Like many visitors to Iceland, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the country and learned a lot about its history while touring around. Also like many tourists, there were quite a few facts that surprised me, including these that I bet you haven’t heard before.
1. No McDonald’s, 7-11 or even Starbucks – I think that as a frequent traveler I get used to certain staples. In particular I’m used to seeing Starbucks and McDonald’s almost anywhere I go, whether or not I actually patronize them. An interesting fact about Iceland though is that it doesn’t have a single McDonald’s, 7-11 or even a Starbucks. Actually, until just a few years ago Iceland did have McDonald’s; three of them in fact. Following the 2009 financial crisis though, the fast food giant pulled its stores with no plans to return citing the “unique operational complexity” of doing business in an isolated nation with a population of just 300,000. Iceland seems to do just fine without these giants of the consumer world, offering instead its own unique brands. There are plenty of restaurants around Reykjavik that offer quick bites, with hot dogs and hamburgers as particular favorites. Instead of 7-11, the massively popular chain 10-11 dominates the Icelandic scene and there’s definitely no need for Starbucks, coffee shops abound in Iceland, as does a robust coffee culture. So while Iceland may not have some of the signature brands we find all over the world, that’s definitely not a bad thing.
2. Experiencing one of the fastest economic recoveries in the world – In 2008, the global financial crisis hit the world with incredible force and speed, particularly in the small country of Iceland. When the global credit markets seized, the government was unable to bail out its financial sector that had grown to an incredible ten times the gross domestic product of the country. The result was massive inflation, unemployment and currency collapse. Iceland came dangerously close to total disaster. Just a few years later though, while things aren’t perfect, they’re much better than they used to be. Walking around town I could believe that unemployment is now at an impressive 6% and that the IMF has predicted a 2.5% growth in Iceland’s economy this year. Just look around the rest of the world and you won’t see anything quite so amazing. Sure, the relative small size of the country and its population helps, but so does the mindset of the populace. Icelanders were (and are) pissed off over what happened to them and are determined to rectify the mess and make sure it never happens again. Well done Iceland, well done.
3. Temperatures aren’t extreme – When you hear the word “Iceland” and note its northerly position on a map, it’s hard not to imagine a frozen tundra, buried in snow and frigid temperatures. I know I was surprised when I learned the truth though, that Iceland doesn’t really experience any extremes in temperature. Because of the warm North Atlantic Current, temperatures are generally mild in the winter and cool and pleasant in the summer. The highest recorded temperature in Reykjavik was in 2004 when the thermometer hit 24.8°C (76.6°F) and the chilliest day was in 1918 with a decidedly brisk -24.5°C (-12.1°F). On average though, the winter temperatures range from a low of 28°F/24°F (-2°C/-4°C) degrees and in the summer it’s a comfortable high of 55°F /65°F (12°C/18°C). So while extreme temperatures can happen, they usually don’t and instead the visitor typically has very pleasant conditions in which to enjoy the country.
4. Wasn’t independent until 1944 – Even though Iceland was settled in the 9th century and is home to the oldest parliament in the world, it wasn’t independent in the modern era until 1944. Iceland has changed hands a number of times throughout it’s history, but following the Napoleonic wars it became a dependency of Denmark. Denmark granted Iceland home rule in the 1870s, but what really changed the country’s political status was World War II. During the war Denmark was occupied by German forces, but Iceland was used as a base for British and then American soldiers. It was during this time that Iceland declared independence and established the Republic of Iceland, even while Denmark was still under German control. This political evolution was a long process and one that Denmark encouraged, but it’s remarkable that such an old country is still so politically young.
5. More than just the Blue Lagoon, there are hundreds of thermal pools – Because of a unique set of geological phenomena, Iceland is home to hundreds of geysers and thermal pools, although most visitors are familiar with only its most famous: the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s top attraction, visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year and created through the generation of geothermal energy at a nearby power plant. But all around Iceland there are plenty of other spots to take the waters and enjoy both the psychological as well as medicinal benefits of the soak. Icelanders are well familiar with the benefits of thermal spas, on average every resident of the country visits a thermal pool six times a year. I just wish we had those kinds of resources here in the US; there’s really nothing better than a leisurely soak in a natural thermal spa.
These are just a few of the cool qualities that make Iceland unique – what are some of your favorite Iceland facts?