How many people in Iceland smoke?

Smoking in Iceland has been banned in restaurants, cafés, bars, and nightclubs as of June 2007. A large majority of Icelanders approve of the ban.

The European Health Interview Survey (2017) published by Statistics Iceland shows Iceland is close to the top of the list of countries with the fewest smokers in Europe. With just over 81%, Iceland has the third-highest proportion of people who never smoke. Iceland has the fifth highest proportion of occasional smokers (just under 7%) and the second-lowest rate of daily smokers (12%).

According to a study done by Iceland’s Directorate of Health in 2018, around 10,700 Icelanders use e-cigarettes daily.

Is the annual New Year’s Eve round-up comedy show broadcast with English subtitles on any channel/online in Iceland?

New Year's Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík, 2017.

The hour-long TV comedy special aired on New Year’s Eve is called Áramótaskaupið, a neologism combining the words for year, meeting, and comedy. The show has satirised the year’s most significant events with skits and songs since its debut on radio in the 1940s. According to Gallup, 75% of the population watched in 2018, with 98% of active TV sets tuned to the national broadcaster RÚV. The show’s viewership is second only to the annual Eurovision Song Contest.

Every year, Áramótaskaupið is shown in Icelandic on RÚV, and at the same time on RÚV 2 with English subtitles. Both channels are accessible on the RÚV website.

Read more on Áramótaskaupið (Subscription required): Laugh Out the Old

Why has vaccination not led to herd immunity in Iceland? What is Iceland’s strategy for tackling COVID now?

Icelandic healthcare system

The short answers to these questions are: the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has proved more infectious than experts hoped; and Icelandic authorities have adopted a policy of curbing the spread of infection with mild social restrictions rather than aiming to eliminate the virus entirely with harsh restrictions. This policy allows Icelandic society to operate as “normally” as possible at any given time.

Now for a longer answer: Icelandic health authorities began administering vaccines against COVID-19 at the end of 2020. The country lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 on June 26, 2021, when around 88% of the population 16 and over had received one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Before that point, the newer Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had not spread widely in Iceland. Just four weeks after restrictions were lifted, they were reimposed due to rising case numbers.

The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 was responsible for the wave of infection that followed, Iceland’s largest until that point. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, like many other health experts, had hoped that vaccines against COVID-19 would not only reduce rates of serious illness but would also reduce transmission rates until the virus was no longer a threat to public health. Unfortunately, vaccines proved less effective against the Delta variant than the variants they had been developed for, and Iceland learned that vaccinated individuals could still contract and transmit SARS-CoV-2 at high enough rates to kickstart a larger wave of infection.

It bears noting that vaccination has had a significant impact in reducing rates of serious illness, hospitalisation, and even infection due to COVID-19 in Iceland and has therefore significantly reduced strain on Iceland’s healthcare system. Local data revealed unvaccinated individuals were four times as likely to be hospitalised due to COVID-19 infection and six or seven times more likely to end up in the ICU than those who are vaccinated in the most recent wave of infection. This is clear in the continually updated data on Iceland’s official COVID-19 website.

Though vaccination has been moderately effective, COVID-19 remains a public health threat in Iceland. Authorities’ approach is to minimise the spread of infection using the mildest restrictions possible at any given time. This allows society to operate as openly as possible and avoids lockdowns. Iceland also maintains border restrictions including testing and quarantine depending on the vaccination status of arriving travellers to prevent COVID-19 cases from entering the country.

What can you tell me about this Icelandic sweater seen on Iceland Review’s website?

This particular sweater belongs to Iceland Review’s German correspondent. Knitted 30 years ago and given to them when they moved to Iceland, it is the product of a knitting kit purchased in Germany. The pattern (18-07) is designed by Gréta Björk Jóhannesdóttir and is still available on Lopi design’s website.

This kind of woollen sweater is called a lopapeysa and is made from unspun wool of Icelandic sheep, called lopi. The Icelandic lopapeysa is knit in the round, so it doesn’t have any seams, and it has a circular patterned border around the shoulders. The yoke patterns range from simple geometric shapes to elaborate patterns such as the one pictured above but patterns around the waist and wrists are optional.

There are several theories about the origin of the patterns. One points to Auður Laxness, the wife of Iceland’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Halldór Laxness, who knitted lopapeysur inspired by Inca culture. While Auður knitted her fair share of the first lopapeysur created in the 20th century, she wasn’t the only designer.

