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Exploring Austurland’s museums

We know that many visitors come to Austurland (East Iceland) to see and experience the wild and wonderful nature of the region. We understand! We’ve got an abundance of mountains, trails, fjords, lakes, waterfalls, forests, black beaches, and more…
Bustarfell in Vopnafjörður. Photo: Jessica Auer
Bustarfell in Vopnafjörður. Photo: Jessica Auer

But did you know there’s plenty of fun to be had indoors, too? From restaurants serving delicious local flavors to stores selling locally made crafts, there’s loads to keep you busy if the weather doesn’t suit outdoor adventures.

We invite you to check out our range of family-friendly museums, which all help to give context to life in these beautiful landscapes. They can shed light on everything from legends of the past to present-day natural wonders.

Do you want to learn more about our summertime bird visitors, how families farmed in remote valleys, or about the incredible rocks and minerals under our feet? These are just a few of the subjects you can uncover in Austurland’s museums. There are also maritime stories, reindeer tales, the works of local artists, and much more.

Enjoy discovering the unique history and heritage of Austurland!

Discover nature and animals

Vatnajökull National Park covers around 14% of Iceland’s territory, and the park’s eastern territory is home to some stunning highland features. Stop by Snæfellstofa visitor center for excellent all-ages displays and information covering the park’s unique flora and fauna. And as a tip: ask the staff where reindeer have recently been spotted!

Did you know that reindeer roam wild only in East Iceland, and nowhere else in the country? Today there are around 6000 to 7000 that call Austurland home. The East Iceland Heritage Museum in Egilsstaðir has a permanent display on the animal’s nature, characteristics, and survival.

In Neskaupstaður there’s a great three-in-one museum, with the top floor dedicated to natural history. Here you’ll find a collection of the various species found in Austurland, with an emphasis on birds and fish but not forgetting unique rocks and minerals – including Iceland spar, mined in nearby Eskifjörður.

Neskaupstaður Museum House. Photo: Michael Novotný.

Dig into rocks and geology

The best place to view the full spectrum of the geology of Austurland is Petra’s Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjörður. Even if you think you’re not into geology, you can’t help but be dazzled by the glittering rocks and minerals on display here.

Throughout her life, Petra Sveinsdóttir amassed a beautiful collection of Icelandic minerals, predominantly from the Austurland area. Collecting stones was her passion – and slowly but surely, her home and garden developed into a collector's paradise, which is now visited by tens of thousands of guests annually.

There are a number of rock galleries in Djúpivogur where locals put local stones to use in craft and jewelry items – these are well worth a look. Not far from Djúpivogur is Teigarhorn, a former farm that became one of the world’s most significant mining sites of zeolites (rare minerals that contain mainly aluminium and silicon compounds). Stop by to learn more, or to simply take a walk in the surrounding nature reserve for lovely views and rich birdlife.

Auðun's Stone Collection, Djúpivogur. Photo: Michael Novotný.

Delve into history

Deep in the picturesque valley of Norðurdalur you’ll find the Wilderness Center, a unique farm you can visit and try out plenty of activities (including horse riding and hiking). Inside the super-creative museum here, you can enjoy a hands-on experience of Icelandic history and hear various stories of Icelanders living at the edge of the eastern highlands.

It’s worth a stop to see what’s happening at the Technical Museum in Seyðisfjörður. After a 2020 landslide caused major damage to the town, the museum staff have kept busy: fittingly, there’s a new exhibition with an emphasis on transformation. Various events, collaborations, and cultural projects are also organized.

You might be surprised to discover a lesser-known element of 20th-century history in Austurland. During World War II, the Allied forces had a base at Reyðarfjörður. The remains of the base are visible, ranging from old barracks to small gun shelters. The Icelandic Wartime Museum does a good job explaining the period; it’s an interesting museum in a country that has never been at war.

