Beauteous locales cover the land of fire and ice. But do you know that Iceland is equally rich with history as it is with flora and fauna? Every nook of the country is attached to some significant historical anecdotes. Whether it is a building, lighthouse, or monument; Iceland is built for the enthusiasts of history. This is why there are more than 40 museums in Iceland to explore the culture and history of the land. More than a dozen of these museums are located in Reykjavik, the capital city.
Reykjavik hosts a variety of museums. On one hand, some original Icelandic Sagas will take you to the beginning of Icelandic culture. On the other hand, there are exhibitions where you can explore and learn about the country. From Icelandic boats to different species of whales, you can dedicate an entire tour to just museums of the city.
You can buy a City Card which provides you with free admission and discount on various museums in the city. It can be purchased at Reykjavík’s City Hall. Reykjavik’s city buses and swimming pools offer free entry for City Card holders. Let us find out more about the best Museums in Reykjavik.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Fishing is at the core of Iceland’s survival. Most of the population in the countryside depends on seaborne trade. Reykjavik Maritime Museum is dedicated to Iceland’s maritime history. You can take a look at the country’s seafaring heritage in the newly renovated part of Reykjavík’s harbor, known as the Grandi area. Great old fishing artifacts, detailed model ships, and mock-ups of wireless signal rooms; you will find fascinating things related to oceans. The museum provides a good insight into the life and times of Icelandic fishermen. It explains how the trade worked in times when technology was not par excellence. There is a model of a compass repair shop inside too which will attract you with its dummy models.
The country has had its share of relationships with the sea. You will get to the center of this at the Maritime Museum. The scale of difficulties the fishermen had to face and the gradual growth of modern Iceland through fishing are the two major themes of this museum. Interestingly, there is a specific section of the Cod Wars. It is a series of confrontational tiffs between Iceland and the United Kingdom over fishing rights. A Coast Guard vessel Óðinn, which survived three of these wars, is available for tour.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. City cardholders get free admission and it includes a visit to Óðinn vessel.
The Icelandic Punk Museum
You cannot forget about Icelandic music while exploring the nation’s culture and history. Iceland’s culture and history are reflected in its music. At the Icelandic Punk Museum, you can learn about the country’s punk scene which is traced from the early years to the new wave uprising. New wave uprising opened the way for some of the nation’s most popular and loved artists such as Björk and Sigur Rós. The location of the punk museum is quite interesting. It is almost hidden at the bottom of Bankastræti street in downtown Reykjavík. Locals and punk music lovers believe that it is an apt location for a museum of this kind, a former public toilet. The punk museum became operational in 2016. It was inaugurated by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols to tell the story of Icelandic Punk.
There is a huge collection of photographs, posters, handbills, stage equipment, and instruments that you can check out at this museum. There are stalls inside that serve as mini display rooms for musical items to display. The interiors of the museum are quite a thing to experience. Videos of classic club shows are being streamed inside. Headphones are hanging from the ceiling each one playing a different song from the Icelandic punk scene. There are punk-styled leather jackets for visitors to try. You should try one of these for catchy pictures. You can also strike a pose with a guitar or behind the drums.
The punk museum is open from 10 am- 10 pm on weekdays and on the weekends from 12pm to10pm.
The Saga Museum
As the name itself suggests, the Saga Museum is no less than a grand historical saga. Ironically, the museum is built in a relatively small space but it is brimming full with information about the Viking settlers. So if you are intrigued about the wars that Iceland fought, this place is for you. Interestingly there are life-like replicas of Icelandic historical figures to recreate the significant moments in Iceland’s history.
An audio guide is handed to the visitors as soon as they enter the museum. You can pick a language from Icelandic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, or Swedish. It plays automatically as you walk towards the various realistic figures. The museum is an ideal place to tag along with children as they will learn about the rich history of the places you have just seen or are about to visit. You will know about the interesting anecdotes such as how Iceland’s parliament, Alþingi, was founded in 930 at Þingvellir National Park.
Artisans and experts have hand-crafted clothes, weapons, and everyday objects using traditional methods. The replicas in the museum are created authentically using descriptions found in the Viking Sagas and chronicles. To bring back some amazing memories, make sure you carry your camera with you. You can also change upon dressing up as a Viking in all the hand-crafted clothes.
The Saga Museum is open for tourists every day from 10 am-6 pm. City cardholders get a 10% discount on admission.
With a large and beautiful building, Culture House is one of the most magnificent museums in Iceland. Situated on the Hverfisgata street in downtown Reykjavík, Culture House hosts paintings, sculptures, and other works of art. Along with that, there are various cultural pieces and historical artifacts. Here you will be introduced to a historical perspective required to see Iceland as a European nation in the current political scenario.
All the exhibitions and artifacts are curated by historians, anthropologists, and experts. ‘Points of View’ is a permanent exhibition that gives explorers a chance to indulge in the collection of six different cultural institutions. These institutions range from contemporary art to ancient relics as old as a thousand years. This exhibition is the highlight of the museum.
