What festivals are there in Iceland? Which events are the best and biggest, when and where are they? Short answer: There are many festivals in Iceland and they are all over the country, all throughout the year.
Festivals in Iceland
It comes as a surprise perhaps to many people that Iceland has an abundance of events and festivals each year. With a population of only 320 thousand people the country has a thriving art scene and cultural heritage. Iceland produces a vast amount of artists, some of them known internationally such as Björk, Múm, Sigur Rós and recently Of Monsters and Men.
The biggest festival announcement this year came from the Secret solstice festival, with names like Radiohead, OMAM, Deftones and Die Antwoord.
Besides Reykjavík, pretty much every village in the country throws some sort of a festival or event each year, small or big ones. There are art festivals, music festivals, camping festivals, food festivals, dance festivals, the list goes on and on. Hire a cheap car to drive around the country, find them and have a great time in Iceland.
There are many lovely smaller festivals such as Danish Days in Stykkishólmur, French Days in Fáskrúðsfjörður in the east of Iceland, Lobster Festival at Höfn í Hornafirði, Harbour Ball at Drangsnes in the Westfjords and Tango on Ice Festival in Reykjavík - even a country festival in Skagaströnd in North Iceland.
For most of the smaller ones you need to make friends with the locals so you get invited to their homes where a lot of the celebrations take place, eating, drinking, mingling and dancing.
Most of these events take place in the summertime and over the course of one weekend you might have to choose between 3 or 4 different ones.
Here I'm going to list the 10 biggest ones - but there are MANY more to choose from! You can see a full list of Icelandic festivals and events at the bottom of this article.
1. Westman Islands Camping Festival (Þjóðhátíð)
The weekend attached to the first Monday in August (if the 1st of August is on a Monday, then it's the last weekend in July) is know as 'Verslunarmannahelgi' in Icelandic. A bit of a mouthful. This is a bank holiday weekend and the biggest camping weekend of the year.
VARIOUS festivals take place this weekend, for example Ein með öllu (One with Everything - the phrase you say when you order a hot dog with all the trimmings) in Akureyri and Innipúkinn (for the ones that don't want to go camping) in Reykjavík.
Nevertheless, the biggest festival happening this weekend is in the Westman Islands: Thjodhatid. The population of the Westman Islands is normally just over 4000 people but rises up to 16 000 for this one weekend. It is a camping festival that starts on a Thursday and finishes on Monday.
Thursday has a 'hook-up' ball, intended for people to find someone to hook up with for the remainder of the festival. Friday evening has a massive bonfire and Saturday a firework display. Every year a special 'Thjodhatid song' is made for the festival. On Sunday night everyone in the valley where the festival takes place sing this song as well as many other known Icelandic songs together under a torch-lit sky.
There are some bands playing throughout the festival - but this is not really a music festival. It's a festival for the entire family where people come together to eat, drink (a lot!), dance and sing. And perhaps to find some romance. Since it is one of Iceland's biggest festivals it does sometimes get a bad reputation in the news because of drugs, obscene drinking and even rape - but the local authorities have a large amount of security and police in the area and this shouldn't put you off from attending the festival.
Just try not to drink until you pass out.
A tip: The locals put up 'white tents' where they come together to eat smoked puffin and cakes and play the guitar and be merry. Knock on someone's tent and politely ask if you can join in - if you're lucky you might get some free smoked puffin, an absolute delicacy!
2. Iceland Airwaves Music Festival
Icelandair throws a big music festival every year in Reykjavík called Iceland Airwaves. The festival promotes a lot of emerging and established national bands and musicians but also has international performers.
This year (2016) the festival will be from the 2nd until the 6th of November and they started announcing the line-up, which includes for example Björk and PJ Harvey, in February. The festival takes place in various venues around Reykjavík.
A tip: If you can't afford a ticket to Iceland Airwaves or if it's sold out, be sure to check out the free Off-Venue, also taking place in various venues around Reykjavík.
