New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík: How to Celebrate
In Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, New Year’s a big deal. Wander the city’s streets on 31 December and you’ll sense the undeniable magic in the air. But what exactly does celebrating New Year’s Eve mean to Icelanders, and how can you join in?
There’s a full evening of festivities to enjoy across the Reykjavík area. You’ll notice family-friendly bonfires in local neighborhoods, before the evening gives way to fireworks and partying!
- Join the celebrations on a New Year’s trip to Iceland.
5 Icelandic New Year’s Eve traditions
If you find yourself in Reykjavík, Iceland on New Year’s Eve, what can you expect? Read on and you’ll get the insider scoop on these top 5 New Year traditions in Iceland.
1. New Year’s dinner
Traditionally Icelanders kick off the evening’s festivities at 6 p.m. with an indulgent dinner. You’ll find that there’s no one set meal on this day, but some kind of roast meat is often involved. Leg of lamb, roast beef, turkey, duck, and ptarmigan are all popular options.
You can join in by going to a New Year’s Eve buffet at a local restaurant or hotel. All of the New Year’s packages that Iceland Tours offers include a New Year’s dinner experience. So you don’t need to worry about making your own restaurant reservation.
- Read this Travel Guide for more about Icelandic food and restaurants.
Another Icelandic New Year’s tradition is the neighborhood bonfire. This traces its roots back to the late 18th century. Back then some schoolboys from Reykjavík kindled scraps of wood at the top of a local hill.
There are bonfires dotted about Reykjavík city center on New Year’s Eve, lit at various times throughout the evening. You might even see locals dressed up as elves, dancing and singing álfasöngvar, or elf songs, around the fire.
The most famous of them, Álfadansinn or ‘Dance of the Elves’, is one that all Icelandic people know. It goes like this:
Máninn hátt á himni skín
hrímfölur og grár.
Líf og tími líður
og liðið er nú ár.
Bregðum blysum á loft,
bleika lýsum grund.
Glottir tungl, en hrín við hrönn
og hratt flýr stund.
High above shines the moon,
pale as ice and gray.
Life and time ebbs away,
and another year is gone.
Let us hold our sparklers aloft,
and light up the dull earth.
The moon smiles, but squeals at crowds,
as time flies by.
Why not join in by visiting a neighborhood bonfire for yourself? You can light sparklers, listen to the songs, and soak up the merry atmosphere.
You’ll see people gathering around bonfires from as early as 3 p.m., but check local listings for exact times and locations.
3. New Year’s addresses
In the Nordic countries, it’s traditional for the leaders of the nation to give an address on New Year’s Eve. This is instead of a Christmas Day speech as in some other countries.
- Thinking of visiting earlier in December? Take a look at these Iceland Christmas vacations.
- Related: Things to see and do in Iceland in December.
Iceland follows this Nordic tradition. In the early evening, both the prime minister and president of Iceland will address the people in separate speeches.
This is a chance for them to reflect on the events of the past year, and offer messages of hope and inspiration for the year ahead.
Áramótaskaupið, or the ‘New Year’s Skit’, is a comedy show put on by RÚV, the main TV channel in Iceland. First broadcast in 1966, the show is an hour-long piece of satire on everything that’s happened over the past year. It’s known as Skaupið for short.
The show parodies people and events of the year from both Iceland and abroad, and is a great example of Icelandic humor. They definitely don’t take themselves too seriously!
These days, you can watch Skaupið with English subtitles, so you can get in on the jokes too. This is the show from 2020, full of Covid references of course.
- Get the lowdown on Iceland’s people and culture.
Áramótaskaupið is shown live on TV at 10:30 p.m. You’ll notice Icelanders flocking home to watch the show before getting ready to ring in the New Year at midnight.
Another thing you can be sure of is that Icelanders will be talking non-stop for the next few weeks about whether this year’s Skaupið was better than the last!
5. Firework shows
As in other countries, New Year’s Eve in Iceland is the night for breathtaking firework displays. You’ll find them all over the country, but the biggest by far is in Reykjavík. Altogether, Icelanders set off about 500 tons of fireworks on this night of celebration!
- See the fireworks on a winter tour of Iceland.
Fireworks in Iceland are normally sold by Björgunarsveitir, the local search and rescue teams. The proceeds from the sales go towards funding their vital services, which are run entirely by volunteers.
Shortly before midnight, people head down to the old harbor area to secure a good spot to watch the impressive firework display. Here you can even join a boat cruise for a unique view of them from the water.
You’ll also find smaller firework shows dotted around the city. A popular spot is the square in front of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church. Other places that are great for seeing the colorful displays are Perlan, which has views over the whole city, and Tjörnin, the main pond.
Beyond Reykjavík, you’ll find firework shows in towns and villages around the countryside. One of the most famous takes place at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Just imagine how the colorful streams of light look reflecting off the glistening icebergs and mirror-like water.
Visiting Reykjavík at New Year’s
If you’ve got your heart set on being in Reykjavík for New Year’s Eve, you’re probably wondering how to make that happen.
It’s a good idea to combine a New Year’s trip with other winter activities, like hunting the Northern Lights or exploring an ice cave. With Iceland Tours, you have a range of New Year’s vacations to choose from.
These packages all include accommodation, local transport, a festive meal, and day trips. This means you’ll get to take part in the celebrations and see Iceland’s jaw-dropping natural wonders for yourself.
All it takes to secure your booking is a 5% deposit. The only thing left to do? Learn how to pronounce Gleðilegt nýtt ár ‘Happy New Year’ in Icelandic!
Best Towns & Cities in Iceland to Visit
The Land of Fire and Ice is best known for its spectacular nature, but towns and cities in Iceland also have a whole lot to offer. You could soak in a local pool with Icelanders, spend an afternoon museum hopping, or fuel up at a cozy café.
Travelers often ask about the best cities in Iceland, but technically there is only one place that earns the big city title: Reykjavík. Read on to get the lowdown on the must-see places and top experiences in the capital.
In this article, you’ll also find the best towns in Iceland to visit. Scattered around the countryside, each has its own unique vibe and attractions. Whether you’re looking for sleepy fishing villages or artsy towns, Iceland has it all.
- Explore Iceland’s capital and small towns on one these multi-day packages from Reykjavík.
Top 10 cities & towns in Iceland to visit
The largest city in Iceland, Reykjavík, is also the country’s lively capital. Most people live here – in fact about two-thirds of the population call it home. Here you’ll find the center of Iceland’s cultural life, including:
- Fascinating museums and galleries packed full of history
- Diverse restaurants and food halls using Icelandic ingredients
- Delightful local swimming pools, a great alternative to the Blue Lagoon
- Buzzing bars with local beers and live music in the evenings
- Cozy cafés, great for afternoon coffee and a slice of cake
There’s so much to see and do that we decided to break it down by neighborhood. So let’s dive in!
You’ll find the oldest part of Reykjavík around the streets of Austurstræti, Bankastræti, and the main shopping street Laugavegur.
Laugavegur is packed full of restaurants featuring cuisine from Iceland and around the world, along with trendy bars and cafés. And you won’t want to miss stopping by the food hall at Hlemmur for a cheap(er) and tasty bite.
- Why not explore snowy Reykjavík on a winter trip to Iceland?
- See this Iceland Restaurant Guide for more on the best places to eat.
Just off Laugavegur are the quaint streets of the Þingholt neighborhood. Here you’ll find classic Icelandic timber-framed houses painted in bright colors. And at the top of the hill, you can’t miss the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, which was for a long time the tallest building in Reykjavík.
The local pool in this part of town is Sundhöllin, found onBarónsstígur street. It’s the oldest in Reykjavík, opened in 1937, but was recently extended with a new outdoor area. Spend an evening relaxing in the ‘hot pots’ (what the locals call hot tubs) and getting to know the city’s residents.
You’ll spot countless museums and art galleries in downtown Reykjavík, including the Settlement Exhibition, Icelandic Phallological Museum, and Reykjavík Art Museum.
The peninsula of Grandi near the old harbor is also known as the Fishpacking District. Historically where fisherman would dock their boats, today it’s home to trendy restaurants and cultural venues.
You can take a wander down the main street, Grandagarður, with its parade of cool eateries (including a legendary ice cream shop). There’s also a food hall with tasty options and a great view over to Harpa and the harbor.
This is also where you’ll find the Icelandic Maritime Museum. Here you can learn about Iceland’s seafaring history and see the Óðinn coastguard ship. Further down Grandagarður is the Marshall building, home to Nýlistasafnið, a contemporary art museum.
At the very end of this peninsula is Þúfan, a permanent artwork inspired by the grass tussocks found all over the Icelandic countryside. Walk to the top, where you’ll get a fantastic view of the city and the Esja mountain across the bay.
The western part of the city is split into two parts either side of the Hringbraut road. On the north side, you’ll find more classic timber-framed houses with cute gardens. You might even spot one of Reykjavík’s many cats!
On the south side, you’ll find the Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool. This has a massive outdoor hot pot and a relaxed vibe, perfect for chewing the fat at the end of a long day.
There’s also a few cafés and restaurants scattered about the neighborhood, along with another legendary local ice cream shop.
- Find out how you can minimize your impact on the local environment with this guide to sustainable travel in Iceland.
This area of town is also home to the National Museum of Iceland, Þjóðminjasafnið. Here you’ll learn about Iceland’s history, from the arrival of the Vikings in the 8th century right up to the present day. It’s also a great place to pick up a locally made souvenir.
You’ll find the Laugardalur valley just to the east of the city center. This leafy neighborhood surrounds a large park, which is home to Reykjavík’s zoo and botanic gardens. In the gardens is a wonderful greenhouse café filled with exotic plants.
On a sunny summer’s afternoon, you can enjoy a stroll through the park and end up at the Laugardalslaug pool. Soak in hot pots, including one with seawater, or swim lengths in the Olympic-sized pool. It also has a slide, so along with the zoo, it’s great for kids!
Near Laugardalur is the terminal for a ferry that takes you over to the island of Viðey, which is packed with birdlife in the summer. It’s a great place to take a stroll and get a different view over the city. In the winter, the Imagine Peace Tower is lit every year on the island as a symbol of world peace.
The town of Akureyri is the capital of North Iceland and the largest settlement in the country outside of the capital area. You might be surprised to find that Akureyri is often warmer and less windy than Reykjavík thanks to its location in a sheltered fjord.
You can enjoy this pleasant weather at the botanical gardens, which include a collection of Arctic plants and a café in a forest.
One building you won’t miss is the church, Akureyrarkirkja, designed by famed Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson (who also conceived Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja). To get to it, you need to climb a ‘stairway to heaven’ from the town center, but it’s well worth it for the view.
Down in the town center itself, you’ll find restaurants and cafés clustered around the main street of Hafnarstræti. A short walk from here are the Hof culture house, which hosts various events throughout the year, and Akureyri Art Museum.
Even if you’ve never been to Iceland, you might well have come across Einstök beer which is sold around the world. It’s brewed right here in Akureyri, and you can taste it for yourself at the Einstök Brewer’s Lounge in the town center.
Akureyri makes a handy base for trips into the countryside of northern Iceland. It’s just over 1 hour’s drive from Lake Mývatn, with its unusual geological formations and hot springs.