Another theory points to Greenlandic designs and that Norwegians made knitting patterns based on the Greenlandic nuilarmiut, traditional formal wear with a beaded collar that covers the shoulders and bust, and has brightly patterned geometric designs. These patterns made their way to Iceland via Norway. However, Turkish and Swedish textile designs have also been mentioned as sources and the sweaters are also inspired by knits from the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands. The consensus now is that the lopapeysa has a lot of foreign influences and that one originator cannot be pinpointed.

Even though the origin of the yoke pattern cannot be traced, Icelandic influences on what the yoke is made of are clearer. Icelandic flowers, leaves, snowflakes, horses, and traditional handicraft patterns are often used, and many of the early designs are inspired by Icelandic folklore.

Read more on Icelandic wool (subscription required):


The Colourful Oddissey of Icelandic Wool Dyeing

Men of the Cloth

As a US citizen, can I bring my guns and cars over?

While the most difficult part of bringing a car over from the states is shipping, importing guns is more complicated. Icelandic legislation requires gun owners to hold a firearms permit, unless the weapon has been permanently deactivated by a gunsmith.
To own a gun in Iceland, you must be at least 20 years old with no criminal record. You must pass a mental and physical health check and get recommendations from two people to attend a course on guns, gun safety, and gun and hunting laws. After passing a written test, you’re issued a permit for smaller shotguns and rifles. For larger rifles (up to 30 calibres) and semi-automatic shotguns, you must wait an additional year.
It’s prohibitedto import automatic or semi-automatic handguns to Iceland; automatic or semi-automatic rifles; automatic shotguns; and semi-automatic or manually loaded multi-cartridge shotguns with chambers for more than two cartridges, unless the weapon has been modified to comply with these conditions. Importing firearms without a manufacturer’s serial number is prohibited, but this condition can be waived when a firearm has a collectible value. Collector permits can be issued for the possession of collectible firearms with historical value.
As for cars, all imported vehicles must be cleared through customs and examined in an accredited inspection facility, and finally registered with the Icelandic Transport Authority.

You may also find the more recent Ask Iceland Review on importing guns to Iceland to be useful!

What Is the Difference Between the Prime Minister And the President of Iceland?

Iceland is a constitutional republic with a multi-party political system. The Republic of Iceland was founded in 1944 after centuries under Norwegian and later Danish rule. Since 1944, Iceland has had six presidents and 20 prime ministers.
The prime minister is the head of the government and usually has a seat in parliament, much like prime ministers in the Nordic countries and the UK. They are often the head of a political party and have an active political role. Iceland’s current prime minister is Katrín Jakobsdóttir, head of the Left-Green party.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Golli. Prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir outside the Government Office in the city centre
The president is Iceland’s head of state, a ceremonial figurehead much like kings and queens in other Nordic countries and the UK. While they appoint ministers to Iceland’s cabinet and their signature is required for parliament-approved legislation to take effect, their political power is limited. Traditionally, their political role has been a passive one. Iceland’s current president is historian Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
Golli. President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson outside Bessastaðir, the Presidential Residence
The difference between Iceland’s presidents and monarchs in neighbouring countries is that the presidents have been known to exercise their political power in matters they considered especially important, by appointing controversial cabinets or vetoing legislation they believed unjust. These occasions are, however, very rare.

There’s an Eruption In Iceland – Is Everything OK?

Tourist watching lava flow from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula

Yes, thanks for asking, we’re fine! In fact, everyone’s a little excited about it. The eruption is what’s locally (and flippantly) known as a tourist eruption. It’s far enough from inhabited areas that it doesn’t pose a threat but close enough that it can easily be visited. The spectacle of red hot sputtering and flowing lava attracts plenty of spectators and during the right weather conditions, it can even be seen from Reykjavík.

Read more on the geology of the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Flowing lava
Photo by Golli. Lava flowing from the crater in Geldingadalur.

Earthquakes and Tremors

The eruption started on Friday night, March 19 but it had been building up to something for a while. Fifteen months earlier, residents of Grindavík, a small fishing town on the southwest side of the Reykjanes Peninsula were shaken (quite literally) by a swarm of earthquakes, followed by news that land was rising by Mt. Þorbjörn. The land would not be rising unless there was something big pushing it and geologists confirmed that magma was gathering underneath the surface. That time, the magma cooled and hardened underneath the surface, but it was not long (in geological terms) before the earthquakes started up again.

