The Ultimate Museum Guide to Iceland | History, Art and Science

Lukas Reinhardt

(Updated: )
19 min read
The Ultimate Museum Guide to Iceland | History, Art and Science

Despite a population of just over 330,000 people, you’ll find no shortage of museums in Iceland. We’ve broken down the museums into three categories for you: history, art & culture, and science. The list includes some of the biggest museums in Iceland but also has a number of hidden gems that only a few know about.


Icelanders are extremely proud of their history and their heritage and dotted around the island you’ll find plenty of museums focused on the past, present and future of Iceland.

The Settlement Exhibition

A fascinating museum that’s based on the discovery of one of the first houses in Iceland. It was found during building work that was being carried out. The site was archaeologically excavated and it was soon after clear that they had stumbled across the earliest evidence of human settlement in Reykjavik.

This museum gives you the chances to take a look at the excavated site for yourself. It’s a family-friendly museum with plenty of children's activities, a multimedia exhibition that uses technology to help immerse visitors back into the time of the first settlers.


  • The Settlement Exhibition, Aðalstræti 16, 101 Reykjavík

The National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland has been around since 1863 and has always been an exhibition of Iceland’s story. The collection showcases the whole history of Iceland from the early medieval days of the Vikings all the way to modern, contemporary culture. You can find more than 2,000 artifacts from around the entire country.

Perhaps the most prized possession of the National Museum of Iceland is the Valþjófsstaður door, a beautifully carved wooden door dating back to 1,200 AD. The engravings illustrate a scene from the 12th-century knight’s tale Le Chevalier Au Lion (the knight and the lion).


  • The National Museum of Iceland, Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík

The Reykjavík Maritime Museum

Located near the old harbor of the capital is the Reykjavik Maritime Museum, an exhibition dedicated to the generations fishermen and sailors who helped shape Iceland to what it is today. Fish has always been a staple of the diet in Iceland and is one of the most important exports of the country.

Inside the museum, you’ll find artifacts and stories of Iceland’s ocean history, following the story from the ocean to the plate. As well as the main museum you can take a guided tour onboard the Óðinn, a 900-ton coastguard ship that’s been transformed into an exhibit about the cod wars that occurred from the 1950s to the 1970s.


  • Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavík

The Saga Museum

The Saga Museum is where history comes alive. Although the museum is quite small, it’s filled with interesting information about the key moments that defined Iceland. You’ll find life-like replicas of normal settlers to historical figures in Iceland, giving the whole museum a realistic feel to it.

These replicas are based on information collected from the Viking Sagas, clothes, weapons and other objects which have been excavated around Iceland. However, in order to give these replicas authenticity, the clothing weapons and objects were all made using the traditional methods they would have been made 1,000 years ago. You even have the chances to dress up like a Viking yourself, so make sure to bring your camera.


  • The Saga Museum, Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík

The Culture House

Built in 1906 by Danish architect Johannes Magdahl Nielsen, The Culture House is perhaps one of Reykjavik's most beautiful buildings, both inside and out. It was originally built to house the National Library and National Archives of Iceland. Whilst these two institutions were moved elsewhere in Reykjavik over time, The Culture House still held on to many paintings, historical artifacts, sculptures and other works of art.

Today you’ll find a permanent exhibition inside called ‘Points of View’. The exhibition showcases various cultural artifacts of Iceland over time. From old tombstones and ancient manuscripts to modern art, there’s plenty to look at. What makes this museum unique is that instead of being in chronological order, the collection is arranged thematically to portray Icelandic culture from various points of views.


  • Culture House, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Árbær Open Air Museum

If there was only one museum you could see in Iceland, then let it be the Árbær Open Air Museum. This living museum is where Icelandic history comes to life. It was originally constructed in 1957 when a growing number of citizens were concerned that ‘old Reykjavik’ was quickly disappearing.

The museum now consists of 20 preserved buildings that were relocated to create a small Icelandic town, including a town square, a farm, and various other buildings. The purpose of Árbær is to give people the idea of how life was like for Icelanders before rapid industrialization brought about the modern world.

To add the finishing touch, all employees and tour guides are dressed in the traditional garments and tend to the farm animals and knitting tasks, giving the whole village a realistic feel to it.


  • Árbær Open Air Museum, Kistuhyl, 110 Reykjavík

Viking World

If you’re driving from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik, then chances are you’ll see a gigantic floating Viking ship. No, this is not a ghost ship from the reminiscent Viking spirits on Iceland, instead, it’s Íslendingur. Built in 1996, Íslendingur (the Icelander) is an exact replica of the famous Gokstad Viking ship that was discovered and excavated in Norway in 1882.

