National Museum of Iceland

Holiday Travel Guide
National Museum of Iceland showing street scenes

From Viking feasts and battles to the independence movement of the 20th century, Iceland’s premier museum preserves every detail of the nation’s history. 

The National Museum of Iceland traces the history of Iceland from the early Viking settlements to the present day through over 2,000 artifacts, photographs and multimedia displays. A major overhaul of the building in 2004 has created an interactive, state-of-the-art space, which offers plenty of visitor participation. Pick up a telephone and chat with a medieval chieftain or try on some ancient armor and jewelry. The museum is a wonderful hands-on learning experience for all ages.

Start with the main permanent exhibition, Making of A Nation, which illustrates Iceland’s challenging journey to nationhood. Divided into four sections, the first, Work and the Way of Life, details the resourcefulness and adaptability of Icelanders since settlement in 870. In the second section, learn about the settlement patterns of Iceland. The third section focuses on arts and crafts and the final section explores the social culture and language of Iceland.

Trace Iceland’s political history from early domination by Christian chieftains to Norwegian rule, then Danish rule and finally sovereign statehood as the Republic of Iceland in 1944.

Several artifacts are extremely popular, including a beautifully carved wooden door from the 12th century and the first Bible printed in Iceland in 1584. In addition to the permanent display, there are always several temporary exhibitions covering a wealth of subjects. Don’t miss the National Gallery of Photography on the ground floor, which is free of charge.

The museum has a café and an excellent shop stocked with original gift items. Allow three to four hours to explore the museum in full.

The National Museum of Iceland is a few minutes' walk from the city center and is accessible via several bus routes. It is open all year, with reduced hours during the winter months. Always free for children, it’s also free for adults to visit every Wednesday in winter.

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