Feature / Lifestyle / News

Happy Birthday, Iceland!


Today is Icelandic Day and to mark the event Jon O’Brien has compiled a quick look at what Icelanders have to celebrate

Jon O’Brien 

Iceland became independent from Denmark on June 17th, 1944 and National Day is a day off to celebrate this.

Iceland’s National Day will be celebrated in style this year in Reykjavík, with events focusing around the Lake and extending into adjacent streets, gardens and parks. The programme includes family entertainment, live music, street theatre, dance, a circus, playgrounds for children, booths selling a range of refreshments, sports performances, a vintage car show and much, much more.


But what does Iceland have to celebrate?

With just over 300,000 inhabitants, the Nordic island is the most sparsely populated country in both Europe and NATO.

Yet, Iceland has constantly punched above its weight to become the 13th most developed nation in the world.

In fact, Iceland has become so attractive that its population is expected to increase by over 33% over the next few years as more and more outsiders succumb to its charms.

Iceland has a long tradition of storytelling, dating back to the 13th Century with the ‘saga’ tales of the country’s Norse settlers. And it’s a tradition that shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, according to a report published last year, a staggering one in ten Icelanders will publish a book at some point in their life, while the nation’s literacy rate currently stands at an incredible 99%.

Another staggering statistic is that almost as many Icelandic people believe in trolls and elves as those who believe in an organised religion.

About 54% of the population is open to the idea that the mischievous mythological figures live among them, while only 57% describe themselves as religious.

Iceland has certainly overachieved when it comes to producing globally-renowned music artists.

Everyone’s favourite swan dress-wearing, grateful grapefruit, Björk, is of course the most famous.

But the nation has also given us unintelligible post-rockers Sigur Ros, sensitive troubadour Asgeir and indie-folk quintet Of Monsters And Men, as well as the likes of Emiliana Torrini, GusGus and Olafur Arnalds.

According to the World Happiness Report produced in association with the United Nations earlier this year, Icelanders are the third most contented nation in the world.

The geothermal spa known as the Blue Lagoon is worth the 846-mile trip to Iceland alone.

Situated on a lava field, the milky blue, man-made lagoon is the most visually stunning bathing experience you’ll ever have, while its warm, mineral-rich waters is also said to help improve the skin.

And when it comes to being female-friendly, Iceland are at the top of the league.

The country put a ban on strip clubs in 2010 for feminist reasons, it was the first country to elect a female President (Vigdis Finnbogadottir from 1980 until 1996) and reportedly has the smallest gender gap in the world.

It also had the first ever openly gay head of government when Johanna Sigurdardottir was elected in 2009.


Yes, the Northern Lights can occasionally be seen as far south as Oxfordshire.

But Iceland is one of the most reliable and most magical places to see the natural phenomenon.

The Thingvellir National Park, in particular, is deemed the best hotspot.

According to a Homicide Map created by a Brazilian think tank in 2012, Iceland is the third least murderous country in the world, with only Liechtenstein and Singapore regarded as safer.

This is despite the fact that in a country of just 300,000 people, there are approximately 90,000 guns. It’s also never had a military or entered into a major conflict.

Iceland is also home to more puffins (ten million) than any other nation in the world.

Iceland is one of the greenest European nations, with the majority of its homes powered by geothermal energy.

It also plants more trees per capita than any other country in the world.

Of course, most tourists visit Iceland for its beautifully surreal landscape.

As well as its number of active volcanoes, towering waterfalls and spurting geysers, the country also boasts stunning ice caves, black sandy beaches and bizarre rock formations.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that Iceland has become the go-to destination for so many otherworldly films and TV shows.

Star Wars, Game Of Thrones and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty have all been filmed there in recent years.


For three months every year, Iceland experiences a virtually 24-hour bright sky each day.

Indeed, due to the sun being above the horizon at all times, the island sees almost no darkness from May until July.

Iceland’s housing estates could never be accused of looking dull and grey.

In fact, the majority of buildings are so brightly colour co-ordinated that most built-up areas resemble a Monopoly board.

Iceland is renowned for delicacies such as cured shark and smoked puffin, but there’s more to its cuisine than unusual seafood.

There’s also Skyr yoghurt and flatkaka bread, while its most famous food joint is a small hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik named Baejarins Beztu Pylsur.

So lots to celebrate! Happy Icelandic National Day (Þjóðhátíðardagurinn)!

Jon O’Brien writes for Metro

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