I don’t know about you: but I like to research a county before traveling there. I like to know what I’m getting myself into – but more importantly, I want to figure out what makes that country tick: to learn about its history, traditions, and culture, in order to enhance my own experience and understanding of that country.
So in that spirit, here are some facts about Iceland that I compiled prior to my trip, along with insights I gained while traveling there. If you’re headed to Iceland in the near future, I hope these facts will add to your understanding of this beautiful country.
- The population of Iceland is 331,000 (as of 2016), and the majority of that population is concentrated in and around the capital, Reykjavik. In a country roughly the size of Ohio, what does that mean for the traveler? It means there’s a whole lot of wide open space. Traffic is pretty much non-existent except for around Reykjavik, and the towns dotted around Iceland all have that “small-town” feel. It’s a country filled with nature – not people!
- When you fly into Iceland from the States, you’ll be flying into Keflavik International Airport – not Reykjavik. This causes confusion for some travelers, who assumed they are flying directly into Reykjavik, the country’s capital. However, the airport in Reykjavik is used predominantly for domestic flights within Iceland. Keflavik International Airport is located on the peninsula just south of Reykjavik, and is approximately an hour drive to Reykjavik. Keflavik International Airport is also close to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, which is only about a twenty minute drive.
- The Northern Lights are one of the main reasons people travel to Iceland, but not everyone sees them! To increase your chances of seeing them, travel between the months of September-April. It’s possible, but not likely, to see them as early as August. The Northern Lights are typically inactive for several days – but then, they’ll be quite active for a day or two. Which means, if they’re active on Monday night, chances are high they’ll be active again on Tuesday as well. However, if it’s raining or there is significant cloud cover, that will reduce your chances of seeing the lights. For the Aurora Borealis forecast, click here.
- Weather in Iceland is highly variable. It’s not unusual to experience sun, wind, rain, hail, and snow, all in one day in Iceland. Dress and pack accordingly. Layers are your best friend in Iceland.
- Speaking of weather, no matter what time of year you’re visiting: expect it to be chilly. The highest average temperature you’ll find in Iceland (in July) will be around 60 degrees; the lowest average temperature (in January) will be around 32 degrees.
- Iceland is windy. And not just blustery – I mean, WINDY. Wind so strong, at times, it feels like it could blow you off a cliff! During the four weeks of my stay, I can recall two days that were perfectly calm, with no wind at all. Otherwise, it was oh-so-blustery! Bring a warm scarf at all times when you’re outside, especially if you plan to explore.
- Coffee is the unofficial drink of Iceland! Given their chilly climate year-round and the high prices of alcohol, this makes perfect sense. You can find great coffee everywhere, so take advantage!
- Iceland is the ultimate nature trip: its landscapes will leave you in awe. If you’re more of a “city” person however, and nature is not your thing, I wouldn’t recommend a trip to Iceland! Or I’d suggest trying a long weekend and enjoying the sights around Reykjavik, of which there are many.
- Credit cards are accepted everywhere. In a four-week trip, I didn’t take cash out once. For being a large volcanic rock out in the middle of the ocean, Iceland is actually a very wired country. For this reason, everywhere from the local hot dog stand to the neighborhood B&B will accept your credit card.
- Speaking of being wired: if you have an international phone plan (such as T-Mobile), your phone will work just about everywhere in Iceland – even on random mountaintops! What does this mean for the traveler? It means that I could rely on Google map from my phone for accurate directions, as well as send and receive texts if I needed to. If you don’t have an international plan, likely your phone will work only when on wifi.
- Iceland is expensive. Here are some typical Icelandic prices (as of fall 2016): $4 for coffee, $32 for a 2-mile taxi ride, $25 for salad, $55 for a “cheap” bottle of wine, $25-50 for a hostel stay, $150+ for hotel rooms in Reykjavik, and $60-90 for entrance to the Blue Lagoon (local nature baths are significantly cheaper). At the time of our trip, gas prices were roughly $7/gallon in Iceland. Because pretty much everything needs to be imported to Iceland (including alcohol), prices are high. Prepare yourself for this prior to your trip, otherwise you will be in for quite a shock.
