The Best Museums in North Iceland

Akureyri Iceland

Why should you pay a visit to the museums in North Iceland? What can you learn about the history of this spectacular region? Let’s read more about some of North Iceland’s most prestigious museums.

Given that Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, is where most visitors will begin their journey, it is completely understandable that North Iceland is less visited than the south. 

In some respects, this is a shame, while in others, it maintains the north’s secretive majesty. But however you look at it, the region is well-worth exploring. 

 

Closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country, the landscape is known to be wild, mountainous, with deep fjords and stretching peninsulas. Unsurprisingly, this stunning place is a favourite amongst those who enjoy sightseeing, as well as breathtaking wildlife tours. 

Aside from the gravitas and splendour of its nature, the north is a domain rich in culture and history. Its people are proud of their place in the world – not to mention the distinction they hold amongst fellow Icelanders – and they are eager to share as much with visitors. 

You’ll discover so much fascinating information to learn about this amazing place in the region’s many museums, so make sure to break up the sightseeing by shifting your attention to some cultural highlights. 

Akureyri Museum

A historic photo of Akureyri
Photo: Minjasafnið á Akureyri / Akureyri Museum

For those looking for a comprehensive introduction to the North’s history, Akureyri Museum should be your first stop. Two permanent exhibitions – Eyjafjorður from Early Times and Akureyri: the Town on the Bay – display artefacts related to the history of the north’s two major settlements, including those from the Viking period and the Middle Ages. 

With information boards in English, Danish, and German, you will find their litany of facts highly accessible, allowing you to gain deeper insights into this most fascinating of regions. 

Akureyri Museum also operates a number of other establishments, including the likes of Nonni House, Museum Church & Garden, Akureyri Toy Museum, Davíðshús (Davíð Stefánson’s writers museum) and Laufás heritage site. Actually, Laufás is especially worthy of an extra note – it is a beautiful farmstead that perfectly captures how rural Icelanders once lived in the area. 

Address: Aðalstræti 58, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 1. June – 30. September 

13:00 – 16:00 1. October – 31. May

The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Flight in Iceland
Photo: Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Iceland does not have a military; no Army, no Navy (aside from their Coast Guard), and – most importantly in this context – no Air Force. 

Still, this small island does have a complex and fascinating history of aviation, especially in regards to their arduous but successful development of commercial airlines. 

Founded May 1 1999, Flugsafn Íslands, or the Icelandic Aviation Museum, is located in a hangar at Akureyri Airport. The museum was established due to a lack of hangar space at the airport, with many of them filled with older planes that were no longer in use. These aircraft were then moved to be permanently displayed in an exhibition that would detail how Icelanders first took flight. 

Inside, you will find aerial machines of all kinds, from old bi-planes to gliders, and even smaller models that hang decoratively from the ceiling. Each has an important place in this fascinating story – a tale that began in 1919 with the creation of the first Icelandic airline, to the powerful passenger jets and rescue helicopters that make up this nation’s air-fleet today. 

Flying over Iceland
Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

But it’s not all just reading and observing stationary aircraft. 

Visitors can actually look around inside the Coast Guard plane, TF-SYN, gaining a deeper insight into the inner-mechanics of such incredible works of engineering, and even see some of the aircraft in action during the museum’s exciting flight day, held each year in June. 

Address: Akureyri International Airport, 600 Akureyri 

Opening Hours: May 15th to Sept 15th: Open daily 11:00-17:00

Sept 16th to May 14th: Saturdays 13:00-16:00

Ystafell Transportation Museum

Cars at Ystafell Transportation Museum
Photo: Ystafell Transportation Museum

In 1998, married-couple Ingólfur Kristjánsson and Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir founded the Ystafell Transportation Museum, a natural extension of Ingólfur’s semi-compulsive collecting of mechanical parts. 

In fact, many guests attest that the reason as to why visiting is so memorable comes down to Ingólfur’s passion, dedication, and knowledge of the fascinating machines on display.  

Not only does the museum display the largest collections of automobiles in the country, but also many transportation types other than cars, including tractors, aircraft, or snowmobiles. 

