European Heritage Policies


According to the Cultural Heritage Act, the main aim is to promote the protection of cultural heritage and to ensure, as far as possible, the preservation of cultural heritage in its own environment, increase access to and awareness of the nation's cultural heritage and facilitate research.

All manmade heritage in Iceland (buildings and archaeological sites) of 100 years or older is protected by law. It is estimated that around 4000 buildings and 200.000 archaeological remains fall into that category. 2020 buildings and approx. 50.000 archaeological remains had been registered by the end of 2014. The Cultural Heritage Agency is developing a web based interactive map with information on all protected buildings and sites in Iceland. At the moment, only a part of the registered archaeological sites and scheduled buildings are shown but, in the near future, information on all registered heritage sites will be found there and available to the public as well as archaeologists, developers and other interested parties.    

In addition to the automatic protection of cultural heritage that has reached the age of 100 years, heritage authorities have the option of scheduling buildings and listing sites or areas considered of extraordinary importance. In 2014, 11 buildings or parts of buildings were scheduled, making the total number of scheduled buildings of 502. Around 850 archaeological sites are listed in Iceland with no additions in 2014.

In October 2014, the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland started working on a new national strategy for the protection of Icelandic archaeological and built heritage. Numerous meetings were held across the country attended by the public as well as other stakeholders. Separate meetings were also held with certain groups of stakeholders (e.g. archaeologists, architects, museum directors and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities). A survey was sent to stakeholders as well as being made public on the internet. 225 answers were already received. After analyzing the data from the survey and meetings, a number of themes stood out that obviously needed to be emphasized in the new strategy. These themes are: archaeological field survey, strengthening public awareness in connection with archaeological and built heritage, sustainable use of archaeological and built heritage, higher research standards and more involvement of the public. The work is still ongoing and is expected to be completed by fall 2015 with introduction of the new strategy.

The Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland is responsible for the management of all archaeological and architectural monuments and sites in Iceland. The agency is within the remit of the Prime Minister's Office.

The Cultural Heritage Agency is also responsible for the enforcement of the Act on the return of cultural goods to other countries, which deals with the return of illegally obtained cultural goods.

All archaeological finds belong to the state, according to law, and are supposed to be delivered to the National Museum of Iceland, for conservation and keeping.


Conventions on cultural heritage

  • Iceland has signed and/or ratified the following conventions on cultural heritage:
  • UNESCO Convention Converning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, ratified 19. december 1995.
  • UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, ratified 9. november 2004.
  • UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Iceland ratified (19. september 1989) the earlier convention text from 1969, has not signed the revised convention, the Valletta Convention, from 1992):
  • European Landscape Convention, signed 29. june 2012.
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318 452
Area (km2): 
103 000.00
Density (pop/km2): 
Official minorities: