National Museum of Iceland: A Gateway to the Nation’s Heritage

  • by Irena
  • Reykjavik
  • 1 Sep 2023

Discover the rich history and culture of Iceland at the National Museum. Explore exhibits showcasing the country's heritage and traditions.

National Museum of Iceland
National Museum of Iceland

Museum’s history

Þjóðminjasafn – the National Museum of Iceland – was formally established on 24 February 1863. Initially, the Icelandic collection was preserved in Danish museums, but the need for a dedicated Icelandic institution became evident. Jón Árnason was appointed the first curator, entrusted with the responsibility of the Antiquarian Collection. His work laid the foundation for the museum.
As Iceland’s cultural repository, the museum witnessed significant growth under the leadership of Sigurður Guðmundsson, who was involved as an artist and other roles.

Iceland National Museum
National Museum of Iceland

Permanent Exhibitions

Within the walls of the National Museum of Iceland, you’ll find that it’s more than a mere repository. It plays a critical role in shaping and reflecting the cultural consciousness of Iceland.

Þjóðminjasafnið showcases an extensive array of cultural and historical treasures which give you an immersive insight into the Icelandic nation. The Permanent Exhibition is drawing a continuous line from the earliest Settlement to modern times.

Making of a Nation

At the heart of the museum’s Permanent Exhibition is “Making of a Nation – Heritage and History in Iceland,” a display that chronicles the evolution of Icelandic culture from the time of the first settlers. You will see how Christianity wove into the existing fabric of Norse society, influencing the transformation of culture. The exhibit tells the story and shows it, with significant artefacts such as ancient swords and drinking horns, reflecting the life and values of medieval settlers.

Iceland National Museum
Iceland National Museum

Valþjófsstaðir Church Door and Other Artifacts

One of the most notable items in the National Museum is the Valþjófsstaðir Church Door, featuring intricate carvings that depict scenes from the chivalric romance, “Le Chevalier au Lion”. This door represents the rich tradition of woodwork and the narrative art that thrived during the settlement era.

Alongside the door, the collection proudly presents an array of well-preserved relics, including rune stones, tools, and textiles that contribute to your understanding of the transition periods of the nation’s history.

Acquisition of Objects

The museum is actively engaged in the acquisition of objects that have significant cultural and historical value. Each addition to the museum’s collection undergoes a careful curation process to ensure it contributes to the narrative of Iceland’s heritage. It is not just about collecting artifacts; it’s about preserving the stories and the spirit that these objects carry.

Objects are obtained through donations, purchases, and often through archaeological findings. The museum’s extensive collection includes everything from hand-crafted tools to personal diaries that offer a unique glimpse into the lives of the island’s inhabitants. The collection can also be appreciated through the lens of cultural preservation, ensuring that the spirit and identity of Iceland are kept alive for future generations.

Iceland National Museum
Iceland National Museum – decorated belts

Events and Educational Programs

Your visit to the National Museum of Iceland opens doors to a world where knowledge and culture converge through exciting events and educational programs. These offerings are carefully designed to engage with the community, inspire innovation, and foster a deeper understanding of the nation’s heritage among Icelanders and visitors alike.

Workshops and Community Engagement

Workshops: The National Museum of Iceland regularly holds workshops aimed at involving wide community in the country’s rich history. These workshops often focus on traditional Icelandic crafts, providing hands-on experiences that connect participants directly to the nation’s cultural practices.

Examples of Community Workshops:

  • Traditional Textile Weaving
  • Viking Era Pottery Making
  • Icelandic Sagas Storytelling

Family Events: Events tailored specifically for children and families abound, ensuring that even the museum’s youngest visitors can immerse themselves in Iceland’s history in a fun and engaging way. Through games, interactive storytelling, and crafts, children learn about their heritage while expressing their creativity.

Iceland National Museum
Exhibition at Icelandic National Museum

Multilingual Resources

When you visit the National Museum of Iceland, you’ll have access to resources in several languages to enhance your experience. The museum recognizes the importance of accessibility for non-Icelandic speakers, providing information in English, Danish, German, French, Polish, Spanish, and Italian.

  • Exhibit Labels and Descriptions: Enjoy detailed labels and descriptions at the museum’s exhibits. They offer translations in the languages mentioned to enrich your understanding of Iceland’s heritage and history.

  • Audio Guides: For a more personal experience, audio guides are available in multiple languages. These guides provide comprehensive details about the collections and special exhibitions.

  • Information Brochures: Pick up an information brochure when you enter the museum. These brochures are translated to cater to a broad spectrum of visitors.

  • Interactive Displays: Engage with the interactive displays throughout the museum. Many of these include multilingual options, ensuring you don’t miss out on any interactive learning opportunities.

  • Staff Assistance: Should you need further assistance or have questions, staff members are often able to provide help in multiple languages.

Remember to inquire about the availability of resources in your preferred language upon arrival, to ensure a fully immersive and informative visit.

Iceland National Museum
Jewelry items at Icelandic National Museum’s exhibition

Nearby attractions

Exploring the area surrounding the National Museum of Iceland unveils cultural, historical, and natural wonders, ensuring an enriching experience for travelers. Here are some must-visit attractions within proximity:

Tjörnin Lake: Nestled serenely in the heart of Reykjavik, Tjörnin is a tranquil oasis offering respite amidst urban bustle. Stroll along its shores, framed by picturesque landscapes and dotted with charming birdlife, for a peaceful retreat into nature’s embrace.

Reykjavík’s City Hall: A testament to modern Icelandic design, Reykjavík’s City Hall invites visitors to delve into the city’s administrative heart. Explore its contemporary exhibits, delve into local governance, and admire its innovative architecture, seamlessly integrated with the surrounding Tjörnin Lake.

Hallgrimskirkja Church: Dominating the Reykjavik skyline with its striking architecture, Hallgrimskirkja Church stands as an iconic symbol of Icelandic heritage. Ascend its tower for panoramic views of the city or immerse yourself in its serene interior adorned with elegant design elements and captivating history.

Perlan: Perched atop Öskjuhlíð Hill, Perlan boasts both breathtaking views and captivating attractions. Marvel at its futuristic glass dome housing a revolving restaurant. Explore its interactive exhibitions, including the Wonders of Iceland, showcasing the country’s geological wonders and cultural heritage.

View on Hallgrimskirkja church and central Reykjavik
About the author
In 2010, Irena moved to Iceland, instantly enchanted by its breathtaking beauty. Her deep love for Icelandic culture and the natural surroundings fills her with excitement as she endeavors to convey these wonders to others through her photography and writing.