Here's a top picks list of events in iceland. The events are listed from January to December and can give you an idea of what to do while you're in Iceland.
In January many Icelanders celebrate the “feast of Thorri" and eat the world's most disgusting food. The Thorri is marked as starting in the 13th week of winter, from January 19th to January 25th.
In manuscripts from the middle ages the Thorri is depicted as a personification of winter. It is unclear how the feasts were celebrated back then, but it seems clear that people had a great party with much food and drink.
Today, people in Iceland uphold the same customs by eating “traditional” food. In former times Icelanders used to salt, smoke, bury and or ferment their food for storage and it has become a delicacy to eat it today.
Favorites include sour ram testicles, boiled sheep heads and fermented shark.
To be able to eat Thorri food is also a sign of strength in modern Icelandic culture.
You just have to wash it down with a doze of Brennivin (Icelandic schnapps), and hope to get drunk as soon as possible.
2. The Food and Fun Festival
In February-March you should enjoy the Food and Fun festival, when the world´s most acclaimed chefs collaborate with Reykjavik's finest restaurants.
Each chef is assigned to one of the participating restaurants, where they prepare a special menu crafted from natural Icelandic ingredients and products.
There’s also the chef competition, on the last day of the festival where the chefs compete, making three courses. A wild party where the chefs celebrate with you is held at the end of the festival.
If you enjoy having fun in fancy restaurants, while experiencing new tastes and drinks, the Food and Fun Festival in Reykjavik is not to be missed.
3. The Reykjavik Art Festival
From May 18th to June 3rd Reykjavík hosts the Reykjavík Art Festival. First held in 1970, it celebrates music, visual arts, dance, literature, design and more, with a special focus on innovation.
Through the years the festival has featured some of the most well-known artists in the world. Among them are Vladimir Ashkenazy (who’s also the festival’s honorary president), Led Zeppelin, Nina Simone, Andy Warhol, Jaqueline du Pré, Bob Dylan, Goran Bregovic, Ingmar Bergman, Benny Goodman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Luciano Pavarotti, Human League, Doris Lessing, The Shadows, Leonard Cohen, Pulp, Madness, The Stranglers, Björk, Sigur Rós, David Bowie and many more.
A unique and amazing festival art lovers should not miss.
4. Independence day in Iceland
Celebrating the birthday of national independence hero, Jon Sigurdsson, June 17th is Iceland’s national holiday,
The celebration traditionally takes the form of a parade through each urban area with a brass band at the fore, often preceded by horse riders. After the parade several speeches are held out in the open, including one by Fjallkonan (the woman of the mountain), a personification of Iceland.
There are musical festivities throughout the country. And when night comes (which actually doesn’t happen because of the midnight sun) you can expect a lot of partying.
5. Summer Solstice in Iceland
On June 21 the Summer Solstice occurs, and Icelanders and visitors alike gather to celebrate the day the sun doesn't set.
Rock band Led Zeppelin is reported to have written Immigrant Song inspired by their trip to Iceland in this period (“We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow”).
Bonfires are lit, there are interesting walking tours and the Icelandic pagan society (Ásatrúarfélagið) has one of their main feasts at Thingvellir.
One of the most popular events is the Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður. Featuring Viking-style costumes, music, jewelry and crafts, sword fighting by professional Vikings and the like. You should also grab a bite at the Viking restaurant Fjörukráin.
From 2014, the Secret Solstice music festival is held for 3 days over the summer solstice.
6. The Folk Festival in Iceland
In early July, the fishing town of Siglufjörður hosts its Folk Festival, introducing the folk music of various nations and ethnic groups, with a special focus on Icelandic folk music.
The town also features an interesting folk music museum. Along with concerts, the festival offers many seminars, both in music and old and new handicrafts.
7. Music festivals in Iceland
There are many great outdoor and indoor music festivals in Iceland, but the largest and most popular is probably the outdoor festival Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum (e. national holiday in the islands), held annually in the valley Herjolfsdalur in Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands) in the first weekend of August .
People from all over travel there to camp and the festival has a strong group singing traditions, and also features many local pop bands. It starts out on the Thursday with the “pick-up ball”, where lovers meet.
You can also enjoy the bonfire lit on Friday night, the firework display on Saturday, play with puffins or descent off a cliff tied to a rope.
Other notable music festivals include Innipúkinn in Reykjavík, at the same weekend as national holiday in the islands, featuring local and foreign bands, such as Blonde Redhead and The Raveonettes), Sónar Reykjavík which is held in February, Neistaflug in Neskaupsstaður, also held in the first weekend of august. Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður in april, featuring local rock and pop groups, and Eistnaflug, which can be translated as flying balls, in Neskaupsstadur in July, featuring music from indie rock to black metal.
8. Gay pride in Iceland
The struggle for gay rights in Iceland has come quite a way in the last 30 years or so, thanks to a long and arduous struggle, with the LGBT rights group Samtokin ’78 at the forefront.
It is an ongoing struggle, but today Iceland is one of the most progressive countries in the world regarding LGBT rights.
In 2009 Johanna Sigurdardóttir became the first female prime minister in Iceland, and the world’s first openly gay prime minister.
In 2010 a law was passed allowing homosexuals to wed in churches.
Each year, in the second week of august, The Reykjavík Gay Pride brings tens of thousands of people into the city centre to show solidarity and have fun with the gay community in Reykjavik.
There is an interesting program throughout the week, highlighted by the Gay Pride parade. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, friends, relatives, a fast-growing number of tourists and the general public all come together to celebrate Gay Pride and support human rights for all.
