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Top 11 Museums in Reykjavik | History, Culture & Vikings!

Top 11 Museums in Reykjavik | History, Culture & Vikings!

Where are the best museums in Reykjavik?

What are the best museums in Reykjavik? Are they only about Vikings, whales, and elves? Is there really a penis museum in Reykjavik?  Read about the best museums in Reykjavik. Discover Iceland's Viking history, culture, and the magical northern lights. Don't miss the world's only penis museum!

Check out our list of the 11 best museums in Reykjavik and find out where you should go to learn about Icelandic history and culture.



An Introduction to Reykjavik Museums          

Iceland is best known for its stunning landscape and strange food, but equally impressive is the country's history and culture. In Reykjavik, there are numerous museums and exhibitions where you can soak up some knowledge about Iceland.  So if you're spending some time in Reykjavik, why not check out a museum or two (or 10)?

At Reykjavik's City Hall, you can purchase a City Card, which will get you free admission, or a discount, for most of the museums on this list. You'll also receive a discount at numerous restaurants, free admission on the city buses, and free entry to Reykjavik's swimming pools. Your entry into some of the best Reykjavik museums is at your fingertips with this card. 

This list does not contain any art museums, as we have a special article dedicated to Reykjavik's Best Art Museums and Photo Exhibitions.

That being said, let’s take a detailed look at the best museums in Reykjavik. The vast majority of museums here are in the capital city, so the following places can also be considered the best museums in Iceland.

Are Museums Free in Iceland?

In most cases, no, museums are not free in Iceland. But that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck. There are still many attractions and museums that can be visited for free. One thing to keep in mind is that many museums do offer free admission to children 17 and under.

11. The Saga Museum - Sogusafnid

Starting off this list of the top museums in Iceland is the Saga Museum (Sogusafnid), where history comes alive! Often referred to as the Viking museum in Reykjavik to travelers, this relatively small museum is jam-packed with information about Iceland’s first settlers. It even uses life-like replicas of Icelandic historical figures to recreate key moments in the country’s history. 

As you enter Iceland’s Viking museum, you are given an audio guide – in either Icelandic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, or Swedish – that automatically plays as you walk past the realistic figures.

The Saga Museum is a great stop before a tour of the country. It's an obligatory stop among first-time tourists and one of the best museums in Reykjavik. Here you’ll learn about the rich history of the places you are about to visit, which in turn makes each of those experiences more rewarding and memorable.

For example, you can discover how Iceland’s parliament, Althingi, was founded in 930 at Thingvellir National Park, and what led to a law-speaker named Thorgeir to throw idols into Godafoss waterfall

The replicas in the museum were created based on descriptions found in the Viking Sagas and chronicles. The clothes, weapons, and everyday objects have all been handcrafted using traditional methods.

Make sure you bring your camera because you'll have the chance to dress up as a Viking in these handmade clothes after the tour. helmet, chainmail, sword and all!


Saga Museum
- Address:
Grandagardur 2, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. 
- City Cardholders receive a 10% discount on the admission


10. Perlan

 

During your time in Reykjavik, you'll notice the iconic Perlan building towering over the city from a hill in the Oskjuhlid area. The hemispherical structure provides visitors with an unmatched, panoramic view of the capital area from its observation deck. Guests can also immerse themselves in the wild Icelandic nature without even leaving the city!

Perlan Museum has several exhibits. The ‘Glaciers and Ice Cave’ exhibition begins with a visit to an ice cave constructed inside one of the hot water tanks on which the Perlan dome sits. 

The museum urges visitors to use their senses during the tour; you can observe the ice and touch it while listening to the sounds and feeling the cold. Rest assured, museum staff will provide you with warm clothes for the chill. 

After walking through the labyrinth of ice, guests are led to the second floor. There you'll find an interactive wall showing the forces of the glaciers and the volcanic activity under you, as well as multimedia displays covering everything about glaciers. 

Perlan's Aurora Northern Lights planetarium show will take you on a journey through time and space and allow you to witness the spectacular display of the northern lights, even in the summer. 

There's also a fun and interactive exhibition on Icelandic water and even a virtual reality telescope that allows you to explore the birdlife—including puffins—at Latrabjarg cliffs.


Perlan Museum
- Address: 
Varmahlid 1, 105 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.


9. Reykjavik Maritime Museum

Nothing has been more vital to Iceland’s survival than fishing, so it should be no surprise that there's an entire Iceland history museum dedicated to the nation’s maritime past. You can check out the country’s seafaring heritage at the Reykjavik Maritime Museum in the newly renovated part of Reykjavik's harbor, known as the Grandi area.

The museum gives a good insight into the life and times of Icelandic fishermen. It displays classic fishing artifacts, detailed model ships, mock-ups of wireless signal rooms, and a compass repair shop, among other things.

Here you'll gain a deeper understanding of this tiny island nation as you learn about the country's dramatic relationship with the sea, the scale of hardship the fishermen had to endure, and the gradual growth of modern Iceland through fishing.

