Gray Line Iceland - Reykjavík Events

Posted by Admin on 30 Apr 2024

Reykjavík Events and National Holidays

Halgrimskra and vikings in reykjavik

For a small Nordic nation with fewer than 400,000 people, Iceland punches well above its weight on the cultural stage, and there’s a constant calendar of entertainment and events to enjoy in its capital city.

Reykjavík is a hotbed of artistic expression, with frequent music, literature, and film festivals, and many other creative events throughout the year in venues all around the city.

In addition, Icelanders are blessed with more than a dozen national holidays each year, when shops, restaurants, museums, and other places of interest may be closed.

Here’s your month-by-month guide to the cultural events and the national holidays observed in Iceland’s capital city. 

January

Dark Music Days (late January, annual)

Iceland’s music scene is highly active, and you can enjoy live gigs and concerts showcasing almost every form of musical expression in the city.

Dark Music Days was founded by the Icelandic Composers Society in 1980 to celebrate contemporary classical music. It’s now a five-day showcase festival held in late January every year.

Leading contemporary musicians and orchestral composers come together from all over the world to perform, with several new pieces being premiered each year.

February

Vetrarhátíð - Winter Lights Festival (first week of February, annual)

Marking the forthcoming return of the sun after the long, dark Icelandic winter, Vetrarhátíð lights up Reykjavík’s streets and landmark buildings in the first week of February with art installations and illuminations. 

The city streets become a magical walking trail of brightly lit buildings, with highlights including Museum Night, Swimming Pool Night, and Light Artworks

More than 150 separate events create a unique atmosphere in the city.

March

Beer Day and the Icelandic Annual Beer Festival (March 1st, annual)

You might be surprised to know that beer was illegal in Iceland for 75 years until March 1st, 1989

Since then, Beer Day has been an excellent excuse for Icelanders to drink even more than usual! 

The Icelandic Annual Beer Festival is an annual event celebrating “beer freedom” with lots of Icelandic brews alongside selected international choices.

In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted to ban all alcoholic drinks, with the law taking effect on New Year’s Day, 1915. 

In 1921, wine was legalized after Spain threatened to ban Icelandic fish unless Icelanders imported their wines, and the rules were eased again when a national referendum in 1935 put spirits back on the shelves. 

However, beer remained a banned beverage until 1989. Since then, the country’s brewers have made up for lost time, and the craft beer revolution has created a tremendous range of excellent Icelandic brews.

April

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday (national holidays, March-April)

There are national holidays on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. Prepare accordingly, as Icelanders take their holidays very seriously!

Sumardagurinn Fyrsti (national holiday, late April)

The Old Norse calendar only had two seasons - winter and summer

Harpa is the first summer month, and its first day (Sumardagurinn Fyrsti) is celebrated with a public holiday and street parades on the first Thursday after April 18th.

Icelanders will look for the arrival of the Golden Plover (Lóa). When this migratory bird returns, that’s the first proper day of summer!

Look out for bowls of water on doorsteps on this day. It’s a tradition to leave one out overnight - if it freezes over, that’s a sign of a good summer to come. 

Reykjavík International Literary Festival (late April, biennial)

Icelanders love their books, and around one in ten will publish their own book.

The Reykjavík International Literary Festival brings novelists, cartoonists, historians, and more to the city for four days of readings and panel discussions. 

All events are free and conducted in English.

DesignMarch (late April, annual)

Iceland´s most popular design festival showcases innovative designers in fashion, furniture, and interiors, with dozens of events in various locations around the city.

May

Labor Day (national holiday, first Monday in May)

Like most European countries, the first Monday in May is “Labor Day,” a national holiday for the workers. In Iceland, it’s called Hátíðisdagur Verkamanna.

May 1st is also the International Day of the Icelandic Horse, a global celebration of these unique creatures.

Icelanders go mad for the Eurovision Song Contest in early May, with the Söngvakeppnin competition to select their entry taking place months in advance. 

Look out for special events and parties in bars and clubs around the competition final.

International Museum Day (May 18th, annual)

A global event, International Museum Day encourages special events and activities to an annual theme, boosting interest and engagement between museums and their communities.

Check museum listings in the week around May 18th for more information.

Ascension Day (40 days after Easter, national holiday, annual)

Icelanders mark Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, with a national holiday. Schools and businesses will close, but restaurants and bars will be open.

Whitsun (10 days after Ascension Day, national holiday, annual)

Whitsun is another national holiday in Iceland, with schools, businesses, and supermarkets closing for the day. Bars and restaurants should be open as usual.

June

Sjómannadagurinn (national holiday, annual)

On the first Sunday in June, Icelanders pay tribute to the country’s seafarers and fishermen with a national holiday called “Seamen’s Day.”

If you’re near a harbor or a port, look out for special events, including sea rescue demos, tug-of-war events, and swimming competitions.

Reykjavík Arts Festival (first half of June, biennial)

The Reykjavík Arts Festival brings together artists from theater, film, dance, music, and the visual arts every other year. Events take place all over the city.

Independence Day (June 17th, national holiday) 

Íslenski þjóðhátíðardagurinn is the most meaningful national holiday for Icelanders. June 17th marks the day Iceland declared its independence from Denmark in 1944.

