The Westman Islands’ Sagnheimar: A Classic Community Museum

There’s a special charm to small, old-school, community museums — like the one I just visited, the Sagnheimar Folk Museum, filling the floor above the Westman Islands’ little town library.

All over the world, “interactive,” “high-tech,” and souped-up museums (often with lots of glitz but no actual artifacts) are the highly advertised, money-making hits. Many of these, with fancy shops and restaurants attached, are little more than commercial ventures. It’s the low-key, low-tech community museums — staffed by knowledgeable volunteers with a passion for their mission — that often tell the real story. In Iceland, I found the glitzy museums (the Lava Centre, the Whales of Iceland exhibit, and so on) were twice the cost and half the value as the old-school, simpler museums (like Sagnheimar and the Skógar Folk Museum, on the South Coast).

From the Glencoe Folk Museum in Scotland, to the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands, to the Third Man Museum in Vienna, to the little historic museum filling the Carnegie Library in my hometown of Edmonds, don’t neglect the lovingly-gathered, old-school community museums — filled with artifacts found in local attics, staffed with enthusiasts who really know their stuff, and at old-fashioned prices. What’s your favorite?

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You can pick up a copy of the Rick Steves Iceland guidebook at www.ricksteves.com/iceland-book.

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