Culture and Arts
A superb blend of tradition and modern culture
Iceland has a long history, a rich culture and extremely resourceful and creative inhabitants. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that there are numerous museums in the country, focusing on a wide variety of themes. For visitors, this opens up whole new vistas of opportunity for finding out more about this unique island.
There are museums dedicated to interpreting the very earliest history of the country, highlighting the extraordinary fact that the history of Iceland is known in its totality, from the original settlement in the ninth century to the present day. You can visit museums about the settlement period, the Saga period, about themes from the Middle Ages, about the 19th century when many people emigrated from Iceland to the New World in the wake of a devastating volcanic eruption, and about the last century and a half of Icelandic history.
The history of Iceland
There are countless folk museums all over the country; every county and many of the major communities can boast one. They focus mainly on the history of Iceland, with the emphasis on local artefacts dating from the late 19th century. You can get a very good feel for how people lived in those days by visiting any of these museums. Some include (or are actually housed in) old turf buildings, which were used as homes as late as the 20th century. You can see how people slept two by two in narrow little beds, how they cooked their meals on a fire in the living room and what utensils they used. The items on display vary from cooking utensils to spinning wheels and weaving equipment, harnesses and mousetraps, and just about everything else in between!
Talking of turf buildings, Iceland also has quite a few turf churches, most dating from the late 19th century, which have been beautifully preserved and are well worth a visit. The north is the best place to see them, but they can also be found in other areas, including Reykjavík.
Art and handicrafts
If art and handicrafts are more your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed. Countless museums and galleries have both classical and modern art on display. Even in small villages and rural areas you can find exhibitions by local artists and there are many places where you can also buy work by Icelandic artists, such as paintings, small sculptures, exclusive postcards, ornaments, articles of clothing made of unusual materials such as reindeer or fish leather, toys and utensils.
Many museums are dedicated to a particular theme, such as fisheries, ghosts, witchcraft, aviation, whales, textiles and handicrafts, theatre props, volcanoes, glaciers, photography, medicine, music, coins, stamps, individual Icelandic authors, electricity, technical matters, hunting, communication, World War II, medieval manuscripts, seals, science, old buildings, horsemanship, rocks and semi-precious stones, and, of course, natural history.
In addition to the numerous art museums and galleries, there is a symphony orchestra, a large number of choirs and a whole host of pop groups, bands, singers and musicians of all kinds. International artists often perform in Iceland and concerts of international standard take place at least once or twice a month.
Icelandic film industry
The Icelandic film industry is growing steadily, and the Icelandic landscape provides an interesting setting for both Icelandic and foreign films.
Literature has always been important to the Icelanders and it is astonishing how many books are published every year in such a tiny country.
So you can easily go on a voyage of discovery, learn things about Iceland that you never suspected and see things you have never seen before – or encounter something you recognise, perhaps recalling memories of your own grandmother’s home. Whatever your interests, you are sure to find something to enjoy.