The art scene in Iceland is a lively one. There is just something about the vast nature and rich history that feeds the people living on the island with endless inspiration. Icelanders are a close-knit community and arts and crafts play a big part in their culture. It has been attached to their mindset since they lived in mud houses and would only heat up one room each night. At this time people would gather in one room reading or composing poems and stories, some would knit or make clothing and others would sing and chant. This kind of gathering would take place every night and those who were talented were be praised in their communities.
Arts everyday life in Iceland
Nowadays, you will see that many Icelanders use their artistic skills in their everyday occupations but others engage in creative pursuits such as writing, painting or choir singing after work. This constant need to create and express through art might not be as surprising once you have learned that children are encouraged to develop their artistic skills at an early age. Music lessons are often free at schools or at least paid in great part by the state. This, along with community support, is why most Icelanders will have learned to play at least one instrument during childhood.
Another mind-blowing fact is that during the course of a lifetime, one out of ten Icelanders will publish a book. Talk about productivity!
The Art Scene in Iceland
The art scene in Iceland is vibrant. Works are displayed in many different ways all over the country and the local artists are well connected with the international arts scene. You can easily visit a remote fishing village in the Eastfjords and find an exceptional art installation or even its own gallery. An abandoned farm in the middle of the Westfjords can be the perfect canvas for a graffiti art piece. Furthermore, if you visit Akureyri, the capital of the North, we urge you to visit one of the shows taking place at Hof, the arts and entertainment hub of the city.
The art scene in Iceland scattered across the spectrum, ranging from writing to knitting and crochet, pottery, design of all sorts, a vast array of musical styles, performance art, theater and film, sculpture, painting, and everything in between. There’s always something happening in Iceland’s art scene. To make it all manageable, let’s have a look at the art scene in each region of Iceland:
The Art Scene in Reykjavik – Must Sees
The city of Reykjavik is known for its quirky persona. This has in large part to do with the influence of the art and artists that embody the city. All around you, there are museums, exhibitions, and galleries. But which ones to see?
The first must-visit for art enthusiasts and lay people alike is the Reykjavik Art Museum. It is split into three different locations all offering splendid exhibitions and incredible pieces of artwork. All are within walking distance of each other and feature lovely cafés and gift shops with unique offerings. Depending on your location, pick the nearest for your first stop of the day. Get breakfast and take in the ambiance.
The National Gallery of Iceland is next on the list. It is located beautifully in between the Hafnarhus and Kjarvalsstadir Reykjavik Art Museums so it pairs wonderfully.
Right next to Hallgrimskirkja Church, you will then find the charming Einar Jonsson sculpture garden, home to the figurative sculptural works of the most famous sculptor in Iceland ever, Einar Jonsson. Be sure to visit both the interior galleries and the sculpture gardens to view Jonsson’s pieces which depict scenes of Icelandic and Norse mythology. This gallery will not disappoint.
Nearby you will find Asmundarsalur, yet another amazing exhibition space featuring local artists and host to several studios, with excellent coffee from the Icelandic coffee roaster, Reykjavik Roasters, and an assortment of wines making it great stop for happy hour!
If you are visiting Iceland in summer, it’s lovely to walk down to the harbor and watch the sun almost sit whilst enjoying the views of Olof Nordal’s Thufa. It is a sculpture located at the harbor behind Harpa Concert Hall. Along Saebraut road you will, however, find the Sun Voyager, a true must stop for any sculpture fan. It is an oath to the sun and therefore perfect to enjoy as it basks in the midnight sun. If you are visiting in winter the lights at Harpa Concert Hall, designed by the famous Icelandic-Danish designer, Olafur Eliasson, are truly bucket list material. You’ll be mesmerized!
Other Interesting art stops in Reykjavik
The Art Scene in South Iceland
At Hvolsvollur, you can visit UNA a farmers market where the locals display their handicrafts and homemade products. It is quite remarkable to see what they are able to create from the farms’ givings. There is also the cozy Eldsto Art Cafe, which is both a full-menu cafe, guesthouse, and ceramics and pottery studio. The owners, a husband and wife team, are ceramic artists and potters. Their beautiful works are on display and available for purchase.
In Vik you’ll find a sister monument to another one found in Hull in northern England. These statues were places to symbolize the bond between the U.K. and Iceland. They are a tribute to the brave fishermen who have for centuries taken to sea to sails in between and those who have lost their lives doing so.