Address: Ystafell III, Norðausturvegur, 641 Húsavík

Opening Hours: May 25th ­- Sept 25th: 11:00 -­ 18:00 

The Herring Era Museum

fishing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. A fishing boat in Iceland

Plans to open a heritage museum in Siglufjörður date back all the way to 1957, when newly elected town-council members recognised the need to preserve equipment, artefacts, and photographs related to the local fishing industry. It was not until 1989 that the Herring Era Museum finally opened its doors, allowing visitors the chance to learn more about why fishing – and fishing Herring, particularly – was so important to the town’s development. 

Renovations continued over the next decades, transforming an old fishermen’s shed, Róaldsbrakki, into a bonafide exhibition space, complete with a boat house and two large museum buildings. Today, it attracts over 30,000 visitors a year, as well as hosts countless events, including art shows and music festivals.

As is the case with so many islands, the Icelandic nation is built on fishing. Herring was once called ‘the silver of the sea,’ and is, to this day, considered to be one of the founding pillars of Icelandic society. This is because Iceland’s herring fishing took off at a time when much of the world was experiencing a financial depression, and thus it played a huge role in securing Iceland’s economic independence and stability. 

In fact, one could go as far as to say that the importance of Herring was among the major drives behind Iceland breaking away from Denmark in 1944. 

No other place in Iceland was so influenced by what’s known as the Herring Adventure than Siglufjörður. However, countless other towns developed primarily due to the hunting down and catching of this common fish species, including Dalvík, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, and many others. 

Address: Snorragata 10, 580 Siglufjörður

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00-18:00

May – Sept: 13:00-17:00

Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum is one of the top museums in North Iceland
Photo: Golli. Exhibition at the Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum has a revolving door of exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of creative disciplines from watercolour paintings to contemporary art and even scenography. In short, it is one of the best places in the country to appreciate just how diverse Icelandic artists can be. Each Thursday, a guided tour in English allows visitors the chance to gain some insider knowledge about the artworks on display. 

The museum itself is designed in the Bauhaus-style of architecture, making it immediately noticeable when walking through Iceland’s second-largest city. Its stand-out appearance is quite notable given the building used to be home to a simple dairy. 

Akureyri Art Museum is also responsible for the A! Performance Festival, held in October each year. This fun and unique event draws in eclectic visual artists and weird, experimental theatre-projects of all kinds, transforming the city streets into a bohemian wonderland for a few days in the month. Aside from that, it also hosts the Iceland Visual Arts Awards, having done so since 2006. 

Address: Kaupvangsstræti 8-12, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00 – 17:00

Sept – May: 12:00 – 17:00

Safnasafnið – The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum

Safnasafnid
Photo: Daniel Starrason. Safnasafnið

The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum might be described as a true artist’s museum.

That is because this establishment – founded in 1995 by Níels Hafstein and Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir – displays work by creatives who have, for one reason or another, have been classified as working outside of the mainstream. 

Therefore, guests can expect to see not only the work of professional artists, but also that of amateurs and autodidacts.

Photo: Safnasafnið

Such a strange, diverse array of collected pieces adds a real sense of unexpectedness and curiosity to visiting here, as well as allows for a deeper glimpse into the often peculiar minds of Icelandic creators. 

Address: Hverfisgata 15, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Opening Hours: May – Sept: 10:00 – 17:00 

The Museum of Prophecies

 

 

Þórdís the fortune-teller is the unlikely star of this strange and otherworldly museum in Skagaströnd. She was the first inhabitant of the region, and it was claimed she was a magic-woman, of sorts, capable of reading the future and unafraid of starting feuds with the settlers who came after her. In other words, Þórdís was a truly independent spirit, so revered in her time that she had a mountain – Spákonufell – named after her. 

Visitors to the Museum of Prophecies will learn about Þórdís’ life story, as well as the role that fortune-telling has played in Icelandic culture over the centuries. Aside from that, they can also have their own fortunes told as part of an informative guided tour.  

Built within a former army barracks, the museum is not large by any means. Still, it boasts incredible replicas of old Icelandic homes and famous people from folktales, and also has a decent gift shop which sells local handicrafts and a small cafe to purchase refreshments.   

Address: Oddagata 6, 545 Skagaströnd

Opening Hours: June – Sept:  13:00 – 18:00

In Summary 

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.
Photo: María H. Tryggvadóttir. Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Those in the North should take time to step away from appreciating the spectacular surrounding nature to take-in the history and artwork that help make the region what it is. 

