With a population of less than 400,000, Iceland might not be a place you’d assume was rich in museums. This small nation has a big history though and the museums in Reykjavik are the best places to learn all about it.
Isolated and far north on the edge of the Arctic Circle, the inhabitants of Iceland had a very different way of life from populations in more southerly countries. Living off the land and the sea in harsh conditions, the Icelandic culture is a fascinating view into such an extreme landscape and lifestyle.
Whether you’re visiting for a weekend break or the road trip of a lifetime, discovering the magic of Iceland’s history is well worth doing. Keep reading to see what museums you can find in Reykjavik.
1. Perlan Museum
From afar, the Perlan Museum is eye-catching yet hard to identify if you don’t know what it is. The vast glass-domed roof sits on top of huge hot water tanks that you might confuse with a power station or a factory. You can’t miss it either, as it sits in the Öskjuhlíð park area, on top of a hill.
No matter how extraordinary it looks from the outside, it’s nothing compared to the wonders it houses within. Perlan is the best museum in Iceland to experience all of the country’s natural wonders under one roof.
Walk through the ice cave, made from 350 tons of real snow. If that’s not enough, visit the award-winning Planetarium where you’ll view unforgettable videos of space in 8k. The Planetarium offers mind-blowing films of the aurora borealis too and as the screen surrounds you just like the sky, you’ll forget you’re indoors at all.
Perlan teaches visitors about everything from plate tectonics and earthquakes to what lies underneath Iceland’s coastal waters. Top off your visit with a meal in the dome’s revolving restaurant.
2. Reykjavik Maritime Museum
Iceland and its people are fundamentally tied to the sea. The best place to visit to appreciate how the sea molded the country is the Reykjavik Maritime Museum.
With temporary and permanent exhibitions, the Maritime Museum is a fascinating place for adults and children alike. The Óðinn Coast Guard Vessel is a great guided tour that happens three times a day and reveals its turbulent history and life on board. This vessel took part in the Cod Wars as well as hundreds of rescues.
Fishing has always been an intrinsic part of Icelandic life and the Fish & Folk permanent exhibition is a new addition to this amazing museum. Inside, you can learn all about Iceland’s fisheries and how the local people rely on the fishing industry.
3. Whales of Iceland
Whales are ocean giants and, for many of us, difficult to see in real life. Thanks to the nutrient-rich waters around Iceland, whales are a common visitor and their presence has helped shaped Iceland’s communities and culture.
While some whale species are small, others are unimaginably huge. At Reykjavik’s Whales of Iceland museum, you don’t have to imagine. Here you’ll find 23 life-sized models of some of the most incredible whales in existence.
During your visit, you’ll not only get to experience the sheer scale of whales but learn about their behavior and lives too. The museum has virtual reality headsets as the icing on the cake. With your VR headset, you’ll find yourself on the ocean floor, looking up at these beautiful creatures swimming above you.
4. Reykjavik Museum of Photography
If you’re traveling around Iceland from the Northern settlements to the rugged south, you’ll soon discover how photogenic Iceland is. There’s something about the way the sun crashes through the fierce clouds that brings out the photographer in each and every visitor.
With geysers, towering volcanoes, and icebergs perched on beaches, the natural landscape of Iceland makes for outstanding photographs. It’s not just the geology of the country either. The locals, Icelandic architecture, and everyday scenes excite photographers from around the world.
At the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, you’ll see Iceland through the lenses of hundreds of photographers. Take in stunning black and white shots of historic Iceland and see modern scenes in a new light.
5. The Icelandic Punk Museum
When you think of Iceland’s music scene, punk might not be the first thing that springs to mind. During the 80s and 90s though, punk was a big deal here.
Whether you’re a punk fan or not, this museum is a fun way to learn more about this huge musical movement and how it affected Iceland. The curator here loves for visitors to have a blast so you could find yourself dressing up and playing around on musical instruments.
The strangest thing is the Punk Museum’s location. You’ll find it in a disused public toilet opposite the office of the Prime Minister.