- Explore Akureyri and the Mývatn area on an Iceland guided group tour.
3. Hveragerði & Selfoss
Well technically this is two towns, but they’re both in South Iceland and only a short drive from each other along the Ring Road.
Hveragerði is a charming small town filled with heated greenhouses growing flowers and vegetables. The town is in a very geothermally active area, which you will see if you stop by the town’s hot spring park.
To the north side of the town is the walking route to the Reykjadalur valley. Here you can bathe in a naturally warm river, surrounded by Icelandic nature!
- Warm up at Reykjadalur on an Iceland winter self-drive tour.
- Related: Your guide to hot springs and geothermal pools in Iceland.
Selfoss is located further south and is one of the larger settlements in Iceland. It’s home to an ‘old’ town center that features reconstructions of buildings formerly found all over Iceland. The centerpiece is the Mjólkurbú dairy building (below).
These days you’ll find a food hall where you can grab a bite. And in the basement there’s an exhibit about skyr, Iceland’s famous yogurt-like dairy product.
As you drive between Hveragerði and Selfoss, you’ll almost certainly notice endless fields of horses on your way. This region of Iceland is ideal for horseback riding, so if you’re interested then get in touch with a local firm.
The fishing village of Stykkishólmur is the largest settlement on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland and a great place to stop if you’re exploring the area. In fact, Snæfellsjökull National Park – with its very own glacier – is just a short drive away.
Clustered around the old harbor, you’ll find a handful of quaint restaurants offering top-quality local seafood. On the other side of the harbor is the Súgandisey cliff, where you can take in breathtaking views over Breiðafjörður bay.
- Explore the whole Snæfellsnes peninsula on a privately guided tour.
The bay itself is home to dozens of different bird species, including eider ducks. For hundreds of years, Icelanders have collected the duck’s feathers for use in pillows and duvets. At the Eider Center in Stykkishólmur, you can learn all about this traditional local industry.
You’ll find various boat tours operating from the harbor, including bird watching tours in the bay. There are also ferry connections to the island of Flatey, a popular escape for many Icelanders in the summer, and the Westfjords. Speaking of which…
By far the largest settlement in Iceland’s Westfjords, Ísafjörður seems like a metropolis in comparison to its neighboring villages. Nestled on a small peninsula in a dramatic fjord, this historic trading post is well worth checking out.
Its quaint streets are lined with traditional Icelandic timber-framed buildings, clad in corrugated steel and painted in bright colors.
- Delve into the Westfjords on a summer vacation to Iceland.
Step back in time as you learn about the area’s history at the Museum of Everyday Life, where local voices and memories have been curated into a thought-provoking exhibition. The Westfjords Heritage Museum is another great place to visit and discover more about the region’s maritime history.
The town is also home to a surprisingly diverse range of restaurants, so it’s ideal for an evening meal after a day of exploring.
Ísafjörður is a hub for boat trips around the Westfjords. From here, you can sail to the remote Hornstrandir region, now a haven for Arctic foxes after being abandoned in the 20th century. You could also join a whale or bird watching tour from the town’s harbor.
Although the town of Borgarnes was founded in the 19th century, it can trace its history all the way back to the settlement of Iceland in the 8th century. This makes it one of the oldest towns in Iceland.
Skalla-Grímr, a Norwegian who was one of the first settlers, had his farm in the area. You can still visit it today at Borg á Mýrum just to the north of the town. Hike up the small hill behind the farm and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic fjord views.
- Explore the area around Borgarnes on a 7-day trip around Iceland.
Fun fact: in the settlement period, the rule was that men could claim as much land as they could see from a high point in the land. So everything within view from the hill at Borg á Mýrum would have belonged to Skalla-Grímr!
Afterwards, drop by the Settlement Center museum in Borgarnes to uncover more stories about the country’s earliest inhabitants. You can also stop for coffee and cake at one of the town’s cozy cafés.
The colorful small town of Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland is an unexpected haven for artists and musicians. Tucked away in a small fjord, the town is worth visiting just for the stunning drive from the Ring Road around hairpin bends.
Seyðisfjörður has a remarkable collection of well preserved Icelandic architecture. You’ll notice the artistic influence in the town through the bright colors and murals painted on the buildings. Chief among them is the blue church, at the end of a street painted in rainbow colors.
In the summer, Seyðisfjörður hosts LungA art festival, which attracts artists and art fans alike from across the world. Visit at this time of year and you could take part in its program of exhibitions, concerts, workshops, and other events.
- Read all about Iceland’s people and culture.
- Check out more cultural events and festivals in Iceland.
Some of the most interesting restaurants in East Iceland can be found in Seyðisfjörður, so it makes a good afternoon or evening detour. Plus, Seyðisfjörður makes for an easy addition to your Ring Road trip. Just divert off Route 1 (the Ring Road) and follow the 93 road for around 30 minutes to reach the town.
The fishing village of Húsavík has shot to fame in recent years as the setting for the film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The filmmakers even created an ode to the village, which has become a karaoke favorite in Iceland.
But Húsavík also has another, more exciting, claim to fame: it’s the whale watching capital of Iceland. The waters off its coast are rich with different species, including minke whales, fin whales, and pilot whales.
- Check out this guide to the best whale watching in Iceland.
You can learn more about these incredible beasts at Húsavík Whale Museum, which is home to 11 whale skeletons. Visit the Maritime Exhibition at the Culture House afterwards if you want to explore the area’s seafaring history in even more depth.
Húsavík is one of the more remote villages in Iceland, yet it’s only a 1-hour drive from Akureyri. You’ll fall in love with its quaint timber church and seaside charm.
The town of Vestmannaeyjabær is the only settlement in the Westman Islands, a small group of islands off the south coast. The town, which you’ll find on the largest island of Heimaey, has a fascinating backstory.
Historically important due to their location near rich fishing grounds, the Westman Islands were ravaged by a volcanic eruption in 1973. Lava began spreading across Heimaey and made its way towards the town, which was partly swallowed up.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of local fisherman, all the islanders made it safely away. You can learn all about the eruption and see an excavated house at the Eldheimar museum. Today the dormant volcano still looms in the distance.
Because of its compact layout, Vestmannaeyjabær feels different to many other towns in Iceland. As you sail into the harbor, with puffins and other seabirds gliding above, you might well feel like you’ve arrived in the Faroe Islands.
In summer, it’s easy to spot nesting puffins along the cliffs on the west side of town, near the golf course. Here you’ll also find Elephant Rock, a cliff named after its resemblance to the giant land mammal.
- Read all about the best places to spot puffins in Iceland.
The Westman Islands are doable in a day, with multiple ferry sailings a day from Landeyjahöfn harbor on the mainland. You can easily get to Landeyjahöfn from Route 1, just turn right near Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
Surrounded by black sand beaches, Vík is a must-see stop when you’re traveling along Iceland’s south coast. It sits not far from the southernmost point on the Icelandic mainland.
A stone’s throw from the town you’ll find Reynisfjara black sand beach. In fact it’s just on the other side of the mountain to the west of the village. Read this guide to Reynisfjara for the lowdown on this legendary beach.
You can see the famous Reynisdrangar sea stacks from Vík, as well as from Reynisfjara itself. For the best view, head up to Víkurkirkja church. This viewpoint overlooks the whole town, including the beach.
Vík is home to restaurants, including one with a microbrewery. You’ll also find a knitting studio and another great local pool.
If you’re on a camping trip, there is a large campsite in Vík with good facilities. It’s also just across the road from the local supermarket.
How to see Iceland’s towns and cities
There are plenty of different ways to travel between Iceland’s towns and villages. If you want the freedom to explore them all, then a self-drive tour is the answer. In your own rental car, you can go when you want, where you want.
A multi-day tour from Reykjavík will allow you to explore the towns of South Iceland, West Iceland, and the Snæfellsnes peninsula. And because you’ll be traveling by bus, you can skip the driving.
With a package from Iceland Tours, you get accommodation, local transport, and a detailed itinerary included. What’s more, you can lock in your booking with just a 5% deposit.
So what’s stopping you? Start planning your urban adventure in Iceland today!
All About the Vikings in Iceland: Origin & Facts
Icelanders are undoubtedly the descendants of Vikings. Before the Vikings arrived in Iceland, the country had been inhabited by Irish monks but they had since then given up on the isolated and rough terrain and left the country without even so much as a listed name.
So, when the Viking started arriving to the Land of Fire and Ice, they tried their hand at giving it a title that would stick. Ideas such as Thule, Sæland and Garðarshólmi have been found in documents, but none of them particularly caught on.
It wasn’t until Hrafna-Flóki, one of the early travelers in mid-9th century, stayed in Iceland over winter that Iceland got its name. One day after the harsh winter, he walked up to one of the surrounding mountains near Flókalundur and found himself overlooking fjords packed with ice. The name stared him in the eye and Iceland came to be.
- Follow in the footsteps of Vikings on an Iceland vacation.
Nowadays, Hrafna-Flóki is still one of Iceland‘s best-recognized Vikings. He infamously sailed to Iceland and brought with him his 3 ravens, one of which eventually flew back with a straw in mouth indicating in which direction Hrafna-Flóki should sail to.
This is believed to be how he found his way to Iceland. He, however, like many, would return to Scandinavia. As it turns out, Icelandic nature is a force to reckon with, endured by only the most stubborn of humans.
The one who is given credit as the first Icelandic settler is Ingólfur Arnarson, as he was the first to stay permanently in the year 874, and chose Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, to be his home. His brother, Hjörleifur, came with him accompanied by a flock of men.
Still today you’ll find locations and symbols originating from those men. Not only in place names but also in commemorative statues and rebuilt settlements all around the country. This is why many say that when you visit Iceland, you’ll quickly see that Icelanders are extremely proud of their heritage.
There are many different ways for you to explore the Viking age in Iceland. Like all historical sites, they are best enjoyed with a little pre-existing knowledge. So, this blog is here to help.
Let’s start by going over some of the fun facts, followed by the most famous Vikings, eventually leading to some tips on fantastic places and activities that really set the scene for your full Iceland Viking experience.
Fun facts about the Vikings of Iceland
- Many of the Vikings that came to Iceland were simply fleeing rules and regulations in the Scandinavian countries. Many say that this is why Icelanders have always been hard to tame.
- The Icelandic Vikings founded one of the first democratic parliaments in the world!
- The Vikings did not wear hats with horns on them, instead Viking warriors wore metal helmets resembling those found in other parts of Northern Europe at that time.
- Far from what was common at the time, Viking women in Iceland could divorce their men. Furthermore, they could inherit property!
- Typical Viking hobbies included wrestling, horse riding, swimming, racing, building things, chess, archery, competitive eating, and competitive drinking.
- Archaeological findings have proven that Viking men and women wore jewelry, it had more to do with status/wealth rather than gender.
- Upon arrival, the Vikings built turf houses to live in and some of those can still be visited to this day!
- One of the more famous and celebrated of the Vikings is Auður Djúpúðga, a female Viking who ran her own crew and settled in Iceland.
- Before the Vikings came to Iceland, Irish monks had taken up a settlement. However, this didn’t last long and they had left before getting a chance to mix with the Nordic voyagers.
