Reykjavik is home to a lot of museums. They generally tend to be smaller than what we think of as museums in the US. By virtue of their size, though, they can cover far more topics than the mega-museums to which most of my readers are probably accustomed. I didn’t get anywhere close to seeing them all, but I’ll certainly tell you about the ones I did make it to.
Þjóðminjasafnið (The National Museum of Iceland)
This is possibly the most broad museum in the city. It covers pretty much all the settled history of Iceland. There are three floors with the exhibits on floors 2 and 3, and the gift shop and a cafe on the ground floor. As you ascend and progress further into the museum, you travel later in time.
The second floor starts with the initial settlement, and talks about how the Vikings got there and how they lived. This is around 700AD-ish. When you get to around 1000 AD, a lot of religious artifacts come in as that’s when Iceland was ‘converted’ to Christianity…sort of. Christianity in Iceland was a bit different than mainland Europe; especially in the early days. The thing I got the most excited about on the floor was an old bible written in Icelandic. The German girls I was with claimed they could understand some of the words in case there was any doubt Icelandic’s a Germanic language.
The third floor starts around 1600 AD. There are a lot of agrarian items before it transitions into the Medieval Period, and on into the present. My favorite part of this floor was the sweet looking contraptions used for telling dates and times; they look like a series of dials with words and numbers on them. I know, I’m weird….
Entry is normally 2000 ISK (Icelandic Krona) or roughly $20 (at this time). I’ll let you decide for yourself if it’s worth it. I thought it was, but some of the friends with me preferred the natural museums.
Landnámssýnigin (The Settlement Exhibition)
This exhibit is all about the early settlement of Iceland. They discovered an old longhouse, and excavated it. Then, they constructed a building over the top of it so people can walk around the outside, and look at the actual building…or at least what’s left of it. The wall around the outside is full of artifacts pulled from the longhouse and other areas. All of them are from about the settlement time estimated to be around 750 AD.
At 1650 ISK (about $16.50), I really liked this museum. Not only was it cheaper than the National Museum of Iceland, I’m also a bigger fan of the style and content.
Perlan (The Pearl)
This is one of the most fascinating buildings in Reykjavik. It’s situated on a hill overlooking the city with its glass dome. A spotlight can be seen circling around the sky from miles away at night. When you get close, you can see the outside illuminated by all kinds of colored lighting.
On the top floor, is a restaurant and gift shop. So if you’d like a fancy meal with a spectacular view, this could be your place. Or if you’re cheap like me, you can wander up to the 3rd-ish floor, and walk onto the balcony that circles the place for free! The whole city can be seen, and there are some truly spectacular photos to be taken…unless you’re me, and have GoPro issues…. I really need to get that sorted.
In the basement, there’s the only man-made ice cave in Iceland. It’ll run you 2900 ISK (roughly $29) to run through the maze-like tunnels. If you go when it’s warm, bring cold weather gear as they only provide coats which won’t provide adequate chill protection on their own.
Once you exit the caves, you arrive in a room with a gamified museum. There are senors that detect where you’re pointing so you can ‘tell’ the display what you’d like to know about. There’s also a lot of information about glaciers, and how much they’re melting. One even disappeared a couple years ago.
It’s a bit pricey, but you’re effectively getting 2 museums in one. In my opinion, it’s totally worth it.
This museum also runs 2900 ISK (about $29). Or if you’re traveling with kids, you can get 2 adults and 2 kids in for 5800 ISK (the same price as 2 adults)! If you have kids with you, this is a must-see. There are giant whale figures hanging from the ceiling that you can take pictures with. There’s a play area that looks like whale bones for the little rascals. If you’re extra clever, you can trade off kid watching and reading the signs.
Even if you don’t have kids though, it’s pretty interesting if you’re into sea life. I enjoyed being dwarfed by the blue whale. Those things are massive.
There have to be at least a dozen other museums in the city. Hopefully, this has at least been somewhat helpful. And remember, museums are cheaper than the guided tours!
Stay tuned for my next post where I talk about some traveling hacks for this (currently) icy paradise.