The Reykjavík City Museum preserves the city’s fascinating heritage and cultural history across two public sites. The first of the public sites is the 871±2 Settlement Exhibition, a downtown museum built around the foundations of a Viking longhouse. The second, Arbaejarsafn (Open Air Folk Museum), is a large collection of over 20 heritage homes that have been relocated to one of Reykjavík’s older suburbs. Forget about dusty artifacts kept behind glass displays both museums are highly interactive, innovative and entertaining. Their exhibits trace Reykjavík’s history from its first settlement to the present day.
In 2001 archaeologists excavated a hall and the turf foundations of a longhouse, both dating back to the ninth century. The remains were protected and an award-winning exhibition space built around them: the 871±2 Settlement Exhibition. The unusual name refers to the time period, spanning two years either side of 871, these remains may date to. Today, multimedia technology has brought the longhouse, one of the city’s oldest dwellings, back to life.
Push the buttons to activate images of the different people who would have inhabited the longhouse. Stand before the large screen with a 360-degree projection of how the land around the house once looked, while cameras make it appear that you are now the inhabitant of the longhouse. It’s an informative exhibition, a good place to get an overview of Viking society and the science of archaeology itself. The building is located in the city center, underneath the Hotel Reykjavík Centrum, and is open daily.
The other major Reykjavík City Museum site is Arbaejarsafn, an open-air museum on the outskirts of the city. Step through the doorways of 19th-century homes, a church, stable and boathouse. Explore several traditional grass-roofed turf houses, the original eco-friendly homes. Chat with live actors dressed in period costume as they reenact village life. Let the kids explore the small farm stocked with sheep and horses. Arbaejarsafn is 3 miles (5 kilometers) outside the city center and is easily accessible by bus.