Iceland is a country of incredible landscapes, beautiful natural wonders, and inspiring culture. The country is rich in literary tradition, and it’s no surprise that in 2011, Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik was designated as UNESCO City of Literature.
Read our guide to exploring Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature.
About Reykjavik City of Literature
Iceland is famous for its medieval literature, like the Book of Icelanders, The Kings’ Sagas and The Poetic Edda. Little change has been made to the language since the original settlement was made in the 9th century, and modern Icelanders can usually read the ancient texts. Literature plays a vital part of both the traditional and contemporary identity of the country. Such is the importance of literature to Iceland that 1 in 10 Icelanders will even publish a book.
As capital of Iceland, and the only city, Reykjavik is home to many of the country’s writers and the setting for much contemporary Icelandic literature. In 1955, Reykjavik resident Halldór Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland." Winners of the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize from Reykjavik include Thor Vilhjálmsson and Sjón, while the Crime Writers Association Golden Dagger Award went to Iceland's best known crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason.
Due to the deep literary traditions of the city, Reykjavik has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature and is the first non-native English speaking city to receive this significant title. Reykjavik joins other UNESCO Cities of Literature like Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Dublin.
Literary Reykjavik Highlights
In September the city plays host to the biennale Reykjavik International Literature Festival, which attracts acclaimed authors from around the world. Last held in September 2013, past speakers have included Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Roddy Doyle, Kurt Vonnegut and A.S. Byatt.
A new festival celebrating literature was hosted by Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature in October 2012 - Reykjavik Reads. Aimed at being an annual event, Reykjavik Reads is themed around a specific Reykjavik novel.
Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature have produced a literary map of Reykjavik, highlighting the many areas tourists should visit. Highlights include the statue of Reykjavik poet Tómas Gudmundsson, literary inspired neighbourhoods like Nordurmýri and Neighbourhood of the Gods, as well as bookshops, publishers, libraries and other literary attractions.
The University of Iceland hosts international seminars and conferences on literature and writing. Reykjavik City Library holds regular events on literature, such as poetry readings, writing workshops and discussions on international fiction.
Reykjavik City Library also puts on free literary walking tours in downtown Reykjavik every Thursday in the summer months. The fun guided tours take in points of local and literary fiction from the city, and touch on history, ghost stories and crime fiction.
The word jólabokaflód is familiar to every Icelandic resident, and translates as the ‘Book Flood Before Christmas.’ Every year in the months leading to Christmas, an abundance of Icelandic books are published, with the result that books are the most popular Christmas gift in the country. The people of Reykjavik dedicate themselves to promoting the new literature, with books readings, events in cafes, bars, libraries and bookshops taking place throughout October, November and December.
Where to stay
The gorgeous Radisson Blu Saga Hotel Reykjavik provides first class accommodation in the heart of the city, close to Reykjavik’s literary highlights.
Our hotel is near a number of other cultural places to visit when enjoying a trip to Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature, like the National Museum, Reykjavik Art Museum, and Listasafn Islands Museum, and is just five minutes’ walk to the seashore.
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