A flag. An identity. A combination of colors and shapes that reflects a sense of pride and belonging. Creating a flag that’s unique, representative, symbolic, and functional is the paramount task for any state to establish sovereignty and any shared-identity to declare independence. Declared a republic in 1944, Iceland is one of the most illuminating examples in modern history to tell a story about the creation of a national flag and its significance through the country’s past ordeal to its current bliss. In this guide, we are going back in time to see how the Icelandic national flag was created, and to shed some light on the tales of the unequivocal identity moulded in the young island nation.
The Icelandic Flag
In Icelandic, íslenski fáninn or fáni íslands is the name of the national flag. The modern Icelandic flag we see today is, hereby we quote the law, “blue as the sky with a snow-white cross, and a fiery-red inside the white cross.” These three colors are interpreted by three of the many geographic features of Iceland, as blue for the Atlantic Ocean, white glaciers and snow, and red magma and volcanoes.
The shape of a cross, representing Christianity in the Nordic countries, is a common symbol in all Scandinavian flags. It also refers to as the “Nordic cross” or the “Scandinavian cross,” and each country has their own variation of a cross flag with a respective interpretation of colors.
The Flag of Iceland - The History Explained
To talk about how Iceland got its flag today, we need to talk about the cross that’s a common symbol in all Scandinavian flags and of the neighboring countries’. It’s dated back to the 8th century when Christianization took place in the Scandinavia region, mainly among the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as they all established their archdioceses. The cross design is not unfamiliar to the Nordic culture, though the used-to-be-centered cross has moved to the left on the Nordic flags.
When the first settlers arrived Iceland in 874AD, there’s no record showing they brought a flag. There was a sign that’s essentially a banner or a totem common among Scandinavian clans, although there’s no source indicating the banner was carried as a universal symbol for the new-found region. The early Viking settlers brought to Iceland the ancestors of the Icelandic sheep, later along with the rule of the Norwegian Kingdom around 1262. Later, Iceland became a part of Denmark following the dissolution of Dano–Norwegian Realm. The once deserted, vast wilderness finally stepped up in civilization and was in seek for representation other than the Danish flag.
Jørgen Jørgensen strongly agreed to this notion and wanted the Nordic island that’s trapped between the Greenland Sea and the Norwegian Sea to have a new, independent identity. As a Danish adventurer, a prolific writer, and a visionary, Jørgen sailed to Iceland in 1809 and created a series of dramatic events that eventually led to declaring himself to be the ruler and the “protector” of Iceland. He also promised that he would help reinstate the parliament of Iceland, Althing, once Iceland escaped the Danish rule to govern themselves.
As a strong character as Jørgen Jørgensen was, he even designed the first flag of Iceland himself, rendering a somewhat offensive reflection of how Iceland was perceived by the Danes - as a fishing base. The three cod flag, though short-lived, was a strange representation that went up on the 12th of July in 1809. Till this day, Icelanders still refer to him as “Jørgen the Dog-Days King” for the dog star was in the sky at the time.
Icelanders disliked the representation of fish. The three cod flag soon disappeared when the dog-days king’s rule came to an end in a matter of two months. Not one minute more for the flag to be up, the island nation moved to replace the fish symbol with a falcon, a traditional symbol, and a more noble, glorious creature that’s perceived suitable for this purpose. For what it’s worth, the three cod flag was the first vivid idea envisioning Iceland owning a national flag exclusively.
The falcon flag was carried all the way to 1870, a time when nationalism began to rise in Iceland, and the call for independence from Denmark became louder and louder. Evidently, a national flag is an intrinsic part of the independence campaign, in which the embodiment of a fine symbol is crucial.
Then it came along painter Sigurdur Gudmundsson. He proposed the national flag to have a blue field as the background with a white falcon spreading wings on it as the national flag of Iceland. His idea received a lot of support for quite some time, and eventually in 1885, a bill on a national flag of Iceland was finally proposed.
