Reykjavík has given birth to many internationally acclaimed artists, and there are several great museums and galleries where you can view Icelandic and global artists. But around town, you can find murals and paintings by lesser-known artists. Here is a guide to some of our favourite works of street art in the city.
One That Sucks
A great mural can be found on the side of a building at Laugavegur 64. Known generally as the vampire mural, this painting has the feel of ´50s pop art and shows a gruesome-looking man with blueish skin and horns growing out of his head with a woman in his arms. Instead of laying a smooch on her, his mouth is on her neck, suggesting he is sucking her blood. At the bottom of the mural is a quote from Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, the main female character in Laxdæla Saga. Caught in a love triangle in her youth, she was asked in her older years who she loved the most. She answered: „Þeim var ég verst er ég unni mest,“ which has been translated as “To him I was worst whom I loved the most.” Who doesn‘t love drama?!
If you head out of downtown towards Vesturbær (West Town), you can find a familiar face and landscape painted on a fence. At the corner of Hringbraut and Hofsvallagata, Nintendo‘s Mario can be found running through an 8-bit setting. While you can find the coins, blocks, and large green tubes from the original Super Mario Brothers, the painter added an Icelandic touch. A puffin and Hallgrímskirkja church are included in the landscape in the same 8-bit style created by Reykjavík-based artist Juan Pictures Art. Juan Pictures is responsible for another mural downtown on Klapparstígur that shows two unlikely heroes sharing a drink: Albert Einstein and Tupac Shakur.
No, this is not another Mario reference. Reykjavík is famous for its celebration of LGBTQ+ lives. Every summer, Pride is a hugely popular event for the whole family. At some point, the city painted a rainbow down Skólavörðustígur, the road that leads from Laugavegur up the hill to Hallgrímskirkja church. It has become a huge tourist attraction, as thousands of visitors pose for a photo on the picturesque hill, so the city keeps the rainbow in good condition.
Old West Side
The area of Grandi and Gamli Vesturbær (Old West Town) had for many years been home to some incredible murals and street art by Australian artist Guido van Helten. Unfortunately, these giant intimate paintings were mostly destroyed during a construction project in the area. Still, the neighbourhoods in Grandi and Old West Town have a few hidden gems on the sides of buildings. You should be able to find a young woman playing the cello and what looks like a Death Eater whose face is melting off.
In 2015, the Iceland Airwaves music festival teamed up with Urban Nation Berlin for a project called Wall Poetry. The idea was to bring international street artists to Iceland to create murals on the sides of buildings around Reykjavík. This project produced some of the most famous paintings in the city. Many have disappeared as Reykjavík has grown and expanded and the buildings downtown have changed hands multiple times or been torn down – but some can still be found. Near the old harbour, you can find a Hieronymus Bosch-inspired mural done in collaboration between the artist Phlegm and the Icelandic band Múm. Other murals can be found along Laugavegur, such as Ode to Mother which features Sleipnir, Óðinn‘s eight-legged horse.
Rarely does a work of art encapsulate a city as well as this simple painting. Almost directly behind the What‘s On in Reykjavík Tourist Info Center, down an alley from Hverfisgata, is a wall with the word Greykjavík painted on it. In the letters, you can see the city skyline against the backdrop of Mt. Esja.
A different and more sombre example of street art stands outside the Höfði House. In 1986, the house was the location of the Reykjavík Summit, a meeting of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Even though the meeting was adjourned without an agreement, this historical event eventually led to the end of the Cold War. Fittingly, a large piece of the Berlin Wall is on display outside of the Höfði House. The concrete is adorned with the artwork of German painter Jakob Wagner.
Murals come and go. New owners of buildings paint over them, new ones replace the older ones, and sometimes the buildings are torn down. Graffiti art can be found throughout the city, as well – sometimes to the annoyance of building owners. Street art in Reykjavík is always changing. By the time you read this, some of these may be gone and new pieces will appear in new locations. The best way to find Reykjavík street art is to wander through the city with a keen eye.