The Best Art Museums and Galleries in Reykjavik

Michael Chapman
Écrit par : Michael Chapman
Expert vérifié

Harpa often has exhibitions, but there are permanent museums across Reykjavik.

Do you want to see Icelandic art? Looking for art galleries in Reykjavík? Find Reykjavík's best art museums and photo galleries here.

Despite Iceland's capital’s relatively petite size, Reykjavík is a city famous for its culture, exhibition spaces and devotion to the arts.

Visitors to the country who are looking to explore the artistic heritage of Icelanders will find themselves with a plethora of choice; galleries and photo exhibitions can be found around almost every corner, proudly displaying the creative traditions of this island’s most famous artists, as well as allowing space for up-and-comers to contribute their own work to the field.

Guests to Reykjavík will find themselves surrounded by artworks of all kinds. Residents often display their own pieces in the windows of their home, whilst enormous, modern murals are painted with psychedelic energy across the sides of the city’s homes and buildings.

There are also numerous statues and sculptures dotting the city streets and parks, all offering an insight into Iceland’s history and famous past residents.

The Sun Voyager by Icelandic Sculptor, Jón Gunnar Árnason

For true art lovers, however, there is simply no alternative but to pay a visit to Reykjavík’s best museums and photo galleries, the largest of which is the Reykjavík Art Museum, run by the City of Reykjavík.

There are 3 distinct, historical buildings belonging to the Reykjavík Art Museum collection, called Hafnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Ásmundarsafn. They are open daily 10:00-17:00 (except Ásmundarsafn, which opens at 13:00 during certain months). The 1600 ISK (adult) and 1000 ISK (student) ticket is valid for all the museums on the same day. Anyone under the age of 18 can attend for free.

Culture enthusiasts are recommended to purchase a Reykjavík City Card, by far the most affordable and efficient way of visiting the city's galleries and museums. The City Card provides free access to all buildings under the Reykjavik Art Museum banner, as well as the National Gallery of Iceland, The Culture House, all exhibitions under the Reykjavik City Museum, the Reykjavik City Zoo and Botanical Gardens and The National Museum of Iceland.

City Card holders will also find a variety of discounts in shops and on the public transport service, and will even be able to find deals at local restaurants, attractions and entertainment venues. The Reykjavik City Card can be purchased here.

Listasafn Reykjavíkur - Reykjavik Art Gallery

The front entrance to Reykjavik Art Museum.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, TommyBee. No edits made

Perhaps the most well-known exhibition space belonging to the Reykjavík Art Museum is housed in Hafnarhús. The building can be found just near Old Harbour and was in fact originally used as a fisherman’s warehouse in the 1930s, before it was refurbished in April 2000.

Throughout the refurbishment process, great care was taken to leave as much of the original architecture as possible. The building is the newest addition to Reykjavík Art Gallery and contains six exhibition spaces, as well as an architecturally unique outdoor courtyard. 

Hafnarhús permanently exhibits the work of one of Iceland’s postmodern artistic heroes, Erró, the country’s most famous contemporary artist. Born Guðmundur Guðmundsson (1932) in Ólafsvík, Erró began his career at the School of Fine Arts in Reykjavík.

He later continued his studies at the Florence Academy of Arts in Italy and the Oslo Academy of Arts in Norway. For most of his life, Erró resided in France, Thailand and the Spanish island, Formentera.

 Erró’s style can be easily recognised. The artist often uses large-scale collages, utilising images from comic strips, advertisements and politics, creating works that offer both a high degree of visual stimulation and a coded interpretation of modern affairs. By following this method, the artist secured his reputation as the country’s leading practitioner of Pop Art and Collage. Erró said of his creative process:

"I am always on the lookout for images, documentation, magazines, catalogues and illustrated dictionaries. I need efficient material and, during my travels, I search everywhere for bookshelves, Kiosks, etc. I accumulate an enormous amount of material, and when I have collected a lot of images pertaining to a theme, it is a sign to start a series, the process consists in selecting the images, together to make collages, then paintings. With a good stock of images, I can have enough to work for one or two years."

Erró donated over 2000 works of art to the City of Reykjavík in 1989, including watercolours, oil paintings, collages and graphic art. The ground level of the museum is devoted to the artist, with the majority of his pieces taking up the full walls of the gallery space.

