Thursday, August 13, 2009

The best museums in Iceland

While I didn’t make it to nearly all the museums in Iceland, I did visit quite a few. Here are the ones that stood out:

The Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik is centered around the remains of a Viking longhouse, dating from 871 plus or minus two years that was located in what is now the city center. It has been artfully preserved and shown, visible from the street through a glass cover. The museum uses multimedia technology to help visitors see what the house was like back in the 800s and how the first settlers in Iceland may have lived.

The Einar Jonsson Museum in Reykjavik is small but really packs a punch. The sculptures are full of emotion and feeling. You can walk amidst his great works, then take a peek upstairs at a few of the rooms from his house.

The National Museum is well worth a visit. It outlines in a clear and interesting fashion the original settlement of Iceland. Just when you get tired of reading, the hands-on exhibits appear, which are fun for kids and adults. Try on clothes from different periods in Icelandic history, or lift the metal of a jacket of armor. You may feel like a relic in the second floor modern history display upon seeing an Atari or a photo machine on display. The museum has a good gift shop, free lockers in the basement and a café.

Folk Museum in Skogar. A top-notch folk museum that allows you to crawl through sod houses, a schoolhouse, church and other village buildings, as well as tour an extensive collection of the implements used in daily life. The adjacent transportation museum (included with admission) shows the early heavy-duty cars to reach Iceland, the appearance of modern appliances and the advent of radio.

The Bustarfell museum is a turf-covered house that was lived in until 1966 and that belonged to the same family for over 400 years. It's an extensive and elaborate layout and very well-maintained. The museum is well-worth a visit, but even better is visiting the attached Croft Café for fresh-baked country cakes and breads.

Petra's Stone Collection (Sunnuhlio; 755 Stodvarfjordur; Tel: 475-8834;;) is one of those things you don't expect to like, but it may impress you more than you think. Some may dismiss the vast collection, one of the largest rock collections in the world, arrayed through the home and extensive gardens, as kitsch. Others will appreciate the effect that Petra, now in her 80s, put into assembling one of the world's greatest private rock collection. Either way, it's unlike anything you'll see elsewhere in Iceland and worth a stop if you can make it. There is a picnic table in the garden and comfortable chairs in the sitting room, where you can enjoy tea or coffee.

If you’ve read anything by Icelandic literary superstar Halldor Laxness, it’s fun to visit his home and workplace to see where his creations originated. Admission comes with an audio tour.

Two places I didn’t make it to that are worth mentioning are:

The Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum in Holmavik. Our tour guide recommended this highly. We were sorry to not have time to make it up there.

The Settlement Centre in Borgarnes. We arrived just before closing, so didn’t manage to see it, but it looked like it would be worth a trip.

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