If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you’re likely doing so with the great outdoors in mind. Seeing Iceland’s natural wonders is at the very top of most people’s lists. However, along with all the natural beauty, visiting the excellent galleries and museums is one of the best thing things to do in Iceland, too. The majority of the big hitters are found in Reykjavík, but there are smaller ones spread out around the country as well.
Visiting Iceland’s galleries and museums also offers more variety for your trip. Sure, you’ll want to be out and about in the fresh air most days, but there are bound to be times when an indoor activity suits you better.
For example, on rainy days in Reykjavík, immersing yourself in an engaging exhibition could be just the thing you need. In this article, we will take a look at some of the best galleries and museums in Iceland.
Though we will largely focus on Reykjavík, we will also cover some of the other top museums in the Land of Fire and Ice. We will be looking at the following:
- Museums in Reykjavík
- Fine art museums and galleries in Reykjavík
- The best of the rest around Iceland
Museums in Reykjavík
The National Museum of Iceland
This is an important museum to visit to gain a good overview of Iceland’s social and cultural history. With three floors of artifacts dating back to Viking times, the galleries offer a great insight into times gone by.
Exhibits include religious items, along with jewelry and clothing, as well as everyday objects from the past. They are each laid out chronologically with multi-language interpretation so any tourist will be able to understand. To top it all off, entry is very reasonably priced and included with the Reykjavík City Card if you have one.
You should be able to comfortably see the whole three floors in 2-3 hours. There is a nice little café on the first floor should you need a quick pick-me-up along the way. If you want to gain a good grounding of the country’s history, this is one of the best museums in Iceland to do so.
The Settlement Exhibition
This relatively new museum is located on the site of an excavated Viking building. It is actually the oldest known building in Iceland, This relatively new museum is located on the site of an excavated Viking building. It is actually the oldest known building in Iceland, dating back to the 10th Century. This Viking long hall has been carefully excavated and ingeniously incorporated into the museum site.
Visitors can step into the Viking era with digital interpretations that enhance the experience further, mixing the ancient past with modern amenities. There’s a fun kids area too which makes it very family-friendly and one of the top museums in Reykjavík. Entry is also included with the Reykjavík City Card for this museum.
The Saga Museum
This is a lively and fun museum with life-size replicas of characters from the famous Icelandic sagas. The sagas are a body of historical texts or stories based on real people in Iceland’s history. They are required reading in schools across Iceland and interesting enough for any history lover to pick up a copy.
The Saga Museum is structured as a walkthrough experience with a recorded audio guide. If you don’t feel like curling up with the full Sagas' tome, then it makes for a great overview. It is both fascinating and fun to discover some of the rich histories of Iceland’s Viking past in this way.
Árbær Open Air Museum
Árbær Open Air Museum offers an insight into life in pre-industrialized Iceland. There are around twenty different buildings making up this 19th Century village complete with shops, homes and offices. Staff members are dressed in replica attire from this time in Iceland’s history.
Visitors can walk around the village and inside the different buildings, admiring replicas and interpretations that offer an insight into domestic life in the Iceland of yesteryear. It is both entertaining and child-friendly, with plenty to see and do.
Located in the suburbs of Reykjavík, this museum makes for a great little stop if you are headed out of town. So, if you’re planning to around Iceland, steer your vehicle this way before hitting the open road.
Perlan Wonders of Iceland
This modern natural history museum is located in an impressive building with large atriums and an elevated viewing deck. It’s a popular place to come and enjoy the views out over the city. Inside the exhibit, guests are invited to embark on an interactive journey through some of Iceland’s most thrilling natural wonders.
Visitors will be able to walk through actual ice caves and learn about Iceland’s glaciers. They can also find out everything there is to know about the country’s volcanoes and famous Northern Lights, all located in the planetarium cinema space. Kids will love encountering the wildlife of Iceland with the help of a little virtual reality.