For anyone moved by his pieces, there is a museum shop by the entrance selling postcards, trinkets, clothing and books, all devoted to the master artist. Below, the Public Relations Director of Hafnarhús, Soffía Karlsdóttir, discusses the work of Erró.

The museum also devotes much of its space to other artists, both local and international. For example, Yoko Ono has often exhibited her work at Hafnarhús, displaying her own brand of interactive modern art. In the past, this has included communal painting, designing new creations from broken crockery and sensory deprivation sacks. 

The gallery also makes for a unique venue for musicians and performers. The highly popular festival Iceland Airwaves often uses Hafnarhús as an alternative concert hall. There is also a restaurant/cafe called Frú Lauga Matstofa which serves a healthy array of snacks and drinks, including organic cakes and coffee and Italian beer and wine. 

Reykjavík Art Gallery at Hafnarhús
- Address: Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10:00-17:00, except for Thursday, from 10:00-22:00
Included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

Kjarvalsstaðir - Kjarval Museum            

Reykjavík Art Museum's second building, Kjarvalsstaðir, is dedicated to the Icelandic painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972), exhibiting a range of paintings and sculptures produced by the artist. Jóhannes S. Kjarval is considered to be one of the most important artists in Iceland’s history.

As a young man, Jóhannes S. Kjarval worked as a fisherman. He was also a prolific drawer and painter. At age 27, he received financial support from both his fellow fisherman and the Icelandic Confederation of Labour to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

Whilst studying in Copenhagen, he was introduced to a vast array of artistic movements and styles, an eclectic mixture of influences that would forever affect both the artist's wide body of work and his creative process.    

Jóhannes S. Kjarval as a young man.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Willem Van De Poll. No edits made

Though the artists' appreciation of different styles has often been described as 'promiscuous', the vision behind Jóhannes' work was always themed around the concept that nature is alive. His landscape paintings manage to exquisitely capture the surrealist and mystic qualities of the Icelandic environment.

As an example of Jóhannes' impact on Icelandic culture the singer Björk included an instrumental track called Jóhannes Kjarval on her 1977 self-titled debut album. 

The architecture of the museum is unapologetically Nordic modernist, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the charming Klambratún Park. The Museum’s Cafe is open from 10:30 to 16:30. There is also a gift shop and an Idea’s Lab, where families can engage with their creative side and make their own art pieces.

Kjarval Museum
- Address: Flókagata 24, 105 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10:00-17:00
Included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

Ásmundarsafn - Asmundur Sculpture Museum          

Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) was an Icelandic sculptor, born in Kolsstaðir in west Iceland. He is the main focus of Reykjavík's third building in their collection, Ásmundarsafn.

Ásmundur showed many artistic bents as a child. As an aspiring artist, he quickly enrolled at the Technical College of Iceland in 1915, undertaking a four-year apprenticeship underneath the tutorship of Ríkarður Jónsson, the artist and sculptor responsible for the design of Iceland’s coat of arms.

Asmundarsafn has a range of great sculptures.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Tómas Bickel. No edits made

Following the end of his apprenticeship, Ásmundur travelled to Copenhagen, Denmark, then to Stockholm in Sweden, where he enrolled for a six-year tenure at the Academy of Fine Arts.

Whilst there, he often studied under the direction of Swedish sculptor, Carl Milles. Forever looking to continue his education, after graduating from the Academy Ásmundur travelled to Paris to learn from the nude-sculptor, Charles Despiau.

Flickr. Uploaded by: David Stanley. 

He returned to Iceland in 1929, where he focused on creating sculptures of men, women and farm animals, all under the general theme of work. In the 1950s, he had become far more interested in abstract sculptures, taking his inspiration from Norse mythology and culture, notably the Icelandic sagas.

Ásmundur strongly believed that art should not only be accessible to the wealthy elite but to the general public too. That is why much of his work can be found sprinkled around Reykjavík and its parks.  

Works from the artist can also be seen at the hill Öskjuhlíð near Perlan, and at the historic farm and church estate of Borg á Mýrum. Sæmundur and the Seal is another sculpture, erected in front of the University of Iceland in Reykjavík.

Asmunder Sveinsson is a popular Icelandic artist.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Tómas Bickel. No edits made

The museum was officially opened in 1983 and is instantly recognisable for its abstract architecture; sloping walls and a white central dome. The building was once the artist’s home and studio.