- There are 36 hostels in Iceland, most concentrated around Reykjavik. Staying at hostels can help to reduce the cost of your stay, though compared to other hostels around the world, they are expensive. The good news is, though: they are some of the best, liveliest, and cleanest hostels you will find anywhere in the world.
- Iceland is the #1 “Safest Country in the World,” according to the Global Peace Index. In a time when many people are reluctant to travel due to safety concerns, this makes Iceland a great potential destination, as crime is virtually non-existent (there are less than 150 prisoners in the entire country). Iceland is so safe, in fact, that mothers leave their babies on the street in their strollers while they run inside and grab coffee! Can you imagine American mothers doing that are your local Starbucks?
- Swimming baths, or “nature baths,” are an important part of social life in Iceland. Given that Iceland basically runs on geothermal energy, you’ll find these baths all over the country: most famously at the Blue Lagoon (20 minutes outside of Keflavik), and at Myvatn Nature Baths (near Lake Myvatn in the northern part of the country). There are also numerous public pools in Reykjavik, and nearly every town has a pool as well – or one nearby. Personally, I think the baths are God’s natural gift to this beautiful but year-round chilly country!
- Iceland has nearly 8,000 miles of roads! Two of the most well-known circuits in the country are 1) the “Ring Road,” which refers to the highway that circuits the entire country. This is a popular route to take for people who have 7-10 days, and taking this road will cover most of the country’s scenic highlights. 2) The other popular route is the “Golden Circle,” which is one of the most popular tourist routes in all of Iceland. The Golden Circle is close to Reykjavik (approx. 45 minutes drive), which makes it a popular day trip option, and works for people who have 1-3 days only in Iceland. The Golden Circle is much smaller than the Ring Road, and covers several popular Icelandic attractions, including Gulfoss, Geysir, Thingvellir National Park, and the volcanic Kerid Crater.
- Iceland has long been at the forefront of women’s rights: they were one of the first countries to introduce female suffrage in 1908. And in 2009, they elected their first woman prime minister, Johanna Siguroardottir, who also happens to be the first openly gay world leader.
- You’ll find no strip clubs in Iceland: they were banned in 2010 by Siguroardottir, who cited that women must be treated “as citizens rather than commodities for sale.”
- An interesting fact about Iceland is that 67% of its children are born out of wedlock, which means there are many single mothers in Iceland, and that marriage is not necessarily a high priority. Being a single mother is not frowned upon in Iceland, though. Rather, it’s a point of pride. Strong social programs, high wages, and the willingness of neighbors and family to help with childcare make being a single mother more feasible than perhaps it is in other cultures.
- The racial make-up of Iceland is: three-parts Nordic, one-part Celt. Genealogy is important in Iceland; and it is said that by the tenth generation, everyone in Iceland is related, as the population is so small. Though Iceland is a relatively homogeneous society, it is also a tolerant one and generally free of racism.
- Iceland is a highly literate society, with a literacy rate of 99%. There are also many writers in Iceland: it is said that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime – an astonishing number, and the highest per capita publishing rate in the world.
- Icelanders are also tops in terms of longevity: as of 2015, they were #6 in the world, with an average life expectancy of 82.97 years. Possible reasons for this long life span? Some of the world’s most ridiculously pure air; wild-caught food; excellent public health care; and unparalleled preventative health care services.
- Finally, one last, interesting fact about Iceland: they have a strong belief in elves – 54% of the population, in fact, believes in them, according to a study conducted in 1998. You can even go to school in Iceland to learn more about elves! In Reykjavik, you can attend the Elf School, where for $57, you can learn all about these mysterious and mystical creatures, who are said to have been spotted by actual, living breathing mortals all over Iceland (unfortunately, I can’t say that I experienced any mystical elf sightings during my visit, though I surely would’ve liked to : ).
I hope this information about Iceland helps you to understand the country better. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland soon – I hope enjoy this beautiful country! If you’ve already been to Iceland, what facts about the country surprised you? Let me know in the comment section below!