10 Fascinating Facts about Iceland

10 Fascinating Facts about Iceland

Photo taken by Art Bicnick, rest of the series can be found here.

Iceland is quickly climbing in notoriety as a travelling and cultural hotspot, but how much do you actually know about the small northern island?

  • Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country. (source)
  • Reykjavik comprises more than half of Iceland’s population. (source)
  • One of the world’s first parliaments was in Iceland. (source)
  • Per capita, Icelanders drink the most Coca-Cola. (source)
  • Its political representation is progressive compared to the rest of the world. The world’s first democratically elected female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was elected in 1980. The world’s first openly gay Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, was elected in 2009. (source)
  • Iceland sits on two tectonic plates: America and Eurasia. This means that if you are on the western side of Iceland, you are geographically in North America, but politically and culturally in Europe. (source)
  • Iceland has a national day to recognize its language. It is on November 16 because this day was the birthday of Jónas Hallgrímsson, an Icelandic poet and national treasure. (source)
  • The word English word “geyser” is taken from Iceland’s Great Geysir, which can be seen during the Golden Circle Tour. (source)
  • Game of Thrones films in Iceland for its scenes beyond the Wall. (source)
  • The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters! (source)


Icelandic Superstitions

Icelandic Superstitions
Despite being a technologically advanced society, superstition is still an important part of Icelandic folk culture. Check out some of Iceland’s oldest superstitions below.


If sheep gnash their teeth during round-up in the autumn, the winter will be hard.

If sheep gnash their teeth somewhere else, it presages very bad weather.

If the first calf born during the winter is white, the winter will be a bad one.

The first snows of winter are called winter-calves. If these happen early in the season that means the winter will be good.

If somebody throws away a dead mouse, the wind will soon start to blow from that direction.

Seldom the rains of Saturday last till Sunday Mass.

If cows lick trees you can expect rain.

The usage of firewood depends on the weather on Maundy Thursday.

Good hay drying weather can be expected if a falcon or a merlin sit on a haystack in the field.

If your head itches, you can expect wet weather.

In late winter it is forbidden to knit on the doorstep, as that is known to lengthen the winter.

If someone drops a knife while cleaning fish, and the knife points to the sea, that presages good fishing when next you go to sea.

If someone drops a knife, while cleaning fish, and the knife points to the land, that presages bad fishing when next you go to sea.

If something is spilt, a drunken man will soon visit.

If you itch in the mouth, you will receive a mouthful of knuckles.

If a sick person sneezes three times on a Sunday, that is considered a sign of better health.

If you sneeze three times before breaking fast on a Sunday, you will gain something in that week.

If it rains when someone moves house, it bodes the wealth of those moving.

If you see nine cows in a shed with a grey bull next to the door, and all of them lie on the same side, you are in luck, because you will be granted one wish.

Image by Roman Gerasymenko

A Fan’s Fantastical Paradise

A Fan’s Fantastical Paradise

It is well-known that Iceland is the perfect home and travel destination for writers, readers, and all book-lovers alike. Here is a list of places that provide a real backdrop for some of your favourite books and movie/television adaptations.

  • Lake Myvatn

Game of Thrones fans might recognize Iceland as “Beyond the Wall” from Game of Thrones, and the land of ice and fire. One specific spot that has appeared in the show is Lake Myvatn. This site (seen above, credit to ESTIVILLML – FOTOLIA) was seen in season 3, episode 5: “Kissed by Fire”. The cave that sits on this lake, which is called Grjotagja, is also known as the as the cave where Jon and Ygritte’s love scene took place.

  • Snæfellsjökull

This volcano is named in Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. In the novel and the adapted motion picture, the volcano is the passageway to the centre of the Earth. Snæfellsjökull is both a volcano and a glacier. According to Visit Iceland, “Snæfellsjökull glacier is said to be one of the seven great energy centres of the earth, and has been attributed various mysterious powers.”

  • Stokksnes

This town in south-eastern Iceland, close to Brunnhorn Mountain, was one site where the film Stardust was filmed. Stardust is based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The cold air whipping off the water and view of the mountains provided the perfect panoramic background for part of the perilous journey. Neil Gaiman also developed American Gods while he travelled through Iceland.

  • Fate of the Gods exhibition at Vikingaheimar

This exhibit centres on Norse mythology, myths, and magic. The exhibition showcases different types of art that are modern and contemporary interpretations of Nordic culture. Many prominent writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, and William Blake were inspired by the Icelandic Eddas. Here is a way to go to the very beginning of the magic of the Icelandic literary tradition.

Visitors can also visit the Islendigur Viking Ship, which is in the same location.

10 reasons why Iceland is the best place to be a writer

10 reasons why Iceland is the best place to be a writer

Text and photos by Elliott Brandsma. Featured image by Roman Gerasymenko

The secret is out: Iceland is now a popular travel destination for professional and aspiring writers. Whether it’s the nation’s centuries-old stories about Vikings and their rapacious exploits or the compassionate, satirical novels of Halldór Laxness—Iceland’s Nobel laureate in literature—this small Nordic country is a treasure trove for book buffs and word nerds around the world.

Why exactly is Iceland becoming such a haven for the book-obsessed and the poetically-inclined? The Iceland Writers Retreat has compiled a list of the top 10 reasons why every budding author should come to Iceland and experience its extraordinary literary culture firsthand.

