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Christmas at Árbær Open-Air Museum (Árbæjarsafn)

Located just south and east of Reykjavík city center, along Route 1 (the Ring Road), and east of the River Elliðaá, lies the Árbær district of the city. Like most of Iceland, it has a long agricultural history and was a well-known farm along established travel routes until the mid-20th century. The name means” ár” as in river and “bær”, farm or the more contemporary, town.

Two Yule Lads at the  Árbær Open-Air Museum (Photo courtesy of the museum)
Two Yule Lads at the Árbær Open-Air Museum (Photo courtesy of the museum)

Given that Icelandic Settlement is usually defined as beginning circa 874, Reykjavík is a relatively young population center, having obtained its municipal charter in 1786. Since then, it has experienced significant growth and change. During the middle of the 20th century, concern began to be expressed in the area that history and the old ways of life were being lost. The effort to preserve traditional early Reykjavík life was begun in 1942 with a petition to found a museum. Still, it took until 1954 before an overseeing body, the Reykjavík Archives and Historical Collections, was created. Three years later, in 1957, a site was selected for an open-air museum - the Árbær farm - which had been abandoned by this time, its buildings deteriorating. The museum opened later that same year.

(Photo courtesy of the museum)

Open year-round except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, “Árbær Open-Air Museum gives a sense of the architecture, way of life, and lifestyles of Reykjavík’s past.” The site now contains more than 20 buildings that create a town square and environs, including the original turf farmhouse still on its original site, along with the Árbær church dating from 1846. Additional buildings have been moved in from other parts of Reykjavík. These buildings have been restored to various historical periods, giving visitors an idea of how people lived in the capital city, from the very poor to the wealthy.

During the summer, “villagers'' dressed in period costumes carry out daily chores like spinning wool, haying, and smoking meat. Live animals are kept on the site, including ponies, sheep, and chickens, which are available for viewing and even supervised petting. Special events, exhibits (currently including Icelandic train cars, Karólína, the Weaver, and Consumption in Iceland), and holidays are held each year. During our December 15 webinar, we will highlight the Christmas season at Árbær.

As a visitor with toddler and early elementary school-aged grandchildren, I find the open spaces provide plenty of room to roam and run; the animals continually amaze. The play area with period toys, currently housed in the 1897 Landakot building, formerly a Catholic Church turned sports hall, complements the interactive exhibits and provides something for all ages.

Sandra Björg Ernudóttir (Snorri West 2017) working at Árbær in 2021
Sandra Björg Ernudóttir (Snorri West 2017) working at Árbær in 2021

In 2014, this museum joined the Reykjavík City Museum consortium and is part of the Reykjavík City Culture Card, for which holders receive free admission to the museum and a 10% discount off all items in the shops.

The museum site contains a coffee/sweet shop, souvenir shop in the ticket office, General Store gift shop, and ongoing archeological excavations continue on the site.

Please join us on December 15th for a Webinar from Árbær! To get the link, time, and more info, see our Event Calendar.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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