Iceland may be known as the perfect travel destination for the adventurous outdoor explorer, but Iceland is not just a place for nature lovers. This is a country buzzing with creative energy making it a fantastic destination for those who enjoy the arts, or are just looking to be inspired for their own artistic works. And there is no better place to enjoy all the creative masterpieces than in Reykjavik.
Known as the cultural hub of Iceland, you may find yourself surprised at how many options there is for an art lover in Reykjavik. From art galleries and museums to colorful houses, strolling around sculpture gardens to walking the streets of downtown on the search for unique street art, the city is full of art!
We have rounded up some of our favorite locations and activities that all art lovers heading to Reykjavik are going to want to add to their itinerary. If you enjoy roaming around art museums, are interested in learning about the history of Iceland through art, or would love to add a piece of art by an Icelandic artist to your collection, you are going to want to save this article!
Visit an Art Museum
For being such a small city Reykjavik has no shortage of art museums for you to explore. Whether you are interested in photography, modern art, sculptures, or just a wide range of art pieces, you will be able to find an art museum suited to your interests in Reykjavik.
Photo Source - National Gallery of Iceland
To help you plan out your visit we have rounded up a few different art museums all featuring different types of art to help make your planning process smoother. There are many more options to choose from in the city, but these five museums will give you a wide range of art displays to enjoy.
National Gallery of Iceland
Located in a grand building in downtown the National Gallery of Iceland consists of several exhibitions halls located on three different floors. The main focus of the collection is on 19th and 20th century Icelandic art. Here you will find the most valuable collections of work from Icelandic artist in the country. The National Gallery of Iceland frequently holds exhibitions showcasing its collection, as well as exhibitions highlighting a specific individual artist.
Reykjavik Art Museum
The largest visual art museum in Reykjavik, this museum is located in three different buildings around central Reykjavik and is responsible for the city’s art collection. The Reykjavik Art Museum has five different focus points in their collection; general art collection of Reykjavik City, work from three famous Icelandic artist, Erró, Kjarval, and Ásmundur Sveinsson, and a collection of the architecture department.
Photo Source - Hafnarhús
The museum is found in the buildings Harnarhús, Kjarvalsstaðir and Ásmundarsafn. Here is a brief overview of these three locations:
• Hafnarhús - located in a warehouse in the old harbor, Harnarhús has a progressive exhibition program that works with both local and international artists. There are six galleries in this building where you will find the work of key artists, such as the artist Erró, as well as established and emerging artists.
• Kjarvalsstaðir - this building is home to the works of one of Iceland’s most influential artists, Jóhannes S. Kjarval. The exhibitions found here have a primary focus on paintings and sculptures of modern art. The building itself is quite beautiful with floor to ceiling windows that overlook one of Reykjavik’s lovely parks, Klambratún.
• Ásmundarsafn - located in a distinct white dome building this museum is focused on the work of the Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson, who both lived and worked in this building. In the outdoor garden surrounding Ásmundarsafn is Sveinsson’s sculptures. Inside the building you will see more work by Sveinsson, as well as work from other modern or contemporary artists.
Photo Source - Ásmundarsafn
If you are interested in learning even more about the art located around the city be sure to download the app from Reykjavik Art Museum called “Reykjavik Art Walk”. This free app has information on over 200 pieces of public art that the museum takes care of. The app includes a map with the locations of the artwork, as well as texts and audio guides with further details about the artwork.
Museum of Photography
What began as a private collection in 1981 is now a museum that preserves about five million photographs by professional and amateur photographers with images dating back to 1870 all the way to modern times. The Museum of Photography is a great way to combine learning about the history of Iceland with art as you take in the images.
Located in the Reykjavik City Library, this small museum holds three main exhibitions each year as well as 10 smaller exhibitions. Images in the collection include studio portraits, landscape and family photographs, as well as industrial, advertising and press images.
Living Art Museum
Founded in 1978, the Living Art Museum is a non-profit, artist operated museum and exhibition venue that focuses on innovative contemporary art. The museum is committed to presenting and preserving works by Icelandic and international artists while continuing to engage in discussion around contemporary art practices and the role it has in society. The museum holds several events, exhibitions, performances and discussions throughout the year and has an impressive collection of 2,300 artworks dating from the 1950s to the present.
Museum of Design and Applied Arts
If you are intrigued by the simplistic style of Scandinavian design this museum is for you. Located in the town Gardabaer, just outside of Reykjavik, is the Museum of Design and Applied Arts. The museum works to collect and preserve a part of Icelandic cultural history by showcasing design from the beginning of the 20th century to present day. The majority of the collection has been acquired by donations, however the museum works to purchase objects of importance to Icelandic design history.
An insider tip, many of the art museums around Reykjavik offer a shared admission fee, meaning if you purchase an admission ticket to one of the locations you can access other museums with the same ticket at no extra fee. So be sure to check when you purchase your museum ticket if it is good for other locations to keep your art exploration going for no extra cost!
Browse Around an Art Gallery
Enjoyed the work you found in the art museums and are now interested in finding a great piece of artwork by an Icelandic artist to add to your collection? Have a souvenir collection that you would like to add to with a smaller piece of art? Or just enjoy a nice browse through a peaceful art gallery? Whatever you are after there is a range of art galleries around downtown Reykjavik that make for a great activity for art lovers to enjoy.
