A Literature Lover’s Tour of Iceland

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Iceland is home to some serious book lovers. Of the country's 357,000 residents, one in 10 people will publish a book, according to one statistic from 2013. Publishing a book is such a ubiquitous endeavor in the country that Icelandic citizens even have a national quote to describe this: “Ad ganga med bok I maganum,” or “Everyone has a book in their stomach.” Book lovers can embrace Iceland’s literary heritage by visiting these seven historic sites.

Culture House

 Icelantic sagas, which can be found in the Culture House in Reykjavik.
Credit: Barry Lewis / Contributor/ Getty Images

The Culture House museum in the capital of Reykjavík is home to some very important national documents — manuscripts of the sagas chronicling Iceland’s medieval history. The original narratives tell the story of Iceland’s earliest settlers in Old Icelandic prose and include detailed illustrations. The Culture House also features other exhibits displaying ancient artifacts and modern art.

Country Hótel Anna

A front facing look at Country Hotel Anna in Iceland.
Credit: Country Hótel Anna

The bed-and-breakfast Country Hótel Anna in Moldnúpur was the home of Iceland’s first female travel writer. Sigríður Anna Jónsdóttir loved the tiny town so much that she referred to herself as “Anna Frá Moldnúpi,” or “Anna From Moldnúpur.” Jónsdóttir was born in 1901 and began traveling after high school. She started out writing for newspapers and eventually published several books on her travels throughout the world. The hotel has artifacts from her life in a small museum on site.

Borgarfjörður

Lupines beside the camping site of Borganes in western Iceland.
Credit: subtik/ iStock

Travel north of Reykjavík to the Borgarfjörður region to be immersed in Icelandic saga history. This part of the country is considered the home of the sagas, where many of the stories took place. Here, you can find geothermal pools to soak in, a troll sculpture park, museums, and more. Many of the saga events that happened in this area were chronicled by Egill Skallagrímsson, a Viking Age war poet.

Public Benches

Deserted footpath lined with benches in a public park at sunset in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Credit: AlbertPego/ iStock

The city of Reykjavík fully embraces its residents’ love of literature, and this adoration for books is on display with unique public benches scattered around the city. Some benches feature sculptures of famous poets and authors, while some have barcodes you can scan that allow you to listen to a story as you sit. There are 16 benches with scannable barcodes, so tourists can enjoy listening to the stories all day long!

Neighborhood of the Gods

A view from the top of Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland.
Credit: Ji Seongkwang/ Unsplash

Hallgrímskirkja, the massive church overlooking downtown Reykjavík, sits on Skólavörðuholt hill. The neighborhood surrounding it is known as the Neighborhood of the Gods, since 15 streets there are named after Norse gods and goddesses from the sagas. The streets also seem to reflect some of the saga stories. Baldursgata and Nönnugata intersect; Baldur and Nonna were married in the sagas. Válastígur and Haðarstígur also run parallel to Baldursgata; Baldur, Váli, and Hodur were brothers.

Unuhús and the Poet’s Path

Red house in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Credit: july7th/ iStock

Unuhús, a small, red house in the oldest neighborhood of Reykjavík, was built in 1896. Throughout the early 1900s, it became a refuge and gathering place for writers. The original owners inspired characters in Icelandic literature, and the house itself was made famous in the country by books from two authors: Halldór Laxness and Thórbergur Thórdarson. The pathway to reach the house is called the Poet’s Path.

Saga Museum

Perlan water tanks have recently been cleared out in order to hold the Saga Museum in Iceland.
Credit: Mlenny/ iStock

Not only can you see depictions of the sagas in Iceland at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík, but you can also be part of the story yourself. Visitors can dress up in Viking clothes, or browse the 17 displays exhibiting the legends of the sagas, including the stories of famous people in history such as Snorri Sturluson, Ingólfur Arnarson, and Leif Erikson, in addition to the Black Plague’s arrival in the country and its impact on Icelandic literature.

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