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What's on in Reykjavík

Top 10 Festivals in Iceland

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Discover the best festivals in Iceland and what makes them all so unique. Which events are the best and biggest in Iceland? What are the best festivals in Reykjavik? When and where are the festivals? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

There are many festivals, events, parties and celebrations in Iceland. They occur all over the country and all throughout the year.

They range from small country fairs to large scale music festivals with international headliners.

There are even a variety of weekly events taking place in the capital city, Reykjavík. So much so it can be hard to keep track of everything that's happening in this bustling city.

Don’t worry, we’ll help you figure out exactly what’s on in Iceland and when. We also have a list of weekly events and useful venues to look up below. 

Events in Reykjavík can range from intimate music gigs with local and international performers to stand up comedy gigs, symphonic orchestra performances, theatre productions, gallery openings, special movie screenings, cabaret nights and drag-queen shows.

Iceland also hosts some much bigger festivals that make up the exciting cultural landscape of this exciting city.

In this article, we’ll highlight the rich variety of festivals and events of all kinds which happen across Iceland. We’ll also include our list of top 10 festival recommendations, and weekly events you should take advantage of on your stay in Iceland.

Dive in and learn about the rich cultural, artistic and musical festivals that Icelanders love to get involved in and include others, both locals and visitors, in their joy.

An Overview of Festivals in Iceland

New Year's Eve in Reykjavík

It comes as a surprise perhaps too many people that Iceland has an abundance of events and festivals each year.

With a population of only 360,000 people, the country has a thriving art scene and cultural heritage. The locals also have a great love for camping and the outdoors.

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.

Music Festivals in Iceland

Iceland produces a vast amount of artists, some of them known internationally such as Björk, Múm, Sigur Rós, Ólafur Arnalds, Gus Gus, Emiliana Torrini and Of Monsters and Men.

This also results in some phenomenal music festivals. The three largest ones being Iceland Airwaves (in November), Secret Solstice (in June) and Sónar Reykjavík (in February).

Smaller music festivals tend to take place in the countryside. These include the following: heavy metal/hard rock festival Eistnaflug in Neskaupsstaður in July, the rock festival Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður during Easter and international Bræðslan music festival in Borgarfjörður Eystri in July.

You can hire a cheap car to drive around the country, find them and have a great time in Iceland.

Camping Festivals in Iceland

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 known as 'Verslunarmannahelgi' in Icelandic.

This is a bank holiday weekend and the biggest camping weekend of the year. If you’re driving the South Coast of Iceland at this time you will be fortunate to avoid the queues of cars driving to the ferry to get to the Westman Islands.

Various festivals take place this weekend.

Some of the more well-known ones include 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.

There is also Þjóðhátíð held in the Westman Islands which is by far the biggest and most epic festival taking place during this bank holiday weekend.

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 the following 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.

The locals put up 'white tents' where they come together to eat smoked puffin and cakes and play the guitar and be merry.

If you’re feeling bold knock on someone's tent and politely ask if you can join in - if you're lucky you might get some free smoked puffin, which is an absolute delicacy!

Country Fairs and Smaller Festivals

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 Fiskidagurinn mikli (The Big Fish Day) in Dalvík, held the first or second Saturday in August.

These are so small and local that they mostly don't have a website dedicated to the event, and if they do, then it's hard to find it in English.

These smaller festivals are more known due to word of mouth.

For most of these 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.

Art, Culture and Theatre Festivals

There are plenty of artistic festivals that focus on a specific genre of arts in Iceland. 

These include Reykjavík Fashion Festival, Iceland Improv Festival, Tango on Ice Festival, Reykjavík Fringe Festival, Reykjavík's Art Festival and Culture Night.

National Celebrations

There are also some national celebrations such as Christmas and Independence Day celebrations.

The Icelandic independence day is on the 17th of June, when celebrations take place all over the country in different forms.

There are also the less frequent sporting victory celebrations when the whole city turns into an impromptu street festival.

These are few and far between in Iceland, but recently Iceland was fortunate to take part in the 2018 football world cup, as well as beating England in the 2016 Euros.

One thing is for certain, you'll never be short of cool, fun and interesting festivals when you're in Iceland! 

The Top 10 festivals in Iceland

The following is a list of the most popular festivals in Iceland.

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.

There are so many festivals to pick from, but these are our top recommendations if you’re lucky to be over when a festival is on:

1. Secret Solstice Music Festival

The Secret Solstice festival is a relatively new music festival in the Reykjavík music scene. The first festival was only held in 2014.

This yearly festival has, however, quickly established itself with big headliners such as Radiohead, Of Monsters And Men, Deftones, Wu Tang Clan, Die Antwoord, the Foo Fighters and the Prodigy to name just a few.

The summer solstice happens around the 21st of June each year when Iceland is greeted with the beautiful midnight sun. Before 2014 there was a massive gap in festivities in Iceland at this prime time of summer, which this festival now solves!

Secret Solstice always has one secret headliner (hence the name). But some outrageous marketing has also helped secure its place as one of Iceland's best and most popular festivals.

