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Iceland History, Language and Culture

History of Iceland

Iceland was settled by Norse seafarers more than 1,000 years ago and they first assembled in Þingvellir (now Thingvellir National Park) in the year 930.

In 1262, Iceland submitted to the King of Norway and Jónsbók (the code of laws) was introduced to the islanders in 1281. In 1397, the forming of the Kalmar Union saw Denmark, Sweden and Norway, along with Norway's colonies such as Iceland and Greenland, all came under the control of Denmark. In 1814, Norway became independent, but Iceland remained a Danish territory. In 1944, Iceland gained its independence and the new republic has been celebrating its National Day on 17 June ever since.

Did you know?
• Iceland banned all alcoholic drinks in 1915. Then over the decades, it slowly allowed red wine and spirits, but beer remained illegal until 1 March 1989 – the day is now celebrated as Bjordagur (Beer Day).
• Many Icelanders believe in the existence of huldufólk (hidden people or elves), who have been part of the Icelandic folklore for centuries.
• Icelanders do not use family names but adopt the first name of their father or mother as a last name, adding the suffix son (meaning son) or dóttir (meaning daughter).

Iceland Culture

Religion in Iceland

About 80% of Icelanders are Lutherans and another 5% belong to other Christian denominations. About 5% of the people still practise ásatrú, the traditional Norse religion.

Social Conventions in Iceland

Iceland has a 99% literacy rate – its people are knowledgeable, well-spoken and very polite. Icelandic is the national language but Danish and English are widely spoken.

Icelanders enjoy having a warm soak in a sundlaug (heated pool) or a geothermal spa, with many visiting a pool daily. In every public pool, the following bathing etiquette must be observed:
• Remove your shoes before entering the locker room. Upon entering, use the wristband you've obtained at the reception to get a locker. Put away your phone because no camera is allowed (unless you are visiting a tourist-oriented geothermal spa like the Sky Lagoon).
• Undress and put away your clothes, but take your swimsuit and towel to the shower room and leave them in one of the shelving units there.
• Wash thoroughly without your swimsuit. If you are uncomfortable, use one of the private cubicles.
• Put on your swimsuit and go to the pool. After that, relax in the hot tub.
• Once you're done, proceed to the shower area and wash again. You must then dry off (with the towel you've left in the shower room earlier) before entering the locker room.
• Put on your clothes and visit the hair-drying area if you wish.
• Leave the locker room and put on your shoes outside.
• Drop your wristband into a box, which will open the turnstile so you can leave.

Language in Iceland

The official language is Icelandic; English and Danish are widely spoken.


  • Beer = Bjór
  • Closed = Lokað
  • Danger = Hætta
  • Doctor = Læknir
  • Entrance = Inngangur (noun)
  • Exit = Útgangur (noun)
  • Goodbye = Bless
  • Hello = Hæ or Halló
  • Hotel = Hótel
  • How are you? = Hvernig hefurdu thad?
  • Menu = Matseðill
  • My name is = Ég heiti
  • No = Nei
  • Open = Opid
  • Restaurant = veitingastaður
  • Thank you = Takk or Þakka þér
  • Today = Í dag
  • Toilets = Klósett or salerni
  • Tomorrow = Á morgun
  • Where is ...? = Hvar er ...?
  • Wine = Vín
  • Yes = Já

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