Although Iceland is a small country (it’s the least densely populated country in Europe with only about 300,000 people living on a land mass about the size of Kentucky) it has continued to make headlines, concretizing the old adage of ‘quality over quantity.’ And the numbers seem to match: Iceland is the king of the per capita rankings: per capita, they have the happiest population, the best gender equality, the highest literacy rate, the most musicians, and the most Nobel Prize winners.

The country’s natural beauty is surpassed only by the beauty of its people (winning the Miss World competition four times means you have the most beautiful women per capita too apparently). Filled with natural springs, volcanoes, and geysers Iceland’s ground seems to be a boiling pot, ready to be explored.

What is it about this little country that makes it so amazing? Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s the fact that Icelanders routinely eat rotting shark. Whatever it is, there’s no denying that there’s something special about this Nordic nation, and history only further proves this.

AD 930 – They developed one of the world’s first parliaments

Jennifer Boyer/Flickr Creative Commons

Jennifer Boyer/Flickr Creative Commons

Known as the national parliament of Iceland, the Althing was established in 930 AD, laying the foundation for an independent Iceland (though it wouldn’t be until 1944 that Iceland would become fully independent from Denmark). The Althing served to host a general assembly of Icelandic Commonwealth to decide with the nation’s leaders on national affairs. Attendees included storytellers, craftsmen, and farmers who would sit around the lögsögumaður or lawspeaker. The lögsögumaður, in turn, would sit on the lögberg or law rock.

Luckily, regular chairs have since replaced law rocks, though the law does continue to rock.

AD 999 – They discovered the new world, by accident

75 (1)Though a few versions of this claim to fame exists, whatever the case, Christopher Columbus was definitely not the first European to set foot in America. An Icelandic explorer (alternatively, bad-ass Viking) by the name of Leif Erikson was reported to have been there five centuries before Columbus was even born. According to The Saga of Erik the Red, Erikson was a missionary sent to Greenland to spread Christianity. Following some fierce winds, Erikson ended up on land that was most certainly not Greenland. Yet when arriving at this strange land, he picked up two shipwrecked travelers who presumably had actually been the first Europeans to have set foot on American soil. Unfortunately, their names have forever been lost in the vortex of history.

1980 – They elected the world’s first female president

Bezoek president IJsland, mevrouw Vigdis Finnbogadottir inspecteert met Koningin Beatrix erewacht op Rotterdam Airport *19 september 1985

Born on April 15, 1930 in Reykjavík, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir served as president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. She was the first woman in the world to have been elected president in a national election. The distinction must be made as Sirimavo Bandaranaike was, following the death of her husband, elected as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1960. Finnbogadóttir pushed heavily to protect Icelandic culture as well as support the rising Icelandic women’s movement. Her motto was “Never let the women down,” and since her retirement she has continued to be involved with global problems, focusing on promoting world peace.

2009 – They elected the world’s first openly gay prime minister

Islands statsminister J—hanna Sigurard—ttir F under en presskonferens med nordiska statsministrar vid Nordiska RŒdets session i Stockholm. 2009-10-27. Foto: Magnus Fršderberg/norden.org

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was also born in Reykjavík (considering 60% of Icelanders live there, this comes as no surprise) and began her career as a flight attendant. Sigurðardóttir was active in the trade unions, and with a taste for politics, joined the Althing in 1978. Over the next few years, she moved through various cabinets and positions until 2007. During this time, she coined her catchphrase “Minn tími mun koma!” (“My time will come!”), which did come in 2009, when she stepped up to the plate and won the parliamentary election. During her tenure, she made significant moves forward for Iceland financially, socially, and culturally. Specifically, she legalized gay marriage and her then-partner, Icelandic playwright and novelist Jónína Leósdóttir, later became her wife.

Romantic? Badass? A bit of both I’d say.

2010 – They elected a comedian to be the mayor of their capital city

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Lots of people like HBO’s The Wire. It’s funny, charming, and intense. But no one likes The Wire like Jon Gnarr. In fact, when he was elected as Mayor of Iceland’s capital city Reykjavík, he stated that he would refuse to enter a coalition government with anyone that had not watched the series. And strangely enough, those who had voted for him knew this because this was one of his campaign promises. Before 2009 Gnarr was not a politician, but a well-known actor and comedian, who was famous for his political satire. Satire quickly become reality in 2009, when his fake party called “The Best Party” actually began to garner support. The party began as a joke, but its timing aligned with the 2008 financial crisis and Iceland’s own financial storm, and many blamed the government — both local and national — for mishandling the situation. Desperate times called for desperate measures and Gnarr won the majority. His platform promised things like a polar bear petting zoo and free access to amusement parks.

As mayor, he participated in Gay Parades dressed in drag and also approved the building permit for Iceland’s first mosque.

April, 2016 – They revolted until their corrupt prime minister resigned

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In the most recent scandal of the 1% misusing its power and money, the Panama Papers revealed that the world’s politicians, athletes, and celebrities were funneling massive amounts of money into offshore accounts. For some, the repercussions could be stopped as easily as Neo stopping bullets with his mind. For others, the repercussions were swift and immediate, like Neo getting smacked around by Morpheus before discovering his powers. It so happens that the latter applied to Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. Gunnlaugsson was one of the names found in the papers and the Icelandic people were not happy. In fact, thousands of citizens flooded the streets protesting and demanding his resignation, amongst them none other than bosswoman Sigurðardóttir. And guess what? He did.

June, 2016 – They beat Britain in the EuroCup

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In an incredible sweep of passion, sweat, and fury, the Icelandic soccer team rose up against the odds and pushed back one of the presumed best. No one thought they would qualify. Then no one thought they would beat Portugal (admittedly, they did tie). And most of all, no one thought they would beat England.  Considering the size of Iceland, when 30,000 fans come out to watch a game, that’s nearly 10% of the population. And so it’s very likely too that the Icelanders are watching their cousin or a friend of their cousin playing on the field, making it like one giant Viking BBQ family get together game. And best of all, their coach is also a dentist. Does everything this country do have to be unusual? It appears so. Unfortunately, their winning streak ended on July 3, 2016 when they lost to France in the quarter-finals, but considering their success, they were welcomed home like heroes.

Brynjar Gunnarsson/AP

Brynjar Gunnarsson/AP

Iceland was also the location where Game of Thrones shot some of its Beyond the Wall scenes and inspired Peter Jackson for some of his Lord of the Rings shots. So it’s not surprising really that over the last 15 years the number of visitors coming to Iceland has increased ten-fold: the country is inspiring many and paving the way for a brighter and better future for all.

Have you ever visited Iceland? Did they exceed your expectations and overachieve too? Was there anything quirky or cool you remember? Let us know!

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