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Iceland: History, People, Economy, Fun facts and more

Iceland: History, People, Economy, Fun facts and more


Iceland is a country full of treasures, from magnificent natural landscapes to picturesque cities. Whether you are planning for a trip in Iceland or just want to know more about the land of ice and fire, this article is for you. 

This is our complete guide for Iceland.

What’s the size of Iceland? How many people live here? What language do they speak? What money do they use? Is it even safe to be here? Just read below you’ll get all the answers!

Believe me, after reading this you’ll instantly be booking for the next flight to come into our amazing country. Just follow me my friend for a trip that you will never forget. 

Once upon a time in the land of Ice and Fire...

icelandic traditional houses with green grass rooftops, white windows, grass, cloudsPhoto: Skogar museum in south Iceland, close to Vik

Let’s start in the beginning…

First, the vikings:

They arrived here more than 1100 years ago, in the late 9th century, they are known as being the first settlers of Iceland. The human history of Iceland is not very long but rich in great events.

In fact, irish monks were already here when the north men arrived. But decided to leave the country because they didn’t want to share the country with heathens. With time, more and more nordic families settled in this island with their clan members and slaves. They were mainly coming from Norway and the British Isles.

A man dressed in old viking clothes, leather, green wooden boat behing, sea on the backgroundPhoto: Iceland History - Reconstitution of how fishermen looked like during the settlement of Iceland.

Then, the gathering:

In 930, chieftains gathered to create a parliament, the Althingi, in a place called Thingvellir. It means the fields of parliament. This parliament is the oldest still existing parliament of the world, and was moved from Thingvellir to Reykjavik in the 19th century.

National park of Thingvellir, rocks on the foregroung, grass, tress, mountains on the backgroundPhoto: Thingvellir, where the Althingi was created, is now a national park.

More recently:

This majestic island also went through dark days when the island was under danish rule. Denmark Kingdom took the upper hand on it after the dissolution of the Kalmar Union (Sweden, Norway and Denmark). 

During those times Iceland could only make commercial exchanges with Denmark. This led the country to poverty and the decline of the population. Iceland finally took its sovereignty back, in 1918, and therefore became the Kingdom of Iceland, in union with the Danish Kingdom.

During WWII, Iceland was invaded peacefully by the Britains, and later occupied by the US Army. This was in order to avoid the Nazis to take this strategic place in the North Atlantic. Iceland became fully independent before the end of WWII, in 1944, by declaring itself as a republic: The Republic of Iceland.

In mid 20th century, Iceland was "at war" with United Kingdom. During what we call the "Cod wars", Iceland and UK clashed about the fishing areas around Iceland. The conflict ended in 1976 when UK recognized the claims of Iceland. 



street art representing the icelandic flag on a wall in Reykjavik IcelandPhoto: Street art in Reykjavik representing the Icelandic Flag 

The Icelandic culture is strongly related to its history, where it takes its roots. It is very various, in arts such as architecture, litterature, painting, sculpture and music.

Icelanders are really attached to all forms of expression, and the most known literature is the Icelandic sagas. These books relate the story of settler families during the birth of iceland. 


one Icelandic brown sheep walking on grass Photo: Icelandic sheep enjoying life before being eaten... 

Icelandic traditional food is clearly not for the weak stomachs.

  • Sheep’s head
  • Fermented shark
  • Ram testicles

Those are some things that you can try while traveling in Iceland. Those dishes are not often eaten by Icelanders nowadays though.

Icelandic traditional cuisine is composed of a lot of sheep meat, lamb meat, and also fish obviously, but not only...

Those examples are ones of the best dishes you can find in Iceland: 

  • Lamb soup
  • Dried fish with butter 
  • Dark rye bread
  • Icelandic ice creams

We also make one of the best yogurt on earth, called skyr. Just try it to believe it. To learn more about Icelandic food, it's right here.


Hallgrimskirkja, blue sky, in Reykjavik IcelandPhoto: Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik - The biggest church and highest building in Iceland

In the old days, the religion of the Icelandic settlers was the northern Germanic religion also called Old Norse religion.

