Reykjavík’s history reaches more than a thousand years back and the city has a rich cultural heritage. What better way is there to learn more about Icelandic culture than visiting the museums scattered throughout the city centre? Let us tell you all about these museums in this museum guide.
The museum gives visitors an idea of life in Iceland, where volcanoes and earthquakes are a constant threat. Icelandic nature is in a state of constant flux, earthquakes occur daily somewhere in Iceland, and volcanic eruptions are always a possibility. The Volcano House lets you experience this part of Icelandic life by showing two back-to-back documentaries on historical volcanic eruptions, as well as displaying volcanic rocks and lava.
Reykjavík Museum of Photography
The Museum of Photography’s main objective is to present both historical and contemporary photography in an artistic, social and cultural context, as well as nurture public and scholarly interest in photography. The collection’s themes are diverse. You can find family photographs, photos from portrait studios, industrial and advertising photographs, press photography, landscape photographs, and more.
Reykjavík Art Museum
The Reykjavík Art Museum is a combination of three museums: Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn. Hafnarhús is located downtown and serves as the museum’s institute of contemporary art, where new developments in art are explored through diverse exhibitions of Icelandic and international artists. An exhibition of paintings by well-known pop artist Erró is a permanent feature. Kjarvalsstaðir is devoted to one of Iceland’s most important painters, Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval, and Ásmundarsafn is the former home and workshop of sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson.
The Settlement Exhibition
In 2001, archaeological remains of a hall from the age of settlement were excavated and The Settlement Exhibition is built around these findings. The hall was inhabited from 930-1000. North of the hall two pieces of a turf wall were found, which were built before 871. These findings are the oldest relics of human habitation found in Reykjavík. In the exhibition, construction of buildings from the age of settlement is explained, and computer technology is used to give an impression of what life was like in the hall. Objects from the age of settlement found in central Reykjavík and on Viðey island are also on display.
The National Museum of Iceland
The nation’s most precious treasures are kept and displayed at The National Museum of Iceland. The museum was established on February 24, 1863 and its aim is to increase and relay knowledge of Icelandic cultural heritage from the country’s settlement until now. In the museum, you will find a permanent exhibition of objects that provide insight into Icelandic history and culture as well as temporary exhibitions highlighting specific eras or aspects of Icelandic cultural heritage.
The National Gallery of Iceland
The National Gallery was established in 1884. Its art collection consists mainly of 19th and 20th century art works. In its possession are many of the keystones of Icelandic art history, as well as a growing collection of works from other countries. The National Gallery’s main role is to collect, preserve, research and exhibit Icelandic art. There is also a considerable emphasis laid on showing Icelandic art in context with international art.
The Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum was founded in 2004, and in 2008, former Coast Guard vessel Óðinn was added to the museum. The ship functions as a floating exhibit that can be visited during guided tours. The museum is located inside a former fish freezing plant and has two exhibitions to be enjoyed by the public. One is the permanent exhibition Fish & folk – 150 years of fisheries. This exhibition puts the spotlight on the importance of fishing for the Icelandic nation in past centuries. Milckmeyt 1659 is an exhibition about an underwater archaeological survey by Flatey Island. The exhibition will give a fascinating insight into trade in Iceland in the 17th century.
The oldest house in the city centre at Aðalstræti 10 functions these days a museum and exhibition space, as part of the Reykjavík City Museum. Currently, it currently houses two exhibitions: Reykjavík 1918 and A Town of Turf Houses. Reykjavík 1918 is about Iceland’s 100-year anniversary as a free and sovereign state and the changes in the past 100 years. A Town of Turf Houses focuses on turf houses in Reykjavík from the settlement age until early 1900. Admission for this museum is also valid for The Settlement Exhibition a little bit further down the street.
Are you planning your visit? Then check out the Reykjavík City Card, which includes entry to some of these museums, as well as to pools, the ferry to Viðey and bus fares for public buses within Reykjavík.