On February 24, an earthquake of magnitude 5.7 shook the Reykjanes peninsula and was clearly felt in the capital area, where two-thirds of the nation live. The peninsula kept on shaking, with thousands of earthquakes, some small, others large enough to wake people from their sleep and cause nausea. Usually, when there is an earthquake, we expect to see a tired-looking scientist immediately on the news stating that this is likely a release of pent-up tension in the ground and that there’s no volcanic tremor. That’s why, when we saw the scientist on the news stating that a tremor was detected, everyone got excited. The tremor confirmed that magma was on the move underneath the area where the earthquakes originated but it was yet to be seen if there was enough of it and if it was powerful enough to breach the surface.

Photo by Golli. The red glare from the eruption is on the right, on the left are the lights of Grindavík.

A Red Glow

The whole nation was waiting with bated breath and still getting used to the chandeliers wobbling a few times a day. Experts were preparing for four different scenarios. For a while, it looked like the least exciting one would be the one to pan out – that the earthquakes would release all the pent-up tension in the ground and subside while the magma cooled and hardened underneath the surface, only resulting in a slight bump in altitude for Mt. Fagradalsfjall. Then – late on a Friday night – an ominous red glare appeared in the sky above Grindavík. The Met Office’s seismographs were relatively calm and earlier that night, on the national radio’s evening news, a geologist had discussed his belief that the seismic activity would die down uneventfully. Moments later, satellite images confirmed that an eruption had begun.

Before it started, geologists had mapped out where they believed the magma dike was forming, based on the origin locations of the earthquakes. Stretching from Keilir in the northeast to Nátthagi just south of Fagradalsfjall mountain, their most likely bet was that the eruption would start in Nátthagi. In the end, it was a little north of Nátthagi, in Geldingadalur valley by Fagradalsfjall mountain.


Tourists catch a selfie by the edge of the new lava flowing from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula
Photo by Golli. Tourists catch a selfie by the edge of the new lava flowing from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula.

Danger Danger

As soon as the eruption started, the authorities’ first step was to try to dissuade the people of Iceland from heading to their cars and driving off to see the eruption. Even though Iceland on average has an eruption every 4-5 years, it’s still big news and an amazing sight to see. Roads in the area were closed but neither that nor the threat of toxic gases and unpredictable lava streams deterred several hikers from going to see the eruption over the weekend. There was a proposal by the eruption site, and a foodie even made the news when his pan of bacon and eggs was swallowed by the slow-moving lava.

No marked hiking paths lead to the area and parking is a hassle. Weather conditions over the weekend were unfavourable and got worse as the Sunday wore on. Despite authorities warning travellers to stay at home, the allure of a natural wonder such as an eruption was great, and several people needed the help of search-and-rescue volunteers during that night. Ill-prepared hikers were getting lost and approaching hypothermia on their way back. There were some minor injuries and dozens of people visited an impromptu emergency response centre in Grindavík but luckily, there were no serious injuries or fatalities.

Red-hot lava is flowing from the ground, streaming and sputtering up into the air, creating craters of cooling rock, which are liable to break from the force of the lava streaming through them. While the lava flows relatively slowly, it’s unpredictable: pools of lava can form and suddenly take new directions at any given time. There’s also always a chance that a new fissure opens up over the magma dike, something that could take spectators by surprise. In addition to these obvious threats, there’s also the subtle threat of toxic gasses released by the eruption. Colour- and odourless, these gasses are heavy and can gather in depressions and hollows around the eruption site. Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide are some of the most dangerous ones but there are numerous different gasses, some of which will poison you, others which will deprive you of oxygen until you lose consciousness and can’t get away. The wind disperses these gasses pretty easily but if the wind dies down, the situation can quickly become life-threatening. Even bending down to retie shoelaces could be enough to lose consciousness.

Tourist watching lava flow from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes Peninsula
Photo by Golli

What happens next?

