Reykjavik Cultural Tour
This tour takes you through the cultural life and literary history of Reykjavik and Iceland as a whole.
After pick-up we begin the day in Hljómskálagarður, the park south of the Reykjavik pond.
Our guide is Mr. Pall Valsson, holder of the Iceland President´s Literature Award for his biography of the writer and poet Jonas Hallgrimsson, the main writer of the 19th century´s Romantic era. Mr. Valsson is also the author of former president Mrs. Vigdis Finnbogadottir´s biography.
Our first stop is by the statue of the poet Jonas Hallgrimsson. From there we walk to the mosaic wall mural on the Customs House in Hafnarstræti from 1973.
We pass by the Eymundsson book store nearby where the guide will show you translations of icelandic literature, history and visual arts.
The tour continues to the office of the Prime Minister, which used to be a prison. From there we walk to the National Theatre where it stands, next to the former National Library.
Now the focus shifts to modern literature, we go to the café “Kaffibarinn”, the scene of the film 101 Reykjavik, based on a book with the same name by the author Hallgrímur Helgason. The guide will now present some of the most successful Icelandic writers, e.g. Arnaldur Indriðason, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Auður Jónsdóttir and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.
We walk our way up the street Skólavörðustígur, to the Hallgrímskirkja church. Now the time is almost midday and we go to the Café Loki for lunch.
Now it´s time to visit one of the museums in Reykjavik, The Reykjavik Art Museum, The Iceland Art Museum or The Kjarvalsstadir Art Museum depending on the current exhibition. Your guide will choose the museum.
After visiting the art museum we drive to the former home and present museum of writer Halldór Laxness who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.
Our last stop is Thingvellir, the scene of many of the Icelandic Sagas as well as a historic site and birth place of both the nation (the year 930) and our republic (year 1944).
We drive back to Reykjavik and drop you off at your hotel or guesthouse. Check availability by choosing a date.
- Available: Jun. - Dec.
- Duration: 8 hours
- Activities: Sightseeing, Cultural Activity
- Difficulty: Easy
- Languages: English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish
- Highlights: Reykjavík,
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental centre of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the centre and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city centre and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
What to See & Do in Reykjavik
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugavegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theatres, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whale watching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational centre of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favourite pastime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.Þingvellir,
Þingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Þingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries. Þingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagjá, which marks the eastern boundary of the North American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Öxarárfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, Þingvallakirkja Church and Gjábakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.Hallgrimskirkja,
Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church, located on top of hill Skólavörðuhæð in the centre of Reykjavík. At 74,5 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland, and its tower offers a spectacular panoramic view over the city.
History and design
The church was designed by one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, Guðjón Samúelsson, who is said to have sought inspiration for his expressionistic design from elements of the Icelandic nature. These include glaciers, mountains and trap rocks, such as the hexagonal basalt columns that surround the waterfall Svartifoss in Skaftafell National Park.
The church took 41 years to build, with construction starting in 1945 and finishing in 1986. The leaders of the Church of Iceland wanted a building that would tower over the Catholic church of Landakotskirkja, also designed by Samúelsson. The large pipe organ inside Hallgrímskirkja, consisting of over 5000 pipes, was built by German Johannes Klais of Bonn and its construction was completed in December 1992.
Outside the church stands its predecessor; a statue of Leifur Eiríksson by American sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder. The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930, on the millennial anniversary of Iceland’s first legislative body Alþingi, founded in Þingvellir in 930 AD. Leifur Eiríksson was a Norse explorer from Iceland who discovered the continent of North America in the year 1000, more than half a century before Christopher Columbus.
The church’s namesake is Icelandic priest Hallgrímur Pétursson, a 17th-century poet and author of The Passion Hymns (Passíusálmar). The hymns are a vital part of Icelandic religious tradition and a stable of local literature, having been reprinted over 75 times since their original publishing in 1666.
The tower of the church is each day visited by hundreds of spectators who seek to enjoy its sweeping view of the capital. The observation tower can be accessed via a lift. Hallgrímskirkja counts as the most iconic landmark of the city of Reykjavík and is visible throughout most of the capital. It serves as a focal meeting point for several cultural events, for example, an annual gathering for watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve.Hljómskálagarður,
Hljómskálagarður is a park by Reykjavík’s downtown area, renowned for its birdlife, sculptures, and serenity.
Located beside Tjörnin pond, many freshwater bird species frequent the area, such as duck and geese, as well as other species such as Arctic Terns. The sculptures on site were all produced by women, five of whom were Icelandic, and one of whom was Danish.
The park is a popular site to unwind after a day of shopping, particularly in summer, and can be dark enough during winter to spot the northern lights. It is great for both adults and children; the latter will be entertained by the playpark on site.
Hjómskálagarður is right beside the National Gallery of Iceland and Reykjavík City Hall, where you can find the Guide to Iceland office.Gljufrasteinn
“Whoever doesn't live in poetry cannot survive here on earth.” These are the words of the late Halldór Kiljan Laxness, a 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, in his 1972 novel Under The Glacier. Laxness is Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate, securing the award for his book Independent People "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland". His self-built house, Gljúfrasteinn, now sits as a museum dedicated to the author’s life, found in the countryside just out of Mosfellsdalur, east of Reykjavík.
The house was built in 1945 by Laxness and his second wife, Auður Sveinsdóttir. They employed the architect Ágúst Pálsson and interior designer, Birta Fróðadóttir, to turn their dream home into a reality. Without delay, now famously eccentric furniture was placed around the house at Laxness’ direction. Paintings by the most celebrated Icelandic artists of the 20th century were chosen to decorate the walls. Today, visitors can observe paintings by Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Karl Kvaran, Jóhannes Kjarval, Svavar Guðnason and Nína Tryggvadóttir, to name just a handful. Gljúfrasteinn was constructed on the river Kaldakvísl, close to Laxness’ childhood home, Laxnes.
Laxness was an extremely prominent figure, not only in Iceland but within the European cultural scene. After his 1955 Nobel prize, his status amongst contemporaries only increased. Gljúfrasteinn quickly became the go-to destination for foreign guests, officials and fellow artists. International musicians, for instance, would often use Gljúfrasteinn’s living room as a private concert hall.
Laxness wrote about the country of his birth with an incredible breadth of detail, poetry and craftsmanship, and is today held in the highest esteem by his countrymen, not only for his vast body of work (62 books in 68 years), but for his eccentric character, work ethic and commitment to strengthening Iceland’s literary profile. Gljúfrasteinn, still very much the same as when Laxness lived there, manages to capture these aspects of his personality perfectly.
Gljúfrasteinn was sold to the Icelandic state by Laxness’ widow in 2002. In September 2004, the house was officially opened as a public museum. Guided tours around this famous abode are available year round, and concerts are still held at the venue during the summer months.
Pickup time : 09:00
What to bring: