Best museums in Reykjavik that are worth your time

From natural wonders to Viking sagas and contemporary art to whale watching, the best museums in Reykjavik have something for everyone to enjoy.

Even though Iceland's capital is relatively small, Reykjavik is a city famous for its arts, culture, and nightlife. There are a huge variety of attractions, including museums, exhibitions, and galleries where you can explore local culture. On your own or with the kids, visiting the best museums in Reykjavik will make your trip one to remember.

Learn more about the unique natural history and landscape of Iceland, its maritime history, and the Northern Lights. Or investigate some cutting-edge art installations and sculptures by Icelandic artists. Museums are just some of the fun things to do in Reykjavik, but they should definitely be on your itinerary.

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1. Get an insight into centuries of Icelandic culture at the National Museum of Iceland

History museum

The National Museum of Iceland is a fascinating place to visit. Looking at 1200 years of cultural history, from the earliest settlers to Bjork's music career, the evolution of this Nordic island is covered in full. The main exhibition, Making of a Nation, features multiple interactive exhibits for visitors to enjoy.

Highlights:

A National Museum of Iceland entry ticket grants access to all exhibits at the museum, including temporary installations.

Address and opening hours:

Suðurgata 41, 102 Reykjavík. Open 10:00 AM-5:00 PM Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays.

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2. Stand where ruins meet digital technology at the Reykjavik City Museum

History museum

Experience the spirit of the Viking age at The Settlement Exhibition at the Reykjavik City Museum. Step into the past and discover the archaeological remains of the first human settlement in Reykjavik. Interactive technology lets you visit this 10th-century farmhouse and discover what life was like for the Vikings.

Highlights:

Want to learn more about Norse mythology? Take a Private Icelandic Viking Age Walking Tour to visit the museum and see the city in one trip.

Address and opening hours:

Aðalstræti 16, 101 Reykjavik. Open every day 10:00 AM-5:00 PM. Closed December 24-25.

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3. Learn how the ocean formed a nation at the Maritime Museum

Maritime museum

The Reykjavik Maritime Museum explores Iceland's relationship with the sea. The story of generations of brave fishermen is brought to life in exhibitions that look at the history of fishing, and you can take a tour of the coastguard ship Óðinn, a former warrior in the Cod Wars. As the ship is moored in the harbor, you can get a real feel for seafaring life.

Highlights:

The Maritime Museum is just one of the city attractions that are free with a Reykjavik City Card.

Address and opening hours:

Grandagarður 8, 101 Reykjavik. Open every day 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM. Closed December 24-25.

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4. Discover Iceland’s contemporary art at the Living Art Museum

Art museum

An artist-run museum and exhibition space for contemporary art, The Living Art Museum, also known as Nýló, is a forum for experiments and discussions. One of the oldest artistic spaces in Europe to remain in the hands of the artists themselves, it focuses on a collection of works from the 1960s to the present day.

Highlights:

Free to visit, Nýló also acts as a venue for research and museum education in collaboration with artists and the public.

Address and opening hours:

Grandagarður 20, 101 Reykjavik Open 12:00 PM-6:00 PM, Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday-Tuesday.

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5. See Icelandic masterpieces at the National Gallery of Iceland

Art museum

With over 14,000 artworks in the collection, the National Gallery of Iceland regularly holds exhibitions of local and international artists. Staged across three locations, you can visit the National Gallery's main building, The House of Collections, or Home of an Artist, the house of Ásgrímur Jónsson, who was the first Icelandic artist to make his painting his main profession.

Highlights:

The locations are a brisk 10-minute walk away from each other if you loop around the city center. Cover them all in a day, or take your time to explore other attractions in between.

Address and opening hours:

Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík. Open 10:00 AM-5:00 PM, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays.

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6. View Iceland through the lens of top photographers

Photography museum

The Reykjavik Museum of Photography is located on the top floor of the building that houses the City Library. Dedicated to exhibiting Icelandic and international photography from both amateurs and professionals, it has 6 million photographs, split into 3 exhibition spaces. The earliest image on display dates from around 1860.

Highlights:

The museum also preserves family albums and personal collections, offering a unique opportunity to see how everyday citizens lived and loved.

Address and opening hours:

Grófarhús, Tryggvagata 15, 101 Reykjavík. Open 10:00 AM-6:00 PM, Monday-Thursday, 11:00 AM-6:00 PM Friday, 1:00 PM-5:00 PM Saturday-Sunday.

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7. Explore your inner landscape

Contemporary art museum

Stimulate your senses with a visit to Chromo Sapiens, a monumental, large-scale multi-sensory installation. Housed in Hofudstodin, Reykjavik's art and culture center, this work from leading Icelandic contemporary artist Shoplifter takes the form of three caves made from Shoplifter's signature material, synthetic hair extensions.

Highlights:

The experience is audio as well as visual. As you move from homo sapiens to Chromo Sapiens, you'll be accompanied by soundscapes from the Icelandic band HAM.

Address and opening hours:

Höfuðstöðin, Rafstöðvarvegur 1a, 110 Reykjavik Open 10:00 AM-6:00 PM Monday-Friday, 11:00 AM-5:00 PM Saturday-Sunday.

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8. Visit Harpa, a building that is a work of art in itself

Concert hall

Harpa is one of Reykjavik's most striking landmarks. As well as being an award-winning piece of contemporary architecture, it is also considered one of the best concert halls in the world. Combine your visit with a self-guided scavenger hunt to see all city's finest monuments and buildings, including Harpa.