Some of the marketing slogans have included the following: Fancy attending the world's first party inside a glacier? How about partying inside a volcano with a private concert? Or on a boat?

The main stages are all in one area within Laugardalur recreational area of Reykjavík, right next to Reykjavík's largest swimming pool. It's possible to camp right by the festival, but it's not necessary.

VIP tickets with some extravagant extras are available for a hefty price tag.

However, a general festival pass only costs you 24,900 ISK for 4 days of partying in the northernmost capital of the world under the midnight sun.

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.

The festival takes place in November every year and they start announcing the line-up in February. In the past artists have included Björk, Ásgeir, PJ Harvey and Fleet Foxes.

The festival takes place in various venues around Reykjavík and in 2017 it took place in Akureyri in north Iceland as well for the first time.

A ticket to the whole festival costs 21,900 ISK.

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!

The main day is Saturday when festivities start with a large parade in the centre of the city and ends with parties all night long. This celebration is free to attend.

Whether you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, straight, asexual, female, male, young or old - it doesn't matter. Everyone attends Reykjavík Pride.

The former mayor even showed up in drag every year and the current president gives a speech celebrating diversity.

The festival always takes place on the second weekend in August.

4. Culture Night in Reykjavik

Culture Night or 'Menningarnótt' is a one-day festival taking place in Reykjavík, on a Saturday in late August, normally around the 18th-22nd of August. 

Dance, design, music, art, concerts, games, pop-up shops and all sorts of interactive activities happening all over town.

Galleries and museums are open and there's free entry to everything. The Reykjavík Marathon even takes place on the same day.

Some locals even 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.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Reykjavik for Culture Night you’ll experience a wild and fun atmosphere like no other, particularly around the streets of Laugavegur.

The night is always capped off with a wonderful fireworks display near the Harpa. This display can only be topped by Iceland’s famous New Year's festivities.

5. Reykjavík's Art Festival

Reykjavík's Art Festival takes place every other year in May or June. In 2018 it was held between the 1st - 17th of June.

A variety of national and international dance, theatre, design and art will be displayed across the city.

It's possible to buy tickets to individual events and performances with varying price tags.

This is one of the oldest and most respected art festivals in Europe, being held since 1970.

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 to those lucky people living or visiting the Westfjords.

The festival originated from the musician Mugison. He got the idea to have a music festival in his hometown for local talents, and since then the festival has grown in popularity each year.

The festival takes place annually from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

7. Food and Fun Festival

If you like food and having fun, you should head to Reykjavík in early March. The Food and Fun Festival takes place in late February or early March annually. 

Renowned chefs from around the world come to Reykjavík to do what they do best, make delicious food using only Icelandic ingredients.

The chefs collaborate with the finest restaurants in the city and make up a menu that the restaurant serves for one week only.

Each restaurant has a set menu for a set price.

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 from late September into mid-October.

The festival lasts for 11 days and 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 the arthouse cinema, Bíó Paradís, in the centre of Reykjavík. However, some screenings are also popping up in some other interesting places, such as in swimming pools.

In 2016, the film Frankenstein was screened in the swimming pool Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, built in 1937, as seen in the video above. (Icelanders love both movies and swimming pools - so it's a great combination!).

9. Braedslan 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 experience world-famous bands, playing inside an old herring shed.

This festival takes place in late July every year. Only about 900 tickets are sold, so get your tickets early!

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.

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 the middle of July every year.

This festival includes workshops, market pop-ups, gallery exhibitions, fashion exhibitions and live music amongst a huge amount of other activities which vary year on year.

This is a non-profit festival that takes place within a tranquil and beautiful fjord that is swarmed with artistic people from all over for this one week.

Weekly Events in Reykjavik

What's on in Reykjavík

There are multiple weekly events in Reykjavík that are worth checking out.

Jazz lovers have a lot to choose from, the stand-up and theatre improv scene is booming, as well as the cabaret and drag scene. Not to mention the literature, poetry and more classical performances.

And if you want to do something more active, such as yoga or give tango or swing dancing a chance, then there are regular beginners classes available for free!

This should give you an idea of what's on in Reykjavík:

Sunday Events in Reykjavík:

Monday Events in Reykjavík: 

  • Gaukurinn - English stand up comedy Starts at 21:00. Free entry.
  • Húrra - Live Jazz Starts at 21:00. Free entry
  • Stofan café - ‘Board Game Monday’ from 20:00. Hosted at Hlemmur Mathöll from 16:00-21:00. Play boardgames in a cosy atmosphere. Free entry
  • Tango beginners class - at Kaffi Sólon (2nd floor). Class from 20-21, milonga afterwards until 23:00. Free entry
  • Pablo Discobar - Salsa, Bachata or Kizomba dance night. These nights happen frequently on Mondays, but occasionally on Thursdays. Best to check their event site to check for times and location. From 19:30. Free entry

Tuesday Events in Reykjavík: 

  • Kex Hostel - live jazz every Tuesday at 20:30. Free entry
  • Tango dancing - held at Hlemmur Square. From 20:30-23:00. Free entry
  • Dómkirkjan church - Bach concert by Ólafur Elíasson. From 20:30-21:00. Free entry