He donated the building, along with his work, to the City of Reykjavík in 1983. The artist primarily designed the building himself between the years 1942-1959 and was heavily influenced by the German Art School, Bauhaus. Other influences included the round-roofed buildings of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as the Pyramids of Egypt. 

Ásmundarsafn always exhibits the work of Ásmundur, but will also exhibit work by other Icelandic artists, often whose work has some relationship to Ásmundur’s style of sculpture. The building is surrounded by a beautiful sculpture garden; 30 of Ásmundur’s sculptures decorate the area, which can be visited for free all year round. 

Ásmundur Sculpture Museum
- Address: Sigtún 56, 105 Reykjavík
- Open: May to September: Every day from 10:00-17:00 
- Open: October to April: Every day from 13:00-17:00
Included in the Reykjavik City Card. 


The Einar Jónsson Museum - Sculpture Garden and Gallery           

One of Einar Jonsson's many sculptures.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Carptrash. No edits made

The Einar Jónsson Museum was opened in 1923 and can be found in downtown Reykjavík, just beside the landmark church, Hallgrímskirkja. Einar Jónsson (1874-1954) was an Icelandic sculptor, born on the farmstead Galtafell in south Iceland. 

As a young man, it was recognised early that he had an undeniable artistic bent, but there was no tradition of sculpture in Iceland at that time. He moved to Denmark to study at the Copenhagen Academy of Arts. In 1902, he was granted by Alþingi, or the Althing (the Icelandic parliament) a grant to go and study in Rome for two years. After Rome, he returned to Copenhagen, where he would stay working for many years.

In 1909, he made an agreement with the Althing that they would provide him with a home studio upon his return to Iceland. In thanks, he would donate a vast portion of his work to the City of Reykjavík. Einar was intrinsic in the design and construction of his home studio, just another example of the incredible artistic drive that he held. 

From 1914, Einar had a number of works built for the American Government. These included a statue of the Icelandic explorer Þorfinnur Karlsefni, for the City of Philadelphia, and a statue of the forefather of the Icelandic Independence Movement, Jón Sigurðsson, for the Icelandic community in Montréal, Canada.

Spending over a decade on a single piece of work was not uncommon to Einar. He worked primarily in plaster, allowing him the freedom to sculpt unburdened by time and his materials. The garden has 26 bronze castings of Einar’s plaster work and is the perfect spot for a cultured and leisurely stroll.

During winter, the museum is only open during the weekend, but the sculpture garden is open all year round. There is no entrance fee to the sculpture garden, but it costs 1000 ISK to enter the museum.

The Einar Jónsson Museum
- Address: Eiríksgata 3, 101 Reykjavík,
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00-17:00. Closed on Mondays. (Summertime only).
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

Listasafn Íslands - National Gallery of Iceland            

Listasafn Islands is alternatively called the National Gallery of Iceland.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Akigka. No edits made

In 1884, the Danish commissioner, Björn Bjarnason, established from Copenhagen the National Gallery of Iceland, filling it with a large donation of artwork from Denmark. The gallery was an independent institution until 1916 when the Althing chose to make it a part of the National Heritage Museum. 

The collection was housed in the Althing from 1885 until 1950, when finally the artwork was moved to the National Museum of Iceland, found at  Suðurgata. There it stayed until 1987, when again the collection was moved, this time to  Fríkirkjuvegur, where it has since stayed.

The building was originally designed in 1916 by acclaimed state architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, a man also responsible for designing: the University of Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja Church, The National Theatre and the Church of Akureyri, amongst others. Originally, the building was erected as a freezing plant for the then burgeoning town. 

Today, the gallery largely focuses on exhibiting Icelandic artwork from the 19th and 20th century, as well as also displaying some of the most valuable foreign art in the country, including the likes of Picasso and Edward Munch.

Skógarfoss by August Schiott.Skógafoss by August Schiott. Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by orf3us. No edits made

The National Gallery of Iceland is open every day save Mondays from 11:00-17:00. Admission for adults is 1500 ISK, whilst students, the disabled and those over 67 years old pay 750 ISK. Those in groups larger than 10 also pay only 750 ISK. 