On the topic of international connections, stop in at Fáskrúðsfjörður to hunt for French influences. Right by the pier is the town’s main hotel, in a building that was once a hospital for French fishermen working off Iceland's east coast. The hotel is now home to the French Museum which enthusiastically explains this period and the charming legacy it has left on the town.

You can observe longstanding Norwegian links in the cozy, colorful architecture of Seyðisfjörður and Eskifjörður. In the latter town, you’ll see red-colored fishing sheds of Norwegian origin lining the waterfront.

Randulff's Seahouse in Eskifjörður. Photo: Jessica Auer

Learn about fishing

Speaking of fishing… There’s a lot of scenic coastline in Austurland, and many towns were built around the fishing industry.

Discover the essence of maritime heritage and local history through places like the French Museum of Fáskrúðsfjörður, and the Maritime Museum in Eskifjörður – a gem offering a deep dive into the world of trading and fishing in this remote part of the world.

In summer, one of the red fishing sheds on Eskifjörður’s shoreline opens as a restaurant and museum called Randulffssjóhús (Randulff’s Seahouse). It’s a great place to experience an atmospheric step back in time, as it’s full of authentic seafaring relics (and it’s a fine dinnertime option, too!).

 Neskaupstaður Museum House. Photo: Michael Novotný.

Experience farming life

It’s incredible to think of life in Austurland before modernization and efficient transport links with the rest of Iceland. There are so many stories to uncover, and a terrific place to start is Bustarfell Museum, in a pretty valley outside Vopnafjörður.

This evocative turf farm has been in the same family for almost 500 years, and inside the red-gabled, grass-roofed farmhouses you can trace the family’s history while learning about Iceland’s path to modernization. The farm was lived in until 1966 – and the museum manager was born here! Stop by for a warm welcome – plus coffee and cake, and insights into Austurland life.

The Wilderness Center has impressive exhibits of everyday life in remote rural areas, and you can even sleep in a dorm room that has been built to resemble an old farmhouse baðstofa – a communal room where families would gather, share stories, knit and weave, eat, and sleep.

As well as reindeer exhibits, Egilsstaðir’s East Iceland Heritage Museum has good information on rural conditions in previous centuries. Some items relate their practical roles in everyday life, while others bear witness to the fact that life was not only about basic survival, but also about creating beautiful things for decoration and pleasure. The long dark Icelandic winters were no doubt ideal for practicing various crafts and storytelling.

Sænautasel is another old farm that welcomes summertime visitors. In a remote highland setting, you can step back in time by checking out a preserved turf house – and be sure to tuck into coffee and pancakes in the rustic sheepcote.

Another stop if photogenic ‘hairy houses’ are your thing: Lindarbakki in Borgarfjörður eystri is a small turf house dating from 1899, although most of what you see was built in the 1930s. The cozy interior gives visitors the opportunity to step into a different era.

Bustarfell in East Iceland's Heritage Museum in Egilsstaðir. Photo: Jessica Auer

Admire art and literature

Many creative people have found inspiration here in Austurland.

One of the best places to visit is the beautiful Skriðuklaustur museum and cultural center. Its base is a head-turning mansion built as a family home in 1939 by Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson (1889–1975).

There’s plenty to see and do here, including a museum dedicated to Gunnar. There are also 16th-century monastery ruins, frequent art exhibitions and events, a fun children’s play area, and a great cafe specializing in delicious Austurland flavors.

Part of the Neskaupstaður trio of museums is dedicated to local painter Tryggvi Ólafsson (1940–2019), one of Iceland’s best-known contemporary artists.

It’s always worth investigating what the local cultural centers are planning when you’re in town. It could be anything from art exhibitions to concerts or theater performances. Popular places for community events and cultural happenings include Langabúð in Djúpivogur, Skaftfell Art Center in Seyðisfjörður, and Sláturhúsið in Egilsstaðir.

We hope that when you visit, you’re inspired to enjoy the best of Austurland’s great indoors, as well as its superb outdoors.

Skriðuklaustur. Photo: Gunnar Freyr

Words: Carolyn Bain