- Some say that Náttfari, a slave of Garðar Svavarsson (the one who named Iceland ‘Garðarsholmi’) might have been the first to settle Iceland in early 9th century. However, since he was a slave he has never received credit.
Where did the Vikings in Iceland come from?
Who these Vikings were can be a bit hard to explain, as the word ‘Viking’ has various meanings in different languages. For some it means ‘someone who sails’, for others the word is more of an occupation.
Historically it has often been linked with violence, which is perhaps not surprising given that Vikings did raid towns and villages on their journeys across the seas, famously taking anything they wanted. This enable them not only to increase their wealth but also to kidnap workers, and even future wives.
The majority of male settlers came from the Nordic countries, largely Norway. However, most female settlers came from the British Isles. This further supports the theory that Vikings kidnapped women.
Who were the most famous Icelandic Vikings?
1. Ingólfur Arnarson
Ingólfur Arnarson, the founder of Iceland, traveled to Iceland with the intention to settle there permanently after he was made an outlaw from Norway. This is thought to have been around 870 AD.
He traveled with his sister, brother-in-law and their families. After a long journey across the North Atlantic, they laid out to sea two large wooden logs and then sent their slaves to find where they had landed. He pledged to settle where they would land.
The search took 3 years but he kept his promise, settling in a bay we now know as Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital.
You can find a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson right across from Harpa Concert Hall. It stands tall on the hill Arnarhóll, also named after our Viking settler.
2. Auður Djúpúðga Ketilsdóttir
Auður Djúpúðga came from a noble lineage and married Ólafur the White. Her son would later become a king in northern Scotland. However, when the son was overthrown and killed, her status became unstable.
By this point in time, her husband had passed and there was no prospect of revenge or reconciliation. So Auður had a ship prepared in secret out in the woods, slowly gathering stock and food for a journey to Iceland.
When the ship was all set and ready to launch, she set off, traveling with her daughter in law and family. In the famous Laxdæla saga, Auður is said to have ‘traveled with twenty free men’. On her way to Iceland, she stopped in Orkney and married off one of her granddaughters, doing the same in the Faroe Islands.
When Auður arrived in Iceland in the late 9th century, her ship broke off the coast of Iceland near Selfoss, but everyone made it out alive. She traveled to see her brother, Helgi, who lived in Kjalarnes, but when he could only host half of her crew she left him and traveled further north to try her luck with her brother Bjarni.
He would host them all for the winter, but come spring she traveled once again, this time settling in Dalalönd near Hvalfjörður. She gave many of her fellow travelers part of her land, but she herself named her farmstead Hvammur.
A few years later, Auður decided to marry off her grandson and give him her farm as a wedding gift. The wedding was planned to last 3 days and to be a funeral service for her as well.
Not long after she passed and was buried on the beach. She did this due to the fact that at this time there was no church in Iceland and therefore no holy ground to lie in, as Auður had been christened.
3. Erik the Red
Born in Norway but having moved to Iceland as a young man, Erik the Red sailed from Iceland to Greenland and is credited to have ‘found’ it.
He of course didn’t, as there were indigenous people there already. However, he is credited for the world’s first publicity stunt naming the country this fertile name to get people to move over!
Furthermore, he is also the father of Leif the Lucky who is sometimes credited to have found America. Again, another place that was already settled. Leif the Lucky however didn’t settle long-term North America and the reason is said to have been that it was hard to keep slaves in America, because there was too much good land for them to escape to. In Iceland, this wasn’t much of a problem.
You can see Leif’s statue in front of Hallgrímskirkja cathedral in downtown Reykjavik.
If you want to visit the homestead of Erik the Red, named Eiríksstaðir it has now been turned into a beautifully preserved museum.
Other notable characters during the first few centuries in Iceland
- Grettir Ásmundarson
- Egill Skallagrímsson
- Gunnar á Hlíðarenda
- Hallgerður Langbrók
- Snorri Sturluson (who wrote Sturlungasaga)
- Ari the Wise
Viking tours and activities in Iceland
If you are looking for an extensive guide on how to travel like a Viking in Iceland, look no further. Below you will find a quick peak into how to incorporate these interesting historical stories into an impressive Viking tour of Iceland.
1. Viking Sushi Boat Tour
Sushi might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of taking on the role of an Icelandic Viking.
However, if you really think about it they did a lot of sailing and eating fish, and that is pretty much what you will be doing on this incredible freshly caught sushi experience. The Viking Sushi Boat Tour takes the Viking to a modern age!
2. The Viking Village Festival in Iceland
In early June every year, the town of Hafnarfjörður is buzzing with all things Viking-related. If you go to the town center, you can literally just chase the scent of burning meat and you’ll arrive in the most magical 9th-century setting. It literally feels like you just time-traveled!
- Related: Best towns & cities in Iceland to visit.
The Vikings (who are actually just normal people who live parts out of their years as actual Vikings) set up camp, cook, sell souvenirs, fight, and craft, and you can join in!
3. Viking World Museum
The Viking World Museum is located in Faxaflói bay near Keflavík airport. The exhibitions are incredibly detailed with inputs from global institutions, such as the Smithsonian. My favorite part is ‘the Icelander’, a full size and fully equipped replica of a Viking ship, like the ones they used when sailed to Iceland.
If you are looking to explore the Norse settlement and Icelandic history a bit more, this is a stop for you!
4. Tasting Viking-style beer
Iceland might not be a tropical island with an abundance of fruits and fertile gifts, but what the land gives the locals have gotten expert at utilizing.
This being said, Icelanders can grow barely locally and have access to intensely great water. Are you following? I am of course talking about the delicious beer in Iceland. Don’t leave the island without a sip.
5. Visiting the Sun Voyager
A stroll around Reykjavik is not complete without a stop at the stunning Sun Voyager down by the sea. Its inspiration is undoubtedly from a Viking ship and its location simply makes for the most idyllic scene. No matter the season, this iron sculpture never ceases to amaze!
6. Traveling to Stokksnes
Stokksnes (or Vestrahorn, it goes by a few names) is one of those places that you truly take your breath away. It is located in East Iceland and was, up until a few years ago, only known to the close-knit local community.
Today you might recognize the setting from Instagram representations of Iceland as the location has gotten very popular with the grammers. However, Stokksnes still somehow manages to keep its remote feel as Iceland might have looked like before anyone settled.
The vast open space really is awe-inspiring. You can’t help but relate to the Vikings that decided to stay.
7. The Settlement Exhibition
The Settlement Exhibition in downtown Reykjavík is built around the ruins of an old Viking Longhouse. This is one of the oldest man-made structures ever to be found in Iceland!
The exhibition focuses on the life and work of the first settlers giving you the tools to really put yourself in their shoes. Imagining what it might have been like to live on this remote island in the middle of the North Atlantic in the 9th century.
The exhibition is a true gem located in the busy downtown area!
8. The Saga Museum
The Saga Museum is conveniently located right down by the harbor in Reykjavík, not far from the hipster district Grandi. It is quite small but an informative museum on the early Icelandic history with great attention to detail. Especially when it comes to the wax figures!
They offer knowledgeable audio guides in multiple languages telling fascinating stories but if you are more on the visual side of things there’s a video too!
9. Visiting Stöng in Þjórsárdalur
For those who became obsessed with Viking tales through shows like Game of Thrones, this place should most definitely be on your Iceland bucket list. This is where they filmed the legendary scene where the Wildlings killed a whole village leaving the young boy, Olly, as the sole survivor.
The farmhouse Stöng in the valley of Þjórsárdalur was reconstructed based on the pre-existing farmhouse from the Commonwealth Era. Its story is quite tragic, as the farm is believed to have been destroyed in one of Hekla’s volcanic eruptions.
When building it they really took their time, carefully making sure that it was accurate and monumental. Today it is in a stellar form allowing visitors to study the architecture of our ancestors and understand their everyday lives.
What other sites are interesting to explore?
The south coast has abundance of sites related to the Vikings and the old sagas. The Dalir region on the edge of the Westfjords is the scene of many Vikings feuds. Last but not least, Borgarfjörður fjord is the home of the boisterous Iceland-born Viking and poet Egill Skallagrímsson.
Best Museums in Reykjavík
Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, is a buzzing cultural hub. Here you can spend the day flitting between cool cafés, modern art galleries, and fascinating museums. In fact, museums are a great way to learn about Iceland’s cultural and natural history. But what are the best museums in Reykjavík?
Below we’ve rounded up some Reykjavík museums that we think you’ll love. If history’s your thing, delve into the country’s past at the National Museum of Iceland or learn about Viking pioneers at the Settlement Exhibition.
If nature’s more your vibe, visit Whales of Iceland at Perlan or Aurora Reykjavík. And for modern culture, there are art museums and countless galleries.
- Soak up Icelandic culture on one of these multi-day tours from Reykjavík.
So whilst the question of which museum in Reykjavík is best depends on your own interests, you’re bound to find one that interests you. Let’s dive in!
Top 10 museums in Reykjavík
1. National Museum of Iceland
Location: Suðurgata 41, 102 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day, closed Mondays Sep–Apr
The National Museum of Iceland offers a great overview of Icelandic history and culture in one place. The permanent exhibition, Making of a Nation, starts in the settlement era of the 8th century and spans right up to the present day.
Here you’ll also find a selection of rotating temporary exhibitions on Iceland’s culture and history. Past exhibitions have covered Icelandic art, fashion, music, and the sagas, as well as the local history of different regions like North Iceland.
- Read our Travel Guide to find out more about Icelandic people & culture.
The museum is also home to a café and a small gift shop. A great place to pick up an authentic Icelandic souvenir from your trip whilst supporting a local institution!
2. Árbær Open Air Museum
Location: Kistuhylur, 110 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 1 p.m.–5 p.m. Sep–May, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Jun–Aug
Árbær Open Air Museum is built on the site of a former farm and opened as a museum in 1957. As you wander between its 20 historic buildings, you get a real sense of what life in a small Icelandic town must have been like in times past.
The buildings at the site have mostly been moved there from central Reykjavík. Iceland has a strong tradition of relocating its old timber-framed houses, which are often small enough to fit on the back of a truck in one piece.
- See traditional Icelandic buildings around the country on a self-drive tour.
This living history museum also hosts temporary exhibitions. Past ones have included toys, vintage cars, and Reykjavík in the 20th century.
As this is mostly an outdoor museum, it’s a great place to go with kids. It’s not far from the Elliðaá river park, where you can go for a walk along the banks on a sunny day.
Good to know: Along with the Settlement Exhibition and Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Árbær Open Air Museum is part of Reykjavík City Museum. With the City Card, you can get access to all museums and galleries run by the city council, as well as the National Museum. What’s more, it gets you into the city pools!
3. Icelandic Phallological Museum
Location: Kalkofnsvegur 2, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–7 p.m. every day
Well, you probably have a lot of questions about this one. Where do we start? The Icelandic Phallological Museum boasts the questionable title of having the world’s largest collection of penises and penis-related art.
The museum itself was founded in the village of Húsavík in North Iceland by former Spanish teacher Sigurður Hjartarson. The museum grew with donations from Sigurður’s friends and family, including several whale penises and a bull pizzle (no, we don’t know either).