Of course, there's also a section of the Cod Wars (not to be confused with the Cold War), a series of confrontations between Iceland and the United Kingdom on fishing rights. You can even take a tour of the Odinn, a Coast Guard vessel that survived 3 of these wars.


The Reykjavík Maritime Museum
- Address: 
Grandagardur 8, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
- Admission is free for City Card holders and even includes a visit to the Odinn vessel


8. Aurora Reykjavik: The Northern Lights Center

Aurora Reykjavik is a great stop for photographers to learn the best camera settings before photographing the northern lights in Iceland

Aurora Reykjavik is a new science museum and interactive exhibition located next to the Saga Museum. It's the latest addition to our best museums in Reykjavik collection, and for a good reason.

From a historical glimpse into what our ancestors believed about the aurora borealis to a modern look at the science behind the colors, this museum is not just for the kids; even adults will enjoy this interesting and educational experience.

In addition to all of the informational exhibits, there are also interactive ones and even VR headsets to experience the aurora for yourself. However, as you may have already guessed, the feature attraction of Aurora Reykjavik is a large, high-def projection time-lapse of the northern lights.

Perhaps the best part about this museum – at least for the adults – is the specially equipped photo booth designed to recreate the settings of the aurora. Here, with the assistance of helpful staff, you can learn how to optimally adjust your camera’s settings for those aurora photo sessions.


Aurora Reykjavik
- Address: 
Grandagardur 2, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Daily from 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.


7. Culture House - Safnahusid

On Hverfisgata street in downtown Reykjavik, you can find a large and beautiful building known as Safnahusid or Culture House

The stark-white house contains a collection that includes paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, alongside cultural pieces and historical artifacts. All are designed to give you the history and perspective needed to appreciate the Icelandic nation as it's today.

The permanent exhibition, 'Points of View,' gives guests a chance to delve into the collection of 6 different cultural institutions, from contemporary art to thousand-year-old relics. 

The suggested tour starts on the fourth floor, and the layout will take you from room to room and down the floors, exploring each wing of the house. There are plenty of chairs along the way if you need to rest.

The latest Icelandic art is on the fourth floor, and medieval items are on the ground floor. The collections are arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, to paint various aspects of Icelandic culture. There are also special, temporary exhibitions in a separate room on the third floor, providing greater insight into a specific topic. 

Many consider the Culture House to be amongst Iceland's most beautiful buildings, and great care was taken in designing both its interior and exterior. It was built between 1906-1908 by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen to house the National Library. Nielsen's colleague, Frederick Kiorboe, designed the oak furniture you can still find there. 

The Culture House offers a free web guide, and if you don't have a smartphone, you can rent one on location. Your ticket to the Culture House is also valid for the National Museum and vice versa.


The Culture House
- Address: 
Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Closed on Mondays from September 16 to May 30.)
Admission is free for City Cardholders


6. The Icelandic Punk Museum

When exploring the nation’s culture and history, one cannot forget Icelandic music. The Icelandic Punk Museum hides at the bottom of Bankastraeti street in downtown Reykjavik. 

You can learn about this country’s punk scene, chronicled from the early years to the new wave uprising, which paved the way for some of the nation's most beloved artists, including Bjork and Sigur Ros.

Much like the punk scene itself, the museum is underground, in a location that couldn’t be more fitting for a museum of this kind: a former public toilet. The toilets were shut down in 2006 only to be reopened a decade later by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols as a museum chronicling the Icelandic punk scene.

The stalls serve as mini display rooms for the collection of photographs, posters, handbills, stage equipment, and instruments. There are streaming videos of classic club shows, and headphones hang from the ceiling, each playing a different Icelandic punk song. You can also try on leather jackets and strike a pose with a guitar or behind the drums.

Despite its small size and odd history – or perhaps because of it – this quirky and offbeat punk shrine is one of the best museums in Iceland.


The Icelandic Punk Museum
- Address: Bankastraeti 0, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Weekdays from 10:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Weekends from Noon - 10:00 p.m.



5. The Settlement Exhibition

The Settlement Exhibition is another underground museum in Reykjavik, but its subterranean location has a practical reason: it's built around an archeological dig. In 2001, the nearby buildings' renovations were about to start when archeologists began finding a few relics. These turned out to be the oldest remains of human habitation in Reykjavik, including a 10th century Viking longhouse!

The longhouse is believed to have been inhabited from 930-1000 AD, and older still is a boundary wall at the back of the museum, built around 871 AD. What's equally impressive is that these buildings were discovered at the very place where Iceland’s first settlers made their home, as described in the old Icelandic Sagas, written some 200 years after the event.



At the exhibition, visitors can walk around the unearthed longhouse and look at various artifacts to glimpse into early Icelandic life. You'll find multimedia tables that show information about the area’s history and ecology, as well as the residents’ daily activities, such as ironwork and carpentry. 

There's even a panorama showing you how Reykjavik would have looked at the time of the longhouse!


The Settlement Exhibition
- Address: 
Adalstraeti 16, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
- Admission is free for City Cardholders


  4. Arbaer Open Air Museum

The Árbær Open Air Museum offers a first hand experience of Iceland in ancient times.Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir

Another way of exploring what Reykjavik used to look like is by visiting the Arbaer Open Air Museum, where you’ll find a large display of ancient Icelandic houses. 

