From blue hot pools to green, red and yellow northern lights, Iceland has an amazing list of natural wonders that any country would be proud to call their own.
What Iceland also has going for it is that it’s filled with warm people with some great offbeat senses of humor and at a lot of quirky habits.
Maybe it’s the midnight sun throughout summer or maybe it’s just that in Iceland, people dance to their own drum. No matter what it is, here are 13 quirky things you might not know about Iceland.
If a tree falls in the forest… you’re obviously not in Iceland.
It’s true, there’s not a lot of trees in the territory of Iceland. The island country just off the Arctic Circle has a lot going for it, with a wildly beautiful landscape of lava deserts, volcanoes, fjords, huge glaciers and wide pastures, but it has only sparse woodlands and most have been cleared to make way for planting and development. That said, with millions of plantings a year now, the forests are coming back slowly.
Mosquitoes, sorry there’re none, the Vikings killed ’em all.
Iceland does not get many mosquitoes. Maybe it’s the lack of forests, however, you can spend summer evenings outside without getting bitten or otherwise disturbed by the naughty little devils and in winter, it’s too cold for them to survive. Oh, and that bit about the Vikings doing them all off? Who knows?
Iceland, light in the extreme.
The upper northern location of the country wildly affects the succession of night and day. During the summer, the sun barely goes down, merging day and night with sunsets and sunrises that seem to last for hours.
Winters are the opposite, with the days incredibly short and the sun only shining for four hours the entire day at the winter solstice in December. So no matter which season you visit, remember to bring a watch because you’ll never know what time it is judging by the sun’s position.
Where’s the beer?
Like the USA, Iceland went through a prohibition era that started in 1915. Most of the alcohol laws were changed 20 years later, but beer was limited to 2.5% in alcohol or less until March, 1989. Until that point, Icelanders wanting a stronger brew would mix their 2.5% beer with Brennivin, a local vodka-like alcohol, to fortify the beer to get it party ready.
Even today most beers are still under 2.5% and alcohol is only sold in special shops, which also happen to be the only places in the entire country where you will see traffic jams on Friday afternoons.
Fermented shark and sheep testicles. Umm, yum?
Beside the truly delicious fresh sea food which can be had everywhere in Iceland, local delicacies include strange dishes such as fermented shark buried into the soil (hákarl) or sheep testicles. Supposedly, they smell strange, but if you get over the first shock, you are in for a real treat.
Babies park outside!
No matter the season, you will see lots of prams (strollers) in the street with babies inside, even in the coldest weather. Many parents choose to leave their babies outside while they meet friends in cafés. That way, the baby won’t be disturbed by the noise in the café.
Autobots, roll out.
Contrary to what you might think, most Icelanders drive large 4WD vehicles. Tourists are usually surprised at how many monster trucks they see around, but locals need these huge SUVs to get around on the often bumpy and tricky terrain.
Call in the…?
Iceland does not have a navy or an army and Icelanders do not carry guns, not even the police men and women. Whether it’s due to the lack of firearms, or just due to the good-natured population, the crime rate is low across the country and violent crimes almost don’t exist.
A name unlike any other.
Contrary to most other nations, Icelanders do not have a traditional family name. Their surnames comprise their father’s first name followed by a suffix (son or dottir) that means “the daughter or the son of”. So in my case, if I was Icelandic, I would be known as Charles Gordsson instead of Charles Kosman and Micki would have been Micki Olliedottir. Catchy, really.
You just gotta believe.
Around 54% of Icelanders still believe in fairies and elves. So much so that roads are known to have been rerouted to avoid areas where these magical creatures are supposed to live. Stories of elves and fairies have existed for centuries in Iceland and their roots are embedded deep into their culture.
Never too cold to swim
In the world famous Blue Lagoon Pools, you can take a bath in the hot open-air pools even on the coldest winter day. The pools stay open even during blizzards and holidays. Whether you want to be there then is definitely questionable but you could if you wanted to. (Now I want to be there during a blizzard.)
The lights are strong with this one
Iceland is among the best places, if not the best place in the world, to see the amazing Northern lights. Also called the Aurora Borealis, the phenomenon involves beautifully colored, dancing bright lights on the skies above the magnetic circles of the North Pole. To be able to see the Lights, you need darkness to contrast, so the best time for viewing is in spring or in late autumn through winter, roughly between 10 pm and 2 am. For the most amazing experience, look for a Northern lights tour package that includes other unique attractions and adventures as well.
They dedicated a museum to it.
Iceland celebrates its eccentricities by dedicating a museum completely to them. The Nonsense Museum is in Flateyri, a village on the Westfjordsm and it has some of the country’s strangest collections on display.
Have you ever been to Iceland? What interesting things did you find?