In 2012, he handed operations over to his son, who moved the museum south to Reykjavík and expanded its collection even further. Today it’s become a must-visit attraction for anyone passing through Iceland’s capital.
For avid penis fans, an annual pass is available. You’d have to be quite the admirer to beat the record of 43 visits in one year though!
4. Saga Museum
Location: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day
At the Saga Museum, you can see moments from the famous Sagas of Icelanders brought to life. These ancient stories record the lives of real Icelanders, although normally with a big helping of fantasy and magic mixed in.
This museum focuses on the earlier eras of Icelandic history, starting at the point the landmass itself was formed 15 million years ago. It then fast-forwards to the first settlers, telling the stories of Norwegians who fled their homeland to start life in the new Icelandic colony.
Most of the Icelandic sagas are set in this period, although many weren’t written down until centuries later. So if you’re interested in learning more about the Viking culture of ancient Iceland, stop by the Saga Museum.
5. The Settlement Exhibition
Location: Aðalstræti 16, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day
If you walk along Aðalstræti from Ingólfstorg square, you’ll notice a murky glass window in the pavement. Look through it and you’ll get a glimpse of ancient Viking remains.
It’s these 9th-century remains that the Settlement Exhibition has been built around. They were unearthed during construction works in 2001 and are the oldest physical evidence of the settlement of Reykjavík. The remains are part of a longhouse, a type of building common in Viking times.
As well as the remains, the museum has interactive exhibits about life in Iceland during the settlement era. These are perfect for kids and big kids alike, so why not spend the afternoon here connecting with your inner Viking?
6. Reykjavík Maritime Museum
Location: Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day
As an island nation, Icelanders have developed a deep relationship with the sea. For centuries, fishing was the main industry and food source in Iceland. Even today, many remote villages around the country are dependent on fishing.
At the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, you can learn about the fishing history in Iceland from around 150 years ago. It was around then that large-scale fishing was first practiced. The museum also looks at the land-based industries that sprang up around the fisheries, such as boatmaking, sailmaking, and fish processing.
Fishing has always been a dangerous way to make a living, with men at sea for weeks or months at a time in often brutal conditions. Fishermen came up with different ways of keeping their spirits up and staying entertained, which you can also learn about here.
The museum is located in Grandi, the city’s former fishpacking district. After an afternoon looking around the exhibition, you can stop off at the nearby Grandi Mathöll for dinner. This trendy food hall is one of dozens of great places to eat in the district. So support local and order some Icelandic fish!
Location: Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day, closed Mondays
Now run by the National Gallery of Iceland, Safnahúsið or the ‘House of Collections’ is one of the most beautiful buildings in Reykjavík. It was designed in 1906 by a Danish architect, originally to house Iceland’s national library.
Over the years the building has been home to a number of institutions. Until recently it was known as the Culture House, or Þjóðmenningarhúsið. Visit today and you’ll find all sorts of art-focused exhibitions put together by the National Gallery and National Museum.
Check the gallery’s website for the latest info on what’s on.
8. Reykjavík Art Museum
Location: Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Thursdays
Reykjavík Art Museum is actually spread over 3 locations across the city, but its main gallery is on Tryggvagata in the heart of downtown. This gallery is housed in an old harbor warehouse, known as Hafnarhús, built in the modernist style.
Today it’s home to a permanent exhibition of works by Erró, one of Iceland’s most famous painters. Known for his pop art style, he has produced over 4,000 works and donated many of them to the museum.
Hafnarhús doubles as a music venue. It’s often used for the annual Iceland Airwaves festival as one of the main performance areas. So if you’re going to the festival, you might well drop in here by accident!
- Get the lowdown on festivals with our guide to events in Iceland.
9. Whales of Iceland
Location: Fiskislóð 23–25, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. every day
A stone’s throw from the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Whales of Iceland focuses on the biggest species found in Icelandic waters. Here you can get up close and personal with lifesize replicas of the main whale species found around Iceland.
Whales of Iceland offers a number of ways to learn about these majestic creatures. As well as the touchable lifesize models, there are interactive exhibits and a VR experience that takes you underwater. All this makes the museum a great family-friendly option.
10. Aurora Reykjavík
Location: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: 9 a.m.–9 p.m. every day
The Northern Lights can sometimes be tricky to track down, even in perfect winter conditions. If you don’t manage to see them for yourself, you can stop by Aurora Reykjavík. Here you can watch an immersive video experience of the lights in the museum’s aurora theater.
You’ll also learn about the significance of the Northern Lights in Icelandic culture. As scientists didn’t properly understand what causes the aurora until the early 20th century, there are lots of myths around their origin and meaning.
If you’re planning to join a Northern Lights hunting tour, it might be worth a stop here beforehand for a photography class. You’ll get tips and tricks on how to take photos of these colorful ribbons as they dance across the sky!
Location: Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavík
Opening hours: Exhibitions open 9 a.m.–7 p.m.
Whilst Perlan isn’t technically a museum itself, it’s home to a few exhibitions that focus on Icelandic nature along with some other attractions.
- Check out our Travel Guide to learn more about Iceland’s nature & landscape.
You can see this huge domed building from many places all over Reykjavík. It’s worth visiting for the view from the observation deck alone. Here you get a full panorama over the city and a glimpse of the Esja mountain beyond.
There are currently 6 nature-themed exhibits at Perlan, including a journey through a reconstructed ice cave and a replica of the Látrabjarg bird cliff in the Westfjords. There’s also an exhibit on Icelandic nature, as well as video shows on the Northern Lights and seas of Iceland.
- See a real ice cave for yourself on an Iceland adventure tour.
- Blog: Your guide to ice caves and lava caves in Iceland.
Once you’ve checked out the exhibits you can grab a bite to eat at the café on the top floor. It’s here that you’ll also find Perlan’s newest attraction: a zipline! Probably best to eat after you fly down the zipline though.
How many museums are in Reykjavík?
We’ve listed just a handful of our favorite museums in Reykjavík, but Iceland’s capital is home to even more. You’ll also find museums in rural locations around the country, including along the south coast, in the Westman Islands, and in North Iceland.
- See more of the country on one of these Iceland vacation packages.
Are museums free in Reykjavík?
Most museums in Iceland charge a small admission fee to help support the museum’s work and preserve its collections. That said, some museums have free entry for kids!
Concessions are often available for students or elderly people, but check at the desk before you buy your ticket to be sure.
Are museums open on Sunday in Reykjavík?
Yes, most museums in Reykjavík are open on Sundays. It’s always worth checking the opening hours in case you are planning to visit on a public holiday though. Also, it’s good to know that some museums in Iceland are closed on Mondays.
Planning your visit to Reykjavík
Every trip to Iceland should include a day or two in Reykjavík. As well as museums, it has exciting places to eat mixed with cozy cafés and cool bars. And in the evenings you can go for walks along the beautiful coast or unwind in one of the heated city pools.
If you take a multi-day tour from Reykjavík, you’ll be based in the city and join different excursions into the countryside each day. This will give you plenty of time to explore everything the capital has to offer and get out into Icelandic nature.
And because multi-day tours are by bus, they’re also a lower-carbon way to travel around Iceland.
Now that you’re itching to experience the best of Reykjavík’s culture, you can start planning your trip. With Iceland Tours, you can choose your own departure date and secure your booking with just a 5% deposit. So what’s holding you back?
Björk: Everything You Need to Know About Iceland’s Most Famous Export
Björk was Iceland’s first celebrity to truly achieve overseas fame. However, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, as she is called by her full name, is by every definition, an icon of the Icelandic culture scene. In her unique, quirky, and unapologetic way she has charmed the world and she is nowhere close to retiring.
The short version of her life and career is captured in this video, but stick around if you want some deeper knowledge!
- See the nature that inspired Björk on an Iceland adventure trip.
Björk, the early years
Björk was born on 21 November 1964 in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavík. Her parents, Guðmundur (union leader and electrician) and Hildur Rúna (activist) divorced early in her life and she went on to live with her mother in a commune.
Her stepfather was a guitarist in a band called Pops, so music was surely a part of her upbringing. At the age of six, Björk was enrolled in a music school for children where she studied classical piano and the flute thus marking the beginning of her music career.
Where it all began
At one of the school’s recitals, Björk was recorded singing by her teacher. Luckily, this teacher then sent in the tape to the leading radio station in Iceland. So, the recording of Björk singing was broadcast nationally.
Eventually, she landed a recording contract which led to her self-titled début album Björk. The album was recorded when she was 11, but released in December 1977. Björk contained famous Icelandic children songs sung by Björk.
Björk, the teen
From lighthearted children’s music, the ever so cool 14-year-old Björk formed an all-girl punk band, called (in English) Spit and Snot. And, the following year she would not only start a new band, this time a jazz fusion group called Exodus, but also graduate from music school.
In 1982, Björk and bassist Jakob Magnússon formed the group Tappi Tíkarrass which roughly translates in English to ‘Cork Bitch’s Ass’ – never a dull moment in linguistics.
The group was later featured in the documentary Rock in Reykjavík, where a famous photo of Björk in a yellow dress was used for the cover. Fun Fact: You can actually find this cover sold as a poster in many of the local tourist and book shops downtown!
Björk, the young adult
Rokka Rokka Drum was the next group that Björk formed. This was the first time Björk had worked with poet Sjón, whom she had long known and shared a close friendship. Around the same time, she met guitarist Þór Eldon, who she would later date and who fathered her son.
It was right around this time that Björk started to develop the vocalization she is still known for today: the howls and high-pitched shrieks.
But where did her signature sound come from? A radio show in Iceland called Áfangar was suddenly cancelled. To celebrate the end of the show with a bang, a few artists were asked to play the final live show.
Björk, Einar Melax, Einar Örn Benediktsson, Sigtryggur Baldursson, Guðlaugur Óttarsson, and Birgir Mogensen played the gig. Together, on this night, they developed a gothic rock sound. They played so well together, they decided to continue playing together as a group using the name Kukl (meaning sorcery in Icelandic).
Kukl, the band
Kukl released their first single in 1983, followed by a performance a music festival in Iceland headlined by the English anarchist punk band Crass. The headlining band loved Kukl’s act and their record label, Crass Records offered the band a record deal.
Furthermore, the following year the album The Eye was released leading to a 2-month tour around Europe where Kukl performed at the famous Roskilde festival in Denmark, becoming the first Icelandic band ever to play that gig.
The following year, Björk discovered she was pregnant. She continued touring, but the band eventually split up. Subsequently, Björk and Þór Eldon got married in 1986 and welcomed their son Sindri into the world a little later.
In the summer of 1986, Einar Örn and Björk’s then-husband Þór Eldon formed the art collective Smekkleysa or ‘Bad Taste’ as it was called in English. The plan for it was to be both a record label and a book publishing company and old friends came in to take part.
As time went by, the Kukl band was half-reestablished and they started playing again. At one of their earlier performances the band, however, started referring to themselves as the Sugarcubes or Sykurmolarnir in Icelandic and it stuck. That was to become the beginning of something big!
On a personal level, Björk and Þór had divorced but kept working together.
