Museums in Iceland
Harbor House Museum (Reykjavik; tel. 590-1200; www.artmuseum.is): Born Gudmundur Gudmundsson in 1932, but commonly known as Erro -- the most prominent Icelandic artist of the late 20th century. He has donated most of his life's work to this contemporary art branch of the Reykjavik Art Museum. The exhibit spaces are inside a 1930s-era warehouse perfectly suited to the vast, cartoon-styled montages for which he is best known.
National Museum of Iceland (Reykjavik; tel. 530-2200; www.natmus.is): This museum's permanent but ever-evolving exhibit, "The Making of a Nation," covers the entire span of Icelandic history and culture. You might anticipate a numbing encyclopedic survey, but the curators' selective restraint manages to say more with less. Look out for impromptu appearances by a youth choir singing haunting scores from the past.
Einar Jonsson Museum (Reykjavik; tel. 551-3797; www.skulptur.is): The work of Iceland's most revered sculptor draws heavily on classical mythology and traditional folklore, with a virtuosic command of gesture and ingenious meshings of human and beastly forms. His romantic symbolism is sometimes difficult to interpret, but never fails to carry deep emotional and spiritual resonance. Einar spent as long as 10 years perfecting his works, many of which are displayed exclusively here.
Settlement Center (Borgarnes; tel. 437-1600; www.landnam.is): With state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits dedicated to Egils Saga and the first 60 years of Icelandic settlement, this engaging new museum tries almost too hard to turn learning into a kind of amusement park fun house -- but we're not complaining.
Glaumbaer (Skagafjordur; tel. 453-6173; www.glaumbaer.is): Iceland has several museums inside preserved 19th- and early-20th-century turf-roofed farm buildings; but, if you see just one, make it Glaumbaer in the northwest. Fish-skin shoes and other fascinating artifacts are on view, but the most affecting moments are when you imagine the smell of burning peat and the sounds of the family clan puttering about these dark, damp, and snug rooms through the long winters.
Museum of Small Exhibits (Near Akureyri; tel. 463-1261; www.smamunasafnid.is): "I collect old things," explains Sverrir Hermannsson, the eccentric carpenter behind this strange and unique museum. Sverrir has meticulously culled, categorized, arranged, and mounted all sorts of things -- hammers, kettles, record-player needles, belt buckles -- in an art of pattern, repetition, and variation. The objects themselves may be ordinary and worthless, but as he cryptically notes, "The thought alone can be of aesthetic value."
Safnasafnid (Near Akureyri; tel. 461-4066; www.safnasafnid.is): The curators of this inspiring art museum comb the country for what they call "honesty," ignoring conventional distinctions between contemporary art, folk art, and "naive" art. The museum is not anti-elitist so much as immune to all aesthetic dogma. Whatever the grounding principles, the results are compelling: Exhibits could spotlight anything from women's needleworking tools and wooden figurines whittled by a farmer to fine photography and sculpture.
Husavik Museum (Husavik; tel. 464-1860; www.husmus.is): Gudni Halldorsson, the intense and tireless curator of this prolific folk museum in northeast Iceland, is used to seeing most visitors to Husavik take a whale-watching tour, giggle at the jarred penises in the Phallological Museum, and depart. Nothing wrong with that, but they might take some time to enjoy the fascinating range of regional artifacts on display here, from a stuffed polar bear to necklaces made from human hair.
Skogar Folk Museum (Skogar; tel. 487-8845; www.skogasafn.is): This is without a doubt the greatest of Iceland's many folk museums, with an enormous artifact collection ranging from fishing boats to carved headboards and makeshift mousetraps. Let the staff lead you around; otherwise, you won't know what the hollow fishbone was used for.
Landmarks and main attractions in Iceland
Iceland is very rich with peculiar natural landmarks and the island contains also interesting cultural landmarks. The highlights of Iceland are:
Waterfalls - Iceland is very rich with magnificent, large waterfalls. Some other European countries have taller waterfalls, but a multitude of Icelandic waterfalls are unsurpassed in their width, power and visual impression. Several Icelandic waterfalls (Dettifoss, Gullfoss) belong to most impressive falls of the world.
Geysers and other geothermal features - the only true geysers of Europe are located in Iceland. Haukadalur geothermal area contains two most famous geysers - Geysir and Strokkur, but there are several more beautiful and interesting geothermal fields in the country.
Brennisteinsalda – Suðurland. 855 m tall volcano with ground in almost all colors – white, yellow, red, black, green.