1) The Sagas. Acclaimed as masterpieces of medieval European prose and revered by many Icelanders, the Sagas are a group of histories detailing the founding and settlement of Iceland. Some experts have called these tales, which are hundreds of years old, the first great European novels, while some Icelanders believe that these texts are completely factual, describing true events that happened to real people. Regardless of their historical accuracy or inaccuracy, these ancient texts have captivated the imaginations of numerous authors throughout the ages and continue to do so to this day.

2) Almost everyone is a writer. Appreciation for poetry and literature is embedded within Icelandic culture, and many Icelanders will publish a book at some point in their lifetime. The Icelandic government also awards competitive grants and stipends to writers annually, making the dream of working a full-time professional writer a reality for some.


3) The Otherworldly Landscapes. Icelandic nature is breathtaking, beautiful, and inspiring. The island nation has earned the moniker of “The Land of Fire and Ice” for the stark contrast between its volcanic landscapes and its sparkling glacial formations. With a small population of only 320,000, Iceland is also one of the few places left on earth where one can drive out into the wilderness and be truly alone. The countryside is a wonderful place to clear one’s head and brainstorm ideas for a new novel.

4) Icelanders. Though some might seem shy and stoic at first, Icelanders are generally friendly and approachable people with interesting stories to tell. When visiting Iceland, sit in a coffee shop or grab a drink at a local bar, and if you strike up a conversation with one of the locals—you’ll find that they are some of nicest people you’ll ever meet. Who knows? Maybe one of their personal stories or their vast knowledge of Icelandic folklore will inspire your next masterpiece.

5) Coffee Shop Culture. Reykjavík—Iceland’s capital city—is a coffee lover’s dream. The bustling mini-metropolis is full of unique coffee shops, each with their own personalities and patrons. Starbucks has been knocking on the nation’s door for a while now, but Icelanders adamantly refuse to let the giant coffee chain in—and writers who love frequenting coffee shops with character, charm, and a good cup of joe certainly benefit from it.


6) The Annual Book Flood! Every year around Christmastime, Icelanders celebrate the annual jólabókaflóð, or Christmas Book Flood. During this exciting time of year, publishers release hundreds of new titles on the market, and Icelandic authors give readings at bookstores and literary museums across the city to advertise their latest masterpiece. This tradition celebrates literacy and puts a much-deserved spotlight on literature for several months of the year.

7) A Network of Libraries. Libraries are not in short supply around Iceland. In fact, Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík is full of libraries, big and small, so residents have cheap  and ready access to the printed word, no matter where they live. Well-maintained and stocked with interesting titles from around the world, Icelandic libraries are also used as community centers that regularly host exciting educational events for all ages.


8) Love for Language. Icelanders love their language. Icelandic, a Northern Germanic language spoken by 330,000+, is the closest equivalent to Old Norse—the language of the Vikings—still in use to this day. Icelanders are so protective of their mother tongue that they established a “naming committee” that forbids citizens from giving their children names that don’t adhere to the language’s strict grammatical rules. For foreigners, learning Icelandic presents a formidable challenge, with words like Eyjafjallajökull and þjóðminjasafnið baffling many.

9) Professional Networking is a Cinch. The advantage of being a writer in a small country like Iceland is that professional networking is incredibly simple. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who can help bring your writing project to fruition. If you move to Iceland, chances are you’ll regularly run into a famous author in the grocery store or walking on the street—you might be smitten and starstruck but, to the locals, it’s no big deal!

10) Halldór Laxness. Awarded literature’s top honor in 1955, Halldór Laxness is the first and only Icelander (to date) to win a Nobel Prize. His novels have been translated into numerous languages, including English, and they remain poignant and relevant years after they were first published. Perhaps his most beloved book, Independent People, a novel about a stubborn farmer who clings to his independence even as his life and family crumble around him, has been lauded by critics across the world and is a must-read for every book lover who visits Iceland.

The 4th annual Iceland Writers Retreat will be held in Reykjavik from April 5-9, 2017.  

Icelandic Titles and Translations

Icelandic Titles and Translations

The Icelandic Literature Center promotes Icelandic literature, both within Iceland and abroad. Every year they come up with a list of books to promote, showcasing the vast creativity, talent, breadth of style, and genre that Iceland has to offer. Here are few of this year’s featured writers and their books.

Gerður Kristný has multiple awards under her belt, including the Icelandic Booksellers’ Literary Prize and the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2012. She writes poetry, novels, and short stories. Her book on this list is Dúkka, or Doll, a children’s book brimming with mystery.

Auður Jónsdóttir is a highly successful Icelandic writer and winner of the Icelandic Booksellers’ Literary Prize 2015, and has received several nominations for other awards. She was also a featured author at the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. Her book Stóri skjálfti, or Grand Mal, is a novel about a woman who suffers from epilepsy and her fragmented memory.

Arnaldur Indriðason is a crime writer, and has won the CWA Gold Dagger Award as well as the Nordic Crime Novel Prize two years in a row. Þýska húsið, or The Travelling Salesman, is his 19th book. It is about two police officers who tackle a murder case in the midst of WWII.

Hallgrímur Helgason has an oeuvre that spans written and visual art. His featured book Sjóveikur í München, or Seasick in Munich, is an autobiographical account of studying abroad.

Click here to see the full list, and click here to go to the Icelandic Literature Center’s website.

dukka-resized grand-mal travelling-salesman sjoveikur-i-munchen

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