Look out for parades, speeches, and street parties in the city center and elsewhere. Tradition suggests the sun will not shine! 

The date was chosen to mark the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the leader of the 19th-century Icelandic independence movement.

Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival (annual)

Mid-June sees a four-day festival of Viking storytelling, mock battles, and archery competitions in Hafnarfjörður, close to the capital.

It’s the oldest and most significant festival of its kind in Iceland, and attending it will make you feel like you have gone back in time!

August

Verslunarmannahelgi (national holiday, annual

The first Monday in August is a national holiday (Frídagur verslunarmanna) celebrating Iceland’s shopworkers, known as “Commerce Day” or “Merchant’s Day.” 

Dating back to 1894 and originally intended to give sales clerks a day off, it’s now a holiday for everyone.

Numerous outdoor festivals occur nationwide, most famously in the Westman Islands.

The capital is much quieter as the locals leave the city for a long, raucous weekend at their summerhouses and campsites.

Innipúkinn (first weekend of August, annual)

Innipúkinn is an annual three-day music festival held in various indoor and outdoor venues in the capital on the first weekend of August.

The name means “indoor devil,” a tribute to the locals who want to stay in town rather than join the crowds who go camping on Verslunarmannahelgi.

Reykjavík Pride (second week of August, annual)

Iceland has been celebrating Pride since 1999, and it’s now a colorful week-long event in the second week of August.

Dating back to 1993, Reykjavík Pride has quickly become a very popular annual festival with eye-catching parades and events all around the city.

Reykjavík Pride is now one of Iceland’s most significant annual events, attracting thousands of international visitors because of its alternative date, compared to most other Pride events elsewhere.

Menningarnótt - Culture Night (late August, annual)

Held since 1996 on the first Saturday after August 18th every year, Menningarnótt (Culture Night)  is a non-stop day and night of art, music, dance, and fireworks at venues across Reykjavík, marking the city’s “birthday.”

Galleries, museums, shops, and cafés stay open long into the night to celebrate all the city offers, making Culture Night one of the biggest events on the Icelandic calendar.

Culture Night starts early, with the Reykjavík Marathon running through the city streets in the morning. 

Even residential gardens will become art spaces for the day, and the event’s slogan is “Come on in!” reflecting Icelandic generosity and hospitality. All events are free of charge.

Reykjavík Jazz Festival (late August, annual)

The Reykjavík Jazz Festival has been attracting local and international artists since 1990. You’ll find gigs and concerts focusing on jazz, blues, fusion, and improvised music performed by musicians from Europe and Iceland.

September

Reykjavík International Film Festival (late September, annual)

Film fans can look forward to RIFF, the Reykjavík International Film Festival, held in late September every year.

Stretching over several days, the best of Icelandic and international films are screened in cinemas and other locations all over the city, along with panel discussions, gigs, and exhibitions.

Extreme Chill (late September, annual)

Extreme Chill is an experimental and electronic music festival that has been running for over ten years and is held at various venues in the capital. 

November

Iceland Airwaves (early November, annual)

Iceland Airwaves, one of Iceland’s biggest music events, fills the capital with live music in the first week of November.

Held since 1999, the world’s most northerly music showcase festival brings together the best of Iceland’s astonishingly active musical community with intriguing international acts.

Downtown Reykjavík comes alive with performances hosted everywhere, from tiny record stores and museums to cool bars, stately churches, and large-scale venues. 

There are many free “off-venue” gigs during the day, so you can join in the fun even if you don’t have a ticket!

The Icelandic music scene is enormously vibrant and productive, extending well beyond internationally recognized stars Björk, Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, and Ásgeir Trausti, with newer acts following in their footsteps, including Vök, Mammút, KALEO, and Agent Fresco.

Interestingly, many Icelandic musicians are in more than one band at a time, so during Airwaves, you might see guitarists and keyboard players running from one venue to another to perform with different groups on the same night!

December

Christmas is a special time to be in Reykjavík. For a whole month, there’s a calendar of traditional Icelandic festivals and special events to light up the capital’s streets.

You’ll find that “Yule” is used more often than “Christmas,” and Iceland has more than one Santa Claus. In fact, there are more than a dozen of them, and they’re known as the Yule Lads.

The 13 Yule Lads come from a fascinating mountain family, including their fearsome mother, Grýla (Growler), and the scary Yule Cat.

In the first week of December, 14 Christmas Creatures honoring Iceland’s storytelling traditions will be on view at the Reykjavík Art Museum and displayed in various places (look high and low) around the city. See how many you can find!

A pop-up skating rink opens at Ingólfstorg Square from the end of November until New Year’s Day.

Jólabjór (Christmas beers) are released in the city’s bars and restaurants, and festive foods appear on the menus.

Grocery stores are generally open until noon on the 24th of December, stay closed on the 25th, and reopen on the 26th or 27th.

The same applies to New Year’s; shops close at noon on the 31st, stay closed on the 1st of January and reopen on the 2nd or 3rd.

New Year’s Eve

Icelanders celebrate New Year’s Eve with enormous fireworks displays and bonfires in every neighborhood around the country. 

The capital’s fireworks display is so impressive that thousands visit the country to enjoy the spectacle, and it’s streamed live on YouTube to a worldwide audience.

Whatever the time of year, Reykjavík has something for everyone.

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