The new proposed flag was designed to be divided by a white-bordered red cross into four rectangles. Although the proposal was not being entirely debated or even passed, it did settle on one attribute of having three colors that later used in the Icelandic flag: blue, white, and red.
In the late 19th century, poet Einar Benediktsson expressed his contention that the symbol of falcon was far from being a true representation of Iceland as a nation neither did it follow any international flag pattern, so he advocated strongly that Iceland’s national colors being blue and white, and the pattern being a cross as it’s the most common emblem on flags. It should be a simpler or - what we would say today - a more minimalistic combination of colors and patterns. Benediktsson proposed only two colors to shape the cross - a simple white cross laying over a blue field, that’s also referred to as “Hvítbláinn” (the white-blue).
However, a cleaner design like this one can be very easy to collide with flags of other nations’. To name a few, this design looks very similar to a portion of the Greek flag, and it almost looks identical to the flag of Shetland, an archipelago in Scotland.
Following that, the keeper of National Antiquities, Matthias Thordarson came into the picture. He shared his idea about the color as there should be three colors to represent Iceland, in which blue for mountains and ocean, white for ice and snow that covers the land, and red for fire as Iceland has a lot of volcanoes. As more people put into efforts on investigating the best design for the Icelandic flag, there were more people began to support Matthias Thordarson’s vision.
In late December 1913, the then Prime Minister called a committee that involved Matthías Þórðarson to figure out a proposal. There were two designs proposed. One was a bright red cross inside a slightly larger white cross on a sky-blue background. The other one was a sky-blue cross on white with a stripe of white and blue in either side.
On June 19, 1915, a royal decree from the Danish Monarchy finally arrived ratifying the “sky blue (ultramarine) with a white cross and a bright red cross inside the white cross. The arms of the cross shall extend to the edge of the flag on all four sides….” And that's the flag of Iceland we see today.
Landmarks With the Flag of Iceland
You will see the national flags are flying in many places in Iceland around the Independence Day on 17th June than at any other time each year. Apart from that, Iceland has a pretty chill attitude towards flying the flag. If you are coming this way looking for a thorough trip covering both natural attractions and cultural significance, we have several tips for you.
Bessastaðir, the Icelandic equivalent of the White House in the U.S., is where the incumbent President of Iceland and his family reside. It’s located in one of the most scenic suburbs in the Capital Region of Iceland, a town named Alftanes that’s now a part of the municipality of Gardabaer. The beautiful structure is not only the presidential residence but also the one that holds historical significance and plays a prominent role in Iceland’s history. It welcomes visitors either by invitation or as tourists.
The president of Iceland has its own special flag, the National Flag with the coat of arms pressed on top at the center of the cross.
A perfect day trip can be planned around this location as you travel from Reykjavik to Reykjanes Peninsula.
The nearby points of interest are:
- Aftanes Geothermal Pool, Alftaneslaug, a family-friendly public swimming pool that has the highest waterslide in Iceland.
- Hafnarfjordur, a vibrant harbor town that hosts many attractions
- Kleifarvatn Lake is a great diving spot for its hydrothermal vents, and the nearby Seltun Geothermal Area is a fantastic place to see bubbling mud pots besides Geysir in the Golden Circle.
The Blue Lagoon is another must-visit on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Huts in Thorsmork
Several huts at Thorsmork Valley in South Iceland always have the National Flag hoisted high to an extent that it almost becomes a signature of the location. These huts are for hikers, campers, and travelers who need lodging in the area. Being vastly popular among the international hiking community, Thorsmork rests on the south end of the renowned Laugavegur hiking trail. It can be reached by a 4X4 vehicle or a super jeep from Reykjavik in less than three hours.
From Reykjavik to Thorsmork, you will first drive via the Ring Road, the only national highway circling the island of Iceland, passing many highlight attractions.
- Reykjadalur Valley is the first notable stop off the road as you drive down the big curve to Hveragerði. Featuring a natural hot spring bath after an easy hike, this place can’t be missed.
