Did the clickbait-y title draw you in? Did it? DID IT???
If you’re still reading I suppose it did…or you sniffed out the sarcasm. Either way I’m glad you’re here.
Iceland has proven to be a beautiful, fascinating, and wonderfully wacky place to spend the past 9 days. A unique history and culture that developed mostly removed from the influence of mainland Europe has culminated into a country that is unlike any other in the modern world.
Thinking about traveling to this extraordinary place? Read on to learn 5 “crazy” facts about Iceland, along with some personal experiences!
1. Over two-third’s of Iceland’s population lives in and around the capital area.
Per the above map, you can see that Icelanders are mostly concentrated around Reykjavik and the outlying areas. In fact, in terms of population density, Iceland has the 7th lowest in the world. In Europe, Iceland leads by this metric – and it’s not even close. With just 3.02 people per sq. km., Iceland far exceeds second place Norway, which sits at 14.49 people per sq. km.
Traveling outside of Reykjavik makes this thin distribution of humans plainly obvious. Late last week the fellowship got back together – Ash, Mukund, and myself – for a trip along the southern coast. We piled in the tiny hatch back and set our sights on Vik, for what ended up being a very long, arduous journey that was absolutely worth it.
The highlight of the trip is undoubtably the awesome natural wonders. But the drive itself is equally incredible. As we drive along the coast, towering snow-capped mountains sit to our left and to our right the deep blue ocean waters extend out endlessly into the void. Our eyes are plastered to the window the whole time.
I also make note of the verging-on-none Icelanders who actually live in the countryside. The exception are a small smattering of houses and cottages here and there that sit near the bottom of mountains. These folks assumably live off the land and have pretty sweet backyards. Not a bad way to live, wouldn’t want to be here in the dead of winter though.
2. Roughly 85% of Iceland’s energy is from renewable resources.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Iceland does a pretty bang-up job with clean energy and energy conservation. I suppose part of this can be attributed to just using what the land provided them.
(It worked for ‘Merica right? We found a ton of oil and are now doing a bang-up job of destroying the world’s environment. Yeahhhh! That said I am missing such American products as playoff NBA basketball and premium television. HBO could be America’s greatest export, yet I have to get sneaky just to watch Game of Thrones while abroad…but I digress)
What Iceland’s got is a ton of flowing water. Thus, hydraulic power is a massive source of energy for Icelanders.
We saw some awesome waterfalls on the drive to Vik. Thankfully these were left in their natural state for us to appreciate up close.
Our first waterfall is Seljalandsfoss (all waterfalls in Iceland end in -foss. I tried to drop the line “Like a Foss” during our trip several times…Ash and Mukund either didn’t notice or didn’t find it as hilarious as I did).
We were able to walk behind these falls, which got cold and wet very quickly.
Our next waterfall was Skogafoss, named for being situated on the Skoga river. This one drew heavy crowds due to is massive, cascading size (it’s also featured at the top of this post).
The pop culture world has begun to take note of the majestic Icelandic waterfalls. Last year, Canadian boy wonder Justin Bieber is seen frolicking and epically gazing into the distance around the falls in his video for “Show You”
- At :28 you can see Biebs standing in the exact spot I am in the picture above in front of Seljalandsfoss.
- At :57 Biebs is running behind Seljalandsfoss
- At 1:52 Biebs is gazing down on Skogafoss (probably thinking about peeing)
- At 2:05 Biebs is skateboarding down Highway 1 or the “Ring Road”. This road circles the entire island and is the route we drove on the southern coast.
- At 2:39 Biebs is prancing toward Skogafoss.
Say what you want about Biebmeister, he has good taste in music video destinations.
Also his last album was kinda dope…
Though I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this:
So yeah, Iceland’s flowing water is both beautiful and productive, much like my mother. (Hi Mom! I love you! Send Sour Patch Kids!)
3. Iceland has just 1.2 murders per year – and only 137 inmates in the entire country.
Iceland is incredibly safe. It boasts the 3rd lowest murder rate in the world , twenty times lower than the world average. For comparison, the United States averages between 5.0 – 5.8 intentional homicides per 100,000 people in a given year. Iceland’s per-100,000 murder average is a lowly .3 people.