The Sugarcubes go abroad
On Björk’s 21st birthday, they released their first 2songs and by the end of that year they were already signed. They translated one of their first singles, Afmæli, and on 17 August 1987 it was released in the UK under the name Birthday. The following week it would win single of the week by Melody Maker. By 1988, the Sugarcubes were signed in the US and their they recorded their first album Life’s Too Good.
The album sold well and the Sugarcubes toured North America and received tons of positive feedback. The band even went on to appear on Saturday Night Live.
Sadly their following album Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week didn’t turn out to be as successful and Björk started working on her solo stuff. She had by this time decided to leave the band but was bound by contract to finish the third album and follow it up with a tour.
She held her end of the deal and Stick Around for Joy came out in 1992. Although not long-lived, Rolling Stone called the Sugarcubes the biggest rock band to emerge from Iceland.
Björk goes solo
Some of Björk’s first solo work was for Sódóma Reykjavík which would later prove to be somewhat of an Icelandic cult movie. She was featured on 2 songs on the soundtrack.
She also took on some background vocals, but one of her best-selling albums in Iceland is still a jazz collective album she collaborated on with Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar called Gling-Gló.
However, around this time Björk’s interest in house music also came about when she contributed vocals on the 808 State’s album Ex:el. In the same year, she met harp player Corky Hale whim whom a recording session would spark her future album Debut.
Björk moves to London
In 1993, she began working with producer Nellee Hooper who was, amongst others, famous for producing Massive Attack. Their collaboration birthed Björk’s first international solo hit Human Behaviour. It didn’t receive loads of radio time but it did gain a lot of airtime, especially on MTV.
The video was directed by Michel Gondry and they were to work a lot together in the following years.
Björk’s first solo album
Björk’s first solo album Debut came out in June 1993 and was named Album of the Year by NME, eventually going platinum in the US. The album had some personal songs for Björk, many of which she has written as a teenager. It varied greatly in instrumentation yet maintained a dancy rhythm throughout.
- ‘Venus as a Boy’
- ‘Like Someone in Love’
- ‘The Anchor Song’
Björk, the award-winning artist
The following year, Björk was greatly awarded at the Brit Awards, winning Best International Female and the Best International Newcomer. Her acknowledgment led to some seriously high-profile collaborations. She worked with David Arnold on the song ‘Play Dead’ for the film The Young Americans and later appeared on tracks for Plain before co-writing the song ‘Bedtime Story’ for none other than Madonna!
Björk’s next album was released in June 1995 and was called Post. She collaborated with some new artists for this project, which you can see in some of the work as trip-hop and electric sounds start to show on tracks like ‘Possibly Maybe’ and ‘Enjoy’. This is said to have been influenced by Howie B, Tricky, and her old friend Graham Massey.
The album was a total hit, landing a place on any top album list during that time. Reaching its height in 2003, when the album was ranked at 373 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Not too shabby!
Perhaps, the most famous song on Post.
1997 and onwards
Björk’s next album Homogenic was released in 1997. This album marked a noticeable shift in style and never before had she been this personal, emotional, and experimental, which many would still say was her style. Some of the beats on the album are thought to reflect the landscape of Björk’s home country Iceland very visible in the song ‘Jóga’.
The album reached gold in the US in 2001. And contained songs like:
- ‘All Is Full of Love’ (first music video ever to be released on DVD)
The musical trial
In 1999 Björk, was accepted to write and produce the score the musical-film Dancer in the Dark. The film was directed by Lars Von Trier who after a lot of effort, managed to convince Björk to take on the leading role of Selma. The film debuted on the 53rd Cannes Film Festival and received the Palme d’Or with Björk receiving the best Actress Award for her role. She was later quoted as saying this would be her only musical she would ever do.
The soundtrack, however, went even further and was released with the title Selmasongs. One of the songs on the album ‘I’ve Seen It All,’ which was a duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, went on to be nominated for an Academy Award and was performed at the 2001 Oscars. This is when Björk famously showed up wearing her legendary, Marjan Pejoski’s Swan Dress.
Björk in the early 2000s
In 2001, Björk released yet another album, her fastest-selling album to date, selling 2 million copies in one year. The album is called Vespertine.
This was her biggest project yet, bringing in artists from a wide spectrum and needing acoustics at the highest level for her subsequent shows. The album featured chamber orchestras, hushed vocals, harpists, DJs, choirs, household-made micro beats, and personal, vulnerable themes.
The album consisted of songs such as:
- ‘Hidden Place’
- ‘Pagan Poetry’
During the tour of the album, Björk was accompanied by Matmos, Parkins, and perhaps, most surprisingly, an Inuit choir, who she had traveled to Greenland to audition.
In 2002, the CD box set Family Tree was released. It consists of selected rare material which had never-seen-before compositions, including her work with the Brodsky Quartet.
Alongside it she also released a greatest hits album. Those songs were carefully chosen through a fan pool on Björk’s website and a DVD collection of all her solo music videos!.
In late 2002, Björk gave birth to daughter Ísadóra Bjarkardottir Barney. She is the daughter of Björk and Matthew Barney an American contemporary artist and director. They were together from 2000–2013.
In 2004, the Medúlla album was released. Björk originally intended the album to be completely vocal-based album, working with artists like throat singer Tanya Tagaq, beatboxer Rahzel, beatboxer Dokaka, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Robert Wyatt, and several choirs, but eventually led instruments into the production. The album received a Grammy nomination.
Later that year, Björk performed ‘Oceania’, specially written for the occasion at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. As she sang, her dress slowly started spreading out revealing a 10,000 sq foot map of the world. The map then blew over all the athletes competing creating a magical moment at the opening ceremony.
Songs to appear in the following months were, ‘Triumph of a Heart’ and ‘Where Is the Line’.
2005 to 2010
In 2005, Björk and then-partner Matthew Barney collaborated on an experimental film. This was Björk’s second film at the time, called Drawing Restraint 9.
Through the film they explored Japanese culture and in the film the couple turn into whales. Björk also did the film’s soundtrack. T
his was quite the film year for Björk but she additionally appeared in the documentary Screaming Masterpiece, which delves into the Icelandic music scene. In it clips of the Sugarcubes, Tappi Tíkarrass, and interviews with Björk are displayed.
Right around this time, Björk was, for the second time, the winner of the Best International Female Solo Artist at the Brit Awards. She was also awarded the Inspiration Award at the Annual Q Magazine Awards, an honor which she accepted from Robert Wyatt, who she had collaborated on Medúlla with.
In 2007, Björk released Volta, a full-length studio album ranging the whole spectrum. It consisted of inputs from artist like hop hip produced and ‘The Way I Are’ star, Timbaland, singer Anohni, poet Sjón (with her in the Sugarcubes), kora master Toumani Diabaté, electro beat programmer Mark Bell, an all-female Icelandic choir, and pipe player Min Xiaofen. Volta was Björk’s first album to reach the top 10 in the US, but also reached number 3 in France and 7 in the UK.
Some of the best recognized songs from the album:
- ‘Earth Intruders’
- ‘Declare Independence’
- ‘The Dull Flame of Desire’
The next release we saw from Björk was quite the original one. It was announced by an eBay auction. It was a new track named Náttúra (‘Nature’) and was intended to ‘encourage active support for a more environmental approach to Iceland’s natural resources’, reflecting Björk’s longstanding environmental activism.
Björk from 2010
In June 2010, Björk, in collaboration with Dirty Projectors, announced that they would be creating a joint EP, called Mount Wittenberg Orca, intended to raise money and awareness for marine conservation. Later that year she released ‘Comet Song’ which featured on the Moomins and the Comet Chase soundtrack.
The same year Björk collaborated with fellow Icelander Ólöf Arnalds on a song called ‘Surrender’.
On 7 December 2010, she released a song called ‘Trance’, which she had been keeping for some time. It was also a backing track of a short film made by artist Nick Knight, titled ‘To Lee, with Love’, as a tribute to McQueen. Björk collaborated with him on multiple occasions.
In 2011, Björk released Biophilia and managed to surprise everyone with her originality and creativeness. The album was much more than just an album but it combined music with technological innovation and themes of both nature and science.
It was the world’s first app album and each song had its own app to be downloaded. In 2014, they were made permanent in the MoMA in New York.
The project also entailed an educational collaborations with specialized workshops for school children aged 10–12, bringing together music and science. The program was eventually bought by the Reykjavík City Board of Education to all schools in the city over the following three years.
Biophilia toured for 2 years and included songs such as:
In 2013, Björk was featured alongside Sir David Attenborough in a Channel 4 documentary called when Björk met David Attenborough. They discussed the human relationship with music putting the main focus on Biophilia.
The next album to come from Björk was Vulnicura, made in workmanship with Arca and Haxan Cloak. This was Björk’s ninth album.
Tragically, the supposed full version of the album leaked 2 months before only days after being announced. In an effort to salvage the loss in sales and publicity, and to make sure the fans got the proper quality version, it was made available worldwide on iTunes.
This invasion was probably even more personal since the album was Björk’s chronicle of her break-up with Matthew Barney.
- ‘Black Lake’
- ‘Mouth Mantra’
Björk at MoMA
In 2015, New York’s Museum of Modern Art hosted an exhibition covering Björk’s career from Debut to Biophilia. Although this hadn’t been previously announced, some parts of Vulnicura were included.
On 2 October 2015, Vulnicura Strings was announced. The album was an acoustic version of the previous hit record. It featured additional string arrangements plus the viola organista, a unique string instrument played on a keyboard designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Moreover, only a week later the live version was announced on a double CD/LP set, but that it would be sold exclusively through Rough Trade record shops. It sold out in five days. Each format is limited to 1,000 copies each, making it one of the rarest physical releases of her recent career.
Vulnicura went on to be nominated for a Grammy Award.
In June 2016, Björk opened the Björk Digital virtual reality exhibition in Sydney, Australia. The exhibition showcases all the virtual reality videos completed for Vulnicura so far. It was also the world premiere of Notget.
Björk made the exhibition into immersive visual worlds using 360-degree cameras, drones, and 3D printing. Subsequently, this is also around the same time she started using custom-made masks more. Here‘s a fantastic video with the mask-maker James Merry.
She DJed the opening night in Sydney, returning in Tokyo for the same show. During her time in Tokyo, Björk made world history by featuring in the first-ever virtual reality live stream via YouTube.
Additionally, Björk gave a live performance of the Vulnicura song ‘Quicksand’, with the footage being incorporated into the ‘Quicksand’ VR experience.
Björk Digital has traveled around the world, making stops in London, Montreal, Barcelona, Los Angeles, and Houston.
Björk the activist
In 201,7 Björk once again used her music to put the focus on important issues when she announced a special box set of 7 records would be launched to support Planned Parenthood.
It featured a wide range of musicians, visual artists, comedians, and authors, all of whom have contributed new, previously unreleased or rare material.
In 2017, Utopia hit the market again working with Acra on its production. Funnily, Björk has described it as her Tinder (dating app) album, alluding that the one before was her heartbreak album. By the same token, the album was completely different from any other. Decorated with flutists and Björk even playing the flute herself.
The album was nominated for the Best Alternative Music Album, making it Björk’s fifteenth nomination for the Grammys.
Songs from the album include.
- ‘The Gate’
- ‘Blissing Me’
- ‘Arisen My Senses’
In 2018, Björk announced a new project, Cornucopia, which opened in May 2019 at the Shed. It is Björk’s most elaborate stage concert to date.
