Iceland was discovered and populated relatively late in human history, in AD 874. Only around 337,000 people live in the country as of 2018, but there’s plenty to learn about the people and the island. Here are some cool facts about Iceland.
- The first settler was the Arctic fox.
The first mammal to settle in Iceland was the fluffy Arctic fox, believed to have crossed the frozen seas during the last ice age 10,000 years ago. For 9,000 years, until the arrival of humans, the country is thought to have been inhabited by no other mammals.
- Iceland is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Most land animals were introduced to Iceland by humans. Birds, of course, had their own means of travel, and more than 300 different feathered species can now be found.
- Iceland is home to one of the world’s oldest parliaments.
The Icelandic Parliament, also known as Alþingi, is considered by many as the world’s oldest parliament. It was established in 930 and met in Þingvellir until 1798. A Danish crown decree interrupted parliamentary proceedings from 1800 to 1845, and the Alþingi then reconvened in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
- Iceland had the first openly gay head of government.
The Icelandic government was the first in the world to be led by an openly gay premier. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was elected prime minister in 2009 and was one of the first to marry after the country legalized gay marriage in 2010.
- Icelanders like their Coca-Cola.
On a per capita basis, Icelanders consume more of the world’s best-known carbonated beverage, Coca-Cola, than anyone else.
- Iceland has produced some of the world’s strongest men.
Icelanders take great pride in their physical strength. The island has two four-time World’s Strongest Man winners in Magnús Ver Magnússon and Jón Páll Sigmarsson, who won their titles in the 1980s and 1990s.
More recently, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, known for playing "the Mountain" in the television show "Game of Thrones," finished in second place in the competition in 2016 and 2017.
- Iceland has produced a few Miss Worlds, too.
In addition to strength, Icelanders can pride themselves on beauty with four winners of the Miss World Competition — Guðrún Bjarnadóttir, Hólmfríður Karlsdóttir, Linda Pétursdóttir, and Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir.
- Most Icelanders believe in elves.
Recent surveys showed that more than half of Iceland’s population believe in elves, known locally as huldufólk. These beliefs have even disrupted construction projects, as Icelanders don’t want to disturb the invisible people-like creatures.
- Iceland is like a gateway from Europe to North America.
While part of Europe, Iceland lies on the fault line between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America, called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. You can cross from one continent to the other on a short trip across the country.
- Iceland has lots of volcanoes.
The island is home to approximately 130 volcanoes, 35 of which are active. Eruptions occur every four or five years. Fortunately, Icelanders are some of the best in the world at dealing with volcanoes, and any areas likely to be affected by eruptions are closed to visitors when an eruption is imminent.
- Iceland is powered by renewable energy.
Iceland’s electricity supply is almost entirely powered by renewable sources. In addition, 90 percent of homes are heated by geothermal energy, with the country making the most out of its highly volcanic environment.
The strongest, most beautiful, and most progressive: all of these superlatives can be used to describe Iceland.