As I’m sure you are aware, we are off to Iceland soon and to get us even more excited than we currently are (is that possible?!) we have done some digging to see what to expect and we love it! Cool and crazy Iceland facts include getting nude to elves, trolls and fairies. Whether you are soon to explore Iceland for the first time, or just fascinated by the land of fire and ice, we have put together our favourite Iceland facts that were unknown to us in preparation of our trip..
Iceland Facts: 10 things we didn’t know
1. Icelanders speak on the in-breath
Whilst this may not solely be an Icelandic quirk, as it’s also done in other Nordic countries, but it is something most visitors and tourists in Iceland will notice. We have researched and found some common Icelandic words spoken on the in breath.. ‘Já’ & ‘Jæja’ (Translates to: Yes & Well) – have a go yourself!
2. No surnames in Iceland
Icelanders continue to use their traditional name system (which was formerly used by all Nordic nations) where for the majority of the population people have a last name that is comprised from their father’s name. The naming system works by using the father’s name with the addition of -dóttir for his daughter or -son, you’ve guessed it, for his son. This means that a member of the same family will have a different last name to both of their parents and their siblings of a different gender – a little confusing huh?
Don’t be offended if an Icelander calls you by your first name the first time you meet as that’s standard nature. Everyone is addressed by their first name, even in official circumstances.
3. Getting nude in Iceland
You’ll discover in Iceland there are multitudes of refreshing hot springs. You are expected to shower in the buff first before you enter the water! No swimsuits, no swim shorts.. just you, nature and the shower. In Iceland this is a simple matter of hygiene, as it isn’t exactly easy to get fully clean while wearing your swimming gear. Many tourists will find this either slightly unnerving or just peculiar to strip off naked and shower in public before entering any swimming pools.
Around 85% of all households in Iceland are powered by Mother Nature! The geothermal energy comes from the Icelandic volcanoes and vents which are renewable resources. Iceland have worked out exactly how to get the best out of nature as the geothermal energy is used not just for hot water, but electricity too. On top of this, if you are looking to dip your toes in one of the many public swimming pools in Iceland, you’ll be glad to know most of those are heated thanks to the volcanoes present.
Do you believe in elves? Trolls? Fairies? The majority of Icelanders believe elves live in rock areas of Iceland, possessing magical powers and cause trouble if you disturb their home. There’s even an Elf School in Reykjavík that opened in 1991 and has had over 9000 attend, where you can learn about all the different types of elves living amongst Iceland. The belief in elves is so strong that a new road project had to be delayed to protect ‘hidden’ elves.
If you asked an Icelander what their favourite food was in Iceland, chances are it wouldn’t take long until someone mentioned Skyr. This dairy product is much like yogurt but a form of soft cheese with 0% fat as it’s made using pasteurized skimmed milk. Icelander’s eat Skyr everyday, anytime, as a snack or with meal and has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years! It’s so popular in Iceland that it’s been made into a drink form called “drykkur” and as a dipping sauce / dessert called “skyr-nnaise” – If you visit Iceland and don’t try this, I’m wondering if locals will raise an eyebrow or two at you..
7. BBQ & Grills all year round
Iceland, the land of fire ice.. oh, and the BBQ! Yep, that’s right. Icelanders are known to have a BBQ whatever the weather. Come rain or shine, you’ll discover many locals will want to have their lamb/fish/whale grilled and then smothered in sauce! Which also leads me to the Icelandic obsession of “pylsur” – hotdogs! Everyone is slightly obsessed with them in Iceland. Made with lamb, these hotdogs provide a special flavour to be ordered along with “eina með öllu” – the works: a sweeter brown mustard, ketchup, raw onions, crunchy deep-fried onions, and a mildly tangy remoulade. Tasty huh!
8. Raw Puffin Heart
Iceland is the home to most of the Atlantic puffins in the world, with a population of around 10 million. With a big sad face, it’s hard to imagine these absolutely adorable Puffins form part of the national diet in Iceland. They are hunted for their eggs, feathers and meat through methods of big nets catching low flying birds. Puffin meat is commonly featured on many hotel and restaurant menus. It’s also traditional Icelandic delicacy to eat the fresh heart of a puffin raw. It’s safe to say, these guys are far too cute to even think about spooning into my mouth..
9. Traditional food
Traditional Icelandic food consists of more than the ever popular ocean fresh seafood dishes and mouth-watering mountain lamb you will discover on most restaurant menus. You can be sure to discover some very delicious dishes along with some that is.. well.. different. Most meat was commonly smoked when preserving food in the days before fridges. Hangikjöt (smoked lamb) is still a popular choice today. For those with a more adventurous set of taste buds and nerves of steel, why not try Hákarl (fermented shark) note that this is not for beginners. Top chef’s have even described this meal as the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing! If that doesn’t take your fancy, the menu for the Thorri midwinter feast is a real challenge for the brave. Delicacies include a boiled sheep’s head, ram’s testicles pickled in whey, and loin bags. – feeling hungry?
Our last Iceland fact: Brennivin, Iceland’s very own alcoholic drink is a sort of schnapps distilled from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway seeds. Apparently it is the seeds that gives it a pretty vile flavour, so much so it is known locally as “black death.” With a name like that Even among Icelanders, Brenivin is known for its nasty reputation, which is often consumed alongside the Icelandic fermented shark dish. In some bars you may find some brave Icelanders drinking Brennivin to show off around tourists or to make an extra show of their Icelandic roots. – who fancys a shot or two?