Iceland is no longer just a beautiful place to go. Over the last couple of years the cultural life has exploded. There are an uncoutable amount of festivals celebrating everything from light to music to fashion, and Icelanders love to combine this with great local cusine and something good to drink.
A few years back only the annual Reykjavik Art Festival played a role in the culture scene in Iceland, but now the number of festivals has exploded.
Most of the festivals do still take place in the capital area, and they also tend to be the most popular ones. There’s of course Iceland Airwaves, The Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) and The Reykjavik Art Festival, which all bind together the cultural life of Iceland.
Yet you can still find a variety of festivals in almost every small town and village throughout all of Iceland - summer, spring, winter and fall. This is a great way of getting together with the locals and a different and exciting way to experience Iceland.
We have put together an all-year list of the festivals in Iceland, so you won’t miss out on anything during your stay our beautiful and diverse country.
Even though the weather conditions may not be what you imagine a festival to take place in, winter is a great season for festivals in Iceland. And you should always keep the Icelandic proverb in mind: “Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes!”
Like most western countries, Iceland celebrates Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Only we believe we do it better than most others. There are bonfires, an astonishing amount of fireworks and parties that last longer than into the wee hours. On the 6th of January, called Þrettándinn (the Thirteenth), Icelanders celebrate the last day of Christmas with another round of bon fires and elfin dances.
However, if you are looking for something a bit more Icelandic, you should come in January-February. You’ll find all Icelanders celebrating the mid-winter festival Þorrinn. The festival was actually a left-over party; everybody would dig down in the winter storages and find the last pieces of food, and celebrate that they soon could go out and harness fresh food again. That‘s why you now find food like smoked lamb, skyr, wind-dried fish, singed sheep heads, „rotten“ shark, liver- and blood sausage and much more. And to wash down all this, you would need a lot of Brennivín, which is a type of Icelandic aquavit. The festival is now, like in the olden days, spent eating, drinking, dancing and singing.
Every February there are two more festivals. The first is a four day celebration of Light, which is called Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival. Museums are open late and there is usually a big public art event at the opening night with focus on light and darkness. The second one is Sónar Reykjavík, the International Festival of Advanced Music and it takes place in Harpa, the music hall of Reykjavik.
New York might have Fashion week, but in Iceland we host the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and Design March in, of course, March. These two are crucial events for everyone who likes fashion, design and not to be square.
Festivals in the Winter (December-March):
- Food and Fun Festival in Reykjavík
- Dark Music Days - Contemporary Music Festival in Reykjavík
- Winter Festival in Reykjavík
- Reykjavík Folk Festival
- International Festival of Advanced Music
- Annual contemporary music festival
- Onboard snowboarding
- Blues Day in Reykjavík
- Reykjavík Fashion Festival
- Beer day in Iceland
- Rainbow Reykjavík
- Dark Music Days
- Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival
- Sónar Reykjavík International
- The Icelandic Music Experiments
- Design March
If you are coming in the spring or in the Easter time we recommend you rent a car or book a flight to the remote town Ísafjörður in the Westfjords. You’ll find the local and amazingly entertaining music festival Aldrei fór ég Suður. The name translates to “I never went South” , and “the south” is often used as a way of saying you are going to Reykjavik, when of course living outside the capital (even further south!). The festival lasts for a weekend, and it was started by the Icelandic musician Mugison in 2004. It has grown enormously over the last years and is now one of the most popular music festivals in Iceland.
If you are trying to talk your jock friends into coming along, you can mention that mud-soccer, Mýrabolti, kicks off the festival weekend.
Iceland is located far to the north, and the winters gets dark and cold. So when the sun finally starts to shine upon the island again, the Icelanders celebrate The first Day of Summer. This happens in mid-April, and you will find live music, parade, and many other festivities which are ideal for families.
