Iceland is still taking shape
Iceland is the youngest land mass in the world and is still in the process of taking shape.
Its unusual landscape has glaciers covering around 11% of its surface and around 30% volcanic lava fields. In 1963 a new volcanic island was formed, Surtsey, and in 1996 and 1998 volcanoes erupted beneath the ice creating new mountains.
A land full of hot springs
In fact, the word geyser is Icelandic for ‘to gush,’ and originates from the name of one of Iceland’s biggest hot springs, the Great Geysir in the Haukadalur valley, which now performs infrequently. However, the Strokkur geyser just 100 metres away erupts 30 metres high every 10 minutes.
Showering al fresco
If you pay a visit to one of the hot springs or a geothermal spa, such as the Blue Lagoon, which is just a 30-minute drive from Reykjavik, you’ll have to take a shower before taking a dip. It’s not uncommon for showers to have no door and you’re expected to wash without your swim-gear on, so don’t be shy. For Icelanders it’s simply a matter of hygiene that they’ve all experienced since they were children, so no-one will bat an eyelid.
See the Northern Lights
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to witness the amazing natural phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights. The ideal time to see them in Iceland is November to January when the skies are at their clearest.
What's in a name?
Icelanders do not have surnames in the same way as we do in the UK. The last name was traditionally created from their father’s first name and either ‘son’ on the end for a boy, or ‘dottir’ on the end for a girl. In recent times this has changed a little, with some children’s last names being based on their mother’s first name.
Around 80% of Icelanders believe that elves exist, apparently including Iceland’s most famous singer, Bjork. In some cases road routes have been changed and buildings re-designed to avoid disturbing the rocky locations where elves may be living.
The Arctic fox is the only native animal in Iceland
There is also a huge population of Puffins. Vikings brought horses, cows, sheep and sheep dogs with them when they settled here. Reindeer were introduced in the 18th century and there are escaped rabbits and mink which have now fully adapted to the wild. Offshore there’s a rich diversity of sea life, including several species of whales and seals.
Pre-Columbus American discovery
An Icelander discovered the Americas 500 years before Christopher Columbus. According to legend, Lief the Lucky came from the west of Iceland and spent a winter in a land he named Vinland in around the year 1,000. This was probably Newfoundland in Canada where you can still see the remains of Viking sites.
Fermented shark meat, anyone?
Icelandic delicacies may take a bit of getting used to. As well as tasty fresh and smoked fish, they have some unusual specialities such as their highly pungent Hakarl which is the national dish of shark meat which has been left to ferment for four or five months before eating. You can try washing this down with Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps which, just as it sounds, is made from sea moss.
A bookish nation
Icelanders are a highly creative people with many engaging in writing or creating art works. This is probably why they produce the highest number of books, articles and magazine publications per capita in the world. It’s estimated that at least 10% of the Icelandic population will publish a book in their lifetimes.
Other interesting facts
Some more cultural quirks about Iceland are that it’s forbidden to sell underwear with the Icelandic flag printed on them. Knitting is a very popular pastime for both men and women, perhaps because thick woolly jumpers come in very handy. They watch more films at the cinema that anywhere else in the world, and they also drink more Coca Cola per capita than any other country.