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Photo: Classic Journeys.

Iceland was destined to be unique. As one of the last countries in the world to have human settlers, and as a tiny island located north of almost everywhere, it’s not surprising that we have our own way of doing things. What seems normal and every day for Icelanders might seem exotic or eccentric to visitors. From history to land and sea to the people themselves, Iceland has forged an identity all its own.

Here are top 12 fun facts about 'the land of fire and ice', Iceland:

1. Iceland’s population is smaller than Arlington, Texas

Statistics Iceland releases population data once per year. According to the latest data released on 1st January 2020, the population of Iceland is 364,134. Yes, that’s all!

As of January 2020, there were 55,354 immigrants living in Iceland, amounting to 15.2% of the population. People born in Poland made up the largest single immigrant group, according to Life In Norway.

2. More than 60% of Iceland’s residents live in Reykjavík

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Photo: Iceland Travel.

More specifically, 233,000 people live in Iceland’s “capital region”. This comprises the city itself together with the six neighbouring municipalities, which make up by far the biggest urban area in the country.

After Reykjavík, the most populous cities in Iceland are Kópavogur and Hafnarfjörður, both of which are included in the capital region.

3. Many Icelanders believe in elves

Between 30 and 40% of Icelanders will not deny the existence of elves. Icelandic folklore is still rich with stories about the 'Huldufólk', meaning "hidden people", who are said to live in the lava fields.

When constructions take place in certain lava fields of the country, there is even a special spokesperson for the elves.

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Photo: Adventures.

4. People have lived in Iceland for about 1,200 years

Iceland was settled by Viking explorers sometime in the 9th century. Archaeological evidence suggests earlier temporary settlement, perhaps from Gaelic monks.

5. Ice cream is the perfect first date

Icelanders love ice cream! Our friends in Reykjavík even suggested that it’s the perfect first date! Why not have a romantic outing with your significant other when you’re in town?

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Photo: Guide to Iceland.

Even in stormy weather, you can see people queuing up for ice cream, especially at the best shops in Reykjavík! You may even see longer lines continue outside the store, as people love ice cream so much they will brave the rain and the wind for this delicious treat.

6. Famous Icelanders are no big deal

With one of the smallest populations in Europe, famous people do stand out easily around Iceland. But what is interesting is that because most people know each other, it’s not a big deal!

Maybe you’ll come across Björk at a Reykjavík restaurant, or perhaps you'll see the President jogging at a city park nearby, as cited by Nordic Visitor.

7. The country has more than 100 volcanoes!

Most people know of Iceland's volcanic activity thanks to the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull that grounded much of Europe's air traffic for several days.

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Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. Photo: Saigon Ocean.

But the country actually has more than 100 volcanoes, several of which are active. Because of this constant volcanic activity, much of Iceland is covered in lava fields.

8. There are no McDonald's in Iceland!

Yes, really! This Iceland fact is so unusual that Reykjavík is actually the only capital city in western Europe without a McDonald's franchise.

Yet this nearly wasn't the case. The American fast-food franchise once operated four locations in Iceland, but the last one was closed in 2009.

9. Iceland marks a physical boundary between America and Europe

The country is one of the world's only places where the effects of two major tectonic plates drifting apart can be easily seen on land. Welcome to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge!

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Thingvellir National Park, where America meets Europe. Photo: Outdoorvisit

At Thingvellir National Park, the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Or in actual fact, they move away from each other by a couple of centimetres each year.

10. Icelanders don’t have surnames in the traditional sense.

The vast majority of Icelandic surnames simply record the fact that you are your father's (or mother's) son or daughter. First names are almost always used when addressing someone, no matter how formal the meeting. Even the phone book lists subscribers by their first name.

11. Iceland is a nation of book worms.

There is a term in Icelandic called jólabókaflóð , the Christmas book flood. It refers to the great number of books published before Christmas, as books are popular Christmas presents.

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The pre-jólabókaflóð scene at Reykjavik’s Bókabúð Máls & menningar. Photo: Quartz.

12. No standing army here

Iceland might look intimidating, thanks to its explosive geography, but it is actually an unusually peaceful and laidback place. Violent crime is famously low, and its young population needn’t fear being drafted into combat any time soon, as cited by Arctic Adventures.

In fact, Iceland is the only NATO country not to have a standing army, air force or navy. It does have a Crisis Response Unit (ICRU), which is a small, peacekeeping force of about 200 staff. These employees do not carry arms or wear a uniform in most circumstances.

There’s also a national coast guard and air defence system. However, a lack of a standing army means there is no permanent, professional, full-time military force.

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