Things you might not know about Björk
- Björk was actually a child star in Iceland.
- By the age of 12, she has already debuted her first album.
- The name Björk is Icelandic and means ’birch’, like the tree.
- Björk is a mother of two, son Sindri and daughter Ísadóra.
- In 1996, an obsessed fan, Richardo López, attempted to kill Björk, mailing her a letter bomb.
- In 2000, Björk was nominated for an Oscar for her song ‘I’ve Seen It All’.
- Björk was the first to release music videos on DVD.
- Björk released the first app-album.
- The video for the song ‘Pagan Poetry’ was banned on MTV as it shows graphic piercings, Björk‘s exposed nipples, and even a scene simulating fellatio. However in 2002, it was aired unedited as part of a late-night special on MTV2 titled, ‘Most Controversial Music Videos’.
- Björk was invited to record the famous ‘Gollum‘s Song’ for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. However, she declined the invitation as Björk was by then pregnant with Ísadóra. The song was instead recorded by another Icelandic artist, Emilíana Torrini.
- Björk performed her version of the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ at Alexander McQueen’s memorial service in London.
Icelandic Authors and Books You Need to Read
Iceland is famous for its incredible statistics. Especially when it comes to literature. One out of ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime and on average an Icelander will read 2.3 books a month!
This makes Iceland the world record holder for both book publications as well as books read per person a year.
- Browse Reykjavík’s bookstores on a multi-day trip to Iceland.
The great Icelandic writing tradition reaches back to the 13th century. This is when Icelanders began telling tales of the Viking age. Since then this custom has only grown stronger.
Icelandic writers take on almost every genre. From modern sagas to poetry, from kid’s books and sci-fi to erotic fiction, but by far the biggest of them all is crime writing.
The dark Icelandic winter nights leave a lot to the imagination and have sparked many lore and fantastic thrillers. It’s no wonder Icelandic crime writers are dropping one bestseller after another.
In recent times, audiobooks have also gained a lot more popularity in Iceland, like most places and thankfully the market has responded. Storytel is the Icelandic Audible: very user-friendly and comprehensive.
6 Icelandic authors you need to know about
1. Arnaldur Indriðason
Arnaldur was born on 28 January 1961 in Reykjavík. He finished a BA degree in history at the University of Iceland and later became a journalist.
He published his first book in 1997 and is today is one of Iceland’s best known and most widely translated authors. Arnaldur is exceptionally productive, but he has published at least one book a year since his first one in 1997!
Arnaldur’s books have been made into movies, the best known being Jar City from 2006. Many of his books feature protagonist detective Erlendur. Many Icelanders anxiously await a new book from Arnaldur each year.
But as many know from viral posts on Facebook, Christmas is when the jólabókaflóðið or ‘Christmas book flood’ takes place, when all the local authors publish their books. The timing of the publishing schedule could not be more perfect for holiday gift giving and cozying up with a new book during the holidays.
2. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Yrsa was born on 24 August 1963 in Reykjavík. She finished a BS degree in engineering in 1988 and later a master’s degree in engineering from Concordia University in Canada.
A year after finishing her masters, Yrsa published her first book. This might surprise those who recognize Yrsa today, but her first book was actually a children’s book. It was called Þar lágu Danir í því, and was published in 1998.
The book was later followed by a few more in the children’s genre. They were well received and up until 2005, Yrsa was well on her way to becoming a known children’s book writer in Iceland.
That is when out of the blue she published her first thriller, Last Rituals which put Yrsa on the map. The book would later be translated into 30 languages and published in over 100 countries! Today many know her as the author of I Remember You as it was later made into a chilling thriller movie.
3. Andri Snær Magnason
Andri Snær was born on 14 July 1973. He graduated from the University of Iceland with a BA degree in Icelandic but had by then already published his first book of poems.
The poetry books would later become a series, but after that Andri Snær turned to writing children’s books. Andri Snær’s most famous children’s book, the Story of the Blue Planet, has been made into a play and shown in a few different countries.
As someone who grew up reading his book and going to the play, I can tell you that Andri manages to create a magical world filled with wonder and possibilities. This is a great book to bring back from Iceland to read to little ones.
More recently, Andri Snær has turned his attention to writing politically driven literature. Those who have gained the most attention are Draumalandið and he also worked on a documentary of the same name, as well as Lovestar.
In 2016, Andri Snær announced that he would be running for president of Iceland, however Guðni Th. Jóhannesson won the race.
4. Einar Már Guðmundsson
Einar Már was born on 18 September 1954 in Reykjavík. He graduated in 1979 from the University in Iceland with a degree in history and literature, but would later continue his studies in Copenhagen where he lived for several years.
Einar’s first book came out in 1980. He has published 26 books in his career and has received the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his contribution. His most famous book in undoubtedly Angels of the Universe, which was later made into a film.
Einar’s books have been translated into many languages, including Italian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Dutch, Korean, Slovenian, Danish, Finnish, and Greenlandic.
5. Steinunn Sigurðardóttir
Steinunn was born on 26 August 1950. She graduated with a degree in psychology and philosophy from University College Dublin in 1972. Surprisingly though by this time, Steinunn had already published her first poetry book three years earlier, at the age of only 19.
Steinunn has throughout the years devoted her time quite equally to each genre, but she has written children’s books, poetry, short stories, fictional novels, memoirs, whole plays, and even done some translations.
FYI: A well established Icelandic fashion designer is also called Steinunn Sigurðardóttir. This might confuse you a bit in your Google search. They are not one and the same. But both excellent in their trade.
6. Auður Ava Ólafsdottir
Auður Ava was born in Reykjavík in 1958. She has taught art history at the Icelandic University of the Arts and was a lecturer in art history at the University of Iceland from 2003 to 2018.
Furthermore, Auður has put on art exhibitions and frequently commends as an expert on paintings and historical art pieces in various media in Iceland.
Her book the Greenhouse (2007) is one of her most renowned pieces, but the one that won her the prestigious French award Médicis was Miss Iceland (2018). Auður Ava’s first book came out in 1998 but altogether she has had 8 books published (9 if you count her book of poetry from 2010).
6 Icelandic books you need to read
1. The Sagas of Icelanders
The Icelandic sagas are a collage of stories from the middle ages in Iceland. There are 40 sagas in total. They cover tales of kings and Vikings and are some of the best-documented stories from this time world-wide. The sagas are unquestionably the crown jewel in Icelandic literature.
Due to the extreme isolation of Icelanders throughout the centuries, the Icelandic language spoken today is pretty much the same as these stories were written in. This makes it quite easy for anyone who speaks Icelandic to read them in their original form. Thankfully, for those who don’t, the sagas have also been translated into many other languages!
These are some of the most famous sagas.
Egill was, quite frankly, a great poet with anger issues which he displayed from an early age. In the stories, the truth has a bit of added flavor. This artistic license is demonstrated in scenes like when Egill, at the age of 3, rides his horse to a party, drinks until drunk, and recites a poem written by himself. Nevertheless, it is an incredible tale!
The story of Grettir the Strong is probably one of Iceland’s craziest heroes and his story is about his time as an outlaw. You’ll want to read up on his shenanigans if you visit North Iceland where he lived. There you will, for example, find Grettislaug hot pool where he bathed after having swum across fjord Skagafjörður, as legend tells it, with a sheep under his arm!
Njáls saga is an incredible tale of families, disputes, honor, revenge, love, and bloody murder. In it, you’ll find some of Iceland’s most famous characters and the namesake to many Icelanders today who carry their name with pride. The majority of the stories take place on the south coast of Iceland, especially in Landeyjar, the plains that surround the Seljalandsfoss waterfall.
2. Atom Station, Halldór Laxness
Halldór Laxness is the only Icelanders ever to win a Nobel Prize. However, many don’t know this but Gunnar Gunnarsson, another Icelander, was nominated 4 times!
But back to Laxness, if you ask an Icelander to name an Icelandic writer, Laxness is typically the first to come to mind.
From his detailed descriptions of life in a fishing village, human connection, and communication, to lovingly crafted characters, Laxness has made himself an unmovable pebble in the Icelandic culture pond.
Atom Station was published in 1961 and sold out the very same day. It is political yet truthful, and for anyone trying to understand Icelandic society better, it truly gives great insight.
However, choosing just one of Laxness’ books is difficult. So, I will personally vouch for Independent People and Salka Valka, which should join Atom Station on your Icelandic reading list!
3. The Day is Dark, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Here, Yrsa once again proves her dark sensibilities can work magic in the crime fiction genre. The main character is Þóra – who plays the main role in Yrsa’s crime series – an Icelandic lawyer who, through her German banker boyfriend, gets tangled in an investigation involving the disappearance of two Icelanders.
The investigation takes her to Greenland where the main story takes place. Prepare for a lot of mystery and suspense, plot twists, and chills up and down your spine!
4. 101 Reykjavík, Hallgrímur Helgason
This book is simply the perfect blend of humor and dreadful reality explored through the unaccomplished 30 something oddball Hlynur, who falls in love with his lesbian mother’s lover. There are twists and turns and each page invites you to a new dilemma without becoming a farce.
Hallgrímur Helgason is an artist with words just like a paintbrush, he is one to follow.
5. Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was, Sjón
Sjón is to many famous for his series of short works written and translated in the 2000s. However, to others, he is one of the founders of the Sugarcubes, the band that started Björk.
Nonetheless, The Boy Who Never Was is reason enough for you to take notice of Sjón. The boy that the title refers to, is a 16-year-old in Reykjavík in 1918 who sells his body to men for money.
The story is tragic yet beautiful in some way. The boy’s daydreaming and infatuation with cinema play a vital role in the telling of the story. Eventually, the story is revealed to be quite personal to Sjón. Which certainly came as a surprise but for me added a genuine touch to the whole ordeal.
6. Angels of the Universe, Einar Már Guðmundsson
This is an amazing story that everyone in Iceland reads as a part of their mandatory high school studies. It is a tale of mental illness, decorated with humor through humanity in its purest form.
In the book, Einar Már tells stories of his childhood neighbors, respectfully writing them in with made-up stories. The book and many of its scenes have carved into the Icelandic nation and you can find references all around in daily life.
The 2000 movie, directed by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, is also fantastic and well worth a watch, starring many of Iceland’s most prominent actors.
Bonus mention: Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
This is Hannah’s first book ever published and is based on true events that took place in Iceland in the dark winter of 1829. Hannah became consumed with the story when she lived in Iceland for a rotary exchange year at the age of 17. And, luckily for us, decided to pursue it.
The story is remembered in Iceland as the last execution, but is also a tale of social classes, poverty, betrayal, love, jealousy and, eventually, murder and cover-up.
The book became a best-seller all around the world as people bonded with the main character, Agnes. This was then followed by an announcement in 2017 that the book would be made into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Agnes.
An Icelandic interview with Hannah Kent about the book in English from 01:01.
Lopapeysa: The Icelandic Wool Sweater
The image many have of the Icelander is someone with fair skin, blonde hair, husky blue eyes, and possibly freckles. The stereotypical dressing would then be layers and layers of clothing made from local materials like wool and leather.
