It’s always a good idea to stock up on entertainment that pertains to your next destination. Look no further than this guide for the best books, movies, and music to inspire and enrich your next Icelandic journey.
Iceland’s history is, well, epic. And some of its most epic tales come from the true family dramas that took place during the Saga Age (the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries). Though the exact authors of these stories are unknown, there’s no better soundtrack to an Icelandic road trip than the audiobook of the sagas. Learn about Egil, Eirik the Red, and Grettir the Strong, and be thankful that your own families aren’t quite as complicated as these ancient Icelanders.
When author Alda Sigmundsdottir returned to Iceland after spending over two decades abroad, she had developed a unique perspective of her homeland. She knew it intimately, yet not at all. This book is the result of Alda’s observations — short essays about the nature of Icelanders, their culture, and their society. After you’ve finished, move on to The Little Book of Icelandic (which is about the country’s difficult language), The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days (which is about the people of Iceland’s past), The Little Book of the Hidden People (which is about Icelandic folklore), or The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland (but maybe save this one for the plane ride home).
Though only about one-fifth of this book actually pertains to Iceland (the remainder is devoted to other Scandinavian countries), it’s an insightful and witty look into the lives of those who live in what Western media calls the “happiest countries on Earth.” Author/Journalist Michael Booth hopped between Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and, of course, Iceland, to discover what makes these places look so appealing to the rest of the world.
One in 10 Icelanders will publish a book. Yep, you read that right. This island country features more writers, more books published, and more books read than any other country in the world. So, while you’re in Reykjavik, stop by one of the local bookstores and peruse the aisles, the bestseller shelves, or the new releases. Icelanders are known for being especially creative, so pick up a novel or three and discover your new favorite author.
MOVIES AND TV
Iceland lends itself particularly well to filmmakers and location scouts, and its otherworldly landscapes have been featured in many movies. For a look at what to expect from the Nordic country, press play on “Prometheus,” “Batman Begins,” or “Interstellar.” All include scenes that were shot in Iceland’s alien landscapes. Alternatively, binge “Game of Thrones,” which has filmed in various areas around Iceland every season thus far. Finally, to inspire your wanderlust even further, watch “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The inspirational film uses Iceland directly (during the infamous 2010 explosion of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano) and indirectly as a stand-in location for the snowy highlands of Afghanistan.
Start your playlist with Iceland’s most iconic singer/songwriter, Björk. Her style is about as varied as it gets, and is as otherworldly as the Icelandic landscape, so it’s a natural pairing for the trip ahead. Known around the world for her quirky and striking musical talent, Björk’s 40-year career has earned her a huge fanbase for a reason. Blast some of her songs, and see if you can pinpoint the inspiration for her lyrics (hint: she loves Icelandic nature).
Of Monsters and Men
Of Monsters and Men burst onto the international music scene with their 2011 single “Little Talks.”. Since then, the five-member band from Reykjavik has continued to pair nostalgic melodies with simple lyrics in a way that inevitably gets them stuck in your head. This folk-pop band signifies a new generation of Icelandic hitmakers, so why not familiarize yourself? Their songs will be the perfect addition to your Iceland soundtrack.
English-speaking listeners may not be able to understand Ásgeir Trausti’s lyrics, but his tunes are so catchy and melodious that it won’t matter. The singer/songwriter performs solo as Ásgeir, as well as with the Icelandic band The Lovely Lion,. You may never know the words to his songs, but this talented electro-folksy musician is one of the most well-known in Iceland. Add some of his songs to your playlist, but maybe wait until you’re alone to try singing along.
Header image by Steinar Þór Ólafsson