It is a polytheistic religion widely spread in Scandinavian countries. Odin, Thor, Loki and Heimdall and many others were the gods of these people.

Still, Norse mythology is a great part of Icelandic culture and Icelanders are highly proud of this heritage.Nowadays, the state religion in Iceland is Christianism and more precisely Lutheranism.

The Church of Iceland is the first church of the country and professes the Lutheran faith. More than 60% of all Icelanders are members of the Church of Iceland, which makes Iceland a country where religion is still important.


Woman looking at seljalandsfoss waterfall in IcelandPhoto: An Icelandic woman looking at Seljalandsfoss

In Iceland people may seem cold and rude at first sight. And it can be hard for some foreigners to have contacts with locals. This is something they seem to share with other scandinavian people. But as soon as you break the ice, these people will become ones of the most warm and welcoming. 

They are also known to be one of the happiest nation in the world. And their happiness is certainly not related to the money they earn, but rather to their relationship with others, friends and family. They trust and support each other, in both good and bad times.

Iceland Reykjavik people walking in the streetPhoto: People walkin in Bankastraeti, Reykjavik

This behaviour and philosophy come from their history and environment. They share values from the past and as Iceland can be a tough place to live. Early Icelanders had to be united if they wanted to survive.

The Icelandic population is also one of the smallest, only 364 000 individuals (total residents) are inhabiting the island. For a population density of 3 per Km².

The population is also genetically pretty homogeneous, the most important ethnic group in size is obviously Icelanders which represents 90% of the population, but 5% of the population are Polish people, 1% are Lithuanian and the remaining 4% come from other countries (numbers from 2018).


What language is spoken in Iceland? Well, no surprises here, Icelandic people speak in… Icelandic!

An insular language

Icelandic is a North Germanic language, and an indo european language. It is related to other european languages such as Norwergian, Finnish, Swedish and Danish, but also English and German. Its written form is particularly close to Faroese and Western Norwegian. 

Icelandic grammar, on the other hand, is close to German grammar. 
This is a really conservative language. And it has been so little changed that Icelanders can actually read ancient writings in Old Norse from the 10th century. 

Just have a quick thought about it, could you even read a text of your language that is just 200 years old? 

Deaf community in Iceland

Before early 20th century, deaf people were sent to Denmark to study and use the danish sign language. Today, deaf people in Iceland use the Icelandic sign language, which is a bit different from the danish one, from which it takes its roots.

The alphabet

The Icelandic alphabet is slightly different from the alphabet known by English, French or Spanish speakers. It is composed of 32 letters with a particular pronunciation for each.

Just watch the video below to truly understand how Icelandic sounds unique, you won’t even believe your ears:

Icelandic for dummies:

You want to learn a bit of Icelandic before coming? No worries mate, here are the main sentences you’ll need for your trip:





Good morning

Góðan daginn

Good afternoon

Góðan daginn

How are you?

Hvernig hefurðu það?






Thank you

Takk fyrir

What’s your name?

Hvað heitir þú?

My name is...

Ég heiti...

Nice to meet you

Gaman að hitta þig

May I have a beer please?

Má ég fá mér bjór vinsamlegast?

How much is it?

Hversu mikið er það?

If you have trouble with pronunciation, no worries, Icelandic people have a very good English level. So you should not have any problem communicating with them. Even young kids can speak English!


Here is the big question, money: Is Iceland an expensive country?

It actually is one of the most expensive country of Europe. To give you an idea of that,here are few examples of prices in 2020: 





1 kg / 2 lb.


ISK 430

EUR 2.72

USD 2.94


1 kg / 2 lb.


ISK 590

EUR 3.73



1 kg / 2 lb.


ISK 415

EUR 2.62

USD 2.84




ISK 755

EUR 4.77

USD 5.16


1 litre / 1 qt.


ISK 157

EUR 0.99

USD 1.07

Beer in a bar 



ISK 1200

EUR 7.59

USD 8.21

If you want to save a bit of money, the cheapest “supermarkets” are Bonus, you can find then all ‘round the country. 

