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


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.

Language in Iceland

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

Language phrases

  • 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

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.