An old Viking grave on display in Iceland's National Museum

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

Contents

An Introduction to Reykjavik's Museums          

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

At Reykjavík's City Hall, you can purchase a City Card which will get you free admission, or a discount, to most of the museums on this list. You'll also receive a discount to numerous restaurants, free admission on the city buses and a free entry to Reykjavík's swimming pools

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



11. The Saga Museum            

Visitors have the choice to be guided through the museum with an audio device and can choose between 7 languages.Photo from The Saga Museum

Starting off this list is the Saga Museum (Sögusafnið), where history comes alive! This relatively small museum is jam-packed with information about the Viking settlers, and it uses life-like replicas of Icelandic historical figures to recreate key moments in Iceland’s history. 

As you enter the museum, you are given an audioguide, in either Icelandic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish or Swedish, that plays automatically as you walk past the realistic figures.

This is a great stop either before or after a tour of the country as you’ll learn about the rich history of the places you are about to visit or have just seen, such as how Iceland’s parliament, Alþingi, was founded in 930 at Þingvellir National Park, and what lead to a law-speaker named Þorgeir to throw idols into Goðafoss waterfall



The replicas in the museum were created based on descriptions found in the Viking Sagas and chronicles, and the clothes, weapons and everyday objects have all been hand-crafted using traditional methods. Make sure you'll bring your camera because after the tour, you'll have the chance to dress up as a Viking in these hand-crafted clothes. Helmet, chainmail, sword and all!


Saga Museum
- Address:
Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10-18 
- City Card holders will receive a 10% discount on the admission


10. Perlan             

People enjoying the man-made ice cave in Reykajvík city.Photo from Perlan Museum Glacier & Ice Cave Exhibition

On your Reykjavík visit, you have undoubtedly seen the iconic Perlan building which towers over the city from the top of a hill in the Öskjuhlíð area. The hemispherical structure has for decades provided visitors with an unmatched, panoramic view of the capital area from its observation deck, and now, guests can also immerse themselves in the wild Icelandic nature, without leaving Reykjavík city.

Perlan Museum opened its first exhibit, the ‘Glaciers and Ice Cave’ exhibition, in July 2017. The presentation begins with a visit to an ice cave that has been constructed inside one of the hot water tanks on which the Perlan dome sits. Visitors are urged to use their senses during the tour; not only watch but to touch the ice, listen to the sounds, and feel the cold. Rest assured, you will be provided with warm clothes for the chill.



After walking through the labyrinth of ice, guests are lead to the second floor where they will find an interactive wall aimed to show them the forces of the glaciers and the volcanic activity under them. There is also multimedia displays with everything about glaciers, from the microorganisms found in them to the dangers they face due to climate change. A visit to the observation deck is included with the admission fee so that you can enjoy the view of Reykjavík after your tour.

More exhibitions are set to open at the Perlan Museum later this year, all under the name 'Wonders of Iceland'. The ‘Land, Coast, Ocean’ exhibit will use cutting-edge technology to give you insight into the unique nature of Iceland, you’ll be able to feel an earthquake and explore the ocean through a virtual fish tank for example, and in the fall a state-of-the-art Planetarium will open.


Perlan Museum
- Address: 
Varmahlíð 1, 105 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 9-19 



9. Reykjavik Maritime Museum               

Víkin Maritime MuseumThe Maritime Museum on Seamen Day.

Nothing has been more vital to Iceland’s survival than fishing, and so it should come as no surprise that there is a whole museum dedicated to the nation’s maritime history. You can check out the country’s seafaring heritage at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum in the newly renovated part of the Reykjavík's harbour, known as the Grandi area.

The museum gives a good insight into the life and times of Icelandic fishermen by displaying great old fishing artefacts, detailed model ships, mock-ups of wireless signal rooms, and a compass repair shop. 

You’ll gain a deeper understanding of this little 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 is 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 Óðinn, a Coast Guard vessel that survived three of these wars. 