Festivals in the Spring (April-May):
- Aldrei fór ég suður
- First day of summer
- Art without boundaries
- Bright days in Hafnarfjörður
- IsNord Music Festival in Borgarfjörður
- Raflost Festival of Electronic Music in Reykjavík
- Reykjavík Blues Festival
- Tectonics Electronic Music Festival In Reykjavík
- Reykjavík Music Mess
- Children Culture Festival
- Eve Fanfest
If you are looking for a more traditional way of going to a festival (yet with a twist!), we recommend you come in the summer. Icelanders go camping and partying while listening to Icelandic and international artist, and they do it when it never gets dark! Iceland is bright almost 24 hours a day in the high-summer. This is a perfect excuse to come and listen to good music (though we won’t guarantee a nice tan).
The Labor Day Weekend, which is on the first weekend of August, has the most variety of festivals all over the country. You’ll find the The Westman Islands Music Festival or Þjóðhátíð, which means Festival of the people. This a festival for the entire family where people come together to eat, drink, dance and sing. There are always some big Icelandic bands playing and locals put up white tents where they get together and eat smoked puffin. If you knock on someone’s tent and ask politely, you might even get to taste it!
The festival is also great for the younger generations (though not too young). Þjóðhátíð begins with a 'hook up'-ball on Thursday, intended for people to find someone to hook up with for the rest of the festival. The second night involves a massive bonfire, the third night a great firework show and the fourth day and night the festival rounds up with Icelandic sing-alongs and with a re-enactment of the volcanic eruption that occurred on the island in the 1970’s.
Other outdoor Festivals that are recommended and popular with Icelanders are Rauðasandur Music Festival in West Fjords, which is family friendly, Eistnaflug Music Festival in Neskaupstaður, Bræðslan Music Festival in Borgarfjörður Eystri, Neistaflug in Neskaupstaður and the charming Folk Music Festivalin Siglufjörður.
For those interested in Films, Skjaldborg Filmfestival in the Westfjords is the festival to look out for.
The biggest festivals in Reykjavík during the summer months are The Icelandic Independence day on the 17th of June, Reykjavík Cultural Night and Reykjavík Gay Pride. The Festival of the Sea is also a summer festival, which is celebrated in every small town around the country.
If you are interested in the Viking period, check out The International Viking Festival held in the Viking Village of Hafnarfjörður, which is by the way, also known as the town of elves!
Festivals in the Summer (June-August):
- Við Djúpið
- Icelandic Independence Day
- Reykjavík Arts Festival
- Summer Solstice Festival in Iceland
- International Viking Festival
- Rauðasandur Music Festival in West Fjords
- Lunga Art Festival
- Eistnaflug Music Festival in Neskaupstaður
- Festival of the sea
- Reykjavík Accordion Festival
- Reykjavík Art Festival
- Frum - Festival of Contemporary Music in Reykjavík
- The Blues Festival in Ólafsfjörður
- Summer Solstice Festival
- Harbour Days in Reykjavík
- Jazz Festival in Egilstaðir
- Westman Islands Music Festival - Outdoor Festival
- Innipúkinn Music Festival in Reykjavík
- Reykjavík Gay Pride Festival
- Tango on Ice
- Bræðslan Music Festival in Borgarfjörður Eystri - Outdoor Festival
- Skjaldborg - Icelandic Documentary Film Festival
- Folk Music Festival in Siglufjörður
- Reykjavík Dance Festival
- Reykjavík Jazz Festival
- Neistaflug in Neskaupstaður
- Reykholt Music Festival in Borgarfjörður
- Reykjavík Cultural Night
- Reykjavík Bacon Festival
- Great Fish Day in Dalvík
- Reykjavík International Literary Festival
- Lókal Theatre Festival in Reykjavík
There are two major festivals hold in the autumn. The first one is The Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF), which is highly regarded in the film community of both Iceland and Europe.
The second one is Iceland Airwaves, a music festival which has become increasingly popular over the last years. It is strongly recommended to buy tickets months in advance if you want to see the main events. Even though you do not have ticket you can still enjoy the many off venue concerts that are spread around Reykjavík’s clubs, bars and other unconventional venues. So don’t worry – there’s always a concert waiting for you somewhere.
Festivals in the Autumn (September-November):
- The Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF)
- Iceland Airwaves
- ATP – All tomorrow´s party people
- The Art Festival of young people
Contributed: Marta María Jonsdóttir