In fact, the Icelandic wool sweater or lopapeysa as the locals call it has become somewhat of an Icelandic icon.
- Pick up a lopapeysa of your own on a trip to Iceland.
The traditional lopapeysa comes in natural colors: black, white, brown, gray, and beige. Those are made from uncolored wool. The most popular patterns are zig-zagged once but with increased popularity, in recent years the pattern creations have taken a new life.
Nowadays you’ll see children wearing them with incredible animal ribbons, adults with different threads in contrast with the wool and sometimes the patterns even make up landscapes or fan-art.
Furthermore, you can get them with a zipper, buttons, hoodie, long sleeves, and short sleeves.
Today you can buy them all around the country, at farmers’ markets, second-hand stores, Handknitting Association of Iceland shops, and some tourist-aimed locations like Gullfoss and Geysir.
If you’re planning on getting one, do it early in your trip. There is nothing that will keep you as warm, dry, and breathe as nicely as a wool sweater when traveling around Iceland!
What makes Icelandic wool so unique?
Icelandic wool sweaters are solely made from the wool of Icelandic sheep: a breed of sheep that has been isolated for over 1,100 years and adapted to the incredibly harsh weather rand sub-Arctic climate.
As a result, their wool, which is truly compatible with any other kinds of wool, is made up of a distinctive mixture of inner and outer fibers. Of which the inner fibers are fine, soft, and insulating, while the outer fibers are longer, tough, and glossy, making them water-resistant.
The combination of the two makes for the perfect layer of clothing for cold climate. Which is exactly something you will be dealing with when visiting Iceland.
Additionally, the wool comes in many different colors, so when knitted together the patterns become unbelievably beautiful.
What colors can you get the sweaters in?
The wool is now artificially colored in any color of the rainbow so you can get sweaters in just about any pigment you want. However, if you are looking to get an Icelandic sweater in an au naturel color, you might want to keep on reading. Especially if you want to see some of the strangest words found in the Icelandic language!
The colors of the Icelandic sheep are split into three categories. There are the colors, the patterns, and the two-colored sheep.
There are only 4 natural colors: white, yellow, black, and rusty brown, but there are 6 patterns, and the 2-colored ones appear in numerous ways. Just for the fun of it, I’ll show you the Icelandic names of those colors.
First the patterns:
- grátt (grámórautt)
- golsótt (mógolsótt)
- botnótt (móbotnótt)
- grábotnótt (grámórubotnótt)
- svart (mórautt) án mynsturs
And then the various two-colored ways the sheep can appear in:
- And the list just goes on!
Are wool sweaters only for tourists?
There was a time when I was growing up when these amazingly warm garments weren’t in style, but when the economy crashed in 2008 Icelanders went back to their old ways. They started making home-made blood and liver pudding and equal in cultural significance, started knitting wool sweaters.
Since then, brands like Farmers Market and Geysir have popped up, taking the conventional sweaters and making them cool again. Now you’ll see even the most stylish of fashionistas wearing the sweaters!
Fun facts about the Icelandic lopapeysa
- Some say that Auður Laxness is the designer behind the first Icelandic lopapeysa. She was the wife of Halldór Laxness who was the first and only Icelander to win a Nobel prize.
- You can get them with a zipper, buttons, a hoodie, long and short!
- Lopi means wool and peysa means sweater, ergo lopapeysa means wool-sweater.
- The lopapeysa isn’t an ancient tradition but was only first made in the mid-20th century!
- The traditional lopi be a bit itchy, but you can ask for softer yarn sweaters or simply wear a turtleneck underneath.
- The Icelandic wool sweaters are all handknitted and can not be machine-made.
- You can buy a lopapeysa in many second-hand shops or at the Kolaportið flea market for a lower price!
- Icelandic parents dress their children in wool from the day they are born. This makes most Icelanders completely resistant to the itching!
- Icelanders like to keep wool the closest when dressing to stay warm. The closer the better!
How much does a lopapeysa cost?
The cost depends on 2 major factors. These are the location in Iceland, and whether or not you are willing to buy a used one.
Used ones start at about ISK 8,000, but they do go up to about ISK 20,000 when bought new in downtown Reykjavík. However, if you head further out of the city the prices often go down. Local farmers’ markets in smaller towns and villages, for example, are a great place to buy one. Especially since then the chances are the person selling it is the one who made it!
How to clean an Icelandic lopapeysa
The sweaters are hand-wash only in lukewarm water (30°C/86°F). Soak in the water with a few drops of laundry detergent and be careful not to rub or wring too much but softly squeeze the liquid through.
Now, try to wring out the garment to release the water. If needed, you can spin it in the dryer for about 1–3 minutes to remove excess moisture. Leave to dry on top of a towel.
Other popular Icelandic wool products
- Wool socks
- Wool blankets
- Fur rugs
- Wool gloves
Find out more about Icelandic souvenirs to take home!
10 Best Iceland Souvenirs – What to Bring Home
Most of us like to take home some kind of keepsake when visiting a foreign place. Some people collect spoons, other keychains, some go for the classic fridge magnets, but I personally like to make each item a little bit more traditional and related to each location.
- Bring home fantastic souvenirs from your own vacation to Iceland.
In Iceland, there is no shortage of pickings. Most people like to visit the standard ‘puffin shops’ which specialize in souvenirs, but others like to dig a little deeper and find their version of a memento. Whichever traveler you might be, we can all agree on the selection being a bit overwhelming.
So to help you find your ideal thing we have put together a list of our top 10 souvenirs. Now anyone should be able to find something for them or their family and friends to take home and treasure the memories of when you visited the Land of Fire and Ice.
1. Icelandic candy
In the category, edible souvenirs, Icelandic candy surely takes the win. Candy is something Icelanders take great pride in and will boastfully tell you all about how their licorice is simply better than any other.
However, many people outside Scandinavia don’t really appreciate the salty sweets and might, in that case, be better off with a lovely chocolate bar from Omnom or even a bag of Nóa Kropp (Icelandic Maltesers). The only downside to buying candy as souvenirs is that they don’t last very long.
2. Icelandic fashion
Iceland and art go together like gin and tonic! There simply must be something in the water. From music to theater to design and architecture, there seems to be no media that hasn’t been mastered by the local people.
Furthermore the fashion scene is a huge aspect of creative Iceland, ranging from high-end to outdoorsy. Some of the more recognized ones are 66 North for outdoor clothing, Hildur Yeoman for playful and feminine dresses, Spaksmannspjarir for a more sophisticated Nordic look, and Farmers Market for the warm yet modern clothing described by the designer as ‘countryside meets city’.
In downtown Reykjavík you’ll find these shops and boutiques packed with lovely pieces. The main shopping street is Laugavegur and crossing it is Skólavörðustígur. Walk these two streets and you’ll have no problems finding your Icelandic fashion gem to take home.
3. Icelandic skincare products
The idea of Iceland is pure, clean, and natural, so one might not be very surprised to hear that these elements have been implemented into a few skincare lines. The famous Blue Lagoon skincare line is produced from the natural silica mud that bubbles up with its hot spring water.
The silica is known to have amazing healing powers, ideal for acne and oily skin. The second feature is the green algae, which work wonders on aging and dry skin.
Sóley Organic Skincare uses handpicked Icelandic herbs to produce amazing creams and skincare. The tradition of picking herbs and producing lotions goes far back in Soley’s – the company’s namesake – family. Sóley left a successful film and theater career to pursue this family tradition.
Third on the list is SKYN Iceland, which creates the most amazing face masks, lotions, and serums completely vegan and cruelty-free. The owner Sarah got the idea when traveling to Iceland back in 2003 with the aim of curing her illness produced by stress. This is, therefore, the main focus of many of her products, specially made to rewind and relax.
Fourth, and last but definitely not least is BIOEFFECT, used by over 30% of Icelandic women. It is produced by three geneticists who spent over 10 years researching and mastering the products. Their beauty products stimulate the skin to renew itself and give the most amazing glow!
4. Icelandic liqueurs
There is no denying this, Icelanders really like their drinks. For the most part, this just meant that the nightlife in Reykjavík was awesome, but in recent years this has also transitioned the production scene in Iceland.
The tasty liqueurs made from local produce and fresh Icelandic water, which once was only available to the locals, is now sold all around the world. The most famous of them all is brennivín, also called ‘Black Death’. A burning Arctic cumin-tasting liquor, best-served ice cold. That said, many people say the best is Reyka vodka, an amazing clear and geothermally distilled vodka made with glacial water. In a cocktail or on the rocks, this drink is one to look out for.
Other fun ones include Tópas, Ópal, Björk and Birkir, Börkur, and Rabbabara (a rhubarb liqueur).
5. Traditional Icelandic lopapeysa
The Icelandic wool sweater, called lopapeysa in Icelandic, is more popular than ever and is now available in every color and different patterns. They are the perfect item to pick up early on in your trip and wear throughout your Icelandic adventures.
For those who aren’t used to wearing this kind of harsh wool and are sensitive to itching, there are now even versions knitted from softer wool!
Pro tip: Try buying them at a flea market, the Red Cross shops, or outside the city, the prices are lower!
6. Icelandic literature
Icelandic authors have slowly but steadily been taking the leap into the international market in the last decades, usually through their dark crime stories or the ancient Viking sagas.
Up till now, children’s literature hasn’t received much room on the market, but since translations have risen with the growing tourist population they are really starting to kick off. Now you can find something for anyone written by some of the many astoundingly talented Icelandic writers.
For crime, you’ll want to find Yrsa Sigurðardóttir or Arnaldur Indriðason, for kids look up Guðrún Helgadóttir or Bergljót Arnalds, for humor-lovers, find Hugleikur Dagsson, and for photographers find Rax (Ragnar Axelsson), Sigurgeir Sigurjónsson, or Páll Stefánsson.
7. Icelandic wool blankets
Icelandic wool blankets are in my opinion the perfect souvenir to take home from Iceland. Not only are long-lasting but they are also decorative and functional! They come in so many different colors and if you get the ones from Álafoss you are literally buying from one of the oldest companies in business in Iceland. Álafoss has been in business since 1896!
Other great places to get these blankets are at the Geysir shops, on Laugavegur or in Kringlan.
8. Hand-carved birds or furry sheep
You’ll see these around town when exploring. I personally own one and love it! It’s the perfect piece to place on a shelf to gaze over the room. You could even start collecting them!
This is definitely not something that is meant for tourists. Even though you can find them in some of those ‘puffin shops’. They are made by many of the incredible woodworkers around Iceland. Who together create so many wonderful tiny figurines for us to enjoy.
The furry rams are then the second figurine I have come to love as a gift for my foreign friends. The designers are a mother/daughter duo who go by the name of Birch and Wool. The rams all have different names and everything about them is just too cute. Surely a great Iceland souvenir!
Be it Björk in a yellow dress, Icelandic wildlife, or even the neighborhood you stayed in Iceland, the poster scene is very aesthetically satisfying in Iceland. There are so many different artists and producers making wonderful posters each representing their own aspect of Iceland. I personally love Birds of Iceland and Icelandic Flora.
10. Photos and videos
I do realize that I am being extremely corny. But the best souvenirs are always going to be the photos and videos you take. They will best preserve the memories Iceland has given you and be the things you’ll love going through later.
