A Walking Tour of Reykjavík – Statues in Reykjavík

Walking around Reykjavík can sometimes feel like you’re walking through a museum, with outdoor art on every street corner! Some statues are historical, some of a more artistic nature, but what they all have in common is that they give a little glimpse into the Icelandic culture. Here are some of our favourite statues, see if you can see them all!

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Leifur Eiríksson (Leif the Lucky)

Leifur Eiríksson, also known as Leifur the lucky, was the first European to sail to North America, predating Christopher Columbus by over 400 years. He landed on the northern tip of Newfoundland, Canada, and named the newly discovered land Vínland. He established Icelandic settlements for the winter months, eventually returning to Iceland with a vast supply of timber and grapes. The statue is located in front of Hallgrímskirkja church (although the statue was actually there first!) at the end of Skólavörðustígur and was donated to Iceland by the United States. An identical copy of the statue stands in Newport, Virginia.

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Ingólfur Arnarson

Ingólfur was the first Norse man to settle in Iceland in 874 AD, leaving Norway due to a blood feud he was involved in. Upon seeing land from his ship he asked the gods where he should make his home, throwing his high seat pillars overboard with the intent to settle wherever they washed ashore. After three years of searching, they were found in what is now known as Reykjavík. The statue is located at the top of Arnarhóll hill in downtown Reykjavík.

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King Christian IX

The statue depicts Danish king Christian IX handing over Iceland’s first constitution in 1874. With Iceland under the rule of the Kingdom of Denmark at the time, this act was the first step in what would eventually lead towards Iceland’s independence. The statue is located in front of the Prime Minister’s office, the Cabinet of Iceland, also known as Stjórnarráð Íslands.

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The Water Carrier

The Water Carrier was sculpted by Ásmundur Sveinsson, one of Iceland’s greatest artist of the 20th century (he’s even got his very own museum dedicated to him, a part of the Reykjavík Art Museum). Some of his work depict the most menial and thankless members of a society gone by, such as water carriers and washerwomen. The water carriers were a class of people in Iceland who were responsible for bringing water to the inner city, before the implementation of modern methods. Deemed one of the lowest ranks and least respected jobs among the culture, the statue pays homage to those who suffered this existence. The sculpture is located at the busy corner of Bankastræti and Lækjargata, seen by thousands each day, perhaps to honour what was once an invisible class.

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Jónas Hallgrímsson

Jónas Hallgrímsson was an author, publisher, politician, and natural historian but today he’s best-known for his poetry. The father of Icelandic romanticism, Jónas set the gold standard for nature poetry in Icelandic and his work remains some of the nation’s most beloved poems. Aiding the nationalism in Iceland through his magazine publications, he helped push forward the independence of Iceland. Located near Tjörnin in the centre of the city, he remains surrounded by the nature that he loved so much.

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The Outlaw

Einar Jónsson was one of Iceland’s most respected sculptors. His work, the Outlaw, was the inspiration for the final scene of Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’s best-known work, Independent people. Depicting an outlaw, carrying his child and lifeless wife, he searches for a suitable place to lay her to rest. Representing the isolation and struggles one faces as an outsider, it is one of the most loved statues in Reykjavík. The statue is located close to the University of Iceland, also known as Háskóli Íslands.