Our Top 5 tips for literary treats in Iceland

Photo: Sverrir

Photo: Sverrir Sverrir Vilhelmsson

Charles Gittins

Charles Gittins

Iceland is one of the world’s most literate countries , and one in ten Icelanders reportedly publish a book at some point in their lives.

Literature is big business in Iceland. Despite the country’s remoteness and small population – some argue, thanks to it – Icelandic literature, old and new, has influenced Europe and the world and enjoys a popularity out of all proportion to its size.

No visit to Iceland would be complete without some contact with the country’s literary heritage, since it is such an integral part of the national psyche, soul and outlook.

Icelanders are big readers - and writers.

Icelanders are big readers - and writers. Photo: Eggert

A useful overview of Icelandic literature by Dagný Kristjánsdóttir, Professor of Modern Icelandic Literature at the University of Iceland, can be found here .

We have put together a few ideas for literary and literature-inspired activities to add to your Icelandic bucket list:

1. The Saga Centre

Icelanders were writing novels before novels even existed. The Icelandic sagas are a collection of prose narratives focusing of the life and struggles of early generations of Icelandic settlers (9 th -11 th centuries). This medieval body of works is universally recognised as a cornerstone of European literature.

The Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur, South Iceland, offers visitors the chance to explore the fascinating world of the sagas and the romantic, conflicted world of Iceland’s early Viking settlers.

Immerse yourself in the Viking age at the Saga Centre.

Immerse yourself in the Viking age at the Saga Centre. Photo: Steinunn Ósk Kolbeinsdóttir

2. The Þórbergur Centre

Further east along the coast of South Iceland, is the Þórbergur Centre – dedicated to the life and works of author Þórbergur Þórðarson (1888-1974), who was born at the site.

Þórðarson produced a series of poetry works and biographic and autobiographical novels, and is widely considered one of Iceland’s most original and imaginative literary figures of the 20 th century.

He was also a dedicated Esperantist, and many of the signs at the Centre are in Icelandic, English and Esperanto.

The Þórbergur Centre.

The Þórbergur Centre. Photo: Wikipedia

3. Gljúfrasteinn

Gljúfrasteinn , in Mosfellsdalur (east of Reykjavik), is the former home-turned-museum of Iceland’s literary superstar Halldór Laxness.

Halldór Laxness was born in Reykjavik in 1902 and published his first novel at the age of just seventeen. His prolific literary career saw him produce a number of important novels, plays, poems, essays, and even translations. Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.

The author’s best-known work is Independent People , an epic novel in the social realism tradition, dealing with the life and times of sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson and the destructive effects of his personal struggle for independence and self-reliance.

Guided tours are available through the museum, whose walls are adorned with pictures from famous 20 th Icelandic artists.

The home of Iceland's only Nobel laureate.

The home of Iceland's only Nobel laureate. Photo: Sigurður Bogi

4. Nonni’s House

Located in the northern town of Akureyri, Nonni’s House (‘Nonnahús’) is a memorial museum dedicated to author Jón (Nonni) Sveinsson located in his 19 th childhood home.

Sveinsson wrote children’s book in German about his childhood in Iceland – including the Nonni and Manni books – and has been translated into over forty languages.

The museum is open to visitors during the summer season and by appointment in the winter.


Nonnahús. Photo: Wikipedia

5. Reykjavik Literary Festival

The Reykjavik Literary Festival is annual event offering guests a diverse and exciting programme of literary events featuring authors from Iceland and overseas.

The event has been organised annually since 1985 and took place in early September last year. Organisers serve up literary discussions, literature-themed events and a sparkling festival-close ‘Literary Ball’, ensuring there is something for everyone.

From last year's Festival.

From last year's Festival. Photo: Styrmir Kári

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing literature in Iceland.

How about browsing through medieval manuscripts at Reykjavik’s Culture House ? Or buying vintage books by the kilo at the Old Bookshop in Flateyri (West Fjords)? Or simply walking the streets of urban Reykjavik and immersing yourself in the atmosphere that serves as a setting for Iceland’s booming modern crime fiction?

It’s as easy as opening a book…

One of Iceland's most famous crime novelists, Arnaldur Indriðason.

One of Iceland's most famous crime novelists, Arnaldur Indriðason. Photo: Árni Sæberg


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