Museums in Reykjavík | Your Guide Skip to content
Perlan at sunset
Photo: Golli. Perlan Museum at sunset.

Museums in Reykjavík | Your Guide

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Which museums can be visited in Reykjavík, and what kind of exhibitions do they display? What are the opening hours, and how much are the admission fees? These questions will be answered ahead, so read on to learn more about visiting museums in Iceland’s vibrant capital city. 

Iceland has a rich, varied history, starting with Norse settlers who arrived in the 9th century.

To become the modern democratic republic we know and love today, a long series of events have shaped this island’s geology, and culture, including disruptive volcanic eruptions, military occupations, and artistic movements.

Walking through Photo: Golli. Árbær Open Air Museum
Photo: Golli. Guests at the Árbær Open Air Museum

There is no better way of learning more about Iceland’s history than by visiting the different kinds of museums in Reykjavík, the capital city.

Not only does it offer a healthy dose of intellectual curiosity, but it helps to break up the seemingly endless sightseeing in Iceland’s nature. 

Perlan Museum and Observation Deck

A rainbow over Perlan, one of the museums in Reykjavík
Photo: Golli. A rainbow over Perlan Museum and Observation Deck

Those who have spent any time exploring Reykjavík will have noticed a forested hillside outside of the downtown area. This area is named Öskjuhlíð; from its treeline, a distinctive dome peeks out. It is as much a part of the city skyline as Hallgrimskirja or Harpa Concert Hall, but not everyone is aware of its true purpose, nor what lies in wait there for those who take the time to visit.  

What was once the city’s water treatment centre has since been converted to the beloved visitors attraction, Perlan Museum and Observation Deck. This fun and interactive exhibition space is a great location for adults and children alike to learn more about Iceland’s amazing nature in a simulated and entertaining way. 

 

Inside are many recreated scenes from around Iceland, including an ice tunnel and a huge model of the Látrabjarg bird-cliffs. There are also cinematic shows focused on the Northern Lights and the Geldingadalir volcanic eruption. Plus, there is an informative exhibition about the importance of water in Iceland, complete with a virtual aquarium.

On top of the four huge water tanks that surround Perlan’s dome sits a beautiful observation deck, allowing for 360° views of Reykjavík and its bordering nature. When you’ve finished appreciating the views, you can stop by the various amenities on offer, including a restaurant and bar, a gift shop, and even an ice cream parlour. 

Address: Öskjuhlíð, 105 Reykjavík

Contact: 566 9000

National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands)

World War II soldiers in Iceland
Photo: National Museum of Iceland. WW2 soldiers in Iceland.

The National Museum of Iceland is the best place in the city to boost your knowledge about the history of this island. Established February 24 1863, the museum was founded as the Antiquarian Collection, taking on a wide array of historical objects that had, until then, been stored in Denmark. 

Its name was changed in 1911, long before the country gained its independence in 1944. Until then, the museum’s collection was stored in various attics across the city, and it was only when Iceland became a nation in its own right that a dedicated building was offered by the government. Today, the museum has been completely refurbished to meet modern standards.  

Their permanent exhibition traces Iceland’s timeline from the Viking era, all the way up to the modern day, allowing guests to journey through the centuries with a mix of informative display boards, photographs, and intriguing artefacts. There are around 2000 objects to look at and appreciate, some dating back to the Settlement Era

Address: Suðurgata 41, 102 Reykjavík

Contact: 530 2200

The Reykjavík Art Museum (Listasafn Reykjavíkur)

Hafnarhús art museum
Photo: Golli. Hafnarhús is one of the museums in Reykjavík

The Reykjavík Art Museum is housed in three separate buildings – Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn, the former home of the Icelandic sculptor, Ásmundur Sveinsson.

Hafnarhús is located in downtown Reykjavík, near the scenic Old Harbour. Actually, this one of the museum’s buildings is a refurbished warehouse that was once used as part of Iceland’s fishing industry. 

The main draw here is that it is permanent home to the work of visual artist, Erró, who made great strides in the pop-art movement. Those arriving from Keflavik Airport will have already seen his work as a comic-style mosaic within the terminal. 

Aside from Erró’s work, Hafnarhús’ revolving exhibitions offers the chance to see pieces by other upcoming artists from Iceland, as well as purchase sophisticated souvenir pieces to brighten up your home.  

What other buildings make up the Reykjavík Art Museum

The second of the museum’s buildings, Kjarvalsstaðir, can be found in Klambratún Park. Klambratún is a lovely green space often occupied by dog walkers and frisbee-golfers. This was the first building in Iceland designed specifically to display artworks. In fact, it is built in the style of Nordic Modernism. 

Host to modern art and sculpture, Kjarvalsstaðir is named after Jóhannes S. Kjarval, one of Iceland’s most influential and eccentric artists. Born in poverty, he rised to great heights in Icelandic society as a painter of many broad styles, including the likes of Expressionism, Impressionism, and Cubism. In fact, he was so revered in his time that he was awarded Iceland’s highest honour – the Order of the Falcon – but as a true outsider, he declined to accept it. Today, he is memorialised on the 2000 krona note.    

With its dome structure and slanting white walls, the final building belonging to the Reykjavík Art Museum, Ásmundarsafn, is visually striking at first glance. This is no shock given that it is the former home of the prized Icelandic sculptor, Ásmundur Sveinsson, whose sometimes controversial impact on the world of sculpture can be seen in every detail of this fascinating place. 