Given the breadth of cultural establishments one can explore, there is simply no other way to get a full sense of why it remains one of the most enticing and fascinating parts of the country. 

What Is Iceland Like in the Spring and Fall?

Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland

Icelandic nature during shoulder seasons

During fall, Iceland’s nature takes on a unique palate of orange, maroon, and moss green, making autumn in Iceland a treat for your eyes. During the spring, the empty branches start blooming after a long winter’s rest, and the grass turns green again. Both fall and spring are excellent times to observe the rich birdlife of Iceland, as migrant birds pass through during this time. The well-known Atlantic Puffins arrive in April and stay until September. You can see the puffins in several places, but the most convenient way is to take a boat tour to Akurey island or Lundey island from Reykjavík harbour.

The weather in Iceland during fall and spring

During any season, Iceland’s weather can change often and quickly. Sometimes, you can even experience all four seasons in just one day! For this reason, it is best to be prepared and regularly check for weather updates and road conditions. In the fall, the average temperature is 4-7°C [39-45°F], and in the spring, 0-7°C [32-45°F]. In the spring, the daylight is, on average, 15 hours. During fall, it averages 10 hours. Fall and spring bring more rain than the other seasons, so bringing water-resistant coats and footwear may be a good idea.

The roads in Iceland

Route 1, often referred to as “the ring road”, will take you around the island with clear road signs and paved roads. However, some remote locations may only be accessible by gravel roads. You will not be able to travel to the Highland, as the F-roads that take you there are only open from June to August.

Foggy road in Iceland
Photo: Golli.

Driving safe

Due to rainfall, water can accumulate in the roads’ tyre tracks or other dips, causing hydroplaning. If this happens, slow down by letting go of the accelerator and pump lightly on the break if needed. Note that rain, fog, and snow can reduce visibility, especially during the darker hours. Make sure to never stop in the middle of the road or enter closed roads; it is illegal and can cause serious accidents. In case of an emergency, call 112. Make sure to bring essentials such as warm clothing, snacks and beverages, and to have a GPS/map at hand. It is good to familiarise yourself with Icelandic road signs before driving. For information regarding weather and road conditions, you can call 1777. With some preparation and research, you can have a safe and adventurous journey!

Northern lights in Iceland during spring and fall

Late fall and early spring are good times to see the northern lights, though never guaranteed. You can catch them yourself from wherever the skies are clear, but tours are available to see the northern lights shining brighter from better vantage points. The tours usually run from mid-September to mid-April, as the rest of the year brings too much daylight to see the aurora. You can view the northern lights forecast here. Note that the white areas on the map indicate clear skies and a higher chance of seeing them. You will see numbers in the upper right corner representing their activity level.

What is there to do in the spring and fall in Iceland?

Inside:

Iceland offers a diverse range of museums. In Reykjavík, Perlan museum has interesting interactive exhibitions presenting virtual northern lights and a man-made glacier, in addition to educational exhibitions on natural history and geology. Other museums in Reykjavík include the Maritime Museum, the Whale Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Reykjavík Art Museum. Iceland offers a variety of restaurants and cafes where you can experience both Icelandic and foreign cuisine. You can browse Iceland’s unique art, clothing, and jewellery designs in local shops around the country.

Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland
Photo: Perlan Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland

Outside:

Hikes in areas such as Heiðmörk nature reserve and Þingvellir national park will bring you a new appreciation of the scenic nature of Iceland through lava, moss, lakes, and rich history. Road trips to the villages and towns of Iceland are a great way to experience authentic Icelandic culture. To keep warm during cold days, submerge yourself in some of Iceland’s many geothermal pools and lagoons. Mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls, glaciers, and geysers are some of the natural wonders of Iceland worth exploring, whether on your own or by going on various excursions.

As summer and winter are the peak seasons of tourism in Iceland, fall and spring are more affordable for flights and accommodation while bringing fewer crowds. Whether chasing the aurora, exploring Iceland’s nature and its wildlife, or immersing yourself in the local culture, the shoulder seasons provide fascinating scenery for a vacation to remember.

