Reykjavík offers a plethora of captivating and eccentric museums, most of which can be found in the very heart of the city. Perfect for those wanting to get to know the country’s history or spend an hour or two indoors on a rainy day.
Below you’ll find a compilation of our favorite museums in and around the country’s capital.
The National Museum of Iceland
© The National Museum of Iceland
For those wanting to take a glimpse into Iceland’s history and culture, the National Museum of Iceland is the place to go! It offers a thorough breakdown of life in the country throughout the centuries, depicted by a variety of interesting exhibitions and artifacts.
The museum was established in 1863, with Jón Árnason being the first curator of the Icelandic collection. The next curator advocated the formation of an antiquarian collection, and the museum was named the Antiquarian Collection until 1911. The museum’s permanent location was difficult to find: Before settling at its present location, in 1950, it was housed in various attics all around the city center. Today the museum consists of three floors, with a lovely cafe in the basement.
The 1st floor is dedicated to ancient history and artifacts. The 2nd floor is also striking with the much-celebrated permanent exhibit – Valþjófsstaður door being preserved on its grounds.
All in all, one can spend an hour or an entire day discovering the in’s and out’s of Iceland’s vivid history.
The Culture House
© The Culture House
You can also enjoy the Culture House with a ticket from the National Museum of Iceland. Placed in one of the most elegant buildings in Reykjavík, the Culture House hosts a wealth of distinctive events and activities ranging from historical Icelandic manuscripts to current city gatherings.
The beautiful building found at Hverfisgata 15, was initially built to house the National Library. The National Museum and the Icelandic Museum of Natural History were also housed there but are nowadays used as an exhibition space. Since the turn of the century, institutions such as the Árni Magnússon Institution for Icelandic Studies, the National Gallery, and the Icelandic Museum of Natural History have used the house for exhibitions. The building, which has now been labeled a historical building, merged with the National Museum of Iceland in 2013.
Today it is home to the permanent exhibit – ‘Points of View’, offering visitors a chance to go back in time and learn about Iceland’s nature, culture, and history.
Reykjavík Maritime Museum
© Reykjavík Maritime Museum
Reykjavík’s Maritime Museum, formerly known as Víkin Maritime Museum, tells the story of “How the ocean formed a nation”. Primarily built as a fish freezing plant, the museum is nowadays home to seven exhibits that display Iceland’s maritime history, from the early settlements to the late 20th century.
Presented on its premises are also many evolving methods of catching and working with fish, objects, photographic displays, visual materials, and artifacts including the former Coast Guard vessel Óðinn, acquired by the museum in February 2008. The 900-ton coastguard ship is now secured to the pier next to the museum and can be easily enjoyed from up-close by locals and tourists alike.
Whales of Iceland
© Whales of Iceland
If you are fascinated by whales and dolphins or are just curious to learn about their way of life then the Whales of Iceland museum is just for you!
The museum is set in Grandi, only a short walk away from Reykjavík Old Harbor, from which all of the city’s whale watching tours depart. A large warehouse accommodates the museum in which you’ll find displayed 23 life-size models of whale species found around Iceland’s waters. They amaze the visitor by their variety and magnitude. You’ll also be able to touch or swim with them by using the museum’s virtual reality glasses.
© Aurora Reykjavík
The information center is filled with historical exhibits and art suitable for all ages. A great place to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis if you happen to visit Iceland during the summer when their activity is low and cannot be seen. Guided tours are also offered for those wanting to go deep into the world of Aurora Borealis.
Tales from Iceland
The famous historical Austurbæjarbíó building is home to a relatively new exhibition – The Tales from Iceland, offering cinematically striking videos on Iceland. The exhibition is innovative and created with fantasy and appreciation of the country’s historical and cultural achievements.
There are a total of 14 screens dispersed on two floors. Visitors can enjoy visual presentations on Iceland’s politics, geology, music, sport whilst sipping on complimentary hot chocolate.
Found at the top of Öskjuhlíð hill, Perlan museum offers its visitors a wealth of displays to choose from. You’ll find information about Iceland’s natural backdrops, from volcanoes to glaciers and all in between. The most visited exhibit is, however, the Wonders of Iceland exhibition. This interactive exhibit gives visitors a chance to walk through a recreated Ice Cave, a replica of the Látrabjarg cliff. To learn about Iceland’s glaciers, to explore the planetarium, and most importantly get a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, even if it’s only interactively.
It’s worth mentioning that the museum’s rotating hemispherical roof glass dome is set on six functional water tanks that can be spotted all the way from the city center. Each one of these six tanks can keep up to five million liters of hot water, with a volume of 5000 m3, and provides heating to Reykjavík and beyond!
A quick stop to the cafe located on the top floor of Perlan is strongly recommended as you’ll be able to admire a 360-degree view overlooking Reykjavik and the nearby mountains.
The Saga Museum
The Saga Museum is the place where Icelandic sagas, their stories, and their heroes come to life. The faces and figures of the most popular writers of Icelandic Saga – Snorri Sturlusson, Ingólfur Arnarson, and Leifur Eiríksson to name a few, have been replicated in wax, allowing the museum’s visitors to also get a visual representation of the authors.
17 famous scenes from well-known sagas including Leifur Eiríksson’s famous voyage to Vinland are also depicted. The museum also offers an exciting tally of horror, procreating some well-known ghastly events: The execution of Jón Arason, the burning of the stake of Sister Katrin as well as the legendary bloody battle at Orlygsstaðir. Sagas are a truly unique heritage of the Icelandic nation therefore if you want to learn about Iceland’s culture and history, this is the place to go!
The Settlement Exhibition
© The Settlement Exhibition
Based on the archaeological excavation of the ruins of one of the first houses in Iceland and remnants of many other artifacts, the exhibition will take you back in time and show you a glimpse of the Viking era. By using three-dimensional visual representations visitors can thoroughly learn some enthralling facts about the Vikings, how they lived and expanded their territories. A must-visit museum for those interesting in culture and history!
Reykjavík Art Museum
Reykjavík Art Museum, founded in 1973, is the largest visual art institution in the country. The museum holds the biggest art collection in Iceland and offers a huge program of artistic events, projects, festivals, and all kinds of exciting social get-togethers. The museum spreads around three locations in Reykjavík; Hafnarhús by the Old Harbor, Kjarvalsstaðir by Klambratún, and Ásmundarsafn in Laugardalur.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum
© The Icelandic Phallological Museum
If you want to see something unique and memorable, then the phallological museum is just for you. Set in the heart of the city, only a few steps away from Hlemmur Square, this oddly satisfying collection of 300 or so sexual organs of both human and animal species might be just the pinnacle of your city explorations! You’ll find on its premises the specimens of seventeen different species of whale, seven different species of seals, twenty different species of land animals, and much more.
The museum has had, in fact, such great success in recent years that multiple donors worldwide have expressed interest in potentially having their specimens exhibited after their death.
If museums aren’t your cup of tea, why not opt for something more adventurous by booking our Private Fagradalsfall tour!