The Art Scene in East Iceland
In Stodvarfjordur, one of the many fjords in East Iceland, you’ll find the Fish Factory Creative Centre. The idea which is only a few years old was to create an ongoing collaborative and community project. One who would connect the people of Stodvarfjordur with people from all over. The people behind the Fish Factory work with sustainable principles and alternative methods and together they create a wonderful space and crafts. Visit for the full experience!
Gallery Snaeros is yet another stop to make in Stodvarfjordur and an excellent to pick up some local art.
The town Seydisfjordur in East Iceland is another gem for any art-lover. There is a long history of artists reciting in the town and now even a school for it. The school has been articulated around the LungA Art Festival which is held in July every year. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the creativity of the locals in Seydisfjordur which is undoubtedly one of our favorite towns in Iceland. A must-see place in Seydisfjordur is Skaftfell center for visual arts, they always have a fresh and interesting exhibition or two and their bistro is yummy. A place with great history and envision.
In Egilsstadir, often nicknamed the capital of East Iceland, you’ll find The Slaughterhouse Culture Center. It’s called the Slaughterhouse because that’s the role the structure served in its previous life! There is always an art exhibition featuring works linked with the history in East Iceland. Well worth the time of any art-loving traveler!
The Art Scene in Akureyri & North Iceland
The obvious mention in North Iceland is the very arts-centric town of Akureyri. Home to David Stefansson one of Iceland’s most loved poets and other creatives. Many locals living in Reykjavik take culture trips to Akureyri in winter as their theater scene is also buzzing.
The fabulous Akureyri Art Museum offers guided tours of its exhibitions. The museum curators frequently host performance art festivals which are often a collaboration between Icelandic and foreign performers.
In Akureyri, you can even find tour companies offering special art walks giving you a better light into the town’s many sculptures and galleries. Some stops made on the tours are on Kaupvangstraeti road which is just bustling with life and culture. Still, the major point of interest would have to be in the area known as Gil. This is where the Gil Society has its headquarters and most of the shows and exhibitions take place. Visit their website for information and possible opportunities.
In Akureyri, you can also find a facade of a large home that has been turned into a rotating exhibition featuring the painted works of local artists. The wall changes rapidly, so each visit you will be presented with a new artwork. You can view the wall on the western side of Strandgata 17.
Around Akureyri, a few opportunities for art residencies can be found, one at Skagastrond and a second in Olafsfjordur.
Great stops for art collectors in Akureyri are:
- Kaktus: an art and culture collective, housing an independent society of young artists.
- Gallery Hvitspoi: a sculpture and clothing gallery where leather, wool and fish skin are the main materials.
- Gallery Box: a gallery and showroom for visual artists in the area.
On the second weekend in August, you can visit a craftsman festival called the Arctic handcraft and design where over 100 artists come together for four days (starts Thursday) to show their work. The festival takes place in an old school near Akureyri, named Hrafngilsskoli. For anyone looking to see different ways to use what the land gives us this is your spot!
The Art Scene in Westfjords
The remoteness of Iceland’s Westfjords means that it does not host as many visitors as the rest of Iceland and there are fewer residents. That said, the art scene thrives and many of Iceland’s best musicians and actors come from this region. Perhaps the isolation of the Westfjords is why creativity thrives and residents have opened a number of artistic spaces. Let’s go over the best of them:
The Samuel Jonsson Art Museum features an incredible display of almost fairytale-like figures in the middle of nowhere in the Westfjords. This place is otherworldly and a little difficult to put into words. Our recommendation is to just go and see for yourself!
Fun Fact: the internationally famous Icelandic band Sigur Ros chose this location for their music video for the song Heysátan.
In Isafjordur, the capital of the Westfjords you will find endless opportunities to explore local art. Husid Workshop is surely one of those places. Whether you want to create, enjoy the creation of others or simply sit down for a chat and coffee this is your go-to!
For (likely) the world’s smallest gallery we present to you Burid. It is simply a tiny little glass box which displays exhibitions and art throughout the year. A fun stop to make on a cultural-stroll around town.
The Outvert Art Space is yet another place you will want to explore on your trip to Isafjordur. The space is described as a “non-profit organization and a dynamic, contemporary cultural arts space where varied perspectives and issues are explored through visual arts, music, performance and other forms of media”.
