts of Iceland are covered in lava fields.
- Its prohibition period completely ended in 1989.
Like the United States during the Roaring Twenties, Iceland went through a strict prohibition period from 1915 to 1922. The law was then loosened to allow for Spanish wine, and in 1935, all spirits were legalized — with the caveat that beer with an alcohol percentage of 2.25 or higher could still not be consumed. It wasn't until the spring of 1989 that the ban on strong beer was finally lifted. To commemorate the reversal of prohibition, some Icelanders celebrate Beer Day, which takes place annually on March 1.
- It's said that elves live there.
Much of the Icelandic population believes in huldufólk (hidden people). Many subscribe to the belief that huldufólk, who can be best thought of as elves, exist and dwell among Icelanders. This belief has deep, strong roots that still show themselves in the present culture: In some cases, the construction of new businesses has been halted due to a fear that bulldozers might destroy an elvish home or community.
- Its southernmost point is the youngest place on earth.
Located among the Westman Islands is the island of Surtsey — thought to be the youngest place on earth. This UNESCO World Heritage site and volcanic island was formed in 1963 as the result of volcanic eruptions.
- It has a strict gun policy.
In Iceland, the police department — with the exception of a special force called the Viking Squad — does not carry guns; they're armed with pepper spray and batons when they need to confront crime. Although approximately 90,000 citizens own guns, there is very little crime in Iceland and guns are primarily used for licensed hunting and sport.
- Its residents enjoy extraordinary quality of life.
The country is home to some of the most technologically advanced companies in the world. And while Icelanders are known for their longer (43- to 44-hour) work weeks, they also possess one of the longest life expectancy rates (Iceland is also famous for its exemplary literacy rates).
Are you ready to explore Iceland? Journey to this picturesque country, take in all of its natural beauty and cultural experiences — and maybe even spot an elf or two! While you're there, add to your list of fun facts about Iceland so you can share them when you return home.
Booking a cruise to Iceland is the perfect way to explore this island nation.