Laki fissure vent – Suðurland. Volcanic fissure – a clearly visible fissure which in 1783 – 1784 was the site of one of the largest and most destructive eruptions in modern times. Eruption was coming simultaneously from 130 craters.
Surtsey – Suðurland. New volcanic island, which rised from the ocean in 1963 – 1967. The island is pristine and serves as a natural laboratory where the colonisation process of plant and animal life is researched. The area of the island is decreasing.
Viti crater lake – Norðurland eystra. Explosion crater at the summit of Askja volcano, filled with light blue, opaque geothermal lake. Lake water is warm and rich with carbon dioxide.
Deildartunguhver – Vesturland. Very powerful hot spring. Temperature of the water at the source is 97° C, flow rate is 180 liters per second. Grjótagjá – Norðurland eystra. Small lava cave with a thermal spring and hot lake inside. Earlier the lucid water in the cave was suitable for bathing, but in 1975 – 1984 the temperature of water exceeded 50° C.
Haukadalur geothermal area with Geysir and Strokkur – Suðurland, Iceland. Two spectacular geysers located close together. Geysir has given the name to the geological phenomenon of geysers. Geysir has been up to 100 m high in the past. Strokkur is very intense, erupting 25 – 35 m high every 4 – 8 minutes. In the area are some more geysers and hot springs.
Hverir Geothermal Field - Norðurland eystra. Large, colourful geothermal field with boiling mud pots, solfataras, sulphur deposits.
Canyons and ravines
Ásbyrgi – Norðurland eystra. Unique canyon. When looking from the air, it reminds a tongue with approximately 100 m tall, vertical walls. In the middle of this tongue has remained a long, 25 m tall, narrow cliff. Ásbyrgi most likely has been formed by a glacial flooding.
Eldgjá canyon and Ófærufoss waterfall – Suðurland. Spectacular canyon, up to 270 m deep and 600 m wide with powerful stream falling over several steps. This is the largest volcanic canyon in the world.
Jökulsárgljúfur – Norðurland eystra. Canyon of Jökulsá river below Dettifoss. This magnificent canyon is 25 km long, up to 500 m wide and up to 120 m deep.
Natural bridges and other cliff formations
Arnarstapi – Vesturland. Group of sea arches and other rocks with amazing shapes.
Dimmuborgir kirkja - Norðurland eystra. Natural arch – a section of lava tube in unusual lava field. In Dimmuborgir are found also numerous chimneys of lava, where one can enter.
Dyrhólaey – Suðurland. Two neighboring natural arches under a narrow promontory in the sea. Nearby are also basalt stacks, which are up to 66 m tall.
Hvítserkur – Norðurland vestra. Amazing, 15 m tall cliff in the sea. This narrow cliff has two natural arches carved by the sea wave action.
Kirkjugólf – Suðurland. Very decorative natural pavement formed by the upper ends of basalt columns.
Surtshellir – Vesturland. Longest known lava cave in Iceland, 1 970 m long. Ghost stories.
Víðgelmir – Vesturland. Largest lava tube in the world by volume. This cave is 1,585 m long, with volume 148 000 m3.
Aldeyjarfoss – Norðurland eystra. Powerful waterfall, some 20 m high. Waterfall is surrounded by columnar basalt cliffs.
Dettifoss – Norðurland eystra. Grandiose waterfall, considered to be the most powerful in Europe. Falls are 45 m tall, 100 m wide, with a single plunge. Average water flow – 193 m²/s. A bit upstreams there is another giant waterfall – Selfoss. This waterfall is 11 m high, but it is very wide – the stream has shaped a long V-shaped cliff and water falls down along more than 500 m long cliff. Downstreams from Dettifoss is Hafragilsfoss – 27 m tall and 91 m wide.
Dynjandi – Vestfirðir. Cascade of beautiful waterfalls, total height – 100 m.
Glymur – Vesturland. Tallest waterfall in Iceland, 196 m tall. Waterfall is falling into green, moss covered canyon.
Goðafoss – Norðurland eystra. One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. Height – 12 m, width – 30 m.
Gullfoss – Suðurland. One of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland and worldwide. Consists of two steps (11 m and 21 m tall), located at right angle to each other.
Háifoss and Granni – Suðurland. Two neighboring 122 m tall waterfalls. Water in each of them falls down with a single plunge.
Hengifoss – Austurland. Beautiful, more than 120 m tall waterfall, the tallest in the eastern part of the country. A little lower there is another beautiful waterfall – Litlanesfoss – flowing between columnar basalt.