Also known as Safnahúsið, Culture House was built between 1906-1908 as a conservatory to the National Library and National Archives. Modern Icelandic art is on the fourth floor while medieval is on the ground. Art collections are arranged by various themes, rather than chronologically. If you are interested in a particular area, you will have all the information regarding it at one stop. Special and temporary exhibitions are also organized separately on the third floor. Designed by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen, the building of Culture House is considered an epitome of brilliance in terms of both its interior and exterior. The Culture House provides a free web guide and you can rent a smartphone on location if you do not have one. It is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. From the 16th of September to the 30th of May, it stays closed on Mondays. No admission fee is taken from City Card holders.
Towering over Reykjavik from the top of a hill in the Öskjuhlíð area, the Perlan building looks iconic. It attracts tourists’ attention for its stunning beauty. Perlan has a distinguished shape which is a highlight of the area. From the observation deck of the hemispherical structure, you can experience a panoramic view of the capital area. The explorers can indulge themselves in the wild Icelandic nature, without going to the outskirts of Reykjavík city.
‘Glaciers and Ice Cave’ exhibition is something that you absolutely cannot miss. The ice cave where the exhibition is hosted is constructed inside a hot water tank. The fact that further adds to the astonishing element of the Perlan museum is that its glass is fixed at the top of six water tanks. You have to use all your senses to experience the magnificence of this museum. You will have to touch the ice, listen to the sounds, and feel the cold to have a wholesome experience.
On the second floor, you find an interactive wall aimed to portray the forces of the glaciers and the volcanic activity. Beneath them, there are multimedia displays with all the knowledge about glaciers. One thing that is admired alike by the locals and the tourists is Perlan’s Aurora Northern Lights planetarium show. It takes you on a journey through time and space and allows you to witness the spectacular show of the Northern Lights. An exhibition on the water in Iceland is also on display in Perlan. It is quite fun and interactive, being shown in a virtual reality telescope that provides you insights to explore the birdlife such as puffins at Látrabjarg cliffs. The museum is open every day from 9 am to 7 pm.
Arbaer Open Air Museum
A museum in the open air- the idea sounds different and exciting. That’s exactly the experience of visiting the Arbaer Open Air Museum. Here you will have a chance to explore ancient Icelandic houses. A small town is formed inside the museum which consists of more than 20 houses, preserved and relocated for explorers to see. To keep up the authenticity, a square and a farm are also built. This gives visitors a peek into how Icelanders used to live before the country industrialized. The natural purity and aura of that period will surely take you into confines.
Outside each building, you will find interesting facts and narratives. Those who are interested in Iceland’s domestic history will find ample information about various topics. From a doctor’s residence to the house of landless laborers in the 19th-century, you will find buildings that housed people with different occupations and social statuses. There are traditional turf houses and storage huts that were used during world war II. The Open Air Museum is an interesting place to take children along as they will find a lot of useful historical information. They will also get to play with traditional mid-century toys as a children’s room is installed at the museum.
The staff and tour guides dress in traditional Icelandic attire, to comply with the theme. They also go on working on the farm, which includes tending to chickens, cows, and sheep. Located in Árbær, you can reach the Open Air Museum both by public transport or through your vehicle. It is a few kilometers away from the city center but you will have no problem reaching here. The entry to the museum is free if you are a city cardholder. Also, if you take the bus to the museum, the city card covers that too. From June to August, the museum is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm. If you are visiting from September to May, the timings are from 1 pm to 5 pm.
The National Museum of Iceland
A bonhomie for history lovers in Iceland, The National Museum of Iceland will impress you with its collections. Many gems and treasures from Iceland’s history are housed here. The ship which Viking settlers used to cross the ocean to come to their new home is placed in the National Museum. The highlight of the museum is a permanent exhibition called ‘Making of a Nation‘. It contains a huge collection of art and crafts, archaeological remains, religious artifacts and tools, and furniture. Everything is arranged chronologically so that you can have all the information about a particular period at a single stop.
There is a separate section that explains the settlement era displaying swords, drinking horns, and a bronze figure of the thunder god Thor. The figure of Thor is a significant part of pop-culture considering a huge fan following Marvel movies. So do not forget to carry a camera here as you can get some amazing pictures. The section also features the Valþjófsstaður door and a majestic medieval church door on which the legend of Lion-Knight is imprinted. On the upper floor, there is a collection that takes you from the 17th-century to the modern era. Here you will receive insights about the country’s plight, its agitating state under foreign rule, and their independence movement. Tourists are provided with headphones to listen to the ancient voices of soldiers as they walk past the displayed items. A special room is built where tourists can touch the objects and try medieval clothes.
A free smartphone audio guide, recorded in nine different languages, is given to you for all the information on the museum’s artifacts. English tours are held on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays for foreigners. An added perk is that the ticket you buy for the National Museum is also valid for the Culture House. It is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except on Mondays from the 16th of September to the 30th of May. If you are a city cardholder, the entry will be free for you.