The museum consists of more than 20 buildings preserved and relocated to form a small town, a square, and a farm, giving visitors a sense of how Icelanders used to live before the country underwent its industrialization.

Each building is different and has its own story. You’ll find homes of people with diverse occupations and social statuses, from a professor's residence to the 19th-century home of landless laborers. There are also structures from different eras, such as traditional turf houses and WWII storage huts.

In keeping with the living history theme, the employees and tour guides dress in traditional Icelandic attire and even work the farm, including sheep, cows, and chickens. There's also a children’s room at the museum with traditional mid-century toys for the young ones.

The museum is in Arbaer, a suburb of Reykjavik city, and although it's a bit way out of the city center, getting there doesn’t need to be all that tricky. If you don’t have a car, you can take one of the city buses that stop in the museum’s vicinity. If you have a City Card, both the bus ride and the museum admission are free.


Arbaer Open Air Museum
- Address: 
Kistuhylur 4, 110 Reykjavík
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. in June - August and 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. in September - May. 
Admission is free for City Cardholders



3. Whales of Iceland

Few other nations have as extensive of a history with whales as Iceland. The Whales of Iceland exhibition is another highly recommended Reykjavik museum. It's also a great way to learn about the whales and dolphins you may encounter (or have already seen) on a whale watching tour in Iceland

The museum is in the Grandi area, a short walking distance from the Reykjavik Old Harbor, from which most of the city’s whale watching tours depart.

The museum is located in a large warehouse and holds 23 life-size models of the whale species found in Icelandic waters, ranging from the small harbor porpoises to the enormous blue whale. 

The whale replicas hang from the ceiling, are all hand-painted, and each model has personal characteristics based on a real whale found in the ocean. The models are also soft and squishy, and you are allowed to touch them!

The exhibition is quite atmospheric; blue lighting and whale noises are played through the sound system, giving you the sense of being underwater. You can also get a better feel of swimming alongside orcas or dolphins with the museum’s virtual reality glasses.

You can download the museum’s multilingual guidance app to your phone or borrow a tablet at the front desk to learn about the biology and habits of these magnificent creatures. Odds are that the sheer size of the whales will have you in awe and stick with you forever.


Whales of Iceland
- Address: 
Fiskislod 23-25, 101 Reykjavik
Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. except for Christmas
- City Cardholders receive a 30% discount on the admission



2. The National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland houses many treasures of Iceland’s history, beginning with the ship in which Viking settlers crossed the ocean to their new home and ending in a modern airport.

The vast collection includes arts and crafts, tools and furniture, religious artifacts, and archeological remains for the permanent exhibition 'Making of a Nation.' The museum organizes these displays chronologically, so you can easily follow this journey through time.

The section describing the settlement era features swords, drinking horns, a bronze figure of the thunder god Thor, and the Valthjofsstadur door, a priceless medieval church door featuring a carving of the legend of Lion-Knight. 



Upstairs is a collection that spans from 1600 to the modern era. There, you’ll understand the country’s plight under foreign rule and their struggle for independence. You can listen to voices of the past (albeit in Icelandic) through headphones, and there's a special room where you can touch objects and even try on traditional Icelandic garments.

You can learn all about the museum’s artifacts through the free smartphone audio guide, available in nine languages. There are also guided tours in English on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You'll also find special, temporary exhibitions on everything from ancient riding equipment to modern apartment buildings.

Remember that your ticket to the National Museum is also valid for the Culture House. A great way to visit two of the best museums in Reykjavik for just one entry fee!


The National Museum of Iceland
- Address: Sudurgata 41, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily, except Mondays, from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Admission is free for City Cardholders



1. The Phallological Museum

No list of the best museums in Reykjavik could be considered complete without mentioning the Icelandic Phallological Museum. When it comes to Iceland museums, this is the undisputed king. 

The museum itself is pretty tiny, and you probably won't spend many hours there, but it's worth a visit just to say that you’ve been to the penis museum – and for the endless jokes that will inevitably accompany your visit.

The penis museum, as some tourists call it, was founded in 1997 and initially housed in the town of Husavik before relocating to Reykjavik and its current location on Kalkofnsvegur.

There are over 200 penises and penile parts from almost all land and sea mammals in Iceland, from a tiny hamster member to a 6-foot-long specimen from a sperm whale. 

Iceland is a land of myths and folklore, and so you can also find a section on troll, merman, and ghost appendages. There are even 4 human ones and a donation station where you can reserve your third leg for the museum. 

Visitors can also see an extensive collection of toys, trinkets, and utensils related to the museum’s theme. There's an excellent gift shop, so you have no excuse not to bring home a penis-shaped bottle opener or a fridge magnet to commemorate the visit.


The Phallological Museum
- Address: Kalkofnsvegur 2, 101 Reykjavik
- Open: Daily from 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
- City Cardholders receive a 20% discount on the admission


Have you visited these museums? What did you think? Are there other museums you would have liked to see on this list? Tell us in the comments below.