3. Reykjavík Pride
Reykjavík Pride has become one of the largest festivals in Iceland, if not THE largest one! The festival celebrates the LGBTQ community and their supporters, friends and family. The entire centre of Reykjavík is taken over by colourful costumes, loud party music, people dancing and glitter everywhere! It starts with a parade going down Laugavegur, the main high street in the centre of the city and ends with parties all night long.
Whether you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, asexual, female, male, young or old - it doesn't matter. Everyone attends Reykjavík Pride. The mayor even shows up in drag every year. The festival always takes place in the second weekend in August, in 2017 it will be from the 8th until the 13th of August.
4. Culture Night in Reykjavik
Culture Night or 'Menningarnótt' is a one day festival taking place in Reykjavík, on a Saturday normally around the 20th of August. In 2016 it took place on Saturday the 20th of August. Dance, design, music, art, concerts, games, pop-up shops and all sorts of interactive activities happen all over town. Galleries and museums are open (most, if not all, with free entry). The Reykjavík marathon takes place on the same day.
A tip: People open up their houses and invite guests to come in and have some home baked waffles for free - so it's a good way to get to know the locals and see someone's home.
5. Reykjavík's Art Festival
Reykjavík's Art Festival takes place every year in May. In 2016 it will be held between the 21st of May until the 5th of June. A variety of national and international dance, theatre, design and art will be displayed across the city.
This is one of the oldest and most respected Art's festivals in Europe, being held since 1970. The line-up for 2017 is being worked on, come and check it out!
6. Aldrei fór ég suður Rock Music Festival
I Never Went South or 'Aldrei fór ég suður' is a free rock music festival held every year during Easter in Ísafjörður. Every artist performing is playing for the fun of it and giving their work for free. The musician Mugison got the idea to have a music festival in his hometown for local talents and since then the festival has grown and is getting more and more popular.
Next one will take place from the 14th until the 16th of April 2017.
7. Food and Fun Festival
If you like food and like having fun, you should head to Reykjavík in March next year. The next Food and Fun Festival will take place from the 1st of March until the 5th of March 2017.
Renowned chefs from around the world come to Reykjavík to do what they do best: make delicious food - but only from Icelandic ingredients. The chefs collaborate with the finest restaurants of the city and make up a menu that the restaurant serves for one week.
Throw in a bit of outdoor adventure and Reykjavík's nightlife and then you have both food - and fun!
8. Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF)
Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) takes place every year in late September for 11 days. In 2016 it took place from the 29th of September until the 9th of October. The festival shows a wide range of dramas and non-fiction films from over 40 countries.
The festival highlights independent filmmaking from all over the world with an emphasis on up-and-coming filmmakers. Basically, if you want to see something new and innovative in film, this is the place to be. Screenings are held in cinemas in Reykjavík, mostly in arthouse cinema Bíó Paradís in the centre of Reykjavík but also in interesting new places, such as in swimming pools. In 2016 the film Frankenstein was screened in the swimming pool Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, built in 1937. (Icelanders love both movies and swimming pools - so it's a great combination!)
9. Bræðslan Music Festival
If you fancy driving as far away from Reykjavík as possible, then you'll end up in Borgarfjörður Eystri. In this small village you can encounter world famous bands, playing inside an old herring shed.
This festival takes place in late July every year, in 2017 it will take place on the 29th of July. Since 2005 artists and bands such as Belle and Sebastian, Emiliana Torrini, Damien Rice and Of Monsters and Men have played at this small but charming music festival. Only about 900 tickets are sold, so get your tickets early! The surroundings are breathtaking and if you really want to fit in, remember to bring a wool jumper.
10. LungA Art Festival
LungA, a small art festival in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland has been growing every year since it was formed in 2000. When it started 300 people showed up for the final concert but now about 4000 people show up. It takes place for a week in July every year, in 2016 it took place between the 10th and the 17th of July. Workshops take place, markets pop up, there are gallery exhibitions, fashion exhibitions, music displayed... anything you want to do is up to you to make it happen!
This is a non-profit festival that takes place in an otherwise tranquil and beautiful fjord that is swarmed with artistic people from all over for this one week.
