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With Reykjavik’s developed international reputation growing as a creative hub for both emerging and established visual artists, as well as an important historical landmark in European history, Reykjavik’s innovative museums have a wealth of cultural and historical knowledge to pull from. From contemporary to modern art and photography, as well as Viking history and the Maritime, Reykjavik’s museums may surprise you with their breadth and cultural significance.
Located on the top floor of the city library downtown, the Reykjavik Museum of Photography holds about three large exhibitions each year and several smaller ones. With a massive collection, the museum aims to disseminate knowledge to the public about the craft, care and exhibition of photography. Check out our list of photographers from Iceland you should know.
Located in a beautiful, historical house close to the harbor in Reykjavik, The Saga Museum will satisfy all of your curiosity about the history and culture of Viking times. With life-like replicas of figures based on descriptions from the Sagas, intricate detail has been put on recreating the past for visitors.
Saga Museum, Grandagarði 2, 101 Reykjavík +354 511 1517
Einar Jónsson (1874-1954), one of Iceland’s most important early sculptors, has an incredible sculpture garden located next to Hallgrímskirkja, featuring an array of bronze pieces representing mythological figures and stories. The museum is the artist’s former home and studio where he created works inspired by mythology, many of which can be found around the city of Reykjavik.
Ásmundursafn is dedicated to the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). The building, designed by the artist himself as a studio in the 1930s, is worth visiting for its fascinating architectural domes and open light source – an ode to the artist’s admiration for Bauhaus style. The statues to be found inside and outside in the garden are a statement to the artist’s conviction that sculpture should be for the public. The sculptor’s work is exhibited along with a rotating series of contemporary artists.
Ásmundursafn, Sígtún, 105 Reykjavík + 354 411 6430
Situated in the old harbor area of Reykjavík, Hafnarhús, or harbor house, was built in the 1930s. This is where to find the most contemporary exhibitions by both Icelandic and international artists. The museum features a permanent collection of works by Erró (1932- ), one of Iceland’s most well-known Postmodern artists and a pioneer of Pop Art. In 1989, the artist donated more than 2,000 works and personal artifacts to the museum.
Hafnarhús, Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík +354 411 6400
Opened in 1973, this building is a fine example of Nordic Modernism – displaying a permanent collection of one of Iceland’s most celebrated landscape painters, Johannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972). The museum also features a rotating exhibition of Icelandic and international artists. The layout of the building offers serene views of the surrounding park, a very active place on a sunny day.
Kjarvalstaðir, Flókagata 24, 105 Reykjavík +354 411 6420
Located by the old harbor in Reyjkavík and opened in 2004 in a building formerly used for fish freezing, the Maritime Museum features an exhibition onboard the Coast Guard Vessel Óðinn, the oldest ship in the Coast Guard’s fleet. As the fishing industry has been a foundation of Icelandic economics, the museum aims to reflect this with artifacts and exhibitions about this entwined connection between Iceland and the Maritime.
Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavík +354 571 0960
Þjóðminjasafnið is located next to the University of Iceland. With more than 2,000 artifacts collected from around the country, the National Museum of Iceland shows a fascinating display of history, representing the earliest cultures as well as contemporary culture. The museum features a door dating back to the 12th century, which represents Icelandic sagas and is the only medieval Icelandic carved door.
The Culture House, Safnahúsið, was built between 1906-1908 to house the National Library and National Archives. The building is considered one of Iceland’s most beautiful buildings and has been protected as a historical building. The Reading Hall is remarkable and has been preserved in its original form. Currently on view is the ambitious exhibition Points of View, which gathers together all aspects of Iceland’s visual heritage through diverse mediums such as manuscripts, paintings and plant specimens – installed according to human-oriented directives so as to encompass the work as well as the viewer’s experience.
The Culture House, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík +354 530 2210
The National Gallery of Iceland, Listasafn Íslands, was founded in 1884 and moved into its current building, originally constructed as an icehouse, in 1987. The main focus is on 19th and 20th-century Icelandic art, including the most valuable pieces of Icelandic art in the country. Exhibitions feature a rotation of works by both Icelandic and international artists. The museum’s most recent acquisition is the archive of the pioneers of video art, Steina and Woody Vasulka, the Vasulka Chamber. The Vasulka Chamber opened in 2014 and aims to be a center for electronic and media art, the only one of its kind in Iceland.