National Museum interior.

National Museum

Top choice in Reykjavík

Artefacts from settlement to the modern age fill the creative display spaces of Iceland's superb National Museum. Exhibits give an excellent overview of Iceland’s history and culture, and the free smartphone audio guide adds a wealth of detail. The strongest section describes the Settlement Era – including the rule of the chieftans and the introduction of Christianity – and features swords, drinking horns, silver hoards and a powerful bronze figure of Thor. The priceless 13th-century Valþjófsstaðir church door is carved with the story of a knight, his faithful lion and a passel of dragons.

Upstairs, collections span from 1600 to today and give a clear sense of how Iceland struggled under foreign rule and finally gained independence. Simple objects utilise every scrap of materials; check out the gaming pieces made from cod ear bones, and the wooden doll that doubled as a kitchen utensil.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Reykjavík attractions

1. University of Iceland


You'll spot the University of Iceland just south of the city centre, near the National Museum.

2. Hljómskálagarður Park

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Hljómskálagarður Park sits on Tjörnin's southeast corner and has a section dedicated to sculptures by five Icelandic women: Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir (1889…

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The placid lake at the centre of the city is sometimes locally called the Pond. It echoes with the honks and squawks of more than 40 species of visiting…

4. Nordic House

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6. National Gallery of Iceland

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This pretty stack of marble atriums and spacious galleries overlooking Tjörnin offers ever-changing exhibits drawn from a 10,000-piece collection. The…

7. Ráðhús

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Reykjavík’s waterside Ráðhús is a beautifully positioned postmodern construction of concrete stilts, tinted windows and mossy walls rising from Tjörnin…

8. Landakotskirkja

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This working Catholic church was built in 1929 in the Gothic style on a hillock overlooking central Reykjavík. On Saturday the sermon of the 6pm service…