The night brings some of the best partying in the city.
9. Fish Day in Iceland
In August, the family festival Fiskidagurinn mikli (The Great Fish Day) in the northern fishing village of Dalvík offers all sorts of delicious seafood (for free!) and quality entertainment.
10. Culture Night in Iceland
In Mid-August Reykjavík hosts Menningarnótt or ‘Culture Night’ with all sorts of cultural events going on throughout the town in streets, squares, alleys, parks and galleries, culture houses or people hosting events in their own homes: Townspeople join in creating and enjoying this festival, the whole center becomes alive and art forms blend in a new and exciting way.
It’s one of the biggest and most attended events in the country. A great opportunity to see the best of Icelandic art, and enjoy great company with surprising events.
In true Icelandic fashion, there is heavy partying throughout the night.
11. The Northern Lights in Iceland
From September to April, on clear and crisps nights, look up and you might see the Northern Lights.
An amazing sight, the northern lights are created by electrically charged particles that make the thin air shine. Blazing and dancing through the sky, they are truly one of the most spectacular and beautiful natural phenomenon to be found.
12. Literature Festival
In September, Reykjavík hosts its Literature festival, featuring Icelandic and international authors.
Notable guests through the years include Kurt Vonnegut, Ian McEwan, Doris Lessing, Günther Grass, Paul Auster, Isabel Allende, Hanne-Vibeke Holst, Nick Hornby, Annie Proulx, David Sedaris, Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi, Nawal El Sadawi, Arto Paasilinna, Seamus Heaney, Roddy Doyle, David Grossman, Haruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, José Saramago, Jung Chang, Anna Politkovskaja, J.M. Coetze, Henning Mankell, Mehmed Uzun and Herta Müller.
Reykjavík International Film Festival, a.k.a. RIFF takes place every year in late September for eleven days and has established itself firmly on the international scene. It features a wide range of dramas and non-fiction films from over 40 countries. It has everything from art films to cult- and B-films and offers a nice alternative to mainstream blockbusters.
Independent filmmaking is highlighted, with an emphasis on up-and-coming filmmakers.
The festival also encourages interaction with other art forms by offering concerts, photo exhibitions and more.
It also manages the RIFF industry office, complete with a video library, information and guest services, and co-organizes networking meetings and dinners for the attending professionals.
14. Iceland Airwaves
In October we have one of the main showcases for music – Icelandic or otherwise – in the world with the Iceland Airwaves festival.
Pretty much everyone writing about music has lauded it, the Rolling Stone magazine calling it “The hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar.”
Some of the world’s most exciting artists have performed at this festival, among them The Shins, The Rapture, TV On The Radio, Florence and the Machine, Klaxons, Hot Chip, Flaming Lips, Wolf Parade, Bloc Party and Fatboy Slim, sharing stages with top Icelandic acts like Björk, Sigur Rós, FM Belfast, GusGus, múm, Of Monsters and Men, HAM and Seabear, to name a few.
Top DJs from around the world are also featured.
15. Christmas in Iceland
Jól/Yule has been celebrated since ancient times as the time when the day grow longer after the shortest and darkest day, which the Christian calendar marks as December 21.
The Christians then picked up the holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, i.e. Christmas and “jól” is indeed also the Icelandic word for Christmas. It’s celebrated on December 24th.
Religious or not, it is a time that Icelanders in general find to exchange presents, spend time with family and loved ones and a time of peace and goodwill.
Many other events may be tied in, such as concerts.
In Reykjavík we recommend walking through the main street, Laugavegur, on Þorláksmessa, December the 23rd. The street becomes filled with people, there is a warm and friendly atmosphere (if you’re not too stressed out finding the last-minute present) and you’ll find solo singers, brass bands, choirs etc.
In Reykjavík, Akureyri and Ísafjörður, people light candles, sing carols and march for peace at 6 in the evening, in Reykjavík starting at Hlemmur and down Laugavegur.
On Þorláksmessa many Icelanders also uphold the tradition of eating buried and fermented skate.
A lot of folklore is tied in with Christmas, including that of the Christmas Cat, who eats children who don’t get nice clothes for Christmas (as if you weren’t badly enough off being poor, you'd also be punished for it!).
Also we have the troll Grýla, who’d eat unruly children. Her children are the jólasveinar (Yule-lads). Originally they’d play nasty tricks on farmers, steal their goods and even eat naughty children.
Today they have been toned down and meshed with Santa Claus (Coca Cola-version). Christmas tricksters, troll and the like may not be unique for Iceland but having thirteen (troll) santas surely must be.
16. New Year in Iceland
On New Year’s Eve Icelanders gather first for family dinner and then meet up with friends at about 1 or 2 to party until the morning.
Around 10pm most Icelanders gather round the TV set to watch Áramótaskaupið, a satirical comedy show covering highlights of the year (news, politics etc.)
“What did you think of Skaupið?” is a common discussion topic throughout the night, and it’s seldom assumed that someone didn’t watch it.
At exactly midnight almost every household in Iceland goes out to light fireworks, so you can see the sky go ablaze like nowhere else in the world.
Bonfires are also lit everywhere.
Like Christmas, New Year’s Eve has strong connections with folklore. Cows are said to gain human speech, seals take human shape, the dead rise from their graves and Elves move house.
Elven gold is said to be obtainable by sitting through the night at a crossroads not uttering a word to anyone who passes by. As for the cows, it has been said that those that hear them lose their sanity.
Read also Nanna´s list of Top 10 Festivals in Iceland. Find Golden circle tours or see the best attractions by Route 1 in Iceland.