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Icelandic pony | © Erin Honeycutt
Icelandic pony | © Erin Honeycutt

13 Facts That Will Change What You Think About Iceland

Picture of Camille Buckley
Updated: 30 January 2018

If you thought you knew all there was to know about Iceland, take a look at these 13 facts about the small volcanic island in the North Atlantic, and think again.

It’s in the ‘wrong’ time zone

Iceland lies in the same time zone as England, even though it is hundreds of kilometers to the west, and you can see on a map that the time zone makes a huge detour to embrace Iceland. Considering the already extreme conditions of light and dark that the country experiences between summer and winter, this time zone has been the subject of debate for many decades, as it can have a detrimental effect on the body to be out of line with your actual geographical position.

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Reykjavik | Courtesy of the author

Everyone speaks English

Everyone speaks English, that is, except perhaps for those born before around 1940. Iceland does not dub movies, and therefore the English language has quickly become the second language for most of the small island.

(Almost) everyone lives in Reykjavik

You may imagine Icelanders living on farms and taking care of sheep all year, but that is not that case, as 94% of the population lives in Reykjavik. Cast away any vision of a country full of rugged farmers; the majority are actually city-dwellers.

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The countryside | Courtesy of the author

Everyone drives

Perhaps you had it in mind that Iceland had a village-like atmosphere in which everyone walked from place to place, embracing the incredible natural elements. Well, that is to some extent true, but it is also true that there is an incredible amount of traffic in Reykjavík, so someone’s driving somewhere. There is a very limited public transport system, and the country is full of wide, open spaces, so a car is a must for many people.

Everyone has the internet

If you imagine that Iceland is an Arctic village on a windswept rock, consider that almost 100% of Icelanders have access to the internet, and it’s one of the fastest in Europe.

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Reykholt in January | Courtesy of the author

The population is tiny

While an island the size of Texas inevitably has a small population, some visitors don’t realize exactly how small it is, and what implications that can have. As of last year, the population of Iceland was 334,000. That’s about the same as the city of Leicester in the UK, or Tampa in Florida. And while the population may be growing, there will always be the sensation that very few people live here, and that everyone knows everyone.

Hardly any Icelanders eat whale

Whaling in Iceland is a subject of much controversy, but the fact of the matter is that no one is really eating the whales that are hunted for eating in Iceland, and it is now an industry catering mostly to tourists.

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Icelandic pony | Courtesy of the author

The National Church is Lutheran, but it’s in decline

The number of Icelanders unregistered in any religious organization has increased greatly in the past few years, while those registered in the National Church of Iceland, also known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, is decreasing.

There’s a housing crisis

The housing crisis, which ultimately has arisen because the rising population has not been matched by the construction of an equal number of new homes, has also been affected by tourism. Many residents of Reykjavik have found a lucrative business in renting rooms and flats to tourists instead of to residents, especially during the summer months.

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Viti Crater | Courtesy of Veronika Geiger

Wealth is distributed evenly

Iceland had the lowest level of income inequality within Europe in 2016.

Icelanders use a lot of water

While there is plenty of promotion about Iceland being green, it’s not totally true. The country uses lots of geothermal energy for heating and hot water, and there are many natural benefits of hydropower, but having so much water available definitely seems to make people consume it without a second thought, as Icelanders use a lot.

Iceland loves pills

According to the Icelandic Monitor, Iceland is top on the list of all the Nordic countries when it comes to the use of addictive painkillers, stimulants, sleeping pills, and sedatives. With the drastic shifts in light from one season to the next, this is understandable, not to mention the added factor of being in a time zone that is hundreds of kilometers west of where it should be.

It’s extremely expensive, even for residents

The minimum wage in Iceland has not risen in line with the inflation in the cost of goods and housing. While visitors to Iceland often note how expensive things are, most assume that it is affordable for the residents themselves, but this is more often not the case.