If you’ve been following me on social media lately, you already know I’ve just spent a couple of days discovering Iceland on my own with the challenge #KAYAKHacksIceland. The best thing about this trip is that I could choose whether I wanted to go on a tour, make my own route or craft a mix of both worlds.
Well, you know me, I prefer freedom, I chose the latter. I had been crazy about visiting Iceland for some time and just going on tour would stop me from doing a couple things I wanted to do, or stop where I wanted to stop. So I avoided full day tours and stopped by some 1-2 hours tours that allowed me to go on my own.
I know a lot of travellers that wouldn’t take a tour at all, I won’t criticize that. But a guide will always bring you fun facts about a country and there are some amazing ones you shouldn’t miss:
(sorry for the guides, just thought everybody should know how amazing your country is)
1. Iceland water and CocaCola
They say that a couple of years ago, a guy from Iceland requested permission from CocaCola to produce and distribute the drink in the country. The company then asked him to fill in some information and send a sample of water. He took a sample from tap water and send it over to the US.
A couple of weeks later he got a reply from Coke saying that they were interested in his proposal but he should send another sample. But this time, he shouldn’t “clean it”. Apparently, it took a couple of samples more to get them convinced that is real tap water in Iceland.
The guide’s intake: don’t buy water in Iceland. All water is tap water, it is so pure that it is directly piped into the cities.Counter-fact: Iceland is one of the countries that drinks more Coke / per capita
2. The per capita fact
Iceland is not a small country in size (about the size of Portugal), but it is a small country in Population (320,000), so they get some amazing per capita facts. And they love to talk about them.
For example, the country has the highest rate of cinema attendance per capita, the most beautiful women in the world, per capita (4 Miss World out of 320,000 people), the best handball team in the world, per capita (they were the first small country to win an olympic medal in a team sport only a couple of years ago)…
The guide’s intake: Iceland is the best country in the world, per capita.
Counter-fact: You can drive for a couple of hours, without finding a single person.
3. Iceland lambs and flavour
Icelandic food is amazing: fish, seafood, whale and fermented shark… but you sure have heard about lambs. Lambs are great here because they are free to go around the wilderness all year long without any supervision at all. The sheep eat grass, plants and herbs, which help to create a rich and complex flavour.
The guide intake: Lambs are the best because they marinate themselves o_O
Counter-fact: You will find many traditional dishes with lamb, from smoked lamb to Svið (Singed and boiled Sheep Head)
4. Non-existant Forests in Iceland
Some people think that Iceland is the land without trees. Well, while it isn’t exactly true, you wont find huge forests, probably due to the strong wind more than to the cold.
The guide intake: If you get lost in a forest in Iceland, just stand up.
Counter-fact: Winter is awful for gardens in Reykjavik and other places, but you’ll see trees in some places, like in the Hvalfjördur area and some real forests near Akureyri.
5. Safe and secure
The most common crime in Iceland since the economic crisis is tax fraud (just try to ask for an invoice…) and marketing manipulation. So the country is known as one of the safest in the world, with only 1.3 murders every year. That said they only have 12 people in a maximum security jail and all the others are held in open facilities where they can work, study and so on.
The guide’s intake: With only 320,000 population we’re all related and you wouldn’t steal from a cousin, would you?Counter fact: Check out the anti-incest app, a funny way to avoid dating your cousin in Iceland o_O
6. The funny Police
With so little time, police is non-existant on the streets. They hold a very funny instagram account, where they publish recipes and general news
The guide’s intake: Police has become the “free taxi”, helping you go back to your hotel or home when you can’t drive.
The counter-fact: It’s only 600 policemen for the whole island, and being tax fraud the most common crime, they are better working online.
7. The volcano that brought tourists
Iceland was a land unknown of tourists. Before 2008, they were mostly german and nordic mountaineers and a few guided tours or cruise ships. But then, in 2010, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (also known as the “icelandic volcano” as TV presenters couldn’t pronounce it right), put the country in the minds of many tourists across the world and now the country needs to build a solid hotel infrastructure.
The guide’s intake: The eruption, which blocked air transport throughout Europe in 2010 just made the country interesting for a wider audience, who discovered the land of ice and fire.
The counter-fact: While the volcano probably put the country on the main TV channels, the economic crisis, which made the country more affordable for tourists, surely helped a lot. Plus all the low cost airlines that connect Keflavik airport with major cities across Europe and America.
8. Proud of the Icelandic women
Iceland holds some very interesting records in terms of women. They were the first country in the world to have a woman to serve as president: Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who served from 1980 to 1996. Also, the first to have one openly lesbian, almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden).
The guide’s intake: We are a country proud of our mothers and daughters and sisters
The counter-fact: Iceland has been named the most feminist country in the world and has shaken the world with the #FreeTheNipple movement.
9. The land of no McDonalds (nor Starbucks)
McDonald’s closed its last restaurant in Iceland in 2009, with the economic crisis. Back then, Hjörtur Smárason bought a cheeseburger and kept it to see what happened. Later, he donated it to Iceland’s national museum, where it’s been stored until Bus Hostel Reykjavik offered to display it at their hall. You can also watch it on a webcam.
The guide’s intake: McDonalds left the country because the food wasn’t bad enough
The counter-fact: With so little population and the lack of tourists, there aren’t many international “brands” around. You will find some nordic brands, though.
10. Beer was banned until 1989
In 1915, Iceland banned all alcohol. Shortly after, Spain threatened to stop buying salted cod from the country, unless they accepted Spanish wines in the country. So red and rosé wines were accepted in 1921. Afterwards, doctors started prescribing strong alcohol (like famous Brennivin) as a cure to some illnesses and people started to brew their own alcohol.
The reason why beer was still prohibited from 1935 to 1989 is that strong beer was associated with Denmark, so it wasn’t a very patriotic drink.
Summary: Try the local beer, it’s not mass produced and it has the best water in the world (according to Icelanders.)Counter-fact: All alcohol, including beer should be bought at liquor stores (Vínbúðin) or bars (a bit expensive).
11. The no army country
Iceland does not have army, navy or air force, only the coast guard. They do have an agreement with Norway so if an Icelander wants to serve in the military, they can join their army.
After WWII, Americans had bases in Iceland, but they pulled out in 2006. They do belong to NATO, though, although they have threatened to leave it a couple of times.
Summary: Won’t see many military tanks, ships or aircrafts in Iceland.
Counter-fact: Some hotels near the airport are built in the old american bases and you might find that the plugs follow the american standard instead of the European one.
Other fun facts:
- In 2015, they banned a law that allowed to kill any Basque (people from the north of Spain) for free.
- They don’t inherit surnames: they take the name of their father + son (boys) or + dottir (girls).
- You won’t find strip clubs in Iceland, they were banned in 2010.
- Electricity is so inexpensive that americans send aluminum ore to the country, smelt it, and ship it back to US again.
- Icelandic homes do not need a water heater, steam and hot water are piped into the city from natural hot springs (and that’s the reason why is smells a little like rotten eggs).
This post has its origin on the #KayakHacksIceland challenge, where Kayak invited 7 travel bloggers from across Europe to visit Iceland on their own and tell their own personal experience. Each blogger has designed her/his weekend in Iceland with total freedom, using Kayak to choose every aspect of their trip (dates, hotel, activities…) With only one thing in common: 10 challenges to overcome with the help of Kayak as a travel planning tool. The result? 7 different visions of Iceland – 7 different trips to Reykjavik. You can watch all the pics of the challenge and the participants on Instagram, or follow the trips with #KAYAKHacksIceland