It’s on many people’s bucket lists – as I keep being told…but how much do you really know about the intriguing country of Iceland? Did you know they have a penis museum? Or that they eat boiled sheep heads?
Having heard so many fun facts about Iceland from various tour guides this week, I thought I’d share some of them with you!
1. They have the only penis museum in the world.
Not even kidding, we saw the poster for it as we came back from town and so I googled it. The Phallological Museum in Reykjavik contains 280 specimens from 93 species of animals, including 55 penises from Whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals…which apparently includes the penises of Elves and Trolls – go figure!
2. They truly believe in Elves and Trolls (Huldufolk).
Apparently over 50% of the nation believe in these invisible creatures, and some even build Elf houses, ‘alfhol’, for them. To take it a step further, you can even go to Elf School to learn about their history! One of my excursions was to Dimmuborgir where the 13 Yule Lads live. They are the sons of vicious trolls who live in a cave and have funny names referring to their preference for food or interest, such as Spoon-Licker or the noisy Door Slammer who likes to slam doors at night to wake people up. Icelanders believe they can be seen in this area particularly around Christmas (see point #27).
3. They eat boiled sheep heads.
The original believers in eating nose to tail, even the heads of sheep are seen to be fine fare for Icelanders. This national dish called ‘Svið’ consists of a sheep head cut in half, fur singed off and boiled, often in lactic acid. Apparently you can still buy them in Reykjavik train station for a tasty snack on your journey home, although its only the older generation who has the palate for them…
4. There’s a lot of space in Iceland.
Iceland is 103,000 square kilometers (39,300 square miles), which is about the same size as New York. It’s population is approximately 338,000. So in terms of space, there is approximately one square kilometer per person. As a comparison, the UK has one square kilometer per three hundred people…
5. They’re the original eco-friendly nation.
100% of homes in Reykjavik are geothermally heated. It’s heat, hot water and electricity are all from hydro power and geothermal resources which are obviously renewable and free from greenhouse gas emissions. Some vehicles even run on hydro power, including 3 city buses.
6. There is no MacDonalds or Starbucks in Iceland.
MacDonalds closed in the economic crash in 2008, but even when it was open, it rated as the most expensive Big Mac in the world! They do still have other fast food chains though and they do love their hot dogs and interestingly, their local ice cream.
7. Fuel is currently US$8-9 per gallon
…which is reason enough to switch to electric cars.
8. They have a huge number of golf courses
Sixty-six in fact. Which is a little strange when the weather is only really good enough to play for about 3 months of year, in their summer. During this time, golfers will often play in the midnight sun.
9. They have out-bred SDD
With the countries that have Midnight Sun (very few, if any, hours of night time in summer), something called ‘short day depression’ exists. However, it has the lowest rate in Iceland, which they believe is due to it being bred out of them many years ago. People prone to such depression killed themselves before having children and therefore as a case of ‘survival of the fittest’ it no longer exists. This was also noted by Icelanders who moved to Canada. Their offspring were less effected by SDD than 100% native Canadians.
10. They have one word which has 14 meanings – “Jæja”
You want to know them all, right? Oh ok…
- Are you coming? Are you done?
- What’s new?
- How about the weather, and life in general?
- Well, he can’t take a joke
- Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man
- What was that supposed to mean?
- Let’s get started! or Without further ado!
- Enough! Stop!
- Finally: I’m glad this is done and over!
- That’s strange!
- Oh well, it will work itself out somehow
- That does it! I can’t take any more of this!
- That was utterly disappointing
- Isn’t that pretty clear? What more do you need?
Source: Iceland Mag
11. There are no mosquitoes in Iceland.
Nor are there cockroaches, snakes, wild frogs or hedgehogs. However, they do have midges, which can be as annoying as mosquitoes and are so prevalent in some areas that they even named a lake after them – Myvatn.
12. Icelanders believe they’re the safest drivers in the world
Iceland has the lowest number of car accidents per year (around 14-20), and most of them involve foreigners. Icelanders believe this makes them the safest drivers in the world (nothing at all to do with the small number of population right…?!)