National Gallery of Iceland 
- Address: Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00-17:00. Closed on Mondays. 
Included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

LjósmyndasafnReykjavíkur - Reykjavik Museum of Photography         

Reykjavik Museum of Photography has an enormous collection of black and white historical photographs on display.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Sym1. No edits made

The Reykjavík Museum of Photography is located in the same building as the City Library. In 2014, The Guardian newspaper declared it to be "one of the best free museums in Europe." It has since taken up a small admission fee. 

The museum boasts an incredible 5 million photographs, shot between the years 1870 and 2002, with the aim to "awaken the widest possible interest in the cultural role of photography."

This amazing collection offers a true, black-and-white insight into the history and development of Iceland, told by those who not only lived through the experience but documented it during the earliest days of photography. 

The exhibits are compiled by professional and amateur photographers, displaying an enormous range of portraits, landscapes and press photography. There are also many examples of industrial, advertising and family photographs. 

Reykjavik Museum of Photography has an enormous collection of black and white historical photographs on display.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Jóhann Heiðar Árnason. No edits made

Since 2014, the Reykjavík Museum of Photography has merged with other popular institutions in Reykjavik, including the Reykjavík's Maritime Museum, the Settlement Exhibition and the open-air museum Árbæjarsafn.

The museum also nominates Icelandic photographers for different prizes that celebrate their contribution to the field. These prizes include:

  • Deutsche Börse Photography Prize
  • Leopold Godowsky Jr. Colour Photography Award
  • Hasselblad Award
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson Award

Reykjavík Museum of Photography is also notable for publishing its own photography books, sold within the gift shop. 

Though the focus is on Icelandic photography, works by foreign photographers are also sometimes displayed.

The public entrance fee is 1,000 ISK, but 900 ISK for students. Entrance is free for children, the disabled and those over the age of 67. 

Reykjavík Museum of Photography
- Address: Tryggvagata 17 (top floor), 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Monday to Thursday 10:00-18:00 | Friday 11:00-18:00 | Saturday and Sunday 13:00-17:00

Included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

The Marshall House          

An exterior shot of The Living Art Museum at the Marshall House.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Nýlistasafnið. No edits made

The Marshall House is Reykjavík's newest art museum, that opened in March 2017. The building is a 4 storey former herring factory built in 1948 spread over 1800 square metres. In 2017 it was announced that it would house Nýló - The Living Art Museum and Kling & Bang gallery, as well as a showroom for world-renowned Icelandic/Danish artist Ólafur Elíasson.

One floor is occupied by Nýló, short for Nýlistasafnið - The Living Art Museum. Nýló was founded in 1978 as a reaction to the Icelandic art authorities' dismissal of contemporary artistic practice. The founders - all twenty-seven of them - set about at different stages of their career to create an exhibition space and venue that catered to supporting artists, encouraging contemporary artwork and collecting and preserving artists' work. 

The gallery is a non-profit, members based institution, where the exhibitions reflect the cultural and socio-economic trends of the modern day. 

On top of being an exhibition space, The Living Art Museum also serves as a venue for alternative music concerts, avant-garde performance pieces, film screenings and lectures on contemporary practice. 

The Living Art Museum also runs an internship programme year round, perfect for aspiring artists or exhibitors who want hands-on experience dealing with the intricacies of managing, and engaging in, a gallery space. 

Another floor is occupied by Kling & Bang gallery. The Kling & Bang gallery space was established in 2003 by ten independent artists, and quickly became one of Reykjavík's hottest creative centres.

With an aim to exhibit new and emerging artists, as well as those already established in the artistic community, be it international or at home, Kling & Bang has become renowned for challenging its visitors' expectations of creative thinking.

For a number of years, Kling & Bang operated a 5000 square metre artists' base called the KlinK & BanK. Here, artists from all different fields - performance art, filmmaking, painting, sculpture, etc. - worked on a daily basis to create work that redefined the possibilities of artistry. The building was also used to host concerts, lectures and visiting exhibitions. 

Kling & Bang's opening exhibition in the Marshall House - 'Bad Company' - features eight new artists working across different mediums, all using their designated field to make profound statements about the Reykjavík art scene. 

Additionally the Marshall House has a restaurant and bar on its ground floor, and on the top floor Ólafur Elíasson has a show room.

Entry to the Marshall House is free.