6. Settlement Exhibition
During construction work, builders made the discovery of Viking Settlement remains in the heart of Reykjavik. Instead of closing them off, careful excavations took place and the site turned into the Settlement Exhibition.
This small museum has combined modern digital technology with archeology to form an interactive, multimedia space. Kids will learn all about how the Vikings lived and adults will be able to appreciate the immense history right under their feet. Scholars have created informative displays to show what life was like 1,000 years ago, when this settlement was first inhabited.
7. Reykjavik Museum of Art
Three different buildings in Reykjavik form this unique art museum. It often displays work from Iceland’s most famous artists. Exhibitions change regularly but whenever you go, you’re guaranteed to find incredible works of art including sculpture, paintings, drawings and more. If you want to know more about the art on display, you can book a guided tour.
The museum looks after artworks all over Reykjavik, and when you begin looking for it, you’ll spot it everywhere. Download the museum’s Art Walk app to find the locations and information of two hundred artworks in the city. As this app leads you around Reykjavik, it’s also a great way to get to know the city on a more local level.
There is no admission to the museum for children under 18, making it a very affordable place to visit for families.
8. National Museum of Iceland
The National Museum of Iceland is one of the best museums to visit if you’re looking for a complete history of Iceland’s people. Their permanent exhibition, Making of a Nation, explores how humans made Iceland their home and adjusted to create a new culture and way of life in the difficult environment.
Hosting 1,000 photographs and 2,000 items that span back to settlement times, you’ll get a comprehensive view of the Icelandic people’s history here.
The museum features temporary exhibitions too, lasting from months to a year and you can check what’s on during your visit.
9. The Culture House
The Culture House is actually a part of the National Museum of Iceland but it’s in a separate location and has a very different history. This stunning building was originally the home of the National Library and Archives of Iceland. It’s now used as an exhibition center and is well worth a visit.
The architecture is a large part of what draws visitors to the Culture House and the exterior and interior are beautifully designed. The exhibitions here unveil Iceland’s culture and fascinate anyone who likes to understand how nations form.
10. Saga Museum
If you’re traveling with children, the Saga Museum will be a firm favorite. Delving into Iceland’s Viking past, this museum is full of fun activities and life-like models recreating historic life.
Follow the journey from the original settlement with wax figures and see key moments in the nation’s past. You’ll get an audio guide to listen to through headphones as you walk around. Through this, you’ll hear incredible stories about Iceland’s past and how the Vikings made their home here.
The Saga Museum highlights just how challenging life was for early Icelandic settlers. With earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even the Black Death, it’s amazing how such a modest population kept going. With 17 exhibits showing different sagas in the island’s history, you’ll leave with a great appreciation of this remarkable nation.
11. The Icelandic Phallological Museum
Perhaps not a museum you’d expect to find but certainly one of Reykjavik’s most unique. The fascinating Icelandic Phallological Museum contains the biggest collection of penises in the world. Here you’ll find penile parts of everything from hamsters to whales, preserved and on display.
With almost 300 specimens, visitors from all over the globe come to marvel at the differences between the parts of over 90 animal species. The museum is actively collecting and began with founder Sigurður Hjartarson’s childhood interest in a bull’s penis he’d been given.
Get to know Iceland with these museums in Reykjavik
Iceland has shot up in popularity in recent years as the country offers a balance between culture and adventure travel. From its snowy mountains and bubbling geysers to its sprawling capital and fascinating museums, Iceland is a land of extremes.
There’s no better way to embrace this country than to get to know its history and background. These museums in Reykjavik will show you everything from Iceland’s phenomenal geology to the story of the very first settlers. See the aurora billowing above you at Perlan’s Planetarium and touch life-sized whales at the Whales of Iceland exhibition.
When you learn about the harsh environments and obstacles early Icelanders faced, you’ll be able to see why certain traditions exist. Traveling around Iceland is a trip of a lifetime and you’ll see so much on this stunning island. To explore this country with ease, check out our rental cars and get a price for your trip. We put you in the driver’s seat for your Iceland vacation so you can explore wherever you want to in comfort.