If you have to buy some food or hygiene products during your trip, you can also go to Nettó, Hagkaup, Krónan. You can also find other independent groceries shops all over the island. Groceries stores called "10-11" are opened 24/7, but they are also more expensive. 





95 Octane Gasoline

1 litre

From ISK 183.40 to ISK 210.90

From EUR 1.16 to EUR 1.33

From USD 1.25 to USD 1.44


1 litre

From ISK 181.30 to ISK 208.40

From EUR 1.15 to EUR 1.32

From USD 1.24 to USD 1.42

If you’re looking for the cheapest gas prices, you will definitely find them at these gas stations : Orkan, Atlantsolía and ÓB. Also, some small towns have higher price of petrol due to their location. So it is cheaper in bigger towns.

But the prices are always changing so it may be true later, to get the updated prices of gas, just go to this link.



1 pair of sport shoes 


ISK 17 500

EUR 110

USD 120

1 summer dress


ISK 7 300

EUR 46,10

USD 50

Standard men’s haircut 


ISK 6 800

EUR 43

USD 46.50

Antibiotics (1 box/12 doses)


ISK 1 600

EUR 10.10

USD 11


Iceland has a small economy with one og the lowest GDP in the world, but as it is for other small countries, the GDP per capita is high.

It is the highest in the world with a little around 70 000 USD per capita.

The economy of Iceland is based on 4 main activities:

  • Tourism

the start of a geyser at Geysir in Iceland, tourists on the backgroundPhoto: Tourists enjoying water eruptions at Geysir

Tourism in Iceland exploded in the last few years. And revenues from tourism represents more than 10% of the GDP.

Why this boom in tourism?

Nowadays, people really want to reconnect with nature. And our country is just the perfect place for that.

Also, the eruption in 2010 of Eyjafjallajökull made Iceland very famous in the world. Since this year, tourism has almost always increased year after year.

  • Renewable energies

geothermal plant in Iceland, green plains, clear blue sky and mountains on the backgroundPhoto: A geothermal plant in Iceland - transforming the warmth of the underground into electricity

Thanks to its water and geothermal activity, Iceland makes enough electricity for its domestic consumption, mainly hydro-power. Since a few decades, Iceland invested in infrastructures in order to make its own green energy.

Today, the efforts are paying off, and Iceland can produce enough green energy for its domestic consumption. Making it probably the greenest country in electric production and consumption.

  • Aluminium smelting 

Iceland is an island where aluminium can be found in large quantities.

A few companies exploit this resource mainly for exportation.

This industry consumes more than 70% of the electricity made by the country. 

  • Fishing

fishing harbor of Husavik with boats, docks, sea, mountains on the backgroundPhoto: The fishing harbor of Husavik in north Iceland

It’s not surprising that the fishing industry carries the Icelandic economy. Iceland is surrounded by seas abundant in fish. 

The country has always been a place where fishing is in the center. From the settlers, who used to fish to live, to nowadays. 

Now the techniques are more industrial, but the Icelandic Marine Research Institute gives advice about quotas to the government combined with fishing techniques that respects the environment. The main goal is to protect the species and the sustainability of ocean’s natural sources. 

Iceland fishes mainly cod, which is consumed here but also exported. Also other species such as herring, golden redfish, haddock, and many others...


The Icelandic Currency is named Króna or Íslenska Krónan and is recognized by its code: ISK. The name “króna” has the same origin as the Scandinavian currencies, the Swedish krona, the Danish krone and the Norwegian krone.

Icelandic Coins

Icelandic coins Photo: Iceland money - Coins

  • ISK 1
  • ISK 5
  • ISK 10
  • ISK 50
  • ISK 100

Icelandic Banknotes

  • ISK 500
  • ISK 1000
  • ISK 2000
  • ISK 5000
  • ISK 10000

Who are people on the ISK banknotes?

ISK500: Jón Sigurðsson

ISK 500 banknote Photo: ISK 500 banknote

Jón Sigurðsson was the leader in the fight for Iceland’s independence.

ISK 1,000: Brynjólfur Sveinsson

ISK 1000 banknotesPhoto: ISK 1000 banknotes

He is famous for his work in preserving the Norse Mythology.

