• Iceland is green

The Kingdom of Iceland

Here are some facts about Iceland and Icelanders you may not know.

How big is Iceland?

Iceland is 103,001 km2. To Americans that is about the same size as the state of Kentucky, which is 104,869 km2. In the list of European countries, Iceland is a little smaller than Bulgaria (110,091 km2) and a little larger than Hungary (93,030 km2). It's more than twice the size of Denmark (43,094 km2) but even so it has a significantly smaller population.

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland Reykjavik City

How many Icelanders are there?

Even though there's plenty of space for our population to spread out, a huge chunk of our beautiful island is not suitable for making a comfortable living. That's why most Icelanders have made their homes around the coast. The current count is around 320 thousand people. That's about as many people as live in the city of St. Louis. And less than ten percent of the population of Berlin, which has 3.5 million people.
Iceland is the least densely populated country in northern Europe and there are actually more sheep than people here.

Towns and the city

The majority of Icelanders live in the Reykjavik area. Around 120,000 live in Reykjavik proper, the biggest and only city in the country. When you add the surrounding suburban towns (Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Garðabær and Hafnarfjörður) the number goes up to 200,000 people.
The largest town, Akureyri, is in the north of Iceland and almost 18,000 people live there.

Icelandic National FlagIndependence Iceland was under the Danish crown until 1944. Before that there had been a strong independence movement. In 1874 Iceland was given its own constitution; home rule was granted in 1904 and the office of minister for Iceland was established in Reykjavik. In 1918 Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, known as the Kingdom of Iceland. During the Second World War, Germany occupied Denmark whereas Britain and America occupied Iceland. In 1944, while the war was raging on, Iceland declared independence from Denmark. The Republic of Iceland was founded and a president, elected by the people, replaced the King.

Fall colours at Thingvellir, Iceland. Old parliament site. Thingvellir


Icelanders take pride in their parliament being the oldest of its kind in the world. In the days of the Vikings, rulers would meet in Þingvellir (50 km from Reykjavik) and discuss matters in a democratic fashion (or so the story goes). The parliament (Alþingi) has since moved to Reykjavik where the mostly civilized discussion of important matters continues. The government is led by a prime minister, currently a man, named Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. Our president is elected for a four year term, with no limits on how long he can hold the position. Currently the president is Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who took office in 1996.
Iceland does not belong to the European Union and that fact has been our most recent topic of a heated debate, with a large portion of the population wanting to get a chance to investigate our options and the pros and cons of joining.

Getting the facts straight

Icelanders hold a few records to be proud of:

  • In 1980 we were the first independent nation to elect a female president in a democratic election: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.
  • In 2009, Icelanders were the first to elect an openly gay woman as prime minister: Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.
    *Gay marriage has been legal here since 2010 and same sex couples have been allowed to adopt and have in vitro fertilization.
  • The current mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights by proposing to end Reykjavík's partnership with Moscow on account of their stance on gay rights. He also wrote an open letter to the Vatican criticizing their stand in the matter.
  • Iceland's gay pride festival is one of the fastest growing pride festivals in the world, with an estimate of over 85 thousand visitors when the parade takes place in the second week in August. The festival is considered unique as it's been so widely welcomed by so many Icelanders, who, regardless of sexual orientation gather downtown to enjoy the festivities.
  • In 2012 parliament enacted what's been called the most trans-gender friendly laws in the world. The national hospital of Iceland has a department designated to diagnose gender dysphoria and offers gender reassignment surgery. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland doesn't require trans-people to undergo a sterilization surgery to change their gender.
Dettifoss Waterfall in North East Iceland Dettifoss waterfall

The powerful nature

Icelandic water is clean, abundant and flows in various waterfalls and rivers. One of the waterfalls, Dettifoss, is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
The water from our reservoirs is so clean that it is piped into the towns and city and is drinkable from the faucet without any treatment. Most Icelandic homes are heated with the hot water from the natural geysers and hot springs which is also great to bathe or swim in. The Blue Lagoon has an amazing and beautiful otherworldly appearance and is known worldwide for its benefits to psoriasis patients. Iceland is also well known for its abundance of warm and cozy swimming pools with lots of saunas and hot tubs.

Swimmingpool in Hofsos Iceland Taking a dip at the Hofsos swimming pool.
Glacier Tour in the Vatnajokull Region, Iceland Glacier tour in the Vatnajokull Region. Photo: Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson

We do have some ice

Even though the wrongful naming of Iceland has been a well-known funny tale for hundreds of years (Iceland is very green; Greenland is very icy) we do have the largest ice cap in Europe, the Vatnajökull Glacier, with an area of 8,100 km2. Vatnajökull Glacier is also home to the highest peak of Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur, rising 2,109 m above sea level.

Our world records

Because Icelanders are a super-small, industrialized, western nation, they hold a few records in this and that when you add the “per capita”.
Most Coca Cola consumption per capita.
Most internet usage per capita.
Most golf courses per capita.
Most authors in the world per capita, which isn't surprising because …

Icelanders are a huge literary nation
With a literacy rate of 99.9%, we also read the most number of books per capita. Icelanders take great pride in their literary heritage and Reykjavík is one of Unesco's literary cities.


Text by by Dísa Bjarnadóttir