Around town there is a mix of established galleries and pop-up locations offering a wide selection of artwork. Here are just a few locations to check out while in Reykjavik:
Iceland’s oldest fine art gallery, Gallerí List has a wide selection of contemporary art by some of the most acclaimed Icelandic artists. Established in 1987, Gallerí List mission is to provide unique art pieces at affordable prices. From large oil paintings to smaller pictures, sculptures and ceramics they have a little bit of everything in this beautiful space.
An eclectic gallery that holds fairs and exhibitions, I8 Gallery represents a mix of Icelandic and international contemporary artists. Located down near the Reykjavik harbor, I8 represent 24 artists and is fun space to visit just to browse the artwork on display.
If you enjoy discovering pieces from up and coming artists this gallery is one you are going to want to check out. Ekkisens is an artist run gallery that labels themselves as an experimental studio and museum of perceptive art. You never know what kind of artwork you will discover in this unique spot.
Explore the Outdoor Art Around Reykjavik
Enjoy taking in artwork but don’t have enough time to visit museums? Combine sightseeing with art by taking in the many pieces of outdoor art around the city. All around the city you will find sculptures and statues, many of which are of important Icelandic figures or that symbolize an important milestone in Iceland’s history. These pieces can be found in parks, in front of important buildings and landmarks, and even museums that are dedicated to them.
Many of the outdoor art pieces you will find in Reykjavik have an important role in the history of Iceland, so you will be getting a mini history lesson in as well! These pieces are found in all districts around the city so be sure to keep a look out as you explore Reykjavik.
Here are some outdoor artworks you are going to want to be sure to check out:
Reykjavik Sculpture and Shore Walk
A popular walking path along the waterfront, not only will you get to enjoy stunning views on this walk but you will also come across some of the most popular sculptures in Reykjavik. Stop at the Sun Voyager sculpture, a massive steel structure designed to resemble a Viking ship, this sculpture has become a must stop photography place in Reykjavik. Another sculpture to keep a look out for is the “Partnership”, a bronze sculpture that symbolizes the 50 year anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Iceland and the US.
Einar Jonsson Sculpture Garden
Named after Iceland’s first sculptor, the Einar Jonsson sculpture garden is just as it sounds, a garden full of 26 sculptures made of bronze cast. This hidden gem is free to visit and is located next to the famous Hallgrímskirkja church. The garden is behind the Einar Jonsson museum which we recommend checking out if you would like to see more works of art by this artist.
Sculptures around Tjornin
A walk around the lovely Tjornin pond take you past several statues that symbolize individuals or different periods in Iceland’s history. Located right in the center of the city you can’t miss the statue’s that are found all over the area, here are just a few of the many to keep a lookout for:
• Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat - an individual carrying a briefcase with a large rock covering the top half of the body you can’t miss this art piece. This monument, located on the shores of the pond close to city hall, is meant to be an abstract and figurative symbol of bureaucracy.
Photo Source - Monument to the unknown bureaucrat
• Thorvaldsen with the Goddess of Hope - the first outdoor sculpture in Reykjavik, it was given to Iceland in 1874 to celebrate the island being inhabited for 1000 years.
• Tómas Guðmundsson - a statue of the man it is named after, Tómas was known as Reykjavik ‘s poet making the statue’s location fitting as it sits overlooking the view of the city.
Photo Source - Tómas Guðmundsson
These are just a few of the many wonderful statues that you will find around the city, so as you explore the charming streets of Reykjavik keep a lookout for more outdoor art to be discovered.
Enjoy the Performing Arts
If you are a lover of performing arts make some time for a show while in Reykjavik. There are several theaters around the city showcasing a range of performances from theater to the Icelandic opera, as well as special events throughout the year.
Photo Source - The National Theatre of Iceland
A few of the locations around the city that showcase performing arts are:
The National Theatre of Iceland
A leading institute of the theatre scene in Iceland, this theatre has five separate venues that host a variety of productions. Each season the National Theatre of Iceland stages around 20-30 productions ranging from new and classic works, both Icelandic and foreign, and includes musicals, children productions and puppet theatre.
Reykjavik’s concert hall and conference center, Harpa is home to the national opera and symphony and has several different performing halls with the largest hall built to hold 1,600 guests. In addition, Harpa hosts several music festivals and events throughout the year, and performances such as comedians, ballet, and visiting international performers can be seen at Harpa. A visit to this unique building just to see the architecture is a must while in Reykjavik.
A charming little theatre located next to Tjornin, Tjarnarbio Theatre is the place to go for the independent performing arts scene in Iceland. The theatre hosts a variety of performing arts from dance, concerts, theatre and children’s theatre and even has a cozy cafe to relax in. This theatre used to be the location of one of the oldest cinemas in Iceland!
As you can see there is no shortage of options when it comes to the performing arts in Reykjavik. Check out the calendar of events for these theatres to see what is happening while you are in Reykjavik and enjoy the show.
Discover the Street Art
A post about art in Reykjavik wouldn’t be complete without mention of the thriving street art scene that has occurred in recent years. As you wander the streets of downtown you will come across urban graffiti, wall murals and covered facades created from both Icelandic and international street artists. Some of the most popular images around town come from the wall poetry project which was done in collaboration with the music festival Iceland Airwaves, as well as murals created from old photographs found in the Reykjavik city archives.
Be sure to make some time to wander around the city and discover these unique masterpieces for yourself. If you are interested in learning more about the different street art you will see in Reykjavik read our article all about street art in Reykjavik.
Between browsing art around Reykjavik and exploring the magical countryside don’t be surprised if you leave Iceland full of creative inspiration! For more things to see in Reykjavik check out our article on 10 must see attractions in Reykjavik.