ISK 2,000: Jóhannes Kjarval

One of Iceland’s most popular Icelandic painters. 

ISK 5,000: Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir

ISK 5000 BanknotePhoto: ISK 5000 Banknote

A talented seamstress who actively taught her skills anywhere she could. 

ISK 10000: Jónas Hallgrímsson

ISK 10 000 BanknotePhoto: ISK 10 000 Banknote

Natural scientist and one of our most beloved poets, writer, and translator


Reykjavik outside parliament Photo: Reykjavik parliament

Iceland is a constitutional republic with a multi-party system. The head of state is GUDNI TH. JOHANNESSON, the president of Iceland.

The executive power is exercised by the Government and is the world's oldest parliamentary democracy. Legislative power is vested in both the Parliament and the President.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is the Iceland prime minister serving since 2017. Katrín is a member of the "Left Green movement" and the prime minister of Iceland since November 30th, 2017.

Internationally, Iceland has different treaties with Denmark and Norway amond others. The country is also a member of NATO since the beginning of the organization. 


Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the National Police, crime rate continues to be lower than its most developed countries and similar size and demographics’ countries.

Safest countries in the world



Safety Score

















The low level of crime and very low level of violent crime is due to the high-standard of living. Thanks to that, there is a lack of tension between social and economic classes.

The demography also has strong social attitudes against criminality helps to keep the rate low.

There is also a high level of trust in law enforcement and a highly-educated police force. But they are getting vigilant because of the growth of construction and tourism industries that could result in an influx of trafficked persons. 

Road Safety and Road Conditions: 

Icelandic Road during summer Photo: Icelandic Road during summer 

Iceland has a modern highway system which was not constructed for speed. Many roads outside of the main highways are unpaved.

The most dangerous factor when driving outside of these roads are single-line bridges, unexpected animal crossings and poor surface maintenance. You also have to be careful with the Icelandic weather, which can be really unpredictable especially during wintertime. 

Public transportation conditions

As a result of high vehicle ownership, demand for public transport services remains low. Public transportation is relatively underdeveloped. However, these are effective and safe services which are provided in major urban areas. 


What time is it in Iceland right now? 

Iceland is currently in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) time zone. Clocks do not change in Iceland.

Time in Iceland is a really strange thing. So strange that Icelanders still fail to recognise autumn and spring because in Iceland, life is divided between the warm glow of high summer and the mid winter’s darkness.


1 - Icelanders don’t have family names 

In Iceland, unlike most other Western countries, Icelandic people don’t use family names but a patronymic or matronymic reference. For example, the last name of a male usually ends with the suffix -son that means son  and the female ones  -dóttir that means daughter. 

2 - One cannot take up the spouse's last name upon marriage 

Icelandic women don't take their husbands' surname upon marriage because it doesn’t make any sense.

A woman cannot just become somebody else's son. Icelanders then usually use their middle names as well to avoid mix-ups with people.

3 - Another option Icelandic law provides, is to use both parents' names   

For example : The former mayor of Reykjavík Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson that means : Dagur, son of Bergþóra, son of Eggert. He chose the combination of matronym and patronym. 

4 - When naming a child, one has to stick to a limited list 

When choosing a name, the parents have to stick to a list of legal first and middle names. There are about 1,712 male and 1,853 female given names on the list.

If the parents want to be original and choose a name which is not on the list, they have to send a request to the Icelandic Naming Committee before being allowed to name their child.

5 - To go on a date, icelanders prefer to go at weird places 

Icelanders have a good social life since there are more than half of the population living around Reykjavik.

So they are more likely to meet people that they know so to go on a date, icelanders prefer weird places where they are unlikely to meet anyone.

6 - Iceland Is so Small There's an App That Keeps Icelanders from Dating Their Relatives

 Iceland’s population is around 330,000 people with more than two-thirds of the population living around Reykjavik.

With a small population in a small space, and with little immigration over the last century, it comes as no surprise that most Icelanders are distantly related.

