The National Theater of Iceland Reisgids
The National Theater of Iceland is a large theater in Reykjavik that welcomes around 100,000 visitors to its varied performances every season.
You can see the National Theater of Iceland (known as Þjóðleikhúsið in Icelandic) on a two-hour walking tour of Reykjavik. Alternatively, take a five-day self-drive tour of South Iceland and discover the highlights of the capital city on your own.
Situated in the historical center of Reykjavik, the National Theater of Iceland puts on a range of performances every season. It’s a must-visit attraction for theater lovers visiting the city. It’s one of Iceland’s two main theaters, the other being the Reykjavik City Theatre.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Jason Paris. No edits made
The Design of the National Theater
The dark-grey stone building has an art-deco style and makes for a distinctive sight, especially compared with the white buildings and corrugated iron houses surrounding it. Inside, red carpeted floors and gilded artworks give a decadent atmosphere.
The theater has four stages across three floors and two separate buildings. These are the Main Stage (which seats 500), the Black Box (with 130 seats), The Theater Cellar Club (which seats 120), and the Ball Stage.
The Ball Stage, also known as Kulan, is in a separate building behind the main theater. It seats around 80 people and has a more intimate feel than the other stages.
The theater has a bookshop in the foyer and a stand to purchase refreshments.
Although it’s Iceland’s biggest and most popular theater, the National Theater is notably smaller than theaters outside of Iceland. Its more compact size means that watching a performance here is a unique and memorable experience.
Where Is the National Theater of Iceland?
The National Theater of Iceland is located in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik. You can find it in the city’s historical center on Hverfisgara 19, west of the main Laugavegur shopping street.
The theater is within walking distance of most hotels and accommodation options in downtown Reykjavik. It’s next to the Safnahusid bus stop, so it’s easily accessible on public transport for anyone who makes Reykjavik their base during their trip to Iceland.
The History of the National Theater
Icelandic playwright Indridi Einarsson first developed the original idea to construct the National Theater in the late 19th century. His thoughts were published in a news article in 1905, although they didn’t come to fruition.
Years later, Gudjon Samuelsson submitted his first design ideas for the theater. He was a state architect of Iceland who also designed Reykjavik’s famous Hallgrimskirkja Church and many other unique buildings.
Construction of the theater began in 1929. Three years after the building work started, the project had to be halted as there wasn’t enough money to continue.
The Icelandic government introduced an entertainment tax to the residents of Iceland to raise the necessary funds. The extra money helped the government continue building the theater.
During the Second World War, British soldiers occupied the unfinished building in the hopes of curbing the attacks of Nazis in Iceland.
The theater was finally opened to the public in April 1950, after the British Army had left. It has remained a leading cultural attraction in Reykjavik ever since.
Today, the National Theater of Iceland is a leading institution and has won several global awards.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Helgi Halldorsson. No edits made.
Performances at the National Theater
The National Theater of Iceland welcomes a diverse audience through its doors and aims to create entertaining and challenging theatrical performances. It hopes to ignite interest in theater and promote the arts.
The theater encourages new talent and welcomes actors, artists, and crew from Iceland and beyond. The theater produces around ten new shows, re-premieres, co-productions, and guest performances each season.
These performances include Icelandic pieces, classics, musicals, dance shows, and children’s plays. The theater is committed to promoting Icelandic arts, and most of its performances are in Icelandic. However, the shows are still enjoyable for non-Icelandic speakers.
The theater employs around 35 actors permanently. As well as this, it welcomes actors on a temporary and seasonal basis. The theater’s production departments create the sets and costumes, and they have lighting and sound crews.
Since its opening in 1950, the theater has had six artistic directors. Five of these have been men and one a woman.
Usually, performances will run for four weeks on the stage, with an eight-week rehearsal period before this. A large proportion of Iceland’s population visits the theater at least once each year.
Some of the theater’s most notable performances include Metamorphosis in 2009, Off Target in 2009, King Lear in 2011, and Macbeth in 2013.
Attractions Near the National Theater of Iceland
One of Reykjavik’s most iconic sights, the Hallgrimskirkja church, is just a ten-minute walk from the National Theater. It is the largest church in Iceland, standing at approximately 245 feet (about 74.5 meters) tall. You can go up to the top of its tower for spectacular panoramic views over the city.
The Harpa Concert Hall is another famous building within ten minutes’ walk of the National Theater. One of the city’s most iconic landmarks, it’s also Iceland’s premier concert hall and conference center.
The structure of the concert hall is spectacular. Its facade consists of 714 glass panels, all different in shape. Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson designed the building, which won a prize for contemporary architecture in 2013.
One of the most photographed sites in Iceland, the Sun Voyager sculpture, is also within a short walk of the National Theater. This sizeable steel sculpture of a ship is an ode to the sun and is undoubtedly worth a visit during your trip to Reykjavik.
Natural Attractions Near the National Theater of Iceland
Reykjavik and its theater are also ideally located if you want to visit some of Iceland’s most spectacular natural sights.
The Gullfoss waterfall is one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. It’s only 72 miles (around 116 kilometers) from the city center.
Thingvellir National Park, one of only three national parks in Iceland, is 30 miles (approximately 47 kilometers) away from Reykjavik.
The Geysir geothermal area, home to magnificent geysers and fascinating geothermal activity, is 66 miles (roughly 106 kilometers) away.
You can explore these spectacular sights on self-drive tours of Iceland or by booking a Golden Circle tour with a transfer from Reykjavik.