The Reykjavík Maritime Museum
- Address: 
Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10-17 
- Admission is free for City Card holders & it includes a visit to Óðinn vessel



8. Tales from Iceland              

The Tales from Iceland exhibition is held in the historic Austurbæjarbíó building in downtown Reykjavík.Photo from Tales from Iceland facebook

A fairly new exhibition has opened in the historical Austurbæjarbíó building, just a stone’s throw away from the Hlemmur bus station. The Tales from Iceland exhibit uses a series of cinematically beautiful videos to provide visitors with a unique perspective on the country.

This clever exhibit shows these taped stories on two floors with a total of 14 screens, each with a set of sofas in front of them. You are also offered free coffee or hot chocolate so you can wander around with a cup in your hand, enjoying the show.

On the lower level, you’ll find the ‘Nature Exhibition’ where you get to see the Icelandic landscape and history through other people's eyes. Assorted videos made by tourist are scattered around, describing their (often hilarious) experience of the country and the people living here.

Upstairs in the ‘News Exhibition,’ you get the locals perspective from news videos. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about Iceland, from politics, history, and geology, to music, sports and culture. You’ll see real footage from the Cod Wars, a commercial starring LazyTown’s Sportacus and former First lady Michelle Obama, and everything in between.


Tales from Iceland
- Address: 
Snorrabraut 37, 105 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 9-17 
- City Card holders will receive a 20% discount on the admission


7. Culture House         

An old manuscript on display in the Culture House.Photo from Safnahúsið

On the Hverfisgata street in downtown Reykjavík, you can find a large and beautiful building known as Safnahúsið or Culture House. The stark-white house holds a collection which includes paintings, sculptures, and other works of art, alongside cultural pieces and historical artefacts. All designed to give you the history and perspective needed to appreciate the Icelandic nation as it is today.

The permanent exhibition, 'Points of View', gives guests a chance to delve into the collection of six 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 take a rest.

The latest in Icelandic art is on the fourth floor, and medieval items are on the ground floor. However, the collections are arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, to paint a picture of various aspects of Icelandic culture and way of life. There are also special, temporary exhibitions in a separate room on the third floor which provide a 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 in 1906-1908 by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen to house the National Library. Nielsen's colleague, Frederick Kiörboe designed the oak furniture that can still be found 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 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10-17 (closed on Mondays from 16th of September to 30th of May)
-Admission is free for City Card holders


6. The Icelandic Punk Museum          

In the true punk spirit, the Punk Museum is located in an abandoned public toilet.Photo from The Punk Museum

When exploring the nation’s culture and history, one cannot forget about Icelandic music. At the bottom of Bankastræti street in downtown Reykjavík hides The Icelandic Punk Museum where 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 Björk and Sigur Rós. 

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 themselves were shut down in 2006 only to be reopened a decade later by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols to tell the story of Icelandic Punk.

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 one playing a different Icelandic punk song. You can also try on leather jackets and strike a pose with a guitar or behind the drums.


The Icelandic Punk Museum
- Address: Bankastræti 0, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Weekdays from 10-22 and on weekends 12-22



5. The Settlement Exhibition         

The Settlement Exhibition is about life in Viking Age ReykjavíkPhoto from The Settlement Exhibition.

The Settlement Exhibition is another underground museum, but there is a practical reason for its subterranean location as it is built around an archaeological dig. In 2001, renovations of the nearby buildings were about to start when archaeologists found a few relics which turned out to be the oldest remains of human habitation in Reykjavík, including a tenth-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 is equally impressive is that these buildings were found at the very place where Iceland’s first settlers made his home, as described in the old Icelandic Sagas which were written down some 200 years after the event.



At the Exhibition, you can walk around the unearthed longhouse and look at various artefacts to get a glimpse into early Icelandic life. There are multimedia tables which show information about the history and ecology of the area, as well as the daily activities of the residents, such as iron-work and carpentry. There is even a panorama showing you how Reykjavík would have looked at the time of the longhouse.


The Settlement Exhibition
- Address: 
Aðalstræti 16, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 9-18
- Admission is free for City Card holder


  4. Arbaer Open Air Museum           

The Ãrbær Open Air Museum offers a first hand experience of Iceland in ancient times.Photo from Árbær Open Air Museum.