To resolve this problem, Icelanders have developed a mobile application called  Íslendinga-App. The name is reference to the Íslendingabók, or The Book of Icelanders. This book lists (almost) all icelandic people since the first immigrants in the 11th Century. It is like a huge family tree. 

How does it work ? 

In the app, you only have to type in a name to see results. IF you are already on a date, Icelanders can just bump their phones together if they both already have the app and find out if they are related. What a romantic moment. The engineers have named this feature the “Incest Spoiler” with the slogan: “Bump the app before you bump into bed.”

7 - In 2010 Iceland banned strip clubs

Iceland banned all strip clubs and is becoming a world-leader in feminism. It is the first country that closed down it sex industry. The law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions,made it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

8 -  Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989

Iceland went through a prohibition of beer which began in 1915 and ended in 1989 after a referendum vote by the population. Now, every March 1st, the country celebrates “Bjórdagurinn” or “Beer Day” commemorating the end of a 74-year beer ban.

9 - Babies in Iceland are routinely left outside to nap.

A baby in a strollerPhoto: One of our Kuku team member's baby

For generations, Icelandic babies have napped outside in freezing temperatures. If they're not on the street, they're on balconies or in the backyard.

Most Icelanders believe that their children take longer and better naps when they sleep outside. Mainly because of the cold, it helps babies to have a better and stronger immune system. But also because this way they are not disturbed by noises from inside the house. 

10 - Iceland produces Bananas 

Although Iceland is well known for fishing, tourism and aluminium production as the mainstays of its economy.

But the production of vegetables and fruit in greenhouses is a growing sector. Until the 1960s this included commercial production of bananas. 


Yes yes, you can travel in Iceland (between two volcanic eruptions), and you'll sure have the best experience of your life!

If you want to get a full overview of the best seasons to go to Iceland you can just read this article.


What to bring during summertime:

  • Waterproof hiking shoes.
  • Waterproof jacket.
  • Layers of short- and long-sleeved shirts and sweaters.
  • Hiking pants and rain pants.
  • Gloves, buff, winter hat.
  • Sleep mask.
  • Swimsuit, towel, and flip-flops.
  • Reusable water bottle and a thermos

Is summer a good time to travel to Iceland ? 

It sure is, there is plenty of things to do in summer in Iceland, especially visiting the Golden Circle. Go whale watching, hiking, go to meet puffins, here are some example of what you can experience during the warmer months: 

Midnight sun

midnight sun landscapePhoto: Midnight sun in Iceland

In the summer months, much of Iceland sees around 21 hours of daylight. The long days and warm nights make it easier to travel. 


Icelandic festivals Photo: Icelandic festivals 

Summer is the festival season in Iceland and particularly during midnight sun. There's a strong tradition of celebrating summer and gathering for a long weekend of dancing, drinking, and camping with family and friends.


cute puffins Photo: Cute little puffins

Iceland is home to one of the world‘s largest puffin colonies and these cute orange-beaked birds are certainly worth looking out for. The rest of the population can be found in North America.

You can see them between April and August flying around the coastal areas or islands like the Westman Islands.


What to bring during wintertime ? 

  • winter jacket. 
  • Wool or fleece sweaters.
  • Thermal underwear.
  • winter pants. 
  • Wool socks.
  • winter boots. ...
  • gloves
  • winter hat
  • scarf.

Is winter a good time to travel to Iceland?

Many people think that summer is better to visit iceland than winter. We will show you that you are wrong! In fact, there are so many advantages to doing your road trip on the island during winter!

Northern lights

Northern lights landscapePhoto: Northern lights Landscape

Traveling to Iceland from fall to spring is the best time if you want to see incredible Northern Lights! It is also the off season so everything is cheaper and you won’t be disturb with tourists.

Wintery landscapes

Gullfoss waterfallPhoto: Gullfoss waterfall

If you love snow and John Snow, this would be the perfect time for you to travel in Iceland! With the wintery landscapes, you will surely recognize some places that were used to film Game of Thrones to represent the hard life beyond the wall of the incredible series.

Off season

Iceland tourism is really low during winter since it is the off season so you won't see a lot of tourists which makes your experience more unique and different than traveling in summer.