Wednesday Events in Reykjavík: 

  • Peterson suite - live jazz between 21:00 - 23:00. Happy hour(s) from 16:00-01:00. Lindy Hop dance evenings also. Free entry
  • Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn - local theatre shows by Improv Iceland between October and May. Mostly in Icelandic, but sometimes in English when there are guest performers. Shows start at 20:00. Entry fee is 1500 ISK 
  • Tjarnarbíó - weekly theatre shows by Improv Iceland in English. Only shown in June and July 
  • Múlinn Jazz Club - live jazz music in the Harpa most Wednesdays. Look up their schedule in advance. Entry fee is 2000 ISK
  • Salsa dance nights at Oddsson. From 19:30. Free entry

Thursday Events in Reykjavík:

  • Hressó - Bachata dance nights. Occasionally these nights are on Mondays instead. Best to check their event site to check for times and location. From 22:00. Free entry

Friday Events in Reykjavík:

  • Tango Milonga - at Kramhúsið. Free entry practice from 21-22, and milonga from 22:00 - 00:00. Entry fee: 1000 ISK to the milonga, but free for people younger than 30
  • Bíó Paradís - Friday party screenings at 20:00. Classic fun films with offers at the bar. 1800 ISK entry

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days of the week, but the schedule is too varied to have the same events each week.

It's recommended to look up what's on at Harpa Concert Hall - where you can find multiple festivals, international performers, ballet productions, Iceland's Symphony Orchestra, stand up comedy and much, much more.

Reykjavík's main theatres are Þjóðleikhúsið (National Theatre) and Borgarleikhúsið (City Theatre).

However, you're more likely to find performances in English at the independent theatres of Tjarnarbíó and IÐNÓ.

Gaukurinn is the home to the Icelandic drag scene Drag-Súgur, with weekly or bi-weekly performances.

Reykjavík Kabarett puts up regular performances all over town, and the Reykjavík Poetry Brothel has an event year-quarterly at IÐNÓ.

Bars that often have live music or other entertaining events include Kex Hostel, Húrra, Gaukurinn, Dillon, Bar 11 and Paloma.

Other art venues (not bars) that have regular live music events include Mengi, the Nordic House and Hannesarholt.

Also be sure to check the happy hours of the various bars in Reykjavík. Even if there are no events on it’s always good to save some money on Iceland’s expensive alcohol.

All Festivals in Iceland

Name & Website Date Location
Dark Music Days January Reykjavík
Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival February Reykjavík
Sónar Reykjavík February Reykjavík
Stockfish Film Festival February/March 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
Tectonics April Reykjavík
Reykjavík Blues Festival April Reykjavík
I never went south April Ísafjörður
Gardabaer Jazz Festival April Garðabær/Reykjavík
RAFLOST May Reykjavík
Reykjavík Arts Festival May Reykjavík
Saga Fest May Stokkseyri
Breiðholt Festival June Breiðholt/Reykjavík
Vaka Folk Festival June Akureyri
Reykjavík Midsummer Music June Reykjavík
IS NORD June Borgarfjörður
Við Djúpið Summer Courses and Music Festival  June  Ísafjörður 
Independence Day celebrations June 17th All over the country
Secret Solstice June Reykjavík
JEA Jazz Festival June Egilsstaðir
Blue North Music Festival June Ólafsfjörður
Kirkjubæjarklaustur Chamber Music Festival June Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Lobster Festival June Höfn
Viking Festival June Hafnarfjörður
Skálholt Summer Concerts June/July Skálholt
Reykjavik Fringe Festival July Reykjavík
Folk Music Festival July Siglufjörður
Rauðasandur Festival July Rauðasandur
Eistnaflug July Neskaupstaður
The Blue Church Concert Series July Seyðisfjörður
Frum - Contemporary Music Festival July Reykjavík
LungA Art Festival July Seyðisfjörður
Reykjavik Accordion Festival July Reykjavík
Kexport July Reykjavík
Reykholt Chamber Music Festival July Reykholt
Bræðslan July Borgarfjörður Eystri
Neistaflug July Neskaupstaður
French Days  July  Fáskrúðsfjörður                     
Krás foodmarket July/August Reykjavík
Síldarævintýrið July/August Siglufjörður
Innipúkinn August Reykjavík
Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum  August  Westman Islands 
The Great Fish Day August Dalvík
Reykjavik Gay Pride August Reykjavík
Extreme Chill Festival August Varies
Danish Days August Reykjavík
The Icelandic Chamber Music Festival August Reykjavík
Pönk á Patró August Reykjavík
Cycle Music and Art Festival August Reykjavík
Gæran 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
Rokkjötnar September Reykjavík
Sláturtíð September Reykjavík
Tango on Ice  September Reykjavík 
Reykjavík International Film Festival September/October Reykjavík 
Everybody's Spectacular November   Reykjavík 
Frostbiter Horror Film Festival November Akranes
Iceland Airwaves  November  Reykjavík 
Christmas celebrations December All over the country

Whether you’re looking for a mad rave or some peaceful artistic tranquility, Iceland has you covered. We’d love to hear your experiences of attending any of Iceland’s festivals in the comments below.