The site of Garðabær has been inhabited since Iceland was first settled in the 9th century. Landnáma, the Book of Settlement, tells about two farms in the site of Garðabær, Vífilsstaðir and Skúlastaðir. The former was named after Vífill who vas a slave of Ingólfur Arnarson the first settler of Iceland. Ingólfur gave Vífill his freedom and he made his home at Vífilsstaðir.
The site of Garðabær was a part of Álftaneshreppur (the Parish of Álftanes) until1878. Álftaneshreppur included Álftanes and Bessastaðir which is now the residence of the president of Iceland. In 1878 the ancient Álftaneshreppur was divided into Bessastaðahreppur and Garðahreppur and a few decades later, in 1907, the neighbouring town Hafnarfjörður was separated from Garðahreppur.
The inhabited area of Garðahreppur progressed greatly in the 1960s. The first plan for the development of an urban area is from 1955. For the next decades the population of Garðahreppur grew very rapidly. In 1960 the population was 1000 and in 1976 it was more than 4000. That same year Garðahreppur acquired market town rights and its name was changed to Garðabær (Garðatown.).
The urban area in Garðabær has a different character from that of the other municipalities in the Reykjavik area. Plats are considerably larger than is the rule elsewhere, at least in some of the residential neighbourhoods. The policy has been for the inhabited areas to have a low-rise profile. The model in the oldest neighbourhoods was therefore one-story, single-family houses with large yards, many of which have diverse vegetation today.
Garðabær is a “young” town in that sence that it has an unusually high proportion of young people. There are seven preschools and three primary schools in the town. There is also a comprehensive secondary school.
The Sports Club Stjarnan in Garðabær is one of the largest in Iceland. The Sport Center Ásgarður includes an outdoor swimming pool, a children swimming pool and two hot tubs, a sauna and a solarium. There are also football fields and a sport hall.
The Cultural life is thriving in Garðabær. Many concerts are held there every year. Two years ago the famous Vienna’s boys choir performed in Garðabær among other artists. A Jazz festival has also been held every spring for the last years.
The Icelandic Museum of Design and Applied Art (mudesa), is a new institution, founded at the end of 1998 by the Icelandic Ministry of Culture and Education and the City Council of Gardabaer.
Its objective is to collect, exhibit and disseminate information pertaining to modern Icelandic design and crafts, as well as to collect and exhibit choice pieces by the masters of modern design, with particular emphasis on Scandinavian design.
The exhibition space for the Museum of Design and Applied Art is located in Garðatorg 7, in Garðabær's centrum. Opening hours are from 14-18 every day, except Mondays.