Sadly, the grand former National Library, now the Safnahús (Culture House), has lost its way. Until recently the home of a remarkable exhibition about Iceland’s medieval manuscripts, today the museum has been subject to an amateurish makeover and contains nothing more than a savage hotchpotch of seemingly random items from the country’s past. While individual items may impress, the overriding impression the muddled exhibition, known as “Points of View”, leaves the visitor, is one of disappointment – this could, and should, be so much better.

The ground floor

Though the ground floor is predominantly given over to religious art, it also, confusingly, contains more contemporary items such as a photographic portrait of former Icelandic president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, plonked alongside an ornate seventeenth-century tapestry and a sculpture of Mary from the church in Vatnsfjörður, dated around 1400–1500. It’s a juxtaposition which doesn’t work. Elsewhere on the ground floor look out for the various copies, dating from 1281 to 2004, of the ancient legal document of Jónsbók; most impressive is the copy from 1363, replete with ornately decorated initial letters.

The first and second floors

These contain a mishmash of exhibits and, once again, the ad hoc combination of items is quite arbitrary: a magnificent altar piece from the church at Grenjaðarstaður, dating from 1766, for example, uncomfortably rubs shoulders with a garish piece of modern art from 1948, “Big sister and little brother” by Kristján Daviðsson. As you stumble around the museum, do make sure you see the stuffed great auk, hidden away in a small alcove off the main staircase leading to the top floor. Bought at auction in London in 1971, it’s thought the bird was killed at Hólmsberg on the Reykjanes peninsula – the last two great auks in the world were bludgeoned to death on June 3, 1844 on the nearby island of Eldey.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Iceland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exa…

24 Nov 2016 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
A day-by-day itinerary for the perfect weekend in Reykjavík

A day-by-day itinerary for the perfect weekend in Reykjavík

Reykjavík, a bustling port and the world’s most northerly capital, draws visitors from across the globe in record-breaking numbers – and its popularity sho…

12 May 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
360° video: up close and personal with Iceland's Strokkur geyser

360° video: up close and personal with Iceland's Strokkur geyser

Feeling far away from the natural wonders of Iceland? You're about to feel a lot closer. Welcome to 360° virtual reality, where you can look where you wan…

14 Oct 2015 • Colt St. George videocam Video
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month