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.
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
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.
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!”
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:
Plan a Visit to Reykjavik
If you are planning a visit to Reykjavik, here are some resources to get your started.
- Suggestions for how to plan a winter trip to Iceland. It’s not as cold as you think and the street art is available year-round.
- Five reasons why solo travel to Iceland is worth it.
- 25 great Icelandic reads. This list includes some of the classics but also some dark and moody contemporary works that will fit right in with the edgy murals.
- Top things to do in Reykjavik which feature cool restaurants, weird museums and viking history.
Learn More About Global 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. If you also aspire to travel the globe seeking out big walls and urban art, then check out my street art guides for:
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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