I visited Iceland in May and I can’t lie— it’s the most fascinating country I’ve ever been to. Iceland is a land of lava and ice where geysers burst, glaciers glimmer, and valleys of all colors stretch into the horizon. Here is a list of some fascinating things about Iceland:
1. American and European Influence
Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the underwater border where the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are slowly spreading apart. Iceland is geographically part of Europe (not part of EU), but half of it lies on the American plate, which is gradually moving westward (estimated 1-2cm a year). Due to its geographical location, the country is culturally influenced both by the United States and Europe. Icelanders say that the cars, music, and television are more American, but fashion and architecture more European.
2. One of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe
Almost four-fifths of the country is uninhabited. The population is only 320,000 and 200,000 of the people live in and around the capital, Reykjavik. The country’s size is disproportionally large given its small population. Iceland is 103,000 square km or 40,000 square mi. It’s approximately 25% larger than Ireland, or about the size of the state of Ohio.
3. The world’s most eco-friendly country in terms of energy
Because Iceland has a substantial amount of volcanic activity, about 85% of the country’s energy comes from renewable resources. 30% of Iceland’s electricity is geothermal – the highest percentage worldwide. The rest of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydropower, making Iceland the world’s most eco-friendly country in terms of energy. Iceland has over 150 public swimming pools and most of them are heated by all-natural volcanic heat.
4. Swimming is a hobby
Icelanders go to the heated outdoor swimming pools, where the water either comes from the hot springs or the geothermal power plant, at least once a week. It’s a place for social interaction, where they discuss weather and politics with strangers. You must always take a shower before going into the pool — they have strict policies about this. Everyone highly recommends visiting the Blue Lagoon, a huge outdoor geothermal spa.
5. It’s not that cold
Despite the name suggesting otherwise, the coastal climate in Iceland is mild. Even though summers in Iceland don’t get hot, the winters don’t get cold either. The average temperature in the summer in Reykjavik is 10 – 13 °C (50–55 °F). The average temperature in the winter is about 0 °C (32 °F).
6. Bright or Dark All Day
During the peak of summer, the sun stays out for 24 hours. During the middle of winter, there are only a few hours of daylight, but the northern lights fill the sky. The best season to see the northern lights is from September to mid-April – the nights are darkest during these months.
7. Icelanders Eat Puffins
Puffins are small birds with black and white feathers, and they’re absolutely adorable. The puffin population in Iceland is around 8-10 million. Icelanders eat puffins all the time and a raw puffin heart is considered a delicacy. You can find a meal similar to this on a restaurant menu: “smoked puffin with blueberry sauce.”
There couldn’t have been a better advertisement for Iceland’s tourism industry than the volcano eruption in 2010 that resulted in the cancelation of thousands of flights. The number of visitors to Iceland more than doubled between 2010 and 2014. Tourism is currently country’s biggest source of export revenue, surpassing even fishing, which has dominated the nation’s economy since the Vikings first arrived in the ninth century.
Icelandair has been crucial to this tourism boom because it offers travellers the option of stopping over in Iceland for up to seven days for no extra airfare. So next time you’re flying across the Atlantic, have a layover in Iceland for at least 24 hours— you won’t regret it and will collect memories for a lifetime. Every time I look at the photo I took of the Gullfoss Waterfall, it reminds me what it felt like to stand at the edge of the earth.
Images: Courtesy of Demi Vitkute