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Only In Iceland - 11 Cool Facts About the Nordic Country

The fact that Iceland has some of the most stunning nature on the planet is probably not news to you. But there is so much more to this northern island than its beauty. Iceland is a country full of interesting traditions and rich history. Delving into the particularities of Iceland, there is a whole fascinating world to be discovered, and this is exactly what we are about to do in the article below. Get ready for some unexpected facts about Iceland. 

1. Iceland is the only place in the world where you can swim between 2 tectonic plates11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland diver tectonic plates

Image Source: majiedqasem / Flickr

The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in Thingvellir, Iceland. Visitors can see their meeting place when hiking through Thingvellir National Park, and even scuba dive or snorkel in the crack between the plates called Silfra.

Some of the openings are so narrow, you can literally touch both continents at once.  Not only that, but Silfra is also where you will find the clearest water in the world. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

2. Members of the same family can all have different last names11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland Icelandic family

Image Source: Haldean Brown / Flickr

In most parts of the world, family members all share the same last name, which was passed down the generation through the father’s line. Iceland, however, has its own last name system. When two people get married in Iceland, they both get to keep their own last name. If they have a son, then his last name is formed by adding the suffix ‘-son’ to his father’s or mother’s first name, while a girl’s name would be formed by adding the suffix ‘-dóttir’. The suffixes literally mean ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ respectively. Icelanders who wish to identify as non-binary are allowed to add the suffix ‘-bur’ to their name, meaning ‘child’.

That way, members of the same family all end up having different last names, and there are no family names as we know them.

3. Iceland developed an app that tells users if they are related to the person they’re dating11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland smart phone

Iceland’s population is small - about 360,000 to be exact. On such a small island with little immigration, the chance that your new acquaintance is actually a distant cousin turned out to be quite high. Icelanders accidentally dating their own family members was such a problem, that in 2010 they developed an app to help them check if new acquaintances are related to them or not.

The Íslendinga-App uses information from another database Íslendingabók, or The Book of Icelanders, a website that lists all Icelanders since the first immigrants in the 11th century and their relations to one another. The app makes this index much easier to access and has some additional fun features.

Related: Experience the Magic of Iceland in 15 Mesmerizing Photos

4. The world's first democratically elected female president was the president of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in 198011 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir served as the fourth President of Iceland from 1 August 1980 to 1 August 1996. She was the world's first female who was democratically elected as president. In 1980, Finnbogadóttir ran against three male candidates and won by a small difference. After four years in office, she was very popular and was re-elected in 1984 with nobody running against her. In 1988 she won the election with 95% of the votes, and she ran unopposed again in 1992. 

5. There are no mosquitoes in Iceland11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland midge

There are approximately 1,300 types of insects in Iceland, but no mosquitoes! Scientists believe that it is due to the fact that the temperatures in the country can get very low, or suddenly and unexpectedly rise, which would interfere with a mosquito’s life cycle. Mosquitoes can’t function at temperatures less than 50 degrees (10°C) and become lethargic at around 60 degrees (15°C). However, Icelanders do have their own pesky mosquito-like biting insects, called midges (shown in the picture above).

6. Iceland has about 30 active volcanoes and 100 dormant ones11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland volcanoe

Image Source: Global Panorama / Flickr

As we previously mentioned, Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. These tectonic plates are constantly moving and pulling away from each other, which allows for the space between them to fill up with magma. The magma then rises in the form of volcanic eruptions. Because the Mid-Atlantic Ridge goes all the way through Iceland, there are about 130 volcanoes on the island and about 30 of them are active. The most recent volcanic eruption was on March 19, 2021. To see some close-up footage and learn more about the recent volcanic activity, check out this video.

7. Dogs were banned from Reykjavik from 1924 to 198411 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland dog

Image Source: Minda Haas Kuhlmann / Flickr

For 60 years, between 1924 to 1984 the residents of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, were banned from owning dogs. But it wasn’t because Icelanders had something against dogs. Rather the measure was taken to prevent echinococcosis, a type of tapeworm that can be passed from dogs to humans and was often found in autopsies. These tapeworms are dangerous because they cause intestinal infections, permanent blindness, and death.

Today, pooches aren’t illegal in Reykjavik, but the effect of decades without dogs persists, and to this day cats are the most popular pet choice in the capital.

Related: The Untamed Beauty of Icelandic Horses in 21 Stunning Photos

8. There isn’t a public railway in Iceland11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland railway

A preserved Reykjavic Harbour Railway locomotive. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Iceland doesn’t have a public railway system. There have been three small railways, but they never became part of the public transport network, rather they were used for transportation of goods and other industrial purposes. The main reasons for the lack of railways are the small population and the harsh environment.

9. Iceland’s only native land mammal is the arctic fox

11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland arctic fox

Image Source: Eric Kilby / Flickr

Iceland was first settled in the 9th century, and the only native land animals at the time were Arctic foxes. These animals first came to the island at the end of the ice age, walking over the frozen sea. All other animals currently found in Iceland were imported by settlers. 

10. If you are looking for a Christmas present for an Icelander, get them a book11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland Jolabokaflod Christmas book flood

Iceland publishes the most books per capita in the world, with five titles published per 1000 Icelanders. While reading is a popular pastime in the country all year round, the majority of books are sold between late September and early November, in preparation for Christmas gift-giving. 

This national tradition is called Jolabokaflod, or the "Christmas Book Flood." The books are gifted on the night of December 24th and people spend the night reading. The custom originated during World War II when foreign imports were limited, but paper was still quite cheap, so books became the perfect Christmas present. 

11. It is common for Icelandic parents to let their babies nap outside in the cold11 Curious and Unexpected Facts About Iceland baby sleeping outside

In Iceland and other Nordic countries, it’s not unusual for parents to let their babies sleep outside in a pram, even in freezing temperatures (covered up and dressed appropriately of course).

In Iceland, it is believed that sleeping in the cold boosts children’s immune system and contributes to better rest. Perhaps there is some truth to that, as the average life expectancy in the country is 82 years -  10 years more than the world’s average.

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