Museums in Reykjavik
For a small city, Reykjavik actually has a generous amount of good museums, most of them conveniently located downtown. If you’ve taken in your fair share of nature sights and are longing for a day of culture in the capital, we have put together a list of all the best museums for you to explore!
The National Museum
Located in a handsome building on the university campus, the National Museum is where you get your old stuff fix! Boasting a large selection of settlement to modern eraartefactsand offering a variety of exhibitions on Iceland‘s history, this one is a must for those wanting to learn more about Iceland‘s heritage. (As a kid during class trips to the museum I remember our fascination with the old “skyr“ (traditional Icelandic yogurt) found there!)
National Gallery of Iceland
A fab art museum in a stylish building tucked away by the city pond (“Tjörnin“). The over a century old museum houses the principal collection of Icelandic art, mostly from the 19th and 20th century, so if you want to get acquainted with our leading artists this is a good bet. There‘s also a fine collection of international art, a variety of interesting exhibitions that regularly change, and a good shop and café as well.
Reykjavík Art Museum
This art museum is a collection of three excellent museums actually. There‘s the main museum Hafnarhús in downtown Reykjavík – a large modern building with some excellent modern art and progressive exhibitions. This is the home of Erró‘s works, maybe our most famous artist and a significant player on the international pop art scene.
Then there‘s brilliant Kjarvalsstaðir just north of the city centre (not far from Hlemmur), which is home to the works of Jóhannes S. Kjarval, perhaps the most beloved Icelandic painter. The building itself is an extra treat for those interested in architecture. Designed in the 1970s, it merges Japanese minimalism with Nordic modernism. From the café you have a great view over the park surrounding the museum.
Finally, there‘s Ásmundarsafn, also dedicated to one artist, namely sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The unique building, designed by Ásmundur himself and serving as his home while he lived, is located in lovely Laugardalur not far from the city centre.
Reykjavik City Museum
The city museum includes five fab museums actually. There‘s the Maritime Museum by the old and now trendy harbour, giving you insight into our rich history of fishing and the sea (if that doesn‘t sound exciting enough you haven‘t heard about the only international war Iceland has fought in – namely the cod wars with England in the 1950s-70s!)
Then there‘s the Settlement Exhibition, which is based around an open excavation in downtown Reykjavík. The remnants were discovered during building work and are the earliest evidence of settlement in the city. The multimedia exhibition uses innovative technology in order to bring you back to the Viking Age.
No city trip is complete without a visit to the local library (not in my opinion at least!) and at the top of the city library downtown you‘ll find the Reykjavik Museum of Photography. This lovely museum always has interesting exhibitions on and the museum shop is not to be missed, where one can stock up on fantastic images of days gone by in Iceland.
A brief bus trip will take you to Reykjavik suburb Árbær, the site of Reykjavík‘s only open air museum. Árbæjarsafnis a delightful collection of several old buildings which give an insight into how people lived, worked and enjoyed their leisure time back in the day. Truly recommended.
And the last of the Reykjavík City Museum bunch is actually an island! Viðey is a cute little island just a short boat ride away from Reykjavik harbour. This is a great outing, combiningbeautiful nature, old ruins, stunning views, and contemporary art. Yoko Uno actually unveiled her art piece “Imagine Peace Tower“ there a few years ago.
The Culture House
Thisgorgeousbuilding in downtown Reykjavík (formerly the home of the National Museum, and the National Library before that) houses some terrific things – everything from literary treasures like the manuscripts that contain our precious sagas, to unique exhibitions on Icelandic design and everything in between. There‘s an excellent cafe on the ground floor.
The Icelandic Punk Museum
This new museum is a great addition to the downtown sights, appearing at the very end of Laugavegur (well, actually Bankastræti since Laugavegur changes name right towards the end) in an old public toilet! The founder, Álfur (meaning elf, not a common name!), is an old punk himself and looks the part. Johnny Rotten himself hosted the ribbon-cutting ceremony at this terrific museum, which will take you through Iceland‘s rich punk history (Björk was in some of the early punk bands!) in a very unique setting.
Einar Jónsson Museum
An enchanting corner of 101 Reykjavík, this fine sculpture garden is a must on your way to or from next-door Hallgrímskirkja (I remember it mostly for being the place where us neighbourhood kids went out to play every night of my childhood – my school was next door to the church!)
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
This is as unique as museums come! A whole museum dedicated to penises of various animals (even one of a human!) as well as phallological items of all sorts. Read our more thorough blog on the world-famous museum here:
An interesting geological exhibition by the old harbour. The exhibition gives an oversight of Iceland‘s volcano systems and activities, highlighting some famous eruptions like the one in theWestman Islands in 1973 and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.
The home of our literary icon and only Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. Laxness lived here with his family for over half a century and when he passed in 1998 the beautiful and stylish house was turned into a museum and left completely unchanged. The museum is situated in beautiful Mosfellssveit on the outskirts of Reykjavik and makes for a lovely outing, or a mini-detour when leaving the city.