The Íslendingur is just one of many fascinating Viking artifacts that can be found at Viking World. You can also find an exhibition called ‘Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga’ by the Smithsonian Institute. This exhibition explores Norse exploration into unknown lands and celebrates their discovery of North American nearly 1,000 years ago.


  • Viking World, Víkingabraut 1, 260 Reykjanesbær

The Settlement Center

Although the names are very similar, The Settlement Center is different from The Settlement Exhibition. The Settlement Center can be found in a town called Borgarnes, an hour's drive north from Reykjavik. There are two exhibitions here, the first of which provides an interesting overview of the early settlements of the Vikings, how they survived and why they left their homelands Norway in the first place. Multi-media and theatrical techniques are used to help visitors immerse themselves into the shoes of the first Icelanders over 1,000 years ago.

The second exhibition, which is called Egil´s Saga Exhibition, follows the life of one of Iceland's most famous Vikings and first poet Egill Skallagrimsson. Egil´s father was one of the first settlers on Iceland and the family was one of the early pioneers of the country. Egil himself was a national hero, being both a fierce Viking yet a sensitive poet.


  • The Settlement Center, Brákarbraut 13-15, 310 Borgarnes

Tales from Iceland

Tales from Iceland is a relatively new video exhibition that combines history with art. The exhibition follows two very different perspectives of Iceland; one from the eyes of visitors of Iceland, and the other from Icelandic locals living here. Instead of artifacts, Tales from Iceland is completely conveyed through short 3 - 4 feature videos that cover various topics.

Whilst the perspective of visitors covers mostly the breathtaking landscapes that Iceland has to offer, the locals perspective includes snippets of news clips over the last decades. Tales from Iceland is a fantastic new addition to the already amazing choice of museums in Iceland as it uses video and cinematics to bridge art and history.


  • Tales from Iceland, Snorrabraut 37, 101 Reykjavík


Austur-Meðalholt is another outdoor living museum that showcases the famous Turf Houses of Iceland's past. The well-preserved turf farms at Austur-Meðalholt allow visitors to marvel at how these buildings were constructed using only natural materials and making it look as though an extension of nature herself.

You will find 8 houses in total, four houses, a farm, and stables. As well as being able to look into the turf houses, there is also an exhibition of old black and white photographs, maps and documents depicting the construction of these buildings.


  • Austur-Meðalholtum, 803 Selfoss

Art & Culture

Don’t worry, Iceland isn’t just full of Viking museums - there’s also plenty of art and culture to be found here! From the famous museum of photography to the fine art galleries, there’s just about something for everyone. Want to know where to find the best art and culture museums? Follow along carefully on this ultimate guide to Iceland’s museums.

Reykjavik Museum Of Photography

The Reykjavik Museum of Photography was originally started by a private company in 1981 but eventually taken over by the City of Reykjavik. The museum focuses on Icelandic photography from both local and foreign photographers. In total, the Reykjavik Museum of Photography contains over six million images.

Whilst many pictures are from Iceland today, there is also an extensive archive of photographs dating all the way back to 1860, providing a unique insight into life in Iceland over 150 years ago.


  • Reykjavík Museum Of Photography, Grófarhús, Tryggvagata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Gallerí List

Gallerí List was established in 1987 and is Iceland’s oldest fine art gallery to date. The gallery showcases a diverse selection of contemporary art from various talented Icelandic artists. Part of the Gallerí List’s aim is to offer original pieces of art at affordable rates.

The selection includes everything from large oil paintings, sculptures, ceramics, watercolors, and many other mediums. Entry is free, so if you enjoy art, in the Reykjavik area, and have an afternoon to spare then head on over to Gallerí List to check out some of Iceland’s up and coming artists.


  • Gallerí List, Skipholt 50, Reykjavík

The Reykjavik Art Museum - Kjarvalsstadir

The Reykjavik Art Museum is split into three locations: Hafnarhús by the old harbor, Ásmundarsafn in Laugardalur, and Kjarvalsstaðir by Klambratún. Kjarvalsstadir was opened in 1973 and is named after one Iceland's most famous and beloved painters, Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885 - 1972).

As might be expected, Jóhannes S. Kjarval’s work occupies a large part of the collection of Reykjavik Art Museum, and it’s always on show as a permanent exhibition. In addition, you can find temporary exhibitions of both Icelandic and international artists ranging from fine art to architecture and design - with a focal point on the twentieth century.