While the authorities were sometimes exasperated at people endangering themselves in spite of clear instructions, they are also sympathetic to the fact that eruptions are pretty cool and people want to see the one that’s happening right now, only 20 minutes away from the capital area, where two-thirds of the nation live. Search-and-rescue volunteers have now marked a new shorter hiking path to the eruption site and the Icelandic Met Office has set up a new weather station allowing them to monitor weather and air quality conditions at the eruption site in real-time.

We don’t know how long the eruption is going to last. It looks impressive but on the scale of Iceland’s geology, it’s actually a small one. At first, its small size meant that geologists believed it would be over relatively quickly, perhaps mere hours or days after it began. Since then, the flow of lava has remained steady and geologists with the University of Iceland have speculated that there are some indications that the eruption might last for a while. Nothing is certain at this point but experts continue to monitor the eruption and as new data comes to light, they will be updating their prediction for the future of the eruption. Based on the current lava flow, it will take the eruption 8-18 days to fill up the valley where it’s currently located.

This article will be updated.

Aerial view of lava flowing from the Geldingadalur crater and the audience gathered to admire it
Photo by Golli. Spectators admiring the eruption.

Have Icelandic schools remained open since August 2020?

school children

Icelandic schools for those 16 and under have remained open since August. Junior colleges (for students 16-20) and universities did hold classes online in the fall during Iceland’s third wave of infection but are holding in-person classes for the most part now.

Some restrictions are in place that limit class sizes or enforce mask use in schools for older children but for the most part, elementary and middle schools have been free of restrictions. Iceland’s government has prioritised keeping schools (particularly primary schools) open through the pandemic, often relaxing restrictions in schools before other parts of society.

How Are Immigrants’ Children Named?

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

I have a few questions about patronyms:
1) How are immigrants children named? My name is Lucas Peeters, I’m a Belgian. Suppose I move to Iceland, get married to an Icelandic woman and acquire the Icelandic nationality. We get a child and want to name it Eric. Will his full name be Eric Lucasson or Eric Peeters? The former sounds OK, but what if I had a first name like Jean-Claude or François-Xavier?
2) How are emigrants’ children named? Suppose Leif Ericsson moves to Belgium, gets married to a Belgian woman and acquires the Belgian nationality. They get a girl and want to name her Sigríður. According to Belgian legislation, her name would be Sigríður Ericsson. That sounds absurd. Can the parents arrange for her to be called Sigríður Ericsðóttir? And what about the ð? It will probably be converted into d, won’t it?
Thanks in advance for your answer,
Lucas Peeters


Hi Lucas

While Icelanders have strong naming traditions, both concerning the registry of acceptable first names and the patronyms, the legal framework surrounding both first and last names has softened considerably over the past decades. In recent years, there’s even been talk of disbanding the naming committee altogether and giving people free rein to name their children as they please. Some have raised their concerns, wanting to protect the old naming system but others have pointed out that the naming system has only been the law for a small part of the country’s history.  Their argument is that a tradition that only persists because of legal requirements is not necessarily what’s best for the people and that it might be stronger if it persists because it’s the people’s choice.

Restrictive naming laws forced new citizens to give up their name

Formerly, upon gaining Icelandic citizenship, people were required to choose a new first name from the Icelandic registry of acceptable first names and take up a patronym. Today, that is no longer the case. As for children of one Icelandic parent and one of foreign origin, They can name their child one first name or a middle name that is valid in the parent’s home country, even if it doesn’t conform to Icelandic naming regulations. It must still receive one first name according to the Icelandic regulation. In your example, that wouldn’t be a problem as Eric is in the Icelandic name registry despite the non-traditional spelling.

Name classifications

Under the current law, anyone who gains Icelandic citizenship can keep his name unchanged. They can also choose to take first names, a middle name or last names that conform to the Icelandic regulation. Those who have received Icelandic citizenship under the earlier legislation requiring them to take up an Icelandic name can apply to Registers Iceland to change their name back, either completely or in part. The same applies for their descendants.

Last names

A foreign citizen who marries an Iceland can keep their last name or take up their partner’s last name, no matter if it is a surname or a patronym. They can also choose to take up a patronym based on their partner’s parent’s name.

Example – Mary Smith marries Jón Jónsson. She can use the name Mary Smith, Mary Jónsson or Mary Jónsdóttir. A John Smith marrying María Jónsdóttir is free to use John Smith or John Jónsson.