Therefore my advice to you is to pick up one of those disposable cameras and get them printed once home. On one hand, the vintage filter these cameras put on the photos makes everyone look great and on the other, there is something beautifully nostalgic about having the photos in print!
Icelandic Names: What Makes Them Unique?
Carrying an Icelandic name can be quite humorous at times. Especially when you tell it to someone who doesn’t know the language. The names can be long, have letters unique to the Icelandic language and then they change depending on how the person is being talked about.
The name Egill for example, a common male name in Iceland, changes to Agli when put in a sentence like ‘I am with Agli’. This can be confusing even to those native to Iceland.
I swear it, sometimes I think they made up these rules simply to make it more difficult.
- Try your hand at saying Icelandic names on a vacation to Iceland.
My name, for instance, is one of those names that the Vikings made up after having arrived in Iceland. The isolation then made it so that the name didn’t travel to the rest of Scandinavia. Making it unknown and, frankly, quite bizarre outside the island.
However, the name became popular in Iceland and has not lost its place in the top 10 for centuries. Ragnheiður means ‘as bright as the old pagan gods’ and is a female version of the famous Viking male name Ragnar. But it wasn’t until I started traveling that this name started causing troubles. I remember standing at gate to board a plane in Laos and the administration office workers grouping together to see who, or possible what, would appear when they called out this ridiculous name.
We don’t all have odd names or names that are challenging in spelling and pronunciation. With globalization that we have seen during the last century, Icelanders have begun seeking international names for their children. Names like Andrea (female), Viktoría (female), Leó (male), and Gabríel (male) are now typical names in Iceland. Although, of course, mixed with the traditional Sigurður (male), Guðrún (female), Ingibjörg (female), and Þorsteinn (male).
But now I have gotten ahead of myself. Let‘s go way back to the roots.
Origin of Icelandic names
The names of the first people here in Iceland came mainly from the Nordic countries. However, when those Norse people were sailing to Iceland they would often stop in the Celtic islands, Ireland, and Scotland, to barbarically kidnap women and take them to Iceland. This tragic yet often unmentioned part of history would later prove to have added a twist to the Icelandic naming culture.
Here are some examples of original names:
- Flóki (male)
- Ingólfur (male)
- Einar (male)
- Helgi (male)
- Ketill (male)
- Auður (female)
- Arnkatla (female)
- Hallbera (female)
- Kaðlín (female)
- Þuríður (female)
- Valgerður (female)
After the settlers had arrived new names started popping up. Those were often simply made up from those pre-existing, with slight alterations such as Álfheiður (‘bright like an elf’) or Ásdís (‘divine fairy’). The prefix Álf– was already a circulation and so was Ás-, both in a male and female version. Moreover the suffix -dís was recognized in common names like Herdís.
Fun fact: Icelanders still use this tradition today, simply taking apart and replacing prefixes and extensions.
Then there were other inspirational factors such as the landscape. The name Snælaug (‘snow pool’) didn’t appear until about 1155. Her mother’s name was Geirlaug, so it is obvious where the extension came from and the prefix. Well, that’s also quite overt. There is no shortage of snow or hot pools in Iceland. And, actually, they go together perfectly!
The years went by and Icelanders started experimenting more and more, taking inspiration from anywhere they could get it. Therefore, it might not have been much of a surprise that when religion changed in Iceland, going from Paganism to Christianity, the names changed with them.
This is when Guðleifur (male), Rakel (female), Pétur (male), Guðfinna (female) and other biblical names – or with the prefix Guð– meaning ‘God’ – started taking their place. Many of these names are some of the more popular names in Iceland still to this day.
Other naming influences in Iceland
Another naming influx came when Icelanders started traveling more and getting further influence from abroad. This meant more royal names, like Anna in the mid-15th century, Elísabet (Elisabeth) in the late 16th century, and Kristján (Christian) arrived around the same time.
Until the mid-18th century, Icelanders only carried one name, with the addition of their last name. It wasn’t until 2 parents named a pair of siblings each with 2 names that the second name trend took off. This has led to the majority of the population carrying 2 names.
People in Iceland often joke that 2 names make it easier to scold your child. Gives yelling the name more weight!
Facts about Icelandic names, laws, and naming etiquette
- There are only about 3 names that are used both for girls and boys, the rest is gender-based.
- All Icelandic names have a meaning. Just try asking the locals you’ll meet in Iceland.
- Icelanders do not have family names with just a handful of exceptions.
- Icelanders have special words for when someone carries the same name. When two women carry the same they are nöfnur and when two men carry the same they are nafnar. Furthermore, when two women carry the exact name from start to finish (for example both called María Kristín Þorkelsdóttir) they are what is called alnöfnur, which basically means the-whole-same-name. The male version is alnafnar!
- Icelanders do not change their last names when they get married. A system that simplifies things especially in modern times where divorce is so common.
- Most families have a few last names for their members.
- There is an ancient tradition in Iceland to name after those who come to the mother in her dreams whilst pregnant. This is done out of fear that the unborn child will be harmed if you don’t follow this request of the dream visitor. This was believed to be especially true if the person visiting was deceased. This is actually how my grandmother got both her names!
- Icelanders used to, and some still today believe that names have powers. This would, for example, mean that parents of a baby boy that was sickly at birth would often name him Ófeigur which basically means ‘immortal’.
- Some names are only allowed as first names and others only as middle names.
How do Icelanders choose names for their children?
There is no doubt that there is still a very strong tradition of naming after your parents or grandparents. Although tradition is nowhere close to where it used to be, people often talk about the want to name after their loved ones sneaking up on them once the young ones are born.
This might also have to do with the small community feeling and therefore closeness of most families. Grandparents more often play a very big role in the life of their grandchildren. One could even go as far as calling them, back-up parents.
Nonetheless, Icelanders choose their names just like many other nations. However, if we are making a point about the difference the dream tradition mentioned before and then, of course, the omnipotent naming committee would be the winners!
Icelandic Naming Committee
Iceland has a naming committee that approves or denies names that have never been used before. No, this is not a joke.
The government simply made a committee of lawyers, professors in the Icelandic language, and other qualified scholars to interpret the laws that the parliament had passed. They gather once a month and go through all the applications. Some of them pass and others don’t.
The newly accepted names always make the news along with those denied. The comment section often goes quite active at this time as people seem to have very strong opinions about what to and what not to name a child.
The naming laws that they follow basically state 3 things:
- The name can not cause the named harm or difficulty.
- Boys must be named male names and girls must be named female names.
- The name must be able to follow Icelandic grammar rules and adjustments.
Perhaps not much of a surprise, but the very existence of this committee has been criticized in recent years. Some have even gone as far as saying that it goes against basic human rights. Those that want to keep the committee mostly argue for the sake of our language and grammar.
Here are some from late 2019 that were approved:
- Sólúlfur (male)
- Maríón (male)
- Systa (female)
- Lynd (female)
And these have been rejected:
- Kona (female)
- Theo (male)
- Zelda (female)
- Zion (male)
- Alex (female)
- Sukki (male)
- Thurid (female)
Most common Icelandic names
Iceland, like most other countries, sees a rise in certain given names when pop stars, characters, celebrities, or other achievers rise in their fame.
This became evident a few years back when the Icelandic actor/director Baltasar Kormákur started directing movies abroad like Contraband and Everest. People started hearing about him and his success and all of a sudden every other boy was called Baltasar.
Many don’t know this but Baltasar Kormákur was actually just the second one to receive the name but the first was his father Baltasar Samper. The name, like his father, comes from Spain. Third to receive the name was Baltasar Kormákur’s son Baltasar Breki, but it wasn’t until much later that the name caught on.
But even with the popularity of special names through fame or trends, the fact of the matter is that most of the more common names stay the same in Iceland. This is probably due to the strong tradition of naming after your parents/grandparents.
About 35% of young Icelanders carry their grandparents’ names. And, if you look into the older generation the numbers are even higher.
Most common Icelandic girl names
Most common Icelandic boy names
How do Icelandic last names work?
Icelandic last names have gained a lot of attention in recent times. This has mainly been due to the sport achievements of those carrying them. Whether it has been all the -sons playing FIFA World Cup, UFC fighters or all the -dóttirs coming out on top at the Crossfit games, their names have not gone unnoticed.
The naming system in Iceland is the old Scandinavian system which all the countries once used. It is a paternal system where the father gives his children his first name as their last name adding -son if the child is a boy and -dóttir if the child is a girl. This might seem confusing at first, but really it is not. Let’s try some examples.
Another fun fact about Icelandic last names: only 4% of the Icelandic nation carries a family name. But by naming law family names are very hard to keep in Iceland as they can only be passed on through the father.
So, if a father has 3 daughters and no sons, the name should die with the daughters. Having said that, these very daughters have often applied and got accepted to name their children using the family name giving it a new chance.
Until, of course, someone again only has daughters. As you can see the system is quite old and outdated in many ways.
Nowadays we see a slight change in the system. People are starting to put a question mark on the fact that only the father’s name becomes the last name of the child. And, like with many things questioned in Iceland, this has resulted in a rapid change.
Now some use both parents’ names before adding -son or -dóttir, but back in the day using the mother’s name meant that the father had abandoned the family. This could cause shame, so mothers would often apply for exceptions to have their child get the name from their grandfather.
Today, you don’t see this. People proudly carry their last name, be it from the father, mother, two mothers, or two fathers.
Icelandic name meanings
As I stated in the facts above, Icelandic names all have meanings. This is said to be one of the factors the Naming Committee members look for when choosing whether or not to accept it.
The meanings range a lot, some are very adventurous and fun but others will simply say ‘male version of X’. If you want to look up meanings of specific Icelandic names you will have a hard time finding them in any other language besides Icelandic, but with Google Translate by your side, you might just get somewhere.
Examples of Icelandic names and their meanings
Icelandic names you could possibly use
Many of the Icelandic names have letters that only exist in the Icelandic alphabet. We are talking letters like Æ, Ð, Ý, Á, and Ú. Even so, we see an increased interest in people wanting to use Icelandic names when it comes to naming their children.
The parents might have met here, fell in love here, got engaged here, married here or maybe even possibly made the baby here. Whatever the inspiration might be, this has often proven quite tricky once they start looking for a usable name.
Therefore I am hoping to use this last part to help a little bit if you are finding yourself in this position.
Internationally friendly Icelandic names for boys (and their meaning):
- Alvar, rich
- Ari, eagle
- Darri, spear
- Elmar, ship
- Emil, friendly
- Flosi, happy man
- Funi, fire
- Hilmir, king
- Logi, flame
- Nói, he who lives long
- Orri, a bird’s name
- Salvar, home protecteor
- Sigmar, famous in battle
- Uni, carer
- Vilmar, great warrior
Internationally friendly Icelandic names for girls (and their meaning):
- Freyja, pagan goddess of love and fertility
- Edda, ancestress
- Harpa, instrument or the old month (spring)
- Hekla, an Icelandic volcano
- Katla, an Icelandic volcano
- Hilda, battle
- Hrefna, raven
- Karitas, love, endearment
- Lind, pond
- Lukka, luck or happiness
- Saga, saga
- Sunna, sun
- Von, hope