Iceland has about 130 volcanic mountains. Among them 18 have erupted since the settlement of Iceland 1100 years ago.
Iceland is home to one of the greatest concentrations of geysers in the world. The word geyser itself comes from Geysir, the name of an erupting spring at Haukadalur, at the northwestern tip Iceland. The name Geysir, in turn, has its roots in the Icelandic verb geysa, "to gush".
The cliffs at Látrabjarg, which mark the westernmost part of Europe, are home to the world's biggest bird breeding ground. Teeming with millions of puffins, northern gannets, guillemots and razorbills, Látrabjarg is Europe's largest bird cliff, stretching over 14km and reaching up to 440m in height.
Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3% of Iceland's surface. Vatnajökull, the world's largest glacier outside the poles, accounts for 8% of the country's land area all by itself.
Reykjavík is the world's northernmost capital of any sovereign state.
The small fishing town of Húsavík, on the northern coast of Iceland, is the whale watching capital of Europe. Minke, humpback and blue whales are frequent visitors to the region throughout spring and summer.
History & People
The Althingi, Iceland's parliament, is the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world. It was founded in 930 and was only discontinued for 45 years, from 1799 to 1844.
Icelandic people were long thought to descend exclusively from the Norwegian Vikings who settled the island from 874. Genetic studies revealed that a sizeable portion of their ancestry can be traced back to the native Celtic populations of Ireland and Scotland, who were brought to Iceland as slaves by the Vikings. There are approximately 20% of male Gaelic lineages (subclades of haplogroup R1b of Celtic origin, mostly R1b-L21) and 60% (according to Helgason et al. ) of female ones. Icelanders are therefore best described ethnically as a Celto-Germanic hybrid, like the Lowland Scots, the English, the Belgians, the Southwest Germans and the Swiss.
Iceland was ruled by Norway from 1262, then by Denmark from 1380. It only became an independent republic in 1944.
As of 2020, Iceland had the highest male life expectancy the world, although women only ranked 14th.
Society & Culture
Icelanders watch more films at the cinema than any other nation, with in average 5.1 cinema admissions per person per year. That is twice the Western European average, three more than the Germans and five times more than the Japanese !
According to the Economist Intelligence Index of 2011, Iceland has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world.
65% of Icelandic children were born outside marriage - the highest rate in the world.
Iceland is said to have the world's highest number of writers, authors and artists per capita. There is hardly anyone who doesn't write or make art.
Knitting has long been a national obession of the Icelandic, men included. Traditionally this was a good way to make sure that one could have warm wool clothes to wear in winter.
Icelandic cuisine features such gruesome dishes as súrsađir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram's testicles), hákarl (putrescent shark meat), lundabaggi (sheep's loins cured in lactic acid), and sviđ (singed sheep's head). Whale and seal meat is also traditionally consumed.
Despite having some fairly unappetising traditional delicacies, Icelandic people do not like eating ugly animals, like cod. Lobsters were thrown back into the sea until the 1950's.
Beer was banned nationwide until 1989. The legal drinking age in Iceland is 20, the highest in Europe, and alcohol can only be purchased in very expensive state-owned Vínbúđ, or in licenced bars, restaurants and hotels.
The Icelandic government has banned prostitution in 2009, strip clubs in 2010, and is planning to ban online pornography as well, in a move to eradicate the sex industry.
Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010 in Iceland. Gays and lesbians also have the right to adopt children.
One of the country's most unusual attraction is the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses the world's largest display of penises and penile parts. The collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals, allegedly including elves and trolls.
Economy & Politics
In February 2009, Jóhanna Sigurđardóttir became Iceland's first female Prime Minister and the world's first openly lesbian head of government.
30% of Iceland's electricity is of geothermal origin - the highest percentage worldwide. The rest of the nation's electricity is generated by hydro power, making of Iceland the world's most eco-friendly country in terms of energy.
From 2010 to 2020 Iceland has consistently had the highest employment rate of the 38 OECD countries, ranging from 78% to 85% (about 12 to 14% higher than the USA).
Iceland used to rank on top of the Human Development Index (in 2007 and 2008). The global financial crisis hit the country's economy hard, and in 2010 Iceland had fallen to the 17th position.