Patronyms can be formed from the name of either parent. When a patronym is formed from a foreign name, it can be adapted to the Icelandic language although that is not a requirement. A man named Sven can give his children the patronym Sveinsson, Sveinsdóttir or Sveinsbur, but he can also use Svensson, Svensdóttir or Svensbur. People who have surnames can continue to use them and so can their descendants but no one can currently take up a new surname in Iceland.

Middle names

Furthermore, people who have surnames can also choose to use it in tandem with their patronym or use their surname as a middle name, a separate form of names sometimes used as unofficial last names to identify families. Unlike second first names, middle names are gender-neutral and much like surnames, they don’t decline according to the four cases.

An Icelandic citizen can not take their partner’s surname, but they can adopt their partner’s surname as a middle name.

First names

First names in Iceland are famously subject to the Icelandic Naming Committee’s approval. There’s a registry of acceptable names to choose from but you can also apply to have a name added to the registry if you’re feeling creative. The name needs to conform to Icelandic spelling and grammar rules and not be likely to cause its bearer harm. The naming committee has been a hot topic of discussion for several years, as some people feel its authority infringes on people’s right to name their children or be named according to their own preferences. Some recent steps taken to ensure people’s freedom when it comes to names dropping the requirement of gendered names.

In short…

As you can see, most people have the right to claim a few different last names and as such, opting for a different last name does not qualify as a name change. That means that it does not require an application, you simply send in a request for the change to registers Iceland. In exceptional cases, such as when a child is to be called a patronym form from the name of a stepparent, an application is requiring pending approval from Registers Iceland.

To answer the questions:

  • If you moved to Iceland and had a child with an Icelandic partner, you could name them Eric, as it’s on the approved names registry despite the non-traditional spelling. If you wanted to name them Francois-Xavier, you would need to give them another approved first name as well, perhaps Francois-Xavier Eiríkur. As for the last name, you have several choices. You could use your surname, as your descendants have a right to use it. You could also give them a patronym based on your name, such as Lucasson, Lucasdóttir, or Lucasbur if the child chooses a gender-neutral patronym. You could adapt your name to the Icelandic spelling, Lúkasarson, Lúkasardóttir or Lúkasarbur. You could also form the patronym from the child’s other parent, let’s say their name is Anna Jónsdóttir. The child could be Önnuson, Önnudóttir, or Önnubur. They could not, however, use Jónsdóttir as that would be creating a new surname. If you choose to form the patronym from the name of the mother, you could also give them your surname, or give the child your surname as a middle name, making their full name Francois-Xavier Eiríkur Peeters Önnuson or Francois-Xavier Eiríkur Önnuson Peeters.
  • If Leifur Eiríksson gains Belgian citizenship and has a child with a Belgian partner, their child would likely receive a name based on their adopted country’s naming laws. Many Icelanders would likely choose to give their children their spouse’s surname or find a legal way to give them a patronym based on their own name, as changing a patronym to a surname feels odd. It would likely feel more natural for the hypothetical Sigríður to be known as Sigríður Peeters or Sigríður Leifsdóttir Peeters than for her to be known as the son of her grandfather, Sigríður Eiríksson. Dóttir is spelt with a d in Icelandic, not ð so that at least would not be a problem.


Are There Animals Other Than Birds In the Borgarvogur Inlet?

Female eiderducks

The proposed conservation area in the Borgarvogur inlet mostly consists of mudflats, which are submerged in seawater when the tide comes in. The yellow algae, marine worms, polychaetes, and insects on the surface provide a veritable feast for the birds in the area.  More than twenty different types of birds have been spotted there, including eider ducks and white-tailed eagles. The reason the Environment Agency gives for proposing the nature reserve is that the area is Iceland’s most extensive yellow-algae mudflats, the diverse birdlife and to preserve the greenhouse-gas-binding mudflats.

As the proposed conservation area is mostly mudflats, rocks and small islands, and lies right next to the town of Borgarnes (pop. 2,115), there aren’t many mammals in the area. In fact, Iceland doesn’t have many species of mammals at all. There might be the occasional fox, mink, rat, or mouse passing through. Seal sightings are very rare, and the water is mostly too shallow for even the smallest whales. There are no reindeer in west Iceland. The land on the other side of the inlet is mostly wetlands and farmland, so you might see some sheep and Icelandic horses.

icelandic sheep