The Art Scene in West Iceland
In West Iceland, Snaefellsnes Peninsula and in Borgarfjordur you will once again find inspiration, artists and creations beyond belief. The Library of Water in Stykkisholmur is a very interesting installation with quite amazing displays of water and colors. It is meant to represent the spirit of Iceland and encapsulates the ambiance of the country.
Bardur Snaefellsnes is a cairn built sculpture on the peninsula made as a tribute to the story of the troll Bardur Snaefellsnes who once terrorized the area.
Akranes photographic museum is another museum one worth mentioning in West Iceland. Located only about 40 minutes away from the capital in the town of Akranes.
(Art) Markets, Festivals, and Exhibitions in Iceland
Design March (March)
The month of March is dedicated to everything having to do with design in Iceland. The festival is on its own an remarkable establishment, well organized and the events are wide-ranging. You can meet the designers, see what’s trending in the design world, and attend designer talks to get a better understanding of their work and perspective. The events feature fashion, furniture and home accessories, decorative art, jewelry, discussions on the nexus between design, art, culture, and politics, Design March really is a must!
Reykjavik Arts Festival (June)
Reykjavik Arts Festival takes place at the beginning of June. There you will have a chance to enjoy a great variety of events. These events range from artist talks to interactive plays so everyone should be able to find something to their liking. You can find out more information about the festival at Reykjavik Arts Festival Website.
Reykjavik Dance Festival
This festival features events throughout the year and has truly special experiences to enrich dance enthusiasts. Visit Reykjavik Dance Festival Webpage for more information.
Reykjavik International Film Festival (September-October)
The Reykjavik International Film Festival or RIFF like it is more commonly known as is one of Iceland’s best-known festivals. It has been held since the year 2004 and is an annual 11-day film utopia. The films are chosen by the selection committee carefully and vary greatly. The festival premiers documentaries and shorts both foreign and Icelandic, as well as talks and Q&As for actors, producers, and filmmakers. The hosts get creative with the platforms and places in which to show the films. Last year there was even a viewing in a local swimming pool!
A festival dedicated to the performing arts and ranges from dance performances to actual plays. Performers from all over the world come together to work with Icelanders and the result is magic. Check out Lókal’s website to get more information.
Iceland Airways (November)
The most famous music festival in Iceland and what brings many here to begin with. The Iceland Airwaves festival has seen some big names such as Robyn, Yoko Ono and Florence and the Machine and many of Iceland’s biggest acts make a trip home to play this gig (Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Bjork, Olafur Arnalds, Kaleo and etc.). It is also where many of the biggest stars start out so this is the perfect opportunity to see people live and close before they make it big. It starts on Wednesday and lasts throughout the weekend. Prepare for a LOT of fun!
Best Ways to Enjoy Art in Iceland
- Pick up a copy of HA
HA is Iceland’s leading magazine on design and architecture. You can pick up a copy at most bookshops and design stores. It gives a great insight into what is happening in the scene today. It also happens to be a beautiful coffee table piece.
- Take a graffiti stroll around Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a colorful city and the people aren’t afraid to choose bright colors when painting their houses. However, what many don’t know is that the graffiti wall art community is bustling! Start around Hallgrímskirkja, walk down Laugavegur and make your way down to Grandi. These aren’t your everyday tags, they are truly exceptional pieces of artwork.
- Catch a Movie at the Reykjavik Film Festival
There is something special about the films of RIFF. Make sure to get Icelandic candy to enjoy with. Two in one!
- Take it all in at Design March
This 5-day-long festival is to many locals something they await all year and well worth your time. It is also the perfect place to get to know new names, who to follow an even possibly picking up the most unique souvenir! Pro Tip: The famous Icelandic brand 66°North always does a collaboration with a local artist for the fair. This might just be the perfect piece to bring home!
- Visit the Marshall House in Reykjavik
Their exhibitions are always amazing and the food at the restaurant is best-in-class. Furthermore, is it located out in the burgeoning hipster haven, Grandi, so there is plenty to see (and eat) on the way there and back.
Pro Tip: Make sure you visit all floors!
- Party at one of the many music festivals
One thing is for certain, there is no shortage of music events in Iceland, so much so that we wrote a special blog about the Music Festivals you need to catch. If music is your thing, so should a music festival in Iceland.