Another way of exploring what Reykjavík used to look like is with a visit to Árbær Open Air Museum where you’ll find a large display of ancient Icelandic houses. The museum consists of more than 20 buildings that have been 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 period of industrialisation.

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 resident to a 19th-century home of landless labourers, as well as houses from different time periods, such as traditional turf houses and WWII storage huts.

To keep with the theme, the employees and tour guides dress in traditional Icelandic attire and go about the business of working the farm, which includes tending to sheep, cows and chickens. There is also a children’s room at the museum with traditional mid-century toys for the young ones.

The museum is located in Árbær, a suburb of Reykjavík city and although it is a little way out of the city centre, getting there doesn’t need to be all that tricky. If you don’t have your own car, you can simply take one of the city buses which stops in the vicinity of the museum. And if you have a City Card, both the bus ride and the entry to the museum is free.


Árbær Open Air Museum
- Address: 
Kistuhylur 4, 110 Reykjavík
- Open: Open every day from 10-17 in June-August, and from 13-17 in September-May.  
 - Admission is free for City Card holders



3. Whales of Iceland           

The Whales of Iceland museum is bound to excite and inspire the entire family.Photo from Whales of Iceland 

The Whales of Iceland exhibition is a great way to learn all about the whales and dolphins that you might get a chance to see (or have already seen) on a whale watching tour in Iceland. The museum is located in the Grandi area, a short walking distance from the Reykjavík Old Harbour 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 harbour 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; there is blue lighting and whale noises are played through the sound system which gives you the sense of being underwater. You can also get a better feel of what it’s like to swim alongside orcas or dolphins with the museum’s virtual reality glasses.

The museum’s multilingual guidance app can be downloaded to your phone, or you can borrow a tablet at the front test to learn about the biology and habits of these magnificent creatures. But it probably will be the sheer size of the whales that will have you in awe and stick you forever.


Whales of Iceland
- Address: 
Fiskislóð 23-25, 101 Reykjavík
Open: Every day from 10-17
- City Card holders will receive a 30% discount on the admission



2. The National Museum of Iceland            

Viking swords on display in the National Museum Photo from The National Museum

The National Museum 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 of art and crafts, tools and furniture, religious artefacts and archaeological remains for the permanent exhibition 'Making of a Nation', are organised 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 Valþjófsstaður door, a priceless medieval church door on which the legend of Lion-Knight is carved. 



Upstairs is a collection which spans from 1600 to the modern era. There, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of 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 is a special room where you can touch objects and even try on traditional Icelandic garments.

You can learn all about the museum’s artefacts through the free smartphone audio guide, available in nine different languages, but there are also guided tours in English on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There are also 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.


The National Museum of Iceland
- Address: Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík
- Open: Every day from 10-17 (closed on Mondays from 16th of September to 30th of May)
Admission is free for City Card holders



1. The Phallological Museum            

A selection of the artefacts on display in the Phallological Museum.Photo from the Icelandic Phallological Museum

No list of Iceland's museums could be considered complete without mentioning the Icelandic Phallological Museum. The museum itself is pretty small, and you probably won't spend many hours there, but it is worth a visit just to say that you’ve been to the penis museum, and for the endless dick-jokes that will inevitably accompany your visit.

The museum was founded in 1997 and was housed in the town of Húsavík before it was relocated to Reykjavík, where you can find it on the main shopping street, Laugavegur, near Hlemmur Square.  

There are over two hundred penises and penile parts from almost all of the land and sea mammals in Iceland, from a tiny hamster member to a 6ft 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 four human ones and a donation station where you can reserve your member for the museum. 

Visitors can also see an extensive collection of toys, trinkets and utensils related to the museum’s theme and there is an excellent gift shop so you can bring home a penis shaped bottle opener or a fridge magnet to commemorate your visit.


The Phallological Museum
- Address: Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík
- Open: September to May from 9-18, and June - August from 10-18
- City Card holders will 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.