Reykjavik is home to Iceland's most impressive museums and cultural institutions
National Museum of Iceland - Þjóðminjasafn Íslands
The National Museum of Iceland is located in Suðurgata 41, close to the University of Iceland. The Museum hosts a permanent exhibition, as well as a variety of temporary exhibitions. It houses around 3,000 objects, including most of the greatest treasures of the Icelandic nation, reflecting Iceland's cultural history over the past 1,200 years, from the Settlement to the present day. The collections consist of archaeological artefacts, art objects, practical everyday objects, church paraphernalia, historic buildings, photographs, audio recordings and written sources.
The Museum's permanent exhibition, The Making of a Nation – Heritage and History in Iceland, is presented as a journey through time, beginning with the ship in which medieval settlers crossed the ocean to their new home. It's a beautifully designed exhibition, providing insights into the different time periods in the history of Iceland.
The Museum also has a café and a museum shop.
Nordic House – Norræna húsið
Designed by Alvar Aalto, the Nordic House is also close to the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, set in a quiet wild bird nature reserve, with a delightful view over the lakes and old town. Described as a "cultural, architectural and gastronomic jewel in the heart of Reykjavik", the Nordic House has a library, an exhibition space and auditoriums, a shop for Nordic design and a restaurant serving New Nordic food.
Nordic House is one of the venues for various cultural events: Reykjavík International Film and Literary Festivals, Iceland Airwaves and The Nordic Fashion Biennale—launched by the Nordic House. Concerts, art exhibitions, seminars and theatre performances take place every day.
National Gallery of Iceland - Listasafn Íslands
Located at Fríkirkjuvegur 7, the National Gallery of Iceland, has as its main emphasis the collection of 19th and 20th century Icelandic art, but international art is featured as well, including works by Pablo Picasso and Edward Munch. The Gallery holds regular exhibitions reflecting its collections as well as exhibitions by individual artists, Icelandic as well as foreign. The Gallery also has an art store and a café.
Ásgrimur Jónsson Collection
The Asgrimur Jonsson Collection, a small museum, opened in the artist's studio home at Bergstaðastræti 74 in 1960, forms part of the National Gallery. Ásgrimur Jónsson (1876-1958) was one of the pioneers of Icelandic art and the first Icelander to take up painting professionally. He was one of the founders of Icelandic landscape painting. Iceland's nature and folk tales were the inspiration for many of his works.
Reykjavik Art Museum is Iceland's largest network of art museums. The Reykjavik Art Museum is housed in three different buildings, in different locations: Hafnarhús on the waterfront in downtown Reykjavik, Kjarvalsstaðir in the Miklatún Park and the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum near Laugardalur.
The Erró, Kjarval and Ásmundur Sveinsson collections are permanent exhibitions in the three locations; however, the Museum also shows around 20 various exhibitions each year, featuring modern and contemporary art, paintings, sculptures and works in different media by established local and international artists.
Hafnarhús (Hafnarhus - Harbour House) features a permanent exhibition of paintings by the artist Erró (b.1932). Additionally, it explores new developments in contemporary art through diverse exhibitions by Icelandic and international artists. Hafnarhus also has a restaurant with a beautiful view over the harbour. There is a selection of foreign and local newspapers, art magazines and professional journals and a museum shop.
Kjarvalsstaðir (Kjarvalsstadir), opened in 1973, is the first building in Iceland purposely designed to display visual arts. The Museum is named after the painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972) one of Iceland's most influential artists. Kjarval's works are on permanent display there, whilst other exhibitions at Kjarvalsstaðir focus primarily on paintings and sculptures of the established masters of modern art. Set in the lovely Klambratún Park, the Museum also houses a design shop and bookstore and a café.
Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum - Ásmundarsafn
Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) is one of the "Grand Old Men" of Icelandic art, a pioneer of Icelandic sculpture. His early works are figurative and classical in form, but he is best known for his abstract figurative works, inspired by the quintessentially Icelandic traditions and motifs.