 

Wine, Gas, and Swimming Pool Prices Rise

Laugardalslaug geothermal swimming pool in Reykjavík

With the new year, changes to public price structures all over Iceland come into effect. Municipalities have upped the fees for some of the services they offer, while the 2024 budget, recently approved by Alþingi, heralds new taxes and adjustments to the existing ones.

Tax rates on alcohol and tobacco go up by 3.5 percent, Morgunblaðið reports. As does the licensing fee for public broadcasting and the tax on gasoline. The litre will cost an extra ISK 4.20 [$0.03, €0.03], while the litre of diesel goes up by ISK 3.70 [$0.03, €0.02]. The vehicle tax on lighter automobiles rises by 30 percent as well, while owners of electric cars will need to pay a new fee per kilometre, which for the average driver will amount to ISK 90,000 [$666, €599] per year.

Trash and tickets pricier

Municipalities have also announced higher prices for trash collection, as a new system for sorting refuse is being implemented in the capital area. The biggest increase is in Reykjavík, where the price for two bins goes from ISK 52,600 [$389, €350] to ISK 73,500 [$544, €489]. The highest fee remains in the more affluent neighbouring municipality of Seltjarnarnes and amounts to ISK 75,000 [$555, €499].

In Reykjavík, the prices for trips to the swimming pool, museum tickets and petting zoo admissions have also gone up. A single adult ticket to a public pool goes up by 6 percent and will now cost ISK 1,330 [$10, €9]. Yearly tickets go up by 5.5 percent, while prices for towel and swimming trunk rentals also rise. A hike in bus fare prices has also been announced. They will rise by an average of 11 percent.

Dinomite Gift: Scientist Wants to Give Reykjavík 65-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skeleton

Iceland may soon be welcoming an exceptional new resident, and quite an elderly one at that. Vísir reports that the City of Reykjavík may receive a 65-million-year-old triceratops skeleton from half-Icelandic scientist Marcus Eriksen, who is overseeing its excavation in the US state of Wyoming.

Eriksen is the co-founder of Leap Lab, “a center for art, science, and self-reliance,” which hosts an annual “Dino Extinction Expedition” during which laypeople, “ranging from four years old to 84,” take part in archeological digs for dinosaur skeletons in Wyoming’s Niobara County. Per the organization’s website, the goal of involving non-specialists in the excavation process is to “provide convincing evidence that preserving biodiversity and habitat today is essential to staving off the 6th extinction.”

Known as Ken, the triceratops skeleton was found five years ago by Eriksen’s daughter, Avani Cummings, who was only five years old at the time. Cummings’ first discovery was part of a rib, and that was followed by several more bones, including a vertebra from Ken’s tail. “We found some bite marks on it from a T-Rex,” Eriksen explained on the City of Reykjavik website. “This tells us a story about a dinosaur that managed to escape a predator and survive!”

Eriksen and his family, including his daughter Avani, who first found one of Ken’s bones when she was only five. Photo: Reykjavíkurborg, FB

Gift in honor of his mother

Interested amateur archeologists are invited to participate in one of Leap Lab’s two, week-long expeditions that will take place in July 2023. Eriksen is particularly interested in getting Icelanders involved in the dig. “I’d really like to get people from Reykjavík to come out to Wyoming next summer,” he said. “It would be nice for Icelanders to participate in the whole process, including digging up the bones.”

Amateur archeologists of all ages participate in the dino dig. Photo: Reykjavíkurborg, FB

About 30% of Ken’s bones have been excavated thus far. And after the skeleton is fully exhumed next summer, Eriksen would like to give it to Iceland, which has no such artefacts of its own. It’s likely that some bones will be missing from the skeleton, but Eriksen doesn’t think that will pose any problems for future exhibition. “I’m currently 3D scanning all the missing bones and think it would be great if we could find a 3D printer in Reykjavík and print out the bones that are missing there.”

There would be two conditions on the gift, however. Firstly, Eriksen wants the skeleton to be gifted in the name of his mother, who grew up in the capital, and secondly, he wants it to be displayed in a museum in Reykjavík.

Reykjavíkurborg, FB

“The gift would be given in the name of my mother and her siblings, who grew up in Reykjavík,” he said. “They’re now in their 90s. My mom moved to the US when I was three years old. She always worked hard to make sure that my brother and I were treated well, and I can thank her for my thirst for knowledge and strong, Icelandic work ethic. I’ve heard countless stories about her life in Reykjavík in the mid-20th century and I’d like to honor her generation with this gift to the city.”

