Culturally immersing yourself in Iceland can be an expensive undertaking. But it doesn’t have to be. You can discover artistic masterpieces and cultural curios free of charge while wandering the streets of Reykjavík. So if you’re an art-enthusiast on a budget, let us take you on a two-hour stroll through town.
Art for free!
Start at the Einar Jónsson Museum, which is located in the heart of Reykjavík, right next to Hallgrímskikrja and presents a great place to learn about Icelandic art history. While there’s an entrance fee for the museum, the serene sculpture garden around back is free to visit. It includes 26 statues placed there by Einar Jónsson and his wife, who used to live on the top floor of the museum. Pro-tip: Don’t miss out on the mysterious “King of Atlantic” sculpture, as well as the figurative representation of spring.
Tiny spaces of inspiration
After leaving the sculpture garden head over to Skólavörðustígur to check out some of the gallery shops lining the street. If you‘re interested in photography swing by at Fótógrafí, a tiny space crammed with a camera collection and cool black and white prints on the walls. You can buy some artwork for yourself but if you want to make it a no-spending day, just skim.
Mural, Mural on the wall
As you venture on, you will soon notice that Reykjavík also offers a great deal of contemporary street art, so take a jaunt up to the corner of Laugavegur and Klapparstígur to discover a building entirely covered in a mind-boggling mural. The work was commissioned for Icelandic Airwaves 2015 and is called ‘Ode to Mother,’ inspired by the Ylja song ‘Óður til Móður’ (other murals from that Airwaves series can be seen by along Laugavegur, by Hlemmur, on the backside of Gamla Bío, and in the old harbour). Keep your eyes open for smaller murals and graffiti, which change the face of the city as you continue your stroll.
A walk around Tjörnin
Next on your “art for free hunt”, head downhill to the shores of Tjörnin to marvel at statues by various artists. One of the most popular is Halla Gunnarsdóttir’s likeness of Tómas Guðmundsson perched on a city bench, an Icelandic poet famous for praising the city’s beauty. So sit down on the bench next to him and enjoy the view over the pond while reflecting on his poem ‘Hotel Earth’ from 1933: “It‘s a curious journey this human life we lead, we are the guests and our hotel is the earth. While some check out, others arrive instead.”
Behind Tómas is Einar Jónsson’s imposing The Spell Broken, and further down the pond-side path is the Women’s Sculpture Garden, featuring the works of several female artists.
The Nordic House
On your final stop, enter the university district where you can kill two birds with one stone by visiting the Nordic House. Firstly, the building is a masterpiece designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Inside though, you can enjoy more art for free. The venue is notorious for providing a platform for Nordic artists, hosting several exhibitions each year ranging from design awards to Greenlandic photographers.
So there you go! Are you feeling more cultured? Now, take that money you just saved on your artistic afternoon, and buy yourself an ice cream. You deserve it.
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