IconWeather at Keflavik airport       2°C      4 m/s

Icelandic culture

You might have already heard of Icelandic pop diva Bjork or the stories of the Icelandic sagas but these achievements only scrape the surface of the cultural life of the country.

When in Reykjavik choose from the symphony orchestra, opera, theaters (there's no language barrier for the frequent musicals), and a colorful variety of other musical events. You could have the opportunity to see up-and-coming Icelandic artists in intimate surroundings or watch local established artists perform live on stage. It’s like if Bruce Springsteen decided to play a little show to his closest 50 friends. A growing number of international artists, including Coldplay, Roger Waters and Duran Duran have added Iceland to their concert schedules. And for a little daytime cultural input, a fine national and international mix is also found at the many visual art museums and galleries.


Reykjavik and the surrounding area are home to a vast number of art galleries of every size, shape and description. Some are architectural delights, others are intimate and cozy; some of them even double as cafes or movie-theater lobbies. And none of them ever stands empty. Here is a small selection:
The Reykjavik Art Museum is housed in three buildings: Harbor House, Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum and Kjarvalsstadir. Each has its own focus and personality. When you buy admission to one building of the museum, admission to the other two is free on the same day.

Harbor House: The panoramic view from the large windows in the cafeteria of Harbor House takes in the Reykjavik harbor and the majestic Mount Esja. The museum has six exhibition halls for art, a multi-purpose space and an outdoor area in an enclosed courtyard. It hosts exhibitions from the general collections of the Reykjavik Museum and diverse temporary exhibitions of works by Icelandic and international artists. Exhibitions from the popular Erro Collection also have a permanent place in the museum's schedule.

The Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum: The museum is dedicated to the sculptures and drawings of artist Asmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). The collection is in the artist's former studio and home, which he designed and built himself. A sculpture garden surrounds the museum adorned by almost thirty of his sculptures – a perfect place for a little hide and seek.

Kjarvalsstadir: Kjarvalsstadir showcases works by leading Icelandic and international artists of the 20th century. The works of Johannes S. Kjarval, perhaps Iceland's best-loved landscape painter, are permanently on display.

The National Gallery, founded in 1884, houses the national collection of 19th and 20th century Icelandic and international art. The National Gallery is also a center for the study, documentation and promotion of Icelandic art. The National Gallery of Iceland regularly exhibits a variety of works from its own collection, as well as extensive special exhibitions of works by Icelandic and international artists every year. The bright on-site cafÚ is also a perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea after a long afternoon of sightseeing.

Asgrimur Jonsson (1876 - 1958) donated all of his paintings to the Icelandic nation and they now form a department of the National Gallery, housed in a separate premises at the artist's former studio on 74 Bergstadastraeti. The collection contains oil paintings, watercolors and drawings.

The Arni Magnusson Institute, located on the campus of the University of Iceland, is a short walk from the old center of Reykjavik. It is a research institute exhibiting medieval and later Icelandic manuscripts.

The Einar Jonsson Museum, opposite the Hallgrimur Petursson Memorial Church, is an indoor and outdoor sculpture exhibition.


Iceland is home to dozens of museums, many of which are to be found in small towns and villages throughout the countryside. There’s a museum of small objects near Akureyri, a museum of the herring industry in Siglufjordur, a museum to Icelandic emigrants in Hofsos, and even a phallological institute in Husavik!

The National Museum of Iceland: Re-opened in 2004 after an extensive 7-year renovation, the National Museum houses a range of objects from the Settlement Age to the present, including Viking artifacts and whalebone carvings.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibit: The newest addition to the Reykjavik museum scene showcases the remains of a Viking age longhouse from around 930 AD on the exact spot where it was discovered. These are the oldest archaeological findings in Reykjavik. The curious title of the exhibition comes from the dating of the settlement layer of volcanic ash. Various multimedia sources teach visitors about the life and times of settlers during that period.

The Arbaer Open Air Museum is a museum of living history, meaning the staff dress in period clothing and attempts are made to re-create the past as accurately as possible. The name of the museum is drawn from the old turf farm Arbaer, located on the premises. The Arbaer Church, which is also a turf building, dates back to 1842. The museum is a collection of houses - including a
quaint little general store - which mirror the living style of early 20th century Reykjavik, from ordinary working people through to the higher echelons of society. In between the houses are generous stretches of lawn, well suited for playing games, lounging or even soaking up the sun in good weather. This is a great place for all the family. The kids will especially enjoy the lummur, traditional pancakes, that the staff sometimes bake in the old-fashioned way. Theater The Icelandic theater scene, which runs year-round, has more shows running than ever before. Reykjavik has two full-time companies performing at the National Theater and the Reykjavik City Theater.

The National Theater: (+354) 551-1200, www.leikhus.is , e-mail: midasala@leikhusid.is.

The Reykjavik City Theater: (+354) 568-5500, www.borgarleikhus.is, e-mail: borgarleikhus@borgarleikhus.is.

Classical Music Iceland's cultural season begins in the fall with the first concert by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Concerts, performed at the University Concert Hall, have received rave reviews from critics at home and abroad. Foreign conductors and featured artists have performed alongside Icelandic musicians playing works by Icelandic and foreign composers. Contact: (+354) 562-2255, fax: 562-4475, www.sinfonia.is, e-mail: sinfonia@sinfonia.is.

Opera The Icelandic Opera opens its cultural season in the fall with performances at the northernmost opera house in the world. Although the elegant old cinema house in the heart of Reykjavik seats only 473, individual productions have drawn overall audiences of 8,000. Contact: Tel. (+354) 511-4200. https://en.harpa.is/events/  e-mail: midasala@opera.is