Iceland’s incarceration rate is among one of the lowest in the world – 45 per 100,000 people are prisoners; compare that with 698 per 100,000 in the United States. There are only three prisons in the entire country. One is a high security facility for the baddies. The other two are considered “correctional facilities”. They have no walls. The cells are spacious and comfortable. A local tells me they emphasize mental rehabilitation over punishment-geared incarceration. Seems to be working, the number of repeat criminals in Iceland is also extremely low.
In 2013, Icelandic police shot and killed a gunman – the first time an armed policeman shot and killed someone in the country. In 2013!!
All policemen are unarmed, save for a special task force called the Viking Squad (bloody fantastic fkn name). The rest are equipped with clubs. Here the police force seems to be happily integrated into Icelandic society, as evidenced by their Instagram page. I was shocked at how colorful, candid, and witty their social media presence is.
My Citywalk tour guide, Eric, said it best when I asked him if he thinks the police being candid and fun has helped their public standing (and consequentially kept the crime rate so low) in the age of social media, where in the United States social media has had quite the opposite effect. He said:
“Maybe. But I don’t think they are trying to be funny or anything. They just have nothing better to do.”
And it’s not that Icelanders don’t have guns or means to commit crime. In fact, their legal per-capita gun ownership ranks 15th in the world. The difference between Iceland and the US is that it is quite difficult to obtain a gun in Iceland. Steps to gun ownership include a medical examination and a written test.
The number one crime in Iceland is tax evasion. As evidenced by the recent resignation of the Icelandic Prime Minister, such crime flows all the way to the top.
The day after the Panama Papers were released, the largest protest in the history of Iceland gathered outside of Parliament and threw food, mostly bananas, at the building. The next day, the Prime Minister resigned. Peaceful protest for the win.
Eric tells me there is only one place in Reykjavik that has armed security outside. Can you venture a guess?
It’s the American Embassy.
America using egregious, unnecessary use of brute force and guns? Shocker.
4. Iceland has one of the best gender equality rates in the world and actively celebrates their LGBTQ community.
Iceland is among the best places in the world to thrive as a working woman.
Though the pay gap still exists in Iceland, it is narrowing, and women’s participation in the labour market in Iceland is among the highest in the world. In 2013, a new Equal Pay Standard was created by the Icelandic Standards, a radically new ISO standard meant to guarantee equal pay for equivalent work within companies.
The also employ a ridiculously awesome parental leave policy. From the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association:
“One of the reasons for the high participation of women in the labour market is generally considered to be the Icelandic parents leave. The Icelandic parents leave is nine months, three of which are dedicated to the mother and three to the father. The remaining three months are free, and both or either parent can use those three months as they wish. About 90% of Icelandic fathers make use of their leave at least to some extent. This arrangement is considered to play an important role in creating a gender balanced labour market and to increase the equal responsibilities of the mother and father of child upbringing and the household.”
Seems to me the whole world could get on board with that.
This female-forward agenda is reflected in the Icelandic public officials. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first woman to serve as prime minister in 2009. By 2014, Women made up 41.3% of parliament.
Gender equality is an uphill battle for many countries across the world, but Iceland seems to be doing pretty well.
The LGBTQ community is also well respected and even celebrated throughout Iceland. Remember Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir from above? She was the world’s first openly gay head of state. Gay couples have long since been able to be married. But in 2012, Iceland parliament pushed through an incredibly progressive bill around gender identity. The law served to relax rules surrounding gender identity, recognize the legitimacy of acquired gender, and enact gender identity protections.
There are several gay bars and cafes in Reykjavik. There is even a Gay Pride festival that engulfs the city every year. As we saw earlier, even the police get in on the fun. On our walking tour Erik points out a super hero action figure taped to a chimney and identifies it as a remnant of the festival.
5. Iceland has it’s own Penis Museum
THIS IS THEIR LOGO.
If that doesn’t make you want to visit Iceland, I don’t know what will. My work here is done.