  • Kjarvalsstaðir, Flókagata 24, 105 Reykjavík

Asmundur Sculpture Museum

Asmundur is the second location of the Reykjavik Art Museum, and it’s named after the sculpture Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893–1982). At the museum, you will find a white-domed building surrounded by a large garden that features numerous Ásmundur Sveinsson sculptures.

The white building was partly designed by Ásmundur Sveinsson himself and the area was used as both his home and studio. Inside you’ll find more of his work alongside other modern or contemporary artists.


  • Ásmundarsafn, Sigtún, 105 Reykjavík

The Icelandic Punk Museum

The Icelandic Punk Museum was opened in 2016 by Johnny Rotten from The Sex Pistols. In good punk fashion, the museum was constructed in the old public toilets of Reykjavik. Follow the steps down and you’ll find a lively exhibition about the history of punk in Iceland from the 1980s and 1990s.

On display are old photos, posters, instruments, clothes and various other memorabilia from the time. The museum also showcases other famous Icelandic musicians and artists, including Björk and The Sugarcubes.


  • Icelandic Punk Museum, Bankastræti 2, 101 Reykjavík

The Einar Jónsson Museum - Sculpture Garden and Gallery

The sculpture garden located behind the Einar Jónsson Art Museum is one of the few free exhibitions in Iceland. Opened in 1984, Einar and wife Anna created the garden themselves as they lived within the museum building.

In the garden, you’ll find 26 bronze casts by Einar Jónssons himself. The museum and gardens can be found right next to the famous Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. Whilst the garden is free, the museum requests an entrance fee of 1,000 ISK.


  • Listasafn Einars Jónssonar, Eiríksgata 3, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

The National Gallery of Iceland

Another fantastic art gallery found in Reykjavik. The collection of The National Gallery of Iceland focuses on 19th and 20th-century Iceland art with the occasional international artist on display as well. In fact, this museum owns the most valuable pieces of art by Icelandic artists within the whole country. Aside from the permanent collection, you can find several temporary exhibitions, again from both Icelandic and internationally renowned artists. The National Gallery spreads over three floors and includes a small café and gift shop.


  • National Gallery of Iceland, Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík

The Marshall House

The Marshall House is one of Iceland’s newest museum additions, having been opened in 2017. The building itself was constructed in 1948 as a fish meal factory, however, after extensive renovations, it is now home to three collections: The Living Art Museum, Gallery Kling & Bang, and Studio Ólafur Elíasson.


  • The Marshall House, Grandagarður 20, 101 Reykjavík

Hafnarborg - The Hafnarfjörður Centre Of Culture And Fine Art

The Hafnarfjörður Centre Of Culture And Fine Art was started in 1983. The museum itself has two different exhibition galleries, each hosting various different exhibitions throughout the year.

Both exhibition galleries feature contemporary as well as early 20th century pieces, from both Icelandic as well as international artists. You can find out what exhibition is currently ongoing here.


  • National Gallery of Iceland, Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík


Gerðarsafn is located in Kópavogur, south-west Iceland, and was opened in 1994. The museum features modern and contemporary art and exhibits work from both Icelandic and international artists. Gerðarsafn pride themselves as currently the only Icelandic museum that was built in honor of a female artist.

Gerður Helgadóttir (1928-1975) was a pioneer of Icelandic three-dimensional abstract art, with a focus in glass art. Within the museum, you can find over 1,400 works by Gerður, including various other Icelandic artists such as Barbara Árnason, Magnús Á. Árnason and Valgerður Briem


  • Gerðarsafn - Kopavogur Art Museum, Hamraborg 4, 200 Kópavogur

Museum Of Design And Applied Art

The Museum Of Design And Applied Art was set up with the mission to collect and preserve any and all Icelandic cultural history that encompasses design. Since it was founded in 1998, the museum has received and purchased numerous objects that are of importance to Icelandic design history. From textiles and ceramics to furniture, if you’re interested in design then this museum is well worth a visit.


  • Museum of Design and Applied Art, Gardatorg 1, 210 Gardabaer

Asgrimur Jonsson Collection

The Asgrimur Jonsson Collection is part of The National Gallery of Iceland. This associated collection is dedicated to Ásgrimur Jónsson (1876 - 1958), a pioneer of Icelandic art and the first Icelander to make painting his professional work.