Hraunfossar – Vesturland. Unusual waterfall, flowing out of lava field in approximately 900 m wide front along the bank of Hvítá river.
Morsárjökull – Austurland. Group of waterfalls, falling down a vertical wall from the base of Vatnajökull glacier.
Seljalandsfoss – Suðurland. Beautiful waterfall – 60 m tall single plunge fall.
Skógafoss – Suðurland. One of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, 25 m wide and 60 m tall single plunge fall. In sunny weather here is seen rainbow.
Svartifoss – Austurland. Unique waterfall – free falling, more than 20 m tall plunge in a valley adorned with basalt columns.
Hallormsstaðarskógur – Austurland. The largest forest in Iceland, planted for more than 100 years. More than 50 species of trees are planted here. Lake balls of Mývatn - Norðurland eystra. One of two places in the world (another is in Japan) where form whole colonies of marimo – balls formed by green algae Aegagropila linnaei. These balls are soft, pleasant, up to 12 cm in diameter.
Látrabjarg – Vestfirðir. Up to 440 m high cliff, 14 km long. This is the largest bird cliff in Europe with many millions of birds.
Midges of Mývatn - Norðurland eystra. In some years in summer there is observed massive increase of the population of midge Tanytarsus gracilentus. These algae consuming insects are rising from the lake in giant, dark swarms and after the end of their short life cover the lake like a blanket. These insects do not bite.
Other natural landmarks
Jökulsárlón – Austurland. Glacier lagoon between Vatnajökull glacier and ocean. Lake is adorned with numerous floating icebergs. Here have been spotted even seals.
Lagarfljót – Austurland. This large lake, according to legends, has a monster – Lagarfljotsormurinn – living in it.
Man made landmarks
Hallgrímskirkja – Höfuðborgarsvæði. Best known monument of architecture in Reykjavík – an impressive, 74.5 m tall church, designed in Art Deco style. Constructed in 1945 – 1986.
Hólar church - Norðurland vestra. The largest traditional stone church in Iceland, built in 1763.
Other man made landmarks
Bessastaðir – Höfuðborgarsvæði. Historical manor house, built in the site of royal stronghold. Since 1944 – residence of the President of Iceland.
Glaumbær Turf Houses - Norðurland vestra. One of the best representatives of traditional Icelandic turf houses – a group of carefully restored turf houses in Skagafjordur Folk Museum. The site has been inhabited since 11th century but the oldest turf houses are from the middle of 18th century. There are many more examples around Iceland – such as Hólar turf houses (Norðurland vestra).
Hellnahellir – Suðurland. Enormous artificial cave, made in medieval times. This 50 m long cave is covered with engravings.
Lystigarður Akureyrar – Norðurland eystra. One of northernmost botanical gardens in the world, established in 1912. Botanical garden aims to select plants suitable for Iceland.
Ruins of house in Hafnir – Höfuðborgarsvæði. Remnants of the earliest settlement in Iceland – a cabin which was abandoned in the time between 770 and 880 AD.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) – Suðurland. Unique monument of history – a site where in 930 AD was established parliament of Iceland. It acted here until 1789. The site still contains remains of numerous temporary houses made of turf and rock which were used during the two weeks of assembly.
Icelandic art has been built on northern European traditions of the nineteenth century, but developed in distinct directions in the twentieth century, influenced in particular by the unique Icelandic landscape as well as by Icelandic mythology and culture.
Origins of contemporary Icelandic visual art
Contemporary Icelandic painting is typically traced to the work of Þórarinn Þorláksson, who, following formal training in art in the 1890s in Copenhagen, returned to Iceland to paint and exhibit works from 1900 to his death in 1924, almost exclusively portraying the Icelandic landscape. Þorláksson was not the only Icelandic artist learning in Denmark at that time: there were several Icelanders, both men and women, at the Academy in the closing years of the century, and these included Ásgrímur Jónsson, who together with Þorláksson created a distinctive portrayal of their home country's landscape in a romantic naturalistic style.
The distinctive rendition of the Icelandic landscape by its painters can be linked to nationalism and the movement toward home rule and independence, which was very active in this period. Other landscape artists quickly followed in the footsteps of Þorláksson and Jónsson. These included Jóhannes Kjarval, Jón Stefánsson, and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir. Kjarval in particular is noted for the distinct techniques in the application of paint that he developed in a concerted effort to render the characteristic volcanic rock that dominates the Icelandic environment.