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Reykjavik Street Art Heats Up on this Self Guided Tour

Reykjavik street art is on the rise. Iceland’s capital city offers more than Viking history and waterfalls. They have a growing street art scene which is producing world class murals that are worth exploring. Follow this self-guided Reykjavik street art tour through downtown and the harbor district to find the best examples of wall art.

Reykjavik street art mural or woman by Guido
Photorealistic portrait by Guido Van Helten.

Read More: Get the full guide to all of the cool stuff to do in Reykjavik.

The Evolving History of Reykjavik Street Art

The awe inspiring murals that you’ll see crawling up Reykjavik’s buildings didn’t emerge fully formed out of the Blue Lagoon. Like many other cities, such as Chicago and Buenos Aires, the movement evolved out of an elicit tagging and graffiti culture.

Reykjavik graffiti hit its stride in the late 90’s, fueled by a strong hip hop culture and disaffected youths. But like many great street art cities, over time the taggers evolved their skills, becoming more artistic in their work. This evolution coincided with a more enlightened attitude regarding street art in Reykjavik.

In 2015, Reykjavik paired up with Urban Nation and the Iceland Airways festival to commission a massive mural project called Wall Poetry. Urban Nation is a Berlin-based urban arts organization whose mission it is to connect artists and communities. They helped the Wall Poetry project pair artists with musicians. The artists then designed and executed large-scale wall art inspired by the music. If you want to listen while you look, Urban Nation has a list of artist/musician pairings for both the 2015 and 2016 events.

The result of Wall Poetry was a (literal) elevation of Reykjavik street art with the murals crawling up the sides of buildings all over town. The resulting works have placed Reykjavik squarely on the global street art map.

See Wall Poetry in motion with this video from Urban Nation

Read More: If you like these sorts of cross cultural street art mash-ups, check out my guide to street art in Estonia and you’ll find out that Mexico and Estonia have more in common that you might imagine.

Reykjavik graffiti and street art
Reykjavik graffiti and murals living side by side in a downtown construction zone.

See Reykjavik Murals Right Downtown

There are quite a few murals and and smaller pieces right on the downtown drag along Laugavegur and Grettisgata streets. There aren’t any Reykjavik street art tours specifically devoted to the topic. So, you can wander about on your own, or you can take the guided city tour with I Heart Reykjvaik. Leana and her husband live right downtown and they will give you the scoop not only on the street art but also the history of Reykjavik’s architecture, art and food scene.

As you wander Laugavegur, be sure to zigzag through the small streets and alleys that connect it to Grettisgata. There are a lot of smaller murals and interesting graffiti tucked away into the car parks and yards.

Reykjavik street art Vampire by D Face
These cartoony Vampires are very typical of the artist D Face. You can find more of his work in this Paris street art guide.
Reykjavik street art flowers on car park
The downtown parking lot gets a spring lift.
Reykjavik sidewalk mural
This fun chalk-like mural runs all the way down the street.
Reykjavik mural pink octopus
Peek into alleyways and yards and you just might find octopus.
Reykjavik mural B&W piece by Caratoes
B&W piece by Caratoes was part of the original Wall Poetry project.
Iceland mural mermaid by Raus
This pretty mermaid is by Raus.
Iceland street art Cartoon by Sara Reil
This complex piece was created by local artist Sara Reil.
Reykjavik mural Pale Green Ghosts by John Gent
One of the most stunning pieces of Reykjavik street art is Pale Green Ghosts by John Gent.
Reykjavik mural acorn
Just a delightful little acorn.
Reykjavik mural of Dogs by Elle
I apologize for the bad light on this one but it’s worth including because it was part of the first Wall Poetry exhibition (by Elle).
Reykjavik street art eagle by Selur
This eagle was created by Selur.

Explore Murals in the Harbor District

There are a number of beautiful portrait-style pieces in the Grandi Harbor area. These pieces were done by Guido Van Helten and were inspired by pictures taken from the Icelandic photo archive. So, rather than the colorful and edgy art you might expect, these murals are soft edged and almost monochromatic. In a strange bit of serendipity, my tour guide told me a rumor that while Guido was working on the murals, one of the men featured in the photos came up to him, pointed at the mural and said “hey, that’s me!”

Reykjavik harbor street art
One of my favorite Reykjavik murals by Guido Van Helten. Find it in the harbor at Vestergata and Seljavegur.
Reykjavik mural Two Women by Guido
This startling image is also by Guido and it kiddy corner from the previous image.
Photorealistic mural in Reykjavik by Guido
This one is right around the corner from the previous mural.

Read More: Van Helten has been working on an amazing project to paint grain silos. You can find examples in this Nashville mural guide and this article on the Silo Art Trail in Australia.

Seven Other “Street” Things to Do in Reykjavik

There are several galleries that specialize in urban art or that feature other works by the muralists. Check out the Container Society, Dead, and The Living Art Museum.

There are also several bars and music venues that feature Reykjavik graffiti and murals or on their exterior walls. For that, check out Bar Ananas, Gaukurinn or Prikio.

You must also visit the Icelandic Punk Museum. They have graffiti on the walls and stairs as you descend into what used to be a public toilet. In my brain, the same contrarian outsider impulses that fueled the punk movement are at work in the street art movement. The tiny museum gives a remarkably thorough history of punk in Iceland and it’s a hoot to visit.

Here’s a teaser for you:

Reykjavik viking mural
3-D Viking mural in downtown Reykjavik.

Plan a Visit to Reykjavik

If you are planning a visit to Reykjavik, here are some resources to get your started.

Butterfly Mural in downtown Reykjavik Iceland
Butterfly mural found downtown.

Learn More About Global Street Art

Learn more about the artists using a street art encyclopedia like the New Street Art, Street Artists 2: The Complete Guide, the World Atlas of Street Art & Graffiti or Lonely Planet Street Art.

In fact, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can get the Lonely Planet book for free as an ebook on Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account, you can get a 30-day free trial HERE.

Visiting great street art cities is a specific item on my bucket list of sixty things I want to do before I hit sixty and the Reykjavik street art was high on that list.

Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik  | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City

You can also find fresh articles from other bloggers on my Pinterest street art board.

I look forward to seeing how Reykjavik evolves it’s street art scene and hope that it attracts more visitors to see its edgy urban art.

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Stacy

Thursday 9th of August 2018

Thanks for sharing this - we will be in Reykjavik next year on a cruise with an overnight stay. We have some plans already but do have some free time, and this will be perfect to fill in some of our time. I just shared on Flipboard and will save to Pinterest, Twitter and G+.

Carol Guttery

Friday 10th of August 2018

Thank you so much. I appreciate the shares. I'm sure that you will find that your one day cruise stop will make you want to come back and visit again.