When Ásgrimur Jónsson died in 1958, he gave up all of his works as well as his studio home to the Icelandic nation. In the 1960s his studio home was opened up as a dedicated museum and later in the 1980s was acquired by the National Gallery of Iceland.


  • Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection, Bergstaðastræti 74, 101 Reykjavík


Iceland is also known as the land of ice and fire, with plenty of fascinating geology and wildlife. Around the island there are various museums where you can learn more about the science of the unique landscapes and the animals that inhabit it. From the Volcano House in Reykjavik to the Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn, take a look at our guide to the best science museums in Iceland below.

Perlan Museum

Perlan is a famous landmark building, that can be seen from around Reykjavik. The building itself was constructed in 1939 as a large hot water tank, however, in 1991 it was opened to the public and now features various exhibitions. The two main exhibitions are the ‘Wonders of Iceland Exhibition’ and the ‘Áróra Planetarium Show’.

The first is an interactive museum where visitors can learn all about volcanoes, earthquakes, and geothermal energy. You can also visit the first man-made ice cave which is 100 meters long, and was built with over 350 tons of snow from the Blue Mountains.

The second exhibition, the Áróra Planetarium Show, which is the world's first 8K northern lights planetarium show. The unique cinematic show combines art and science to offer a completely unique experience.


  • Varmahlíð 1, 105 Reykjavík

Aurora Reykjavik

Another fascinating exhibition on the marvels of the Northern Lights is the Northern Lights Center in central Reykjavik. This is Iceland’s first educational and recreational center that’s all about the aurora borealis. Through the use of multimedia, including VR-headsets you can experience and learn all about this natural phenomenon. If you’re into photography then take a look at their ‘photo booth,’ where you can learn all about how to adjust your camera settings in order to capture the northern lights yourself.


  • Aurora Reykjavík, Grandagarður 2, 101 Reykjavík​

The Phallological Museum

Phallology is the scientific study of the penis, yes you read that correctly. Phallological Museum is perhaps the world’s largest collection of mammal phallic specimens, and it’s found right here in Iceland. The museum features over 280 specimens from 93 different species of animals. From whales and polar bears to folklore specimens, learn all about this biological organ in all its glory.

It was founded in 1974 by the historian Sigurður Hjartarson. The collection started small, with only 13 specimens in 1980, but it grew over the years to 34 by 1990 and 283 today. The Phallological Museum is both an entertaining attraction to tourists as well as informative and interesting; if you have the time then it’s well worth a visit.


  • The Phallological Museum, Laugavegur 116, 101 Reykjavík​

Volcano House

If you’re interested in learning more about the volcanic history of Iceland then head on over to the Volcano House. As well as being a free exhibition featuring plenty of information and volcanic artifacts, there are also two movie screenings at The Volcano House Cinema. Both films contain Emmy-nominated footage, the first of which showcases the 1973 eruption on Westman Island, which left the local town covered in ash and lava. The second film is about the more recent eruption in 2010 of Eyjafjallajökull, which left much of Western and Central Europe in lockdown.

The documentaries contain stunning footage of the volcanoes and demonstrate the vast power of the natural world. The director is Emmy-nominated Jóhann Sigfússon, who produced other nature documentaries for the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel and many others.


  • Volcano House, Tryggvagata 11, Reykjavík

Whales of Iceland

Whales of Iceland is the world’s largest museum on whales and it’s located on the harbor of Reykjavik. It contains life-sized models of all 23 species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) that can be found in Iceland’s waters.

The museum works closely with the Marine Institute of Iceland as well as whale watching companies, in order to assist in research and conservation of sea mammals. Inside the exhibition, you’ll find a wealth of information all about whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

There’s a free audio-guide available to download through your phone where you can listen to facts whilst looking at the life-sized models.


  • Whales of Iceland, Fiskislóð 23-25, Reykjavík 101

Shark Museum

The Shark Museum is a fascinating museum where you can learn all about local shark and how the traditional ‘hakarl’ is made. Did you know shark is poisonous if eaten fresh? It’s only consumable once it’s been dried and fermented in a method that’s been passed down the generations in Iceland. However, beware of the smell, as it can be extremely pungent, but if you can stomach it, then you’re in for an interesting visit.

Learn about how sharks are caught, buried, hung and prepared and eventually eaten. The museum is located north of Reykjavik in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and is well worth a visit if you’re interested to learn more about an industry and dish that played an important part in Icelandic culture.


  • Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, Bjarnarhöfn