What am I forgetting?
So, those are only 10 festivals out of many, many, MANY more. I feel like I've forgotten a lot. For example Eistnaflug that is a heavy metal/hard rock festival in Neskaupsstaður in July or Reykjavík Fashion Festival that was held for the seventh time this year. And then there's Fiskidagurinn mikli (The Big Fish Day) in Dalvík, held the first or second Saturday in August.
I didn't even mention the Independence Day celebrations all over the country on the 17th of June! The internationally famous music festival Sónar has also taken root in Reykjavík every February.
One thing is for certain, you'll never be short of cool, fun and interesting festivals when you're in Iceland! See also a list of Einar's favourite events in Iceland or check out this list of all the festivals in Iceland.
|Name & Website||Date||Location|
|Dark Music Days||January||Reykjavík|
|Food and Fun||March||Reykjavík|
|Reykjavik Folk Festival||March||Reykjavík|
|Reykjavík Fashion Festival||March||Reykjavík|
|Battle of the Bands - Músíktilraunir||March||Reykjavík|
|AK Extreme||April||Akureyri - North Iceland|
|Reykjavík Blues Festival||April||Reykjavík|
|I never went south||April||Ísafjörður - Wesfjords|
|Gardabaer Jazz Festival||April||Garðabær - Reykjavík area|
|Reykjavík Arts Festival||May||Reykjavík|
|Saga Fest||May||Stokkseyri - South Iceland|
|Breiðholt Festival||June||Breiðholt - Reykjavík area|
|Vaka Folk Festival||June||Akureyri - North Iceland|
|Reykjavík Midsummer Music||June||Reykjavík|
|IS NORD||June||Borgarfjörður - West Iceland|
|Við Djúpið Summer Courses and Music Festival||June||Ísafjörður - Wesfjords|
|Independence Day celebrations||June 17th||All over the country|
|JEA Jazz Festival||June||Egilsstaðir - East Iceland|
|Blue North Music Festival||June||Ólafsfjörður - North Iceland|
|Kirkjubæjarklaustur Chamber Music Festival||June||Kirkjubæjarklaustur - South Iceland|
|Lobster Festival||June||Höfn í Hornafirði - SouthEast Iceland|
|Skálholt Summer Concerts||June/July||Skálholt - South Iceland|
|Folk Music Festival||July||Siglufjörður - North Iceland|
|Rauðasandur Festival||July||Rauðasandur - Westfjords|
|Eistnaflug||July||Neskaupstaður - East Iceland|
|The Blue Church Concert Series||July||Seyðisfjörður - East Iceland|
|Frum - Contemporary Music Festival||July||Reykjavík|
|Lunga||July||Seyðisfjörður - East Iceland|
|Reykjavik Accordion Festival||July||Reykjavík|
|Reykholt Chamber Music Festival||July||Reykholt|
|Bræðslan||July||Borgarfjörður Eystri - East Iceland|
|Neistaflug||July||Neskaupstaður - East Iceland|
|French Days||July||Fáskrúðsfjörður - East Iceland|
|Síldarævintýrið||July/August||Siglufjörður - North Iceland|
|Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum||August||Westman Islands - South Iceland|
|The Great Fish Day||August||Dalvík - North Iceland|
|Reykjavik Gay Pride||August||Reykjavík|
|Extreme Chill Festival||August||Snæfellsnes peninsula - West Iceland|
|The Icelandic Chamber Music Festival||August||Reykjavík|
|Pönk á Patró||August||Reykjavík|
|Cycle Music and Art Festival||August||Reykjavík|
|Reykjavík Jazz Festival||August||Reykjavík|
|Reykjavik Cultural Festival||August||Reykjavík|
|Melodica Acoustic Festival Reykjavik||August||Reykjavík|
|Reykjavik Dance Festival||August||Reykjavík|
|Night of Lights||September||Reykjavík|
|Tango on Ice||September||Reykjavík|
|Christmas celebrations||December||All over the country|