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 explore Reykjavik - UNESCO City of Literature.
About Reykjavik's literary heritage
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.
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 neighborhoods like Nordurmýri and Neighbourhood of the Gods, as well as bookshops, publishers, libraries and other literary attractions.
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.
Books as the best gift
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.
Literary Reykjavik Highlights
The city plays host to the biennale Reykjavik International Literary Festival, which attracts acclaimed authors from around the world. This event brings together multiple acclaimed authors, past speakers including Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Roddy Doyle, Kurt Vonnegut and A.S. Byatt. Stay tuned for more on the 2019 edition. A new festival celebrating literature was also hosted by Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature in October - Reykjavik Reads. Aimed at being an annual event, Reykjavik Reads is themed around a specific Reykjavik novel. Keep an eye out for upcoming festivals and events happening in Reykjavik this summer.
Where to stay
The beautiful -and newly renovated- Radisson Blu Saga Hotel Reykjavik provides first class accommodation in the heart of the city, close to Reykjavik’s literary highlights. And the Radisson Blu Reykjavik 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.