- Seljalandsfoss waterfall is another must-visit in South Iceland. The popularity of the waterfall has to do with its unique cliff structure as you can walk behind its cascade for a different view, and it’s right off the road leading to Thorsmork.
- Gljufrabui waterfall is only eight-minute walk away from Seljalandsfoss and is considered a hidden gem as it’s secluded behind mossy cliffs.
Thingvellir National Park
As the heart of the nation, Thingvellir is located 47 kilometers northeast of Reykjavik, with a natural geographical advantage hosting calmer and warmer climate than the Capital Region. It’s also the birthplace of the world’s oldest parliament Althing. The most fascinating fact about Thingvellir is that it sits on the only visible part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that’s slowly drifting apart, diverging the Eurasian tectonic plates further away from the North American one. The visiting point of the natural geographical feature is marked by the Icelandic National Flag.
Within a 60-kilometer radius of Thingvellir, there are many beautiful places worth visiting.
- Silfra Fissure, not far from the lava ridge in Thingvellir, is an underwater paradise for snorkelers and divers as it has the world’s highest underwater visibility thanks to the underground lava performing as the most effective natural filter.
- Geysir and Strokkur Hot Springs are within one-hour drive towards east and they are amazing creations of the land of fire and ice.
- Gullfoss waterfall, all the essence and magnificence in an Icelandic waterfall, is also close, and together these attractions make up the famous Golden Circle Route.
Official Flag Days of Iceland
- New Year’s Day, 1st January
- Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, flag flying half mast
- Easter Day
- First Day of Summer (any Thursday that falls between April 19 and 25)
- Labour Day (1st May)
- Whit Sunday (seven weeks after Easter)
- Sailors’ Day (the First Sunday in June)
- National Day (Iceland became an independent republic in 1944 )
- First of December (Proclamation of Independence in 1918)
- Christmas Day (25 December)
- Birthday of the incumbent President of Iceland
*The list above is subjected to possible update each year by the Prime Minister's Office.
Other Flags in Iceland
Each municipality in Iceland has its own signage or flag, and they are marked out in different ways on the mostly invisible municipal borders. When you travel around Iceland, these colorful, creative designs will remind you where you are at and what adventures you can have there.
Hereby we recommend the following itineraries in which you will travel to these regions the flags above represent:
- Reykjavik, Harnarfjordur, and Seltjarnarnes are three municipalities within the Capital Region of Iceland. Together they make a nice day trip with stunning sea views and vibrant Nordic urban sceneries.
- Sundurnesjabaer is close to Keflavik International Airport and famous for its ocean diving site.
- Snaefellsbaer is the municipality of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, billed as the “Miniature Iceland” the Peninsula is one of the favorite destinations in Iceland.
- South to Vestmannaeyjar and north to Akureyri, the creativity in symbolization prevails in Iceland.
- Isafjordur, with its crest in the graphics of wavy ocean, cliffy fjords, and the rising Sun in the middle, indicates a wonderful adventure location with unique landscapes. It’s also a hiker’s paradise.
The Iceland Flag Emojis
Did you know that on Instagram, the hashtag of the Icelandic flag emoji (#🇮🇸)is getting so popular that has accumulated more than 80k posts and counting? And a similar one spelled as “#iceland🇮🇸” has accumulated more than half a million already!
Iceland, with its appealing, photogenic sub-arctic landscapes, has been taking up more and more space on viewers’ timelines from platforms like Instagram in recent years. The icon of the national flag has also been seen all over the place as the popularity rises. The Iceland flag emoji was added to the emoji collection in 2015. It’s known as Icelandic Flag or Flag of Iceland in different operating systems. And different systems and applications render the flag differently.
Another fun fact about the Icelandic flag in the digital world is that more people have been googling to identify the flag as the Google trend result from the past five years shows, along with the Icelandic language and the country in general.
Be sure to hashtag the Icelandic flag when you are here!