Yes, I am a nerd. I go to interesting places with amazing things to do and see, and then I go to the bookstore. Bookstores are amazing. They are full of adventures.
Besides. For me, sometimes finding the bookstore itself can be an adventure. Take for example, my trek to find Foyles in London. I got lost. I found a church, a dead end, and Tin Pan Alley (aka Denmark Street). It was an adventure, and at the end of it I finally found the bookstore.
Anyway. Iceland has a long tradition of stories and has a holiday devoted to books, Jolabokaflod, Reykjavik has a lot of wonderful bookshops within walking distance of each other. They’re full of beautifully designed books in both Icelandic and English, as well as other languages (I still feel for the bookstore clerk who had to keep his temper when a German tourist repeatedly asked for a book of Icelandic sagas translated into German. When he told her he didn’t have them, she insisted that he must because she had seen one at the tourist office…). I visited four of them and was tempted to buy so many books.
Mál og Menning, Laugavegur, 101 Reykjavik – This was my top book destination in Reykjavik. It’s a large, independent bookshop in the heart of Reykjavik, and while it has a cafe on the second floor, that is not its primary selling point. It is first and foremost a bookstore with two levels of books featuring Icelandic sagas and authors, but with many, many shelves devoted to authors from around the world.
While it didn’t feel like the indie bookshops I’m accustomed to at home, with their quirky employee recommendations or board game tables, the sheer number of books available to look at made me very, very happy.
Bókin, Klapparstígur 30, 101 Reykjavík – I came across this shop by sheer accident while looking for something else. I could tell from the window display that it was a used bookstore, and I couldn’t resist.
The place looks small from the outside, but there is a mind-boggling number of books stuff into every nook and cranny, with stacks piled high on the floor and every available surface.
It’s a little bit of heaven for a book lover, especially when so many of them are vintage or antique sets with gorgeous cover designs.
Though most of the titles are in Icelandic, this is a place where I could easily spend hours upon hours on a rainy day just looking at book covers.
Penninn Eymondsson, Austurstraeti 18, 101 Reykjavik – This is a chain store in Iceland, and there are multiple locations in Reykjavik. I went to the one on Austurstraeti, as it was the one easiest to walk to from my hotel. There is a little one on Laugavegur, but it had few books, and was mostly a cafe and gift shop for tourists (that said, they have good coffee and pastries). There are three floors in this location, with a cafe being on the top level, and once again, dozens of shelves devoted to books and book paraphernalia. I didn’t buy anything here (I travel with only an average-sized backpack and my camera bag, so space is severely limited. Also, books are expensive in Iceland!), but once again, the cover designs were amazing and I happily spent a long time in the shop just looking around.
Ida Zimsen, Vesturgata 2a, Grófin, 101 Reykjavík – I was looking at one of those lists of “Top Bookshops to Visit in Reykjavik” posts on Pinterest, and Ida Zimsen was one of the writer’s top destinations. So I got directions from Google and walked the fifteen or so minutes from my hotel down to the shop, expecting to find a quirky little bookshop with all sorts of interesting titles.
Alas, that’s not what I found. Ida Zimsen is more of a cafe than bookstore, with one wall of books and plenty of displays of journals, gifts, and games. It’s a fun shop for sure- there’s a children’s area where kids can play, outdoor seating for the cafe, and a chalkboard menu that threatens dire punishments for people who order food without getting off their phones, and promises to give unattended children a shot of espresso and a puppy before sending them home. It’s a fun place, but not the best bookshop in Iceland. I wandered around for a few minutes, then headed off to the photography museum across the street.