„A city is so much more than just houses and streets. Not least, a city is the writings that have grown out of its soil. So, to me Reykjavík is literature. When I think of Reykjavík, when I travel through Reykjavík, I‘m always moving through a literary landscape.“
Pétur Gunnarsson – writer and former President of the Writer‘s Union of Iceland.
Throughout much of Reykjavík’s cultural history, literature has been by far the most common term of reference for artists of all genres. Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature’s aim is to map the literary landscape of the city and make it accessible to its inhabitants as well as its guests.
The City of Literature puts up signs in the city that point out Reykjavik’s literary history. This project was started in 2012, the first sign commemorates a novel from 1950 which is the first one written about teenage culture in the city. The signs are in Icelandic and English and they are connected to our mobile-web via QR codes, giving access to further readings and pictures, sometimes also videos and sound-files. Examples of other locations are signs dedicated to one of the Reykjavik novels of Nobel Prize author Halldór Laxness, poetry about local washer-women in bygone times, the first Icelandic writer to make writing her sole profession and a sign dedicated to Norse mythology.
Selected city benches in Reykjavík have become literary retreats. Travellers in the city can now enjoy listening to readings from Icelandic literature by scanning a QR-code, placed on several city benches, with a smart-phone. The readings are in English and Icelandic and are hosted on Reykjavík City of Literature‘s mobile website. The website also contains information on literary landmarks of the city.
Classic as well as contemporary Icelandic literature is presented in the retreats with readings from the works of fourteen authors. All living authors read from their works in Icelandic, while actors Darren Foreman and María Þórðardóttir provide readings from English translations.
Reykjavík City of Literature and the Reykjavik City Library work together on creating electronic literary walks in the heart of Reykjavik. These walks are available on our free Reykjavik Culture Walks app for Android and iPhones.
There are walks in Icelandic, English, German and Spanish. The guides are a literary scholar and an actor, and you will hear bits about the place and its connection to the literary text in question, as well as an excerpt from the text read by the actor. You can read more about the walks here on our website.
Guided Literary Walking Tours
The Reykjavík City Library offers guided literary walking tours in English every Thursday in June, July and August at 3 p.m. The walks are free of charge and no booking is needed. Just show up at the library in Tryggvagata 15 for a fun downtown stroll with the guides.
Dark Deeds in Reykjavík covers murky events of various types from local literature. You will meet a witness to a shooting outside the parliament house Althingi, a convict on Death Row in the Prime Minister’s office and a mad sailor in a former morgue on Frakkastígur – to name just a few stops along the way. The featured texts belong to different literary genres, such as Icelandic folktales, crime novel and fine literature.
The walk takes off from the City Library building in Tryggvagata 15, close to the downtown Tourist Information Center. It takes about 90 minutes at an easy pace that suits everyone.
As a warm-up for the tours, the library screens a 45min documentary on Icelandic folklore in its 5th floor screening room, kamesið. The doc is titled Spirits of Iceland: Living with Elves, Trolls and Ghosts and has been popular among guests of the tour.
The City of Literature has placed literary quotes in English at the Keflavik International Airport. All the quotes are from poetry or prose by local artists, translated to English by different literary translators.