Reykjavík attractions

The City Card

This is the cheapest way to explore Reykjavík: it gets you into all the attractions listed below and it includes bus travel. It can be bought from various locations, shown on this map. You can buy a card that's valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours. 

The five main museums

  • Settlement Exhibition (on Aðalstræti) – unique and superbly preserved indoors are the remains of one of the original Viking houses in Reykjavík, dating from the year Iceland was first discovered. 

  • National Museum of Iceland (on Suðurgata) – only to be visited after seeing the Settlement Exhibition, this collection of artefacts and stories brings you from the time of settlement to the present day. *

  • Maritime Museum (on Grandagarður) – for the most part, this is only for sea enthusiasts, with the exception of the fascinating room dedicated to how Iceland beat the UK in three Cod Wars. 

  • Árbæjarsafn open air museum (on Kistuhylur) – dedicated to the historic buildings of Reykjavík, many of which were saved and rebuilt here, where actors reconstruct the old ways of life. Great fun for children. 

  • Culture House exhibition centre (on Hverfisgata) – the place where the National Museum stages temporary exhibitions, such as medieval Icelandic manuscripts and the lives of Icelandic women. *

The five main galleries

  • modern art at Hafnarhús (on Tryggvagata) – six galleries, set in an old harbour warehouse, showcase local and international works, including several by Erró, an artist of note in the international pop art scene. 

  • traditional art at the National Gallery (on Fríkirkjuvegur) – a modest and undemanding collection of 19th and 20th century Icelandic art, plus some foreign works including a Picasso and a Munch. 

  • photography at the Ljósmyndasafn (on Tryggvagata) – a very small collection of photographs by Icelandic artists, focusing on anything other than the endlessly photographed landscape. 

  • the collection of Iceland’s most famous painter at Kjarvalsstaðir (on Flókagata) – Jóhannes Kjarval was a bohemian romantic, whose work evolved from landscape impressionism to cubism to surrealism. 

  • the collection of Iceland’s most famous sculptor at Ásmundarsafn (on Sigtún) – Ásmundur Sveinsson built and live in this house, where his abstract figurative works which will appeal to fans of Henry Moore. 

Viðey

The largest island off Reykjavík has a peaceful atmosphere, attractive walking trails and a pleasant restaurant for lunch. There's also a fascinating ghost town, abandoned in 1943. Every abandoned house is meticulously described, as are its residents. There are several ferries from Skarfabakki (some way to the east of the city centre) but from May to September ferries depart from the Ingólfsgarður harbour (immediately to the right of Harpa concert hall) at 1200 and 1500, returning at 1430 and 1730. 

Húsdýragarðurinn

This is a popular attraction for families with small children. On entering, there is a zoo to explore, with two parts: one is devoted to Icelandic farm animals, and the other houses Icelandic wild animals (seals, reindeer, Arctic foxes and minks). Beyond the zoo is the family recreation park which features lots of mechanical attractions for the children: electric cars, diggers, human pinball, boats, rope bridges, dam building, trampolines, pirate ship and adventure playground. It is located in Laugardalur.

Other museums

The City Card gives you discounted entry to:

  • the Aurora centre (on Grandagarður) – how the northern lights are formed, and how to photograph them, plus a widescreen aurora film (25 minutes) which is a passable substitute if you haven't seen the real thing.

  • the Volcano house (on Tryggvagata) – a small exhibition and shop featuring all manner of volcanalia, plus an excellent film (45 minutes) on the eruptions of Eldfell in 1973 and Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. 

  • the Whales museum (on Fiskislóð) – an audio guided tour (30 minutes) around an atmospheric and interactive exhibition featuring life-sized models (which you can stroke) of all the main whale species.

  • the Saga museum (on Grandagarður) – an audio guided tour (30 minutes) through an amusing diorama recounting the tales of Viking deeds and misdeeds in Iceland’s early years of settlement.

  • the Penis museum (on Laugavegur) – a collection of 215 preserved penis specimens representing all 46 species of mammal found in Iceland, and a gift shop which pushes kitsch to a whole new level.

  • the Video museum (on Snorrabraut) – a superbly informative and engaging museum of Icelandic television news, telling the stories of Iceland's eruptions, ​financial collapse and unexpected sporting successes.

Other galleries

Not included in the City Card (1000 kr. each) are:

  • the Ásgrímur Jónsson collection (on Bergstaðastræti) – if you are fond of landscapes, then you will find this collection hugely accessible and appealing, though it represents only a tiny part of his output. 

  • the Sigurjón Ólafsson collection (on Laugarnestangi) – a small and rather forgettable array of busts and totemic sculptures, located in a formidable and windswept spot at the east end of the bayfront. 

  • the Einar Jónsson collection (on Eiríksgata) – imposing sculptures which evoke Viking and religious imagery, and the German Reich to some extent, though the sculptor himself favoured William Blake.

 

Key to symbols

 National Museum of Iceland (website)
†   National Gallery of Iceland (
website)
◊   Reykjavík City Museums (
website)

○   Reykjavík City Galleries (website)