This is an excellent family-friendly museum and a great one to visit before a road trip around Iceland. Seeing the Golden Circle and the glaciers will be enhanced with some background knowledge of the forces that created them.
This interactive exhibit offers a multimedia experience where you can learn about the Aurora Borealis. A fun and informative museum that brings the Northern Lights to life, visitors will gain valuable knowledge about the science behind their otherworldly appearance, as well as the myths and legends that surround them.
Fine art museums and galleries in Reykjavík
Reykjavík Art Museum
This is the classic Reykjavík art establishment, with three different sites dotted around the city. Each gallery concentrates on one or more of Iceland’s most well-known and well-loved artists. Visitors can buy one full-day ticket that allows entry to all three of the museum’s different locations.
The Reykjavík Art Museum at Ásmundarsafn was once the studio and home of sculptor Asmundur Sveinsson. After studying art around Europe Sveinsson returned to Iceland in the 1920s and designed his own home. Following his death in the 1980s, Sveinsson gifted his home and studio to the city of Reykjavík.
The Reykjavík Art Museum at Kjarvalsstaðir is housed in a large and impressive modernist building. It is dedicated mainly to the work of the influential 20th Century painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval. A fisherman turned artist, he is most celebrated for his enthralling, magical landscape paintings of Iceland.
The Reykjavík Art Museum at Hafnarhús is the newest of the trio of gallery sites. Dating back to the 1930s, this former fishing industry warehouse has been renovated and repurposed. It is now one of the foremost modern art museums in Iceland.
The permanent collection here is dedicated to the popular 20th Century artist Erró. His work follows the pop art tradition of bold colors and large-scale paintings and collages. The other galleries in the building host changing exhibitions of modern fine art, including multimedia and performance art.
The permanent collection here is dedicated to the popular 20th Century artist Erró. His work follows the pop art tradition of bold colors and large-scale paintings and collages. The other galleries in the building host changing exhibitions of modern fine art. This includes multimedia and performance art.
The Culture House
Culture House must be one of the most elegant museums in Iceland, housed in a venerable old building in Reykjavík. The majority of the exhibition halls house historical painting and fine art sculptures, but there are also some other cultural artifacts featured, such as precious manuscripts and books
The upper floor of the building hosts a series of changing exhibitions. These usually boast beautiful works by contemporary artists and photographers. It is a fascinating museum for cultural vultures as well as those interested in architecture.
The Museum of Photography
The wonderful Museum of Photography is found in the same building as the National Library. It is home to a vast archive of photography of all types, from documentary and reportage to family portraits and vintage advertising. It’s an excellent and endlessly fascinating gallery to return to again and again.
The best of the rest around Iceland
Viking World is one of the best museums in Iceland for gaining an insight into the country’s Viking life. Located on the coast in the southwest town of Reykjanesbær, its galleries look out across the expansive ocean beyond. The main exhibition hall is home to an impressive working reproduction of a Viking ship.
The rest of the museum covers the often-harsh realities of life at this turbulent time in history. It also touches on Viking folklore and myth and the famous Icelandic Folktales and Sagas. It is an excellent museum and well worth the trip out there.
The Old Farmhouses, Laufus
Located in North Iceland not far from the city of Akureyri you will find this series of traditional turf houses. It is here where visitors can learn about the building techniques used to construct these old-school houses and find out about the realities of life inside them. It’s a serene location with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The Husavik Whale Museum
This is one of the most spectacular natural history museums in Iceland. Located in North Iceland in the town of Husavik, also known as the whale watching capital of Iceland, it is an educational and engaging series of exhibits all about the whales that frequent Iceland’s coast. Therefore, it’s an ideal one to visit ahead of a whale-watching boat excursion.
Visiting Iceland's museums
Visiting Iceland’s museums is among the best things to do in Iceland. That's because you’ll be able to find out about the country’s interesting history, both natural and social.
This knowledge will only serve to enhance your time in the Land of Fire and Ice, as a deeper understanding of Iceland’s past will undoubtedly provide a richer experience of Iceland in the present.