The Living Art Museum
- Address: The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Tuesday to Sunday 12:00-18:00 | Thursday 12:00-21:00 | Closed Mondays
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

Kling & Bang
- Address: The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday 12:00-18:00. Thursdays 12:00-21:00. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

The Nordic House          

The Nordic House in Reykjavík could be called many things, ranging from an art gallery, library, bistro and cultural centre. Having been founded in 1968, the institution's main ambition is to foster cultural ties with other Nordic countries, be it through 'Meet the Author' events, visiting art exhibitions or screenings.  The Nordic House is operated by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The building's instantly recognisable structure is down to acclaimed Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, who used the mountain backdrop as inspiration to create an organic and unique design.

The building's rooftop is particularly distinguishable to the architect in its peculiar shape and deep blue tone. Aalto was also responsible for designing the inner furnishings of the building, making it wholly his own creation. The Nordic House is the only building in Iceland designed by a critically acclaimed international architect. 

The Nordic House is a museum in Iceland.Photo by An Evening of Nordic Culture & Dinner with Live Music at the Nordic House in Reykjavik

The Nordic House is also the chosen venue for numerous cultural activities throughout the year, such as Iceland Airwaves, The Nordic Fashion Biennale and Reykjavík International Film Festival

On top of that, The Nordic House also hosts a shop where visitors can browse and purchase products and food with a distinctly Scandinavian edge. There is also a restaurant, the Aalto Bistro, that serves the best in Nordic cuisine. The restaurant's head chef, Sveinn Kjartansson, is famous across Iceland for his incredibly mouthwatering dishes; artworks within themselves! 

Sveinn Kjartansson draws upon fresh, local ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes.Photo by An Evening of Nordic Culture & Dinner with Live Music at the Nordic House in Reykjavik

The Nordic House
- Address: Sturlugata 5, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Sunday to Tuesday 9:00-17:00 | Wednesday to Saturday 9:00-21:00
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 


Hafnarborg Public Art Gallery from the outside.Photo by Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Touristlink. No edits made

Hafnarborg - The Hafnarfjörður Centre of Culture and Fine Art - was established in 1983 following a worthy artworks donation by local chemist Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir. From there on, Hafnarborg became the home of the town's art collection, enhancing the cultural landscape and promoting regional identity. One of the main goals of Hafnarborg is to maintain and preserve the town's contribution to Iceland's artistic heritage.

The museum is responsible for around 10-12 exhibitions per year, all of which encourage an interest in the history and development of Icelandic artwork. It is the philosophy that the museum should be a part of everyday life for the town's residents, hosting events that are educational, engaging and interactive.

It is a common event that curators and artists will give lectures on the current exhibitions, creating a personalised dialogue that helps visitors learn and feel closer to the art.

The museum also runs an 'Artist in Residence' program; applications are made by foreign artists to live and work in the specifically designated studio space on the museum's top floor. Resident artists enjoy the luxuries and utilities of modern-day life, paying 500 euro a month for the opportunity to involve themselves in the dynamic Icelandic art scene. This is just another example of how Hafnarborg continues to invest in the artwork of the future. 

- Address: Strandgata 34, 220 Hafnarfjörður
- Open: Wednesday to Monday 12:00-17:00. Closed Tuesdays. 
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 


Gerður Helgadóttir was a great Icelandic sculptor.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, author unknown. No edits made.

Gerðarsafn is a progressive art museum focused on exhibiting the latest in modern and contemporary art. The museum is dedicated to the memory of Icelandic artist and sculptor Gerður Helgadóttir, a highly prolific visionary throughout the twentieth century. Gerður spent many of her working years focused toward glass artistry, and is the designer of the stain-glass windows at Hallgrímskirkja.

Visitors can also see the works of Barbara Árnason, Magnus Á. Árnason and a donated collection from the art instructor, Valgerður Briem

The museum hosts the work of both Icelandic and international artists and boasts a collection of over 4250 artworks. Museum curators began collecting local art as far back as 1968. 

The museum also has a shop where visitors can purchase beautiful souvenirs based around the work of Gerður Helgadóttir. 

- Address: 
Hamraborg 4, 200 Kópavogur
- Open: Tuesday-Sunday 11:00-17:00. Closed Mondays
Not included in the Reykjavik City Card. 

Written by Mike Chapman