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10 Facts we didn’t know about Iceland

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

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

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
Getting nude in Iceland

Image from

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.

4.Volcanic Energy

Icelandic Volcanic Energy

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.

5. Elves

Icelandic Elves

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.

6. Skyr

Iceland Skyr

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 Hotdogs

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

Icelandic Puffin

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

Iceland Facts: 9. Icelandic Tradional 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?

10. Brennivin

Iceland Facts: 10. Iceland Brennivin

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?

Article written by Adam Boston

Discover the most inspiring travel stories, must do adventures, and photography of the world seen through the eyes of Adam. Uncovering what the world has to offer, from one country to another.


Currently there's 16 comment(s)

  • Tee | Rotten One

    Commented on 21/01/2015 at 17:22

    Hey there! This is my first time on your blog and I really enjoyed reading this post. I was in Iceland 2 winters ago and had a great time, though I didn’t even know about a lot of these facts in this post! One thing I did know, though, was about the nudity. Only because I had to shower naked before going to one of their hot springs myself!

    Tee | Rotten One
    Tee | Rotten One recently posted…Giveaway: One Month Free at TreehouseMy Profile

    • Adam Boston

      Commented on 21/01/2015 at 19:59

      Hi Tee, Glad to hear you’ve already beaten us to Iceland.. it’ll be good to hear of your thoughts. Everyone I have spoken to who has gone has come back to literally say they want to go straight back.

      From all the photos and stories I’ve seen and read, It’s going to be a real eye opener as a lover of nature as it should be.. untouched by man

      What I’d like to know is.. did you try any fermented shark or brennivin?! 😀

  • Catherine

    Commented on 23/01/2015 at 14:11

    Some interesting facts – especially about talking on the in-breath. Until I thought about it I didn’t realise most languages are spoken on the out-breath, but now you’ve mentioned it it’s so obvious! How strange that we don’t all just use in the in- and out-breath!
    Catherine recently posted…Why I Have Given Up On Hostels (Already)My Profile

    • Adam Boston

      Commented on 23/01/2015 at 16:03

      Have a go at trying to pronounce some Icelandic words on your in breath.. I’m not sure how they do it, but I guess we are so used to speaking outwards that it’s difficult to master well.

  • Jess @UsedYorkCity

    Commented on 04/02/2015 at 14:35

    Loved reading these fun facts so much, Iceland is probably the next international trip I’ll be taking, so it was a fun way to brush up on some knowledge! What’s the best time of year to visit, in your opinion?

    • Adam Boston

      Commented on 04/02/2015 at 16:53

      We’re pretty chuffed you’re enjoying our latest Icelandic posts.. we are literally just scraping the surface of some of the most awesome adventures we have planned in Iceland.. if these won’t tempt you to visit, nothing will 😉

      If you’re looking to visit, it really depends what you are visiting for.. ice caves / Northern Lights or the glorious midnight sun and a better chance of seeing wildlife amongst all the beautiful natural sights Iceland provides 🙂
      Adam Boston recently posted…We’re going to IcelandMy Profile

  • Escape Hunter

    Commented on 05/02/2015 at 14:08

    I definitely want to befriend those cute puffins!
    OK… maybe they’re wild a bit. Then, take a bunch of photos of the cuties.

    • Adam Boston

      Commented on 06/02/2015 at 20:19

      Pretty cute birds huh.. there’s around 10 million of them in Iceland alone!

  • Beth

    Commented on 06/02/2015 at 14:08

    Having just returned from a week in Iceland I wish you luck. We hired a car and our hotel was just north of the city. A good base.
    Be warned roads are scary when its snows or ices. Covered in inches of solid ice. Thats the main roads!
    And take ice cleets to walk as the ice round all their tourist spots is lethal! Landing on my bottom like a sack of tatties at the geysir is the proof.
    Have fun.

    • Adam Boston

      Commented on 06/02/2015 at 20:23

      That’s winter in Iceland for you! It’s almost a step back in time, where mother nature rules the roost. Thanks for the heads up on the roads, I think we’ll be opting for studded / snow tyres just to make sure we’re okay to explore 🙂

      Whoops! Hope the slip wasn’t caught on camera 😉 I hope you had a great time though Beth!

  • Walter Pinem

    Commented on 03/08/2015 at 21:31

    Now I start loving Iceland, A bit in hurry to get in there soon. I love reading the facts you wrote in this, seems like no other same facts I could get anywhere unless to prove it by myself. Nice 😀
    Walter Pinem recently posted…Menanjaki Gunung Ciremai 3.078 mdplMy Profile

  • Maria

    Commented on 27/11/2015 at 10:14

    Wow, amazing. I totally love this post. Iceland is on my list for next year. Can’t wait to visit!
    Maria recently posted…Salzburg Attractions – Ideas For a Day TripMy Profile

  • Marcos Antonio

    Commented on 03/12/2015 at 20:55

    What I would like most would be to the wonderful refreshing hot springs, they say it is too good it’s like entressemos in the capsule of the time and we return each year olds in time, kkk .

  • Marghany

    Commented on 26/06/2016 at 23:51

    Marghany recently posted…siwa egypt toursMy Profile

  • Alessandra da Fontoura

    Commented on 06/08/2016 at 03:34

    For me it was great to have found this article. Because Iceland is on my list for next year. Now so I’m super excited to visit this place.

  • Ana

    Commented on 14/09/2016 at 05:14

    And take ice cleets to walk as the ice round all their tourist spots is lethal!


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