Icelanders are proud of their national heritage — and there’s a lot to be proud of. From the original Icelandic Sagas that outline the beginning of Icelandic culture as we know it today to the largest whale exhibition in Europe, the wildlife, history, artwork, and culture of Iceland all deserve their own celebrations.
But where there are very serious museums (like the National Museum of Iceland), there are plenty of museums in Reykjavik that know how to keep it lighthearted (think: the Iceland Phallological Museum). And there really is something for every kind of historian hobbyist.
Maybe we’ve finally found out how locals get through the gloomiest of weather (boy, do they have a lot of it): plenty of museums to keep them entertained on less-than-ideal days. Ahead, a list of the best museums you can find in Reykjavik.
The Icelandic Punk Museum
The format of The Icelandic Punk Museum is unlike anything you'll see anywhere else. Here, you'll find a history lesson on the local punk music scene all in a series of refurbished bathroom stalls (the museum is located at the site of a former public restroom). The museum was opened by John Lydon, who is better known as Johnny Rotten of the UK legend The Sex Pistols.
You can learn all about the early days of punk music in Iceland in the '80s through photographs and other memorabilia to how it influenced modern day icons like Bjørk.
The Iceland Phallological Museum
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is exactly what it sounds like: a museum dedicated to all shapes, species, and types of phallus. While you might giggle at the name, you're in for a true education at this museum. The museum's collection contains specimens spanning every mammal you'll find in Iceland amounting to more than 200 penises and penile parts, from polar bears and whales to seals and walruses.
The museum also covers phallus within folklore (both local and foreign). Needless to say, you'll be getting an education at this museum that you can't find anywhere else.
National Museum of Iceland
If you've only got an afternoon and you want to learn about as a wide span of Icelandic history as possible, check out The National Museum of Iceland. As opposed to the many hyper-specific museums in Reykjavik, this one has a little bit of everything from medieval Viking settlements to contemporary art.
But there's one exhibit that stands out among the rest: the Valthjófsstadur door. This ancient door has engravings depicting scenes from the Le Chevalier au Lion, a knight's tale dating back to the 12th century.
There are more than 20 species of whales that pass by Iceland every year and this exhibit is completely dedicated to these amazing animals. Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibit in Europe. Inside the museum, you'll find 23 life-size models of whales that call the waters of Iceland home, from the North Atlantic Right Whale to the Sperm Whale. There aren't many other places in the world where you can experience just how massive these mammals are in real life.
If you're looking to spot some of these whales in person, plan a visit in the summer and book a boat tour with one of the many tour operators in the harbor.
Árbæjarsafn Open-Air Museum
Think of the Árbæjarsafn Open-Air Museum as the Old World Wisconsin of Iceland. This museum is dedicated to sharing what life was like for the first settlers in Iceland. Every visitor will get a general feel for the life of an early Icelander, but the rotating exhibits are the most interesting aspect of this museum, from learning about traditional house painting and building techniques to children's toys.
The Árbæjarsafn Open-Air Museum is a part of the Reykjavik City Museum, a cluster of exhibits also including the Maritime Museum, The Settlement Exhibition, the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, and Viðey Island. It's a perfect complex to visit if you've got an entire day to fill and are in the mood for some heavy education.
Reykjavik's Saga Museum walks visitors through the ever-important stories that culminated in the Iceland we know today. The Icelandic Sagas are the most important part of the country's history, a series of stories outlining the lives of the earliest settlers. The Saga Museum brings these stories to life with exhibits showcasing some of the most important moments in Iceland's history.
Reykjavik Maritime Museum
For generations, it was the local fishermen who kept Icelandic history alive. The arctic location of this country made resources scarce and the surrounding oceans were the main source of food (and continues to be). The Maritime Museum will educate visitors on traditional methods of catching fish, the intense weather patterns open-ocean fishermen experienced, and the types of ships they lived on.
You'll even have an opportunity to go aboard the Óðinn, the oldest ship in the Icelandic Coast Guard's fleet. A stop at this museum will give you a deep understanding of how this industry not only helped an entire country survive, but also become a respected player in the northern seas.
A rotating set of exhibitions by local artists gives visitors a peek into the incredible world of Icelandic art. The museum itself is housed in three buildings: Ásmundarsafn, Kjarvalsstaðir, and Hafnarhús. There are three artists you will constantly see in rotation, otherwise known as Iceland's most iconic artists: Kjarval, Erró, and Ásmundur Sveinsson.
The museum also offers a number of guided and audio tours, for those looking to dive a little deeper into the art and their artists.
In the old section of Reykjavik, you'll find the Volcano House: a small museum dedicayed to the forceful geology of Iceland. The entire island is home to more than 200 volcanoes from a total of 30 volcanic systems. Here you'll find an exhibit breaking down the country's minerals and an hourly film about the country's volcanic activity.
You can touch most of the minerals in the exhibition. This is a great spot to visit before embarking on an Icelandic road trip because you'll be passing lots of different kinds of rocks and the exhibit at this museum will help you understand what you're seeing and why it's there.
National Gallery of Iceland
Unlike the Reykjavik Art Museum, the National Gallery of Iceland includes works from both local and foreign artists. If you're looking to get a wide look at the artists who have influenced Icelandic culture, as well as the foreign artists appreciated by local creatives, the National Gallery of Iceland will do the trick.
Fun fact: The first iteration of the National Gallery was actually located in Copenhagen until 1916 when it was moved into Iceland.