Population

360,390 (2019)

Official language

Icelandic or ""íslenska"", which is a Germanic language derived from Old Norse.

Language spoken

Due to its remote location there has been little linguistic influence, and 98% of Icelanders speak Icelandic. However, they also speak excellent English so travellers will be able to get by very easily. Icelandic can be very hard to read and pronounce for some, so to help with particular letters of the Icelandic alphabet - þ: is pronounced like the ""th"" in ""thing"" - ð: is pronounced like the ""th"" in “cloth”.

People

93% of the population is Icelandic, and the biggest majority otherwise is Polish with 3% of the population.

Religion

The national church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland and 80% of the population idenityfy as belonging to it. Almost 5% of people practice ásatrú, the traditional Norse religion.

National Holiday

17 June: Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic (1944).

Holiday Schedule

  • January 1: New Year's Day (January 31 is a holiday afternoon).
  • In late March - early April: Easter (Holy Thursday and Good Friday are public holidays and Easter Monday).
  • Third Thursday of April: Day of Summer ("Sumardagúrinn"). Important festivities.
  • May 1: Labor Day.
  • During May: Thursday of the Ascension.
  • 17 June: National Day.
  • First weekend of August: Traders Day (Friday afternoon, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday are public holidays morning, official celebrations on Monday).
  • 25 December: Christmas (24 December afternoon plus the full days of the 25 and 26 December are holidays). Something fun to note is that Icelanders have 13 Santas who arrive one by one from the 13th day before Christmas.

Other Icelandic festivals to note are :

  • First Sunday of June: Sailors’ Sunday ("Sjomannadgwinn") in honor of the fishermen, where all boats are in port for the day.
  • 21 and 24 June: Summer Solstice and St. John ("Jónsmessa").
  • October 9: Leif Ericson Day (which, to the thousand year, discovered the North American coast).
  • December 23: Saint Thorlak ("Thorláksmessa"), the Icelandic boss.

History

The first inhabitants of Iceland were Irish monks who were soon joined by Norwegian Vikings. In 930 AD, over 30 clan leaders met at Thingvellir to discuss law on the island and create a parliament, which they called Althingi. Each year, the leaders met at Thingvellir - which means fields of parliament - to discuss important matters, and it was here in 1000 AD that they decided to officially move away from Asatru (the Norse religion) and instead take up Christianity; and here in 1944 AD where Iceland declared independence from Denmark and elected their first president.

Policy

Iceland is a constitutional republic. The President is elected by national vote for a renewable term of four years, but the role is largely ceremonial. Executive power is held by the Prime Minister (appointed by the President) and his government. The legislative branch is the Parliament (Althingi) which has 63 members elected by national vote, who hold their role for four years. Founded in 930 AD, the Althingi is the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland has no armed forces, except 130 coastguard.

Famous Icelanders

  • Vigdis Finnbogadóttir (born 1930) was Iceland's president from 1980 to 1996. She was the first female president and is seen as the symbol of the opening of Icelandic politics to women.
  • Björk Gudhmundsdottir (born in 1965). Björk is one of the most well-known Icelandic celebrities, renowned for her inventive and quirky character and music.
  • Jon Sigurdhsson (1811-1879). A historian and politician, he was the head of the movement for the independence of Iceland. In tribute to this role as father of the nation, the Republic was proclaimed on his birthday (June 17).
  • Ólafur Stefánsson (born 1973). A professional handball player.
  • Jón Arason (1484-1550). A Catholic bishop and poet, he led the fight against the Lutheran Christian III of Denmark. He remains a legendary character in Iceland, mixing poetry, national idea and religious nonconformity.
  • Halldor Gudhjonsson (1902-1998), Halldor Laxness Kiljan wrote around 60 books (including the famous Bell of Iceland), which dealt with themes of history and torment of Iceland in the 20th century, including social Catholicism and Communism. His work has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.

Etiquette

Tipping is completely at your discretion. In Iceland, hotels, restaurants and bars, the service is included, but you can still show your appreciation by leaving a small tip if you wish. If you want to tip your driver, we recommend 1.5 to 3 Euros per day, and from 2 to 4 Euros for guides. Dinner is usually early, and most people eat their evening meal before 8pm and it could be hard to find a restaurant that is serving after 8.30pm. If you are invited to an Icelander’s house, it is polite to take off your shows your shoes before entering the house (same in some stores or public places). Finally, hot springs and communal pools are very popular in Iceland, so be sure to check the etiquette of your chosen pools if you decide to go.

Shopping

The Icelandic specialty is wool. Knitted woolen goods can be found across the island and the handmade jumpers with circular jacquard design are particularly characteristic of Iceland, and make a great gift or memento of your trip. The island is also famous for its ceramics and other handmade items made from numerous materials, including wood, skins (including fish skins), glass, stone and lava.

Food

Seafood is at the heart of Icelandic cuisine, but the land provides mutton and potatoes which are used in many meals. Unusual traditional recipes include Hákarl, fermented shark meat that has been aged several months; þorramatur, a selection of Icelandic foods cured in a traditional manner, cut into slices or pieces such as testicles and sheep heads, blubber, liver sausage, shark meat, dried haddock, black bread and more. These meats and fish dishes are usually consumed during the Nordic month of Þorri (Thorri), in January and February, and particularly at the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót (Thorrablot) as a tribute to old culture.

Sumatur is sheep (or whale) boiled, preserved in lactic acid. Some less-unusual traditional dishes include:

  • "hangikjöt" smoked sheep that’s eaten hot or cold, often on "flatbraudh" (rye patties cooked in the ashes);
  • the "blódhmör" sausage sheep;
  • "bjúgu" mutton sausage that is eaten boiled;
  • "hardhfiskur" dried fish (cod, haddock, sea bass) which has a strong smell but a milder taste;
  • "kaviar";
  • fish : "lax" (salmon, fresh, smoked or marinated),"silungur" (trout), "thorskur" (cod), and "Sild" (herring);
  • on the sweeter side, the one of the great Icelandic specialties is the "skyr" thick white cheese that is mixed with milk (or cream) and sugar, which are sometimes flavoured with fruit.

Drink

You can drink the tap water all over Iceland and it is one of the purest in the world. Alcohol in Iceland is very expensive and only sold in the state stores (Vínbúð). With such excellent water quality, Iceland makes very good beers that are generally blonde and light. With regards to spirits, there’s Icelandic vodka and aquavit, but the real national specialty is Brennivín, also called ""Black Death"", a potato alcohol flavored with caraway.

Contact one of our Iceland specialists