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    19 Cool Iceland Facts Most People Go Their Whole Life Without Knowing

    It's so much more than just the land of ice and fire.

    1. You won't find a single McDonald's in the whole country.

    A McDonald's sign against a gray sky with a superimposed red "no" symbol over it
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    The last one in Iceland closed in 2009, and a new one hasn't opened since.

    Bonus fun fact: One Icelander decided to buy one last meal at the Golden Arches before it closed to see if the food would ever decompose. Ten years later, it still looked fresh.

    2. Baby names have to come from the official register of approved names. Parents who want to choose a different name must request permission from the "Naming Committee" first.

    A white baby with blue eyes looks into the camera with a confused face
    Roger Wright / Getty Images

    There are a few legal requirements under the the Icelandic Names Act, including the rule that names must "conform to the Icelandic Language." And until 2019, all approved names were gendered. People with unapproved names are often legally known as "stúlka" (girl) or "drengur" (boy).

    3. There are virtually no family names — in the traditional sense, anyway.

    A family of four poses for a selfie on an Icelandic black beach with text explaining they all have different last names
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    Iceland follows a patronymic or matronymic naming system, meaning that a person's last name refers back to their immediate father or mother. For example, Björk's last name is Guðmundsdóttir, which literally means "daughter of Guðmundur." As of 2019, Icelanders who identify as nonbinary are allowed to use the surname "-bur" instead, which means "child of."

    4. There's an Elf School in Reykjavík where you can learn all about elves and the Icelanders who have supposedly interacted with them.

    Tiny red houses stick out of the ground in a field with text explaining "where Iceland's hidden people live"
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    According to a study from the University of Iceland in 2007, over 62% of Icelanders believe elves might be real. You'll find little "elf homes" built into the landscape throughout the country.

    5. Reykjavík once had a comedian as its mayor.

    Jón Gnarr in a Jedi outfit stands next to Yoko Ono and Lady Gaga in a press photo
    Associated Press/BuzzFeed

    In 2010, comedian Jón Gnarr ran for mayor as a joke and to his surprise actually won. He ended up serving four years, although he did have to go back on some of his campaign promises, like adding a polar bear to the local zoo.

    6. Buying books as gifts is a Christmas tradition. It's called Jólabókaflóð, which means "Christmas book flood."

    A woman sits on a bench overlooking Reykjavík next to a statue of an Icelandic poet
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    And that's not Iceland's only literary fact: It also publishes more books per capita than any other country in the entire world!

    7. Speaking of holidays, Icelandic children get presents on the nights leading up to Christmas from 13 "Yule Lads."

    Drawings of all 13 Yule Lads ranging from kooky Santa Claus–like to evil-looking
    Iceland.is / Via iceland.is

    On the 13 nights before Christmas, kids put a shoe on their windowsill. If they're good, a Yule Lad will leave a present inside. If they're naughty, they'll get rotten potatoes!

    8. Parents often let their babies sleep outside, even in freezing temperatures.

    A baby bundled up in warm clothes and blanket sleeps inside of a stroller outside
    Famveld / Getty Images

    According to the BBC, this is pretty common in Nordic countries, where parents believe the abundant fresh air helps the baby sleep better and wards away illness.

    9. One of the best foods to get while in Iceland? A hot dog.

    A hand holds a hot dog covered in mayo, ketchup, and fried onions
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    It's probably not what you expected, but Reykjavík is known for its hot dog stand Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which has been open since 1937. The most popular dogs are made of lamb (abundant in Iceland!) and are best served with the works: Icelandic mustard, remolaði (remoulade) sauce, fried onions, raw onions, and Icelandic-style ketchup.

    10. Someone once invented an app to make sure you're not related to your date (awkward!).

    A female hand holds a phone open to a dating app with text "brb, gotta check if we're cousins real quick"
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    On such a small, homogenous island, it's not unheard of to unintentionally end up on a date with your second cousin. Designed by a group of Icelandic college students, the ÍslendingaApp lets people vet their Tinder dates before they accidentally run into them at the next family BBQ. It doesn't seem to be available anymore but there's always the trusty Íslendingabók, or "Book of Icelanders," that provides info on Icelandic genealogy.

    11. It's home to Europe's largest banana plantation...sort of.

    Green bananas grow on a tree in a greenhouse with added text "grown via geothermal energy!"
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    Technically, Spain grows more bananas on its plantations in the Canary Islands but when it comes to growing them in the European region, Iceland wins. Using geothermal energy, the Icelandic Agricultural University is able to grow 1,100–4,410 pounds (500–2,000 kilograms) of bananas annually.

    12. Icelanders love their ice cream so much, they have a word for "ice cream road trip."

    A Black woman with curly hair and sunglasses leans out of a blue van and smiles with an ice cream. Text above reads "get in, we're going on an Ísbíltúr"
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    Ísbíltúr basically describes jumping into the car, driving around, and ending with a delicious ice cream, aka our favorite summer activity. But despite the often cold temperatures in Iceland, locals love their ice cream trips year-round!

    13. Reykjavík has a museum all about penises — no, seriously.

    A wide view of the inside of the museum showcasing penis specimens and a superimposed shocked emoji
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    It's called the Iceland Phallological Museum and it boasts over 200 "penises and penile parts" from different types of animals.

    14. Designed in 1906, the country's flag colors supposedly represent Iceland's geography: mountains, ice, and fire.

    The Iceland flag with added text explaining the red represents fire, blue represents mountains, and white represents ice
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    The suggestion was made by Matthías Þórðarson, a national conservationist.

    15. In 1980, the country elected the first female head of state — ever.

    Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in a dated photo walks along a field of grass next to the water wearing a long cardigan and sunglasses
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    Vigdís Finnbogadóttir — a divorced single mother — ran for president of Iceland and won, earning her the title of the "first female elected head of state anywhere in the world," according to the Guardian.

    16. There are around 130 volcanoes in Iceland, and roughly 30 of those categorized as currently active.

    A volcano bubbled red-hot lava across an open field
    Jeremie Richard / Getty Images

    Fagradalsfjall, a long-dormant volcano located just outside of Reykjavík, recently erupted!

    17. You could drive around the entire country in 17 hours (theoretically).

    A map of Iceland shows a red route running along the coast with an arrow naming it as "the Ring Road"
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    The Ring Road is an 828-mile (1,332-kilometer) road that roughly circles Iceland's coast. Depending on the weather conditions, you could drive it in one day. But with so many gorgeous sights to see, we're guessing you'd want to stop every once in a while.

    18. In one town, you can find heart-shaped traffic lights.

    A stoplight against a blue sky with its yellow light and red light, the latter of which is shaped like a heart, lit up
    Nurphoto / Getty Images

    Akureyri, a town in the north of Iceland, implemented hearts into the design of their stoplights shortly after the economic crash of 2008. According to the mayor, the lights are meant to remind Icelanders to stay positive.

    19. And finally, Iceland is the only place in the world where you can swim between two tectonic plates.

    A diver floats between two cliff walls underwater with text describing the left as the North American Plate and the right as the Eurasian Plate
    Getty Images/BuzzFeed

    This rift is called Silfra and is located within Thingvellir National Park. You can dive or even snorkel, since the water is so clear you can see far down below.

    Know another cool fact about Iceland? Share it in the comments below!

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    illustrated city skyline
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