13. They have a dating app to ensure you don’t date your cousin
One issue with having such a small population is that there’s a high chance of you being related to your neighbour! To try to prevent this, everyone is required to have both parents put on their birth certificates (many years ago, women were tortured to give the father’s name if not willingly given) and even they have a dating app with the slogan ‘bump the app before you bump into bed’ which emits a signal if you bump phones and are actually related!
14. They have heart shaped red traffic lights in Akureyri
After the 2008 economic crash, understandably people were depressed. So it was decided in Akureyri that to bring a little cheer, they would change all red traffic lights to be shaped like hearts. Cute!
15. They have very few trees
The country used to have about 25% of tree coverage. When the first settlers came, mostly farmers, they cleared the land for live stock, used timber to build houses, burnt wood for warmth and used charcoal to mine sulphor for export as gun powder… Rapidly, the tree coverage fell to about 2% and with the weather conditions as harsh as they are, its not been easy to repopulate, although they are trying. A standard joke referring to the new growth is “what do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up!” Or ‘what do you call 3 trees? A wood. What do you call 5 trees? A forest’.
16. They have more swimming pools per person that anywhere else in the world
Swimming lessons are compulsory for children in Iceland so almost every town, regardless of size, has one. There are in fact over 200 pools, which makes them the most per capita in the world and 160 of them are geothermically heated. Pools are a meeting place for locals, a place to gossip and chat and they are at the perfect temperature to keep warm, regardless of the outside temperature. Don’t forget to wash with soap before you enter the pools – you will be told to do so if you forget!
17. Iceland leads the world in feminism
Iceland is considered to be the most feminist country in the world. They were the first country to have a female President, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who served from 1980-1996. They also elected an openly gay female for Prime Minister in 2009 and have a long history of being accepting of the LGBTQ community.
18. They don’t have surnames
Icelanders don’t have traditional surnames as we know them. Instead, children will take on the first name of their father, and add to it ‘dottir’ or ‘son’. So if a child is called Hortur and his father is called Jon, his surname will be Jonsson. To take it a step further, they are so strict on retaining their Icelandic heritage that names have to be submitted to the registry within 6 months of the child being born, and if the name is not amongst the approved 1,853 female and 1,712 male names, parents will need to seek approval from the Icelandic Naming Committee. If the name includes a letter not in the 32-letter Icelandic alphabet, such as the letter ‘c’ it will automatically be rejected!
19. Reykjavik has the most famous hot dog stand
Yep, weirdly its not in New York. Since President Bill Clinton ate a hot dog at a stand in Reykjavik Harbour, business has been booming. The family business, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (meaning ‘best hot dogs in town’) has been running for 77 years and served the likes of Metallica (they ordered four each apparently!) Ben Stiller (whilst filming Secret Life of Walter Mitty), cast members from The Game of Thrones and many more.
20. It’s the world’s youngest country
In terms of landform, Iceland is one of the youngest countries and also the last in Europe to be settled. However, when we say young, we’re still talking 25 million years… In terms of settlers, the first to Iceland were from Norway in 874 AD which is a long time after the first settlers in, say, Greece, which was believed to be in 3200 BC.
21. They have approximately 130 volcanoes.
Thirty of them are still active. You may remember the March 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull which grounded all flights across Europe for 16 days due to the ash cloud it created, reaching 9km high. Although, you probably don’t recall the name of the volcano as most newsreaders couldn’t pronounce it, so simply referred to it as ‘the Icelandic volcano’. I don’t blame them…! There are also concerns at the moment that the largest volcano, Öræfajökull, is quaking, believed to created a 30km high pillar of ash if it erupts.
22. They have no military.
Iceland doesn’t have a military and has only ever fought in one conflict – the Cod Wars with Great Britain. This power struggle was over exclusive fishing rights 200 miles off shore from Iceland, which it won after cutting its enemy’s fishing nets with scissors!
23. They consume the most Coca Cola per capita
About 30 gallons per year…which is a lot for such a small nation!