The garden surrounding this futuristic, almost Mediterranean-style building is dotted with Sveinsson’s abstract creations. The inside displays more of his work alongside other contemporary artists who took inspiration from this great artist. Ásmundarsafn makes for a great stop while visiting other nearby attractions like Reykjavík botanical gardens and Reykjavík zoo.  

Address: Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík

Contact: 411 6400

The Saga Museum (Saga minjasafn)

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

The mediaeval sagas tell legends from the early Settlement Period in Iceland, but even English translations of these historic works can be challenging to understand. One way to make these stories more accessible is by visiting the Saga Museum, which helps history come to life. 

Here, they convey some of the greatest Icelandic characters and stories through the use of life-sized models, complete with traditional clothing and authentically replicated weapons and props. 

There are seventeen exhibitions on display, informing guests of events like the reformation and the black death, as well as allowing you to up close and personal with some of the most influential Icelanders who ever lived, such as the great writer Snorri Sturluson and the Viking explorer, Leif Erikson. 

Address: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík

Contact: 511 1517

Reykjavík City Museum (Reykjavíkurborgarsafn)

Dressing up at Árbær Open Air Museum
Photo: Golli. Árbær Open Air Museum

The Reykjavík City Museum hosts five separate exhibitions across Iceland’s capital, allowing you to hop from one to the other while taking in the picturesque urban sights along the way.

Outside of downtown is Arbaer Open-Air Museum, where many historical buildings have been either moved, or lovingly recreated, to show what life in Iceland was like in prior times. Then there is the Settlement Exhibition, which offers deep insights into how Reykjavík and its surrounding areas were first developed by the Norse settlers. 

The Reykjavík Maritime Museum is the go-to place to learn more about how Icelanders have lived by, and been defined by, their surrounding coastal waters. Here you will learn about the nation’s fishing industry, its coast guard, and the various species that live around this island. 

Reykjavík Old Harbour
Photo: Golli. Outside of Reykjavík Maritime Museum

Speaking of islands, The Reykjavík City Museum also owns the small but scenic Videy. This speck of land which can be seen from the shores of the city. There are many nature trails for you to enjoy on Videy, as well as Yoko Ono’s art exhibition, The Peace Tower. This installation is dedicated to the late-beatle, John Lennon. Ferries travel between Reykjavík and Videy every day, so long as the weather permits it. 

Finally, there is the Museum of Photography, documenting the history of this city, and this nation. Its collection exceeds approximately 6-million fascinating images. Some of its oldest photographs date back to 1860, offering a intriguing look at how Reykjavík looked in the past. 

Address: Aðalstræti 10, 101 Reykjavík

Contact: 411 6370

The Icelandic Phallological Museum (Hið Íslenska Reðasafn)

Animal organs on display at the Penis Museum
Photo: Penis Museum

Colloquially known as ‘The Penis Museum’, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is one of the only establishments in the world dedicated to the male genitalia. Whether you consider that a good thing or not is entirely down to personal preference.

Regardless of snickering, the fascination the male member draws from the public cannot be denied. Some might call the penis proud, others fearsome, but typically, amusing is the most common descriptor. Given the key rings, t-shirts, and phallic pasta noodles in the gift shop, one knows the museum is all too aware of this. 

Being good-humoured is one thing, but that’s the least of what’s on offer. For one, it is not just human-derived specimens the museum focuses on, but also those that once belonged to the many animal species found across Iceland. 

There is nothing obscene about the museum (except, perhaps, the gift shop.) Those scientifically inclined – and capable of keeping a straight face – will discover plenty to love in its exhibitions and displays. 

Address: Kalkofnsvegur 2, 101 Reykjavík, Ísland, 101 Reykjavík

Contact: 561 6663

The Northern Lights Center (Norðurljósasafnið)

Auroras above the trees
Photo: Golli. The auroras lighting up the trees!

One of the greatest allures during winter in Iceland is seeing the Northern Lights, sometimes known as the Aurora Borealis. As with any natural phenomena, there is no guarantee they will appear during your time here. Their visibility is highly dependent on cloud cover, solar activity, and light pollution in the area. 

If your chances of seeing them look slim, visit Aurora Reykjavík: the Northern Lights Centre in the Grandi neighbourhood. An interactive exhibition details the mythology and science behind the auroras. And a 7 m wide cinema displays awe-inspiring footage of the lights in action. 


But that’s not all. There are also entertaining, informative workshops dedicated to teaching you how best to photograph this wonder of nature. Finally, a photo-booth simulates the Northern Lights should they remain elusive during your stay. 

The gift shop allows you to purchase any number of aurora-inspired souvenirs, including high-quality prints, clothing, and ornaments. 

Address: Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík

Contact: 780 4500

In Summary

What museums in Reykjavík can you visit?
Photo: Golli. Reykjavík at dusk.

With so much to see and do in Iceland, it is unlikely you will visit all the museums in Reykjavík.

In fact, unless your trip is purely orientated towards Iceland’s history, no one would advise it. There are a wealth of other activities and attractions on offer.

Still, exploring the capital’s museums will provide a greater insight into the culture and history of this enchanting country.  

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