The Reykjavík City Council has agreed to establish a working group to review the proposal to assess how much the gift would cost the city, confirm the skeleton’s provenance, and explore local museums’ interest in hosting Ken, should the city accept Eriksen’s gift. It’s anticipated that their assessment will be completed by May 1.

Phallological Museum to Display Cast of Jimi Hendrix’s Penis

The Icelandic Phallological Museum will soon add a new artifact to its extensive collection: a plaster cast of legendary American guitarist Jimi Hendrix’s penis. RÚV reports that the cast was made by visual artist Cynthia Albritton in 1986, two years before Hendrix’s death. Albritton bequeathed the cast to the museum prior to her death at the age of 74 last month.

Albritton was better known as “Plaster Caster,” a nickname immortalized in a Kiss song of the same name, and made casts of almost 50 phalluses, most belonging to rock musicians. She also eventually added rock and roll breasts to her repertoire. She claimed not to have a favourite cast, but remarked in a 1995 interview with The Evening Standard that “other people are most interested in the Hendrix,” which was also sometimes stylized as “the Penis de Milo.” The project started as an art class assignment at the University of Illinois, continued as “a great ruse to divert rock stars from the other girls,” and eventually, Albritton said, became “an art form,” something she took seriously, despite the inherent absurdity. “I’m laughing with them, not at them.”

The idea to display Albritton’s work at the Phallological Museum didn’t come from the artist herself, says director Þórður Ólafur Þórðarson, but rather, her neighbours and close friends, a couple who visited the museum around Christmas. After speaking to Þórður about Albritton’s work, they suggested holding an exhibition at the museum, and eventually, Albritton decided to donate the Hendrix. She was unable to deliver it in person before her death, however, so her friends will be bringing it to Iceland on her behalf in June.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum claims to be “probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country” and boasts a collection of more than 215 “penises and penile parts,” including specimens belonging to whales, seals, “a rogue polar bear,” and more. It also has human specimens, both “legally certified gift tokens” from four individuals, as well as casts like Cynthia’s, most notably of the entire Icelandic Men’s National Handball Team, which won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Iceland’s Culture Sector Accounts for Nearly 8% of Workers

Húrra concert Reykjavík

In 2019, 15,500 people between the ages of 16-74 worked in cultural employment, according to data just released by Statistics Iceland. That number accounted for 7.7% of total employment, the same proportion as in 2018. (The tourism industry employed 24,981 in the same year, for comparison.) Within those who worked in culture, just over one third was employed in cultural industries while two thirds were in “cultural occupations in other industries,” according to Statistics Iceland.

Women Outnumber Men

Women accounted for 59.4% of cultural employees in 2019, compared to 45.1% in other employment. The ratio of women in cultural employment has been substantially higher than in other employment for the past five years. Nearly one quarter of cultural workers (24.4%) reported being self-employed, compared to 10.6% in other employment.

Highest Proportion in Performing Arts

Proportionally fewer immigrants were employed in cultural industries than in other industries in 2019, or 9.1% to 19.6%. Within the cultural industries, most people were employed in creative arts and entertainment activities (category 90) in 2019 or 15.2%. Libraries, archives, museums and other cultural activities came second (category 91) with 14.5%.

COVID-19 Relief Lacking for Creatives, Self-Employed

The Icelandic government’s economic response to COVID-19 has been criticised for failing to provide relief for self-employed workers and those in the performing arts. Gathering ban restrictions have necessitated the cancellation of numerous events and concerts, meaning that self-employed artists can’t depend on live shows for income. Unemployment for these artists has, predictably, been high and due to the nature of their work there are few, if any, state resources they can turn to for relief.

“Self-employed musicians in the Icelandic music industry work in variable and seasonal markets, pay taxes and other fees, but by the very nature of their work, fall outside of the mutual insurance safety net when crises like this occur,” a statement from the Association of Self-Employed Musicians (FSST) stated. “As such, self-employed musicians have not been able to take advantage of the government’s temporary resources or any of the economic relief measures that have been introduced.”