Asmundarsafn is the former house of the artist in Laugardalur which has been installed as a museum. There is a remarkable sculpture garden surrounding the house, open to public.
Einar Jónsson Museum
The Einar Jonsson Museum is Iceland's first art museum, officially opened on Midsummer's Day in 1923. Located in the vicinity of Hallgrimskirkja, the Museum is a must-see for art lovers.
Einar Jónsson (1874-1954) was Iceland's first sculptor, a ground-breaking figure in the Icelandic visual arts, who drew inspiration from the Icelandic folklore, mythological and allegorical motifs, developing an original figurative style. Many casts of Einar Jónsson's sculptures can be seen around Reykjavik: 'Outlaws' opposite the National Museum of Iceland, 'Breaking the Spell' alongside Tjörnin lake, 'Ingólfur Arnarson', on top of Arnarholl Hill, and a statue of the Icelandic national independence hero Jón Sigurðsson at Austurvöllur Square, across from the Parliament House.
Please note that the Museum is closed in December and January; however, the beautiful sculpture garden is open all year round, entrance is free and it's a stunning site to visit in all seasons. There are 26 bronze casts of Einar Jónsson's work in the garden.
Reykjavik Museum of Photography - Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur
The Museum, located in Tryggvagata 15, exhibits both historical and contemporary photographs in artistic, social and cultural contexts. It has a collection of around five million photos, dating from 1870-2002. The permanent collection also includes objects relating to the art of photography. The exhibitions focus on Icelandic photography, works from the collection and works of foreign photographers, both professional and amateur. Reykjavik Museum of Photography was listed among 10 of the best free museums in Europe in The Guardian.
The Saga Museum, previously located at the Perlan (until 15 February 2014), will reopen its doors at a new location in a historical house at Reykjavik's Old Harbour at the beginning of April 2014. The new location will feature a larger museum, café and a design/souvenir shop.
The Museum shows 17 exhibits, recreating some key moments in the history of Iceland in a vivid and evocative style. Full scale, lifelike silicone figures have been designed; clothing, tools, jewellery and weapons faithfully reproduced, based on the descriptions found in the sagas and chronicles. Set in convincing scenery, these artistic impressions of Iceland's historical figures include the great poet and chieftain Snorri Sturluson; the first Norseman to settle in Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson, and the first European to land in North America nearly 500 years before Columbus, Leifur Eiriksson. Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi, Law Speaker at the Althingi who played such a crucial part in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in 1000 AD is also portrayed, as well as many of the legendary characters from the Icelandic sagas, including Egill Skallagrimsson and Melkorka Myrkjartansdottir, one of the main characters in Laxdaela Saga.
Arbaer Open Air Museum – Árbæjarsafn
Árbær, an established farm well into the 20th century, is now an open air museum, just outside Reykjavik city. More than 20 historical buildings form a town square, a village and a farm, recreating a sense of the architecture and way of life from Reykjavik's past. The exhibitions and events held at the Arbaer Museum include craft days, Christmas exhibitions, vintage car displays, and during summer visitors can see domestic animals.
Gljufrasteinn was the home and workplace of Halldór Kiljan Laxness (1902-1998), Iceland's Nobel Laureate (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1955), and his family for more than half a century. The house is unchanged from when Laxness lived there and now open to the public as a museum. Visitors can also take walks in the countryside around Gljufrasteinn where Laxness spent his childhood.
Viking World Museum - Víkingaheimar
Less than 10 minutes' drive from KEF Airport, Vikingaheimar is a relatively new museum in Iceland dedicated to expanding knowledge about Viking ships and their voyages of discovery, where you can also see, and step aboard, the Viking ship Íslendingur – 'Icelander'. The ship Icelander is an exact replica of the Viking ship found at Gokstad, and it was sailed across the Atlantic in the year 2000 as a part of the millennial celebration of Leifur Eiríksson's (Leif the Lucky) journey to the New World.
The Museum also exhibits archaeological finds from the Suðurnes (Sudurnes) region on Reykjanes peninsula, in a beautiful setting with views of the surrounding bay, Faxaflói (Faxafloi).