Facts about Iceland
Every country and its population has special traditions and culture. It is always nice to know some inside facts about the country you are about to visit so here are a few fun facts about Iceland!
1. Did you know that the population of Iceland is less than 400.000 inhabitants? The majority of Icelanders live in cities in the capital region on the south west corner. Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland, located on the northern coast. When you travel out in the country you will see many lovely villages and towns, but no large cities. You will therefore be able to enjoy the nature, pure air and unspoiled areas instead of large cities and pollution.
2. The official language in Iceland is Icelandic (which is basically old Norwegian) but English is widely spoken and understood. It is obligatory for all students in Iceland to learn English and one Nordic language (Danish, Swedish or Norwegian). Also, students must choose either French or German (or both) and then later on you can choose other languages like Spanish, Italian and Chinese. So, it is very rare to meet a local who doesn´t speak at least one foreign language.
3. The national flag is blue with a red ross outlined in white. The colors of he flag are symbolic for the country. Red is for the volcanic fires, white recalls the snow and glaciers, and the blue color is for the mountains in the distance. Icelanders are very proud of their flag and it isn´t that long ago Iceland got its own flag. It was when Iceland became independent in 1944. Icelanders have a special legislation about the flag.
4. Iceland is one of the Nordic countries (other being Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway). It is important to note though that Iceland is NOT a part of Scandinavia like so many people seem to think. The capital of Iceland is Reykjavík. Many find it strange to fly over Reykjavik as the houses and roofs have all different kinds of colors. Some say they look like doll houses, in all these colors and different styles. When you fly over Iceland you will also see steam from the geothermal areas, lava and mountains. Some say they fell like they are landing on the moon.
5. In Iceland you find many mountains, glaciers, hot springs, volcanoes and waterfalls. The highest point in Iceland is Hvannadalshnjúkur (2119 m) and Vatnajökull glacier in south east Iceland is Europe´s largest glacier. The most active volcano is Hekla and it is fun note that the name Hekla is also a common female name in Iceland. The Icelandic nature is very unique, unspoiled and pure.
6. Iceland is the youngest country in the world. Geologically speaking, Iceland is hardly out of kindergarden as it began to rise from the North Atlantic seabed only 25 million years ago! The country is a product of volcanic eruptions and still today volcanoes are erupting on the island. Recent eruptions include for isntance the eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier. Some parts of Iceland are covered with lava and American astronauts chose to practice their moon landing in Iceland as the landscape is so similar to the moon!
7. Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are slowly spreading apart. A huge rift runs through the country from south west to north east where the plates are heading in different directions so you can expect earthquakes in that area anytime. At the national park, Thingvellir, and also on the Reykjanes peninsula, you can cross from America to Europe (geologically speaking) on foot! You can also opt for a snorkling tour in Silfra at Thingvellir where you snorkel in two continents (again, geologically speaking!)
8. Icelanders love swimming. From the age of 6 – 16, swimming lessons is a part of every child´s timetable at school. Yes, most pools are outdoors and the swimming lessons take place in the outdoor pools in all kinds of weather. You can find pools all over the country, both regular swimming pools and also nature pools and rivers. Hot tubs are also a big part of the Icelandic swimming culture and if you want to blend in with the locals, that is the place to be. The latest trend is a so-called “cold tub”.
9. The puffins usually start coming to Iceland in May but the main nesting season is in June. You an expect to see puffins throughout the summer but not in winter. Puffins nest close to Reykjavík so it is easy to spot them on the whale watching tours during summer. The puffin colonies are actually all around Iceland and one of the largest ones can be found in the Westman Islands and in the West Fjords. The puffin isn´t just a beautiful bird, it is also a very wise one.