Iceland is a beautiful country with unique landscapes. Stunning waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and a black sand beach have lured many tourists to the island country.
Tourism contributes to 67% of total service exports in Iceland and 35% of total export revenue, per the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
If you’re planning on going or even if you’re just interested in learning more about the Scandinavian island country, here are 10 facts about Iceland.
1. Iceland is the least populated European country
There are not a lot of people in Iceland. With a population of 280,000 people, there are only “three inhabitants per square mile,” PBS reported.
Much of the population is concentrated in its capital, Reykjavik, with around two-thirds of the population living there, according to Iceland Travel.
Because there are so few residents, some Icelandic college students even created an app that helps determine whether you are related to someone or not before going on a date, called Íslendingabók.
2. There are around 200 volcanoes on the island
According to National Geographic, Iceland has around 200 volcanoes and accounts for “one-third of Earth’s total lava flow.”
The landscape has many other remarkable and notable features, including multiple geothermal pools and geysers. There are enough hot springs that nearly every county has at least one. Geysers are so commonplace that the term geyser even stems from Icelandic.
Only 1% of the country is forested because glacial lakes and mountainous lava deserts cover nearly 80% of the land, according to PBS.
It’s also the only place in the world where you can swim between two tectonic plates — the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, or the divide between the North American plate and Eurasian plate, per The World Pursuit.
3. Iceland loves to read. Like, a lot
Literacy rates in the Scandinavian country are close to 100% — “Icelanders read more books per capita than any other citizenry in the world,” per PBS.
It’s common to give books as a gift for Christmas, known as Jólabókaflóð, meaning “Christmas book flood,” according to NPR.
“If you look at book sales distribution in the U.K. and the States, most book sales actually come from a minority of people. Very few people buy lots of books. Everybody else buys one book a year if you’re lucky,” Baldur Bjarnason, researcher on Icelandic book industry, told NPR. “It’s much more widespread in Iceland. Most people buy several books a year.”
Not only are Icelanders reading books, many enjoy writing them. “Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world,” NPR reported.
4. Iceland was one of the first in the world to have a parliament
The country was one of the first in the world to establish a parliament — “Icelandic chieftains met in the year 930 CE to create the first parliament,” according to Nordic Visitor.
This also makes it the “oldest parliament in the world that is still in existence,” per Nordic Visitor.
It was also the first country in the world to elect a woman as head of state by electing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in 1980 as president, according to The Guardian.
“If I may say so, because I hear it all the time, it changed everything,” she told The Guardian. “Women thought, if she can, I can. In my advanced age, women still thank me for being a role model.”
5. Iceland has been named one of the happiest countries in the world
The World Happiness Report named Iceland as “one of the world’s safest and happiest nations,” Iceland Travel reported.
It was also ranked the most peaceful country in the world by the Global Peace Index.
The World Economic Forum’s report on equality between sexes named it the best country in the world for women, per The Guardian.
The country has no standing army, and local police don’t carry guns — yet Iceland marks extremely low crime rates, per Guide to Iceland.
6. There are no snakes or mosquitoes in Iceland
It sounds a little too good to be true, but it’s true — Iceland has no snakes or mosquitoes. It also has no bears or poisonous bugs, according to Arctic Adventures.
You also won’t see many dogs if you visit. Dogs were banned in 1924 because of a tapeworm that was spreading from dogs to humans, per Smithsonian Magazine. The ban was lifted in the 1980s, but the government still requires rigorous testing and vaccinations to own a dog in the country.
Only one breed of horse exists on the island because Icelandic horses have not been mixed with other breeds, per Arctic Adventures.
One animal you might get to see, though, is whales. There are more than 20 different species of whales in the oceans around the island, per Arctic Adventures.
7. Many Icelanders believe in elves
A 2007 University of Iceland study revealed that 62% of people in Iceland believe in elves, per BBC. You can often see miniature houses with little goodies left in front of the house where elves can stay.
Nancy Marie Brown, the author of “Looking for the Hidden Folk: How Iceland’s Elves Can Save the Earth,” believes Icelanders’ convictions around elves support how well they take care of the environment.
There’s even an elf school for visitors to learn more about Icelandic elf culture, Deseret News reported.
8. Babies often sleep outside, even in the cold in Iceland
This is a common practice in many Scandinavian countries, but might feel a little different to Americans. Babies will often be left on porches or other outdoor spots to provide fresh air and Icelanders believe it supports “the development of their respiratory and immune system,” per Guide to Iceland.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, babies who were bundled up and slept outside in winter temperatures slept longer and better compared to babies who slept indoors.
9. Icelanders eat ice cream year-round
Although the island country remains fairly cold all year, Icelanders love ice cream. According to BuzzFeed, they even have a word to describe an “ice cream road trip” — Ísbíltúr.
Not only do they eat ice cream year-round, they also will grill in any type of weather, per Guide to Iceland.
10. Icelanders call everyone by their first names
Everyone goes by and is addressed by their first name, even the president. Icelanders believe it helps “foster a dialogue with a less stuffy hierarchy,” according to Guide to Iceland.
And most names feel familiar to most Icelanders because an official register of names is the only place parents can pull from to name their child. If a parent wants to use one not on the list, a special committee must grant them permission first. And if the name is on the banned list, using that name is “strictly forbidden,” The World Pursuit writes.