Highlights:

Harpa's glass facade is a unique attraction and certainly worth a look, but you can also see the inside by attending one of the many events.

Address and opening hours:

Austurbakki 2, 101 Reykjavik Open 10:00 AM-6:00 PM Sunday-Tuesday, 10:00 AM-8:00 PM Wednesday-Saturday.

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9. Marvel at the works of Iceland's first modern sculptor

Sculpture garden

Sculptor Einar Jónsson, 1874-1954, drew inspiration from Icelandic folklore and used mythological and religious techniques. His work is displayed in prominent spots in the city, and the best way to see it all is on a Feline-Focused City Walking Tour. The tour finishes in the Einar Jónsson Museum Sculpture Garden, which is known for its community of cats.

Highlights:

The tour includes a stop at the Reykjavik Cat Coffeehouse where you can grab a pastry and even get a cuddle from some of the furry residents.

Address and opening hours:

Hallgrímstorg 3, 101 Reykjavík. Open 12:00 PM-5:00 PM, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays.

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10. Be amazed at Iceland's natural wonders

Natural history museum

Perlan, also known as The Pearl, is a museum with a rotating glass dome that makes it one of the city's most distinctive landmarks. Inside, interactive exhibits celebrate the natural wonders of Iceland, including an ice cave, a model of the largest seabird cliff in Europe, and an observation deck that offers a 360° view of the city.

Highlights:

A visit to Perlan should include the Planetarium where you can go on a virtual journey to see the Northern Lights all year round.

Address and opening hours:

105 Reykjavik Open daily 9:00AM-10:00PM.

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11. Have a whale of a time at the largest dedicated museum in Europe

Nature museum

Whales of Iceland is dedicated to everything about these magnificent creatures. There 23 life-size models of various species, all of which can be found in Icelandic waters. Get in-depth information with a exhibition entrance ticket which comes with an audio guide and interactive displays, then watch a screening of the film Sonic Sea.

Highlights:

The models were all based on actual wild whales, so they include individual markings and unique characteristics.

Address and opening hours:

Fiskislóð 23-25, 101 Reykjavik. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:00 PM. Closed 25 December.

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12. Wonder at the Northern Lights, any time of year

Natural history exhibition

Aurora Reykjavik (The Northern Lights Center) offers an interactive Aurora Borealis exhibition. Want to see the Lights in person? Take a Northern Lights Bus Tour to learn about the science and secrets of this natural phenomenon.

Highlights:

A tour ticket includes free entrance to the Northern Lights Center, which is open daily from 9:00 AM-9:00 PM.

Address and opening hours:

Meet at Þórunnartún 1, 105 Reykjavík. Tour times vary.

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13. Experience the only live lava show in the world

Nature exhibition

Lava Show recreates a volcanic eruption by superheating real lava and pouring it into a showroom. Experience this epic battle of the elements close up with a Lava Show entry ticket. Make sure to take a cool drink with you – it gets incredibly hot.

Highlights:

The show uses real lava from the 1918 Katla eruption, making it the nearest you will (hopefully) ever get to encountering an active volcano.

Address and opening hours:

Fiskislóð 73, 101 Reykjavik. Open daily, but hours vary depending on the time of year.

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14. Find out how to harness the power of the geothermal

Nature exhibition

Located in a stunning setting around 20 minutes outside the city, the Hellisheiði Geothermal Exhibition at the ON Power Plant lets you see first-hand how green, sustainable energy is produced. With an audio tour, you can learn all about the process and view the beautiful surroundings from viewing platforms on the way.

Highlights:

This is the largest single-site geothermal power plant in the world, and the audio guide is interactive as well as highly informative.

Address and opening hours:

Hellisheiðarvirkjun, 801 Selfoss. Open daily 09:00 AM-4:00 PM November-March, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM April-October.

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15. Brave the world's only museum for all things phallic

Alternative museum

Not one for the kids, but certainly an option for the adults, The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a unique attraction and one of the most famous museums in Reykjavik. Focused on the collection and study of phallic objects, this remarkable museum has become a must-see tourist attraction.

Highlights:

Be sure to visit the on-site bistro for a penis waffle and find something distinctive in the gift shop.

Address and opening hours:

Kalkofnsvegur 2, 101 Reykjavik. Open daily 10:00 AM-7:00 PM.

FAQs

What are the must-visit museums in Reykjavik?

Reykjavik's must-see museums relate to Iceland's natural phenomena. These include Perlan, The Lava Show, and The National Museum of Iceland.

Are there any free museums in Reykjavik?

With a Reykjavik City Card, you can access most museums in the city for free for either 24, 48, or 72 hours.

Are there any museums in Reykjavik that are suitable for children and families?

The National Museum of Iceland, The Reykjavik City Museum, and Perlan are family-friendly and suitable for children.

For which museums in Reykjavik are guided tours recommended?

As there is so much to learn about the topics, a guided tour is particularly recommended for The Geothermal Energy Exhibition, The Iceland National Museum, and Harpa.

Are there any museum passes or discount cards available for visiting multiple museums in Reykjavik?

To visit multiple museums in Reykjavik without breaking the bank, grab a City Card. It offers 1-3 days of free entry to most museums and galleries, as well as unlimited bus travel within the capital area.