They also love their coffee, they import 213 tonnes per year and it is considered good hosting manners to always offer guests coffee. They also believe you can read your fortune in a coffee cup, similar to tea reading.
However, they are not a nation of tea drinkers. If you like your English Breakfast Tea in the morning, I recommend bringing your own (or enjoy from your ship if you have the luxury of cruising like I do!).
24. They have four seasons in one day.
Their saying is ‘if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes’. Iceland is actually much milder than other countries it shares the same latitude with – Canada and Siberia. Their winters rarely go below -10C (14F) and summer is a balmy 5-10C (41-50F). Certainly not my kind of summer. Plus, it feels soooo much colder because of the wind and glaciers. You wouldn’t be silly to pack a balaclava in summer!
This photo was taken this week, August, mid-summer…it’s so cold my eyes are watering!
25. Their favourite snack is dried fish.
They hang it on racks during the winter (too many flies get to it in summer) for 4-6 weeks until it turns yellow and hard. They then pound it with a meat mallet to soften it enough to eat.
Much of it is exported to Nigeria to capitalise on their lack of protein, although Italy is now becoming a second contender as they include it in their cuisine.
26. Icelanders love their butter.
Seriously. I was sat with a table of Icelandic guides and bus drivers on one of my tours to learn more about their way of life, and I have never seen anyone consume so much butter in one meal! We had a bowl of tomato soup with bread, followed by salmon and potatoes and they went through 2 baskets (about 30 portion packs) between the 4 of them, telling me how they prefer it to sauces and they even put it in their coffee in the mornings! Apparently “butter is life, it goes with everything!”
27. They don’t have a Santa
Despite being located so close to Greenland, Santa doesn’t play a part in their Christmas traditions, but instead they have 13 Yule Lads and an evil cat! The Yule lads (each with their own mischievous traits) arrive for the 13 days leading up to Christmas (they celebrate on 24th December) and children will leave shoes on window sills hoping for gifts. If the child has been good, they’ll receive small gifts, if they’ve been bad they’ll get rotten potatoes! Oh, and the giant Christmas cat turns up the night after Christmas eve to eat the children who didn’t receive new clothing for Christmas!
28. Iceland is getting larger every year
Iceland sits on the North Atlantic Ridge where land is constantly created by magma coming up from the Earth’s core as the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart. This divide means the country is actually growing by about 2-5cm every year.
29. They make pots and pans out of plane wrecks
From 1941 to 1973, according to public military records from the US Air Force and Navy, there were 385 military aviation accidents. That’s approximately one incident every 31 days, for 33 years. Totally insane when you think that the US has never been at war with Iceland, nor has Iceland been at war with any other country in the past 70 years (remember, they don’t even have a military). So what happened? Well, pilots underestimated the harsh Icelandic weather. It changes faster than anywhere else in the world, excluding the Poles – and that’s why airlines don’t fly over the poles! Not a nation to waste anything, the US military agreed to pay for the Icelanders to remove the wreckage and they would make use of every piece possible, creating pots and pans and other domestic items from the aluminum. Some are even used as barns and famously one family lives in the shell of 2 planes soldered together! (I promise you I googled all of this to check it was true!!)
30. You can walk from Europe to North America.
Ok, that sounds impossible I know, but you can visit a bridge which crosses two continents just outside of Reykjavik. This footbridge spans the gaping rift of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and is called ‘Midlina’. There are even signs either side saying ‘Welcome to Asia / Welcome to North America’.
31. Hiring a car in Iceland is essential, and challenging!
Ok, so maybe not such a ‘fun fact’, but seriously, with a terrain like this you really do need to hire a car to make the most of it, there’s only so much you can do via coach tours. We also found it very challenging to try to hire a car on the week of arrival, so make sure you book early. For more awesome reasons why you need a car, check out this great post by Pink Luggage Abroad.
Ok, that’s my Fun Facts About Iceland, I hope you enjoyed them. Which did you find the most interesting? Do you know of any others?
If you are visiting Iceland, be sure to check out my post Cruise Ports of Iceland for some travel tips.
Thanks for reading – see you next week!