Iceland's Independence Day

Iceland's Independence Day

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The Icelandic Flag in front of Hallgrimskirkja in ReykjavikJune 17th is the national day of Iceland, where Icelanders celebrate their independence from Denmark. The country bursts with national pride, and festivities can be found in every town throughout the country.

June 17th holds a special place in the hearts of Icelanders as the day is filled with cultural festivities and national pride. Its formal name is "Thjodhatidardagurinn" in Icelandic, which translates directly to "the day of the nation's celebration," but it's most commonly referred to by the date June 17th. This is a great time for families to spend quality time together, as there are many events and activities intended for children of different ages, and most people have the day off work.

You will find celebrations like parades, live music, carnival rides, and varied community events all over the country. Incorporate the day into your itinerary and choose accommodation in Iceland that's close to town centers. You can also pick a hotel in Reykjavik to stay as close to the main festivities as possible. No matter where in Iceland you are, if you're visiting during this time, make the most of your stay by embracing the cultural spirit and joining the fun!

Iceland's Journey to Independence

Houses and church at Thingvellir national park in Iceland on a sunny summer dayIceland's journey to independence was a peaceful yet persistent process. The island, initially settled by Nordic seafarers in the late 9th century, was independent until the year 1262 when an agreement was made for Iceland to become part of the Norwegian crown.

This was a result of a period of political turbulence and violence in the country known as the Age of the Sturlungar, and the agreement brought hope for peace. You can learn more about this period by visiting the 1238 Battle of Iceland Exhibition in the North of Iceland, where you can even see a Viking battle in virtual reality.

In 1380, Iceland transitioned from Norwegian rule and became a Danish colony. It remained so until it became a sovereign state in 1918. The country then became fully independent from Denmark on June 17th, 1944, with celebrations at the historic Thingvellir, where Iceland's parliament Althingi was originally formed in the year 930. Thingvellir is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can explore it as part of a Golden Circle tour during your visit to Iceland.

Statue of Jon Sigurdsson in front of Althingi in Reykjavik with flowersThe date of Iceland's independence, the 17th of June, was chosen as it was the birthdate of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879), who's known as a hero of Icelandic independence, although he was not alive when it finally came to pass. You can find a statue of him in front of the Icelandic parliament building in Reykjavik.

The general view among locals is that the relationship between Iceland and Denmark throughout history was a difficult and unfair one. You may even hear Icelanders lightly cursing the Danish when discussing their shared history, but if you're a Dane, don't worry!

The Denmark and Iceland of today share a family-like bond, and you'll find that Icelanders will greet Danes with warmth and friendliness, often referring to each other as cousins. Many Icelanders move to Denmark, especially for work or higher education, and Copenhagen is a popular destination for a holiday weekend.

Presidents of Iceland

Bessastadir at Alftanes, the official residence of the president of Iceland

Bessastadir is the official residence of the president of Iceland.

The independence hero Jón Sigurðsson is often referred to as "Jón forseti" (Jón the President) despite never actually being the president of Iceland, though he was the President of the Althing, which refers to the speaker of the Icelandic parliament. Iceland has only had six presidents so far since 1944: Sveinn Björnsson, Ásgeir Ásgeirsson, Kristján Eldjárn, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, and the current one, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is likely the best-known of the group, as she was the first democratically elected female head of state in the world when she became president in 1980. She served for 16 years, until 1996, and is, to date, still one of the most popular and celebrated people in Iceland.

Guðni Th. Jóhannesson took office on the 1st of August 2016 and has so far been a very popular president, as he was re-elected in the presidential election in 2020. The First Lady of Iceland is writer and entrepreneur Eliza Reid, originally from Canada.

President of Iceland Gudni Th Johannesson and First Lady Eliza Reid on a visit to Grindavik

Gudni Th Johannesson and Eliza Reid on a visit to Grindavik in 2022. Photo from the Presidential Office website.

Guðni has gained a reputation for being a regular and friendly guy. One of the first things he did after being sworn in as president was to give a speech during the Reykjavik Pride festival, the first president in the world to publicly attend an LGBTQ pride festival.

He was also spotted attending a Rammstein concert, he caused a stir when he said he'd ban pineapple on pizza when asked what he'd ban if he could during a visit to a local school, and he gave a couple of kids a ride back home from a swimming pool since he had the time to do so. Before becoming the president of Iceland, he was a history professor at the University of Iceland, specializing in contemporary Icelandic history and foreign relations.

Celebrations on June 17th

The fjallkona or lady of the mountain in Reykjavik in 2022, Sylwia Zajkowska, in front of the Althingi parlament building with people dressed in the icelandic national costume

Lady of the Mountian (Fjallkonan) in 2022 with a group dressed in the national costume. Photo from Heimilisidnadarfelag Islands.

During Independence Day, there are celebrations happening all around Iceland, with every town having its own schedule for the day. In Reykjavik, there are parades, playgrounds for kids with carnival rides, bouncy castles and games to play, pop-up stalls selling cotton candy, helium balloons, and hot dogs, as well as music, circus acts, and dance entertainments on stages across the center of the city.

Each year a woman is selected to be the Lady of the Mountain or "Fjallkonan" in Icelandic. Towns generally have their own Lady of the Mountain, and traditions can differ between locations. She serves as the female incarnation of Iceland, a national symbol of sorts, and wears the most formal version of the national costume. In Reykjavik, the Lady of the Mountain leads the parade before reading a poem by the statue of Jón Sigurðsson at Austurvollur square, where the parade ends.

Iceland's strongest man competition on Iceland's independence day

There are also other unique events going on during June 17th. It's common for there to be sporting events, especially strongman competitions, which is fitting as Icelanders like to boast that they have the strongest men in the world. Vintage car enthusiasts also like to display their vehicles, and you can often attend vintage car displays or simply see them cruising around the city.

In the town of Hafnarfjordur, a 15-minute drive from central Reykjavik, you can also attend a Viking festival and market at Vidistadatun park, where people from all over the world gather to display and sell their hand-crafted jewelry, clothing, food, and other items inspired by the Viking age. There are also sword fights, music, and other events.

If the weather is nice, the streets of Reykjavik and towns around the country get filled with people, and there is generally a joyous atmosphere. Unfortunately, the skies seem to have decided that it's a tradition for it to rain on June 17th, even if the days before have been lovely, so make sure to dress appropriately!

Music on June 17th

Celebrations downtown Reykjavík on 17th of June

Music forms an integral part of the national day celebrations in Iceland, with street performances and formal concerts. Walking through the streets of Reykjavik, you may hear brass bands playing and choirs performing. There are also family-friendly concerts throughout the city during the day.

If you want to fit in with the locals, there is one song you should become familiar with, as you'll probably hear it a million times during the day. It's known as the "National Celebration Song," and it's very simple as most people only sing the two-line chorus. You can hear it in the video below. If you want to dive even deeper into Icelandic music for June 17th, then get familiar with Iceland's national anthem, called Lofsongurinn.

The music atmosphere of the national day celebrations has changed over the years. Today, the events mostly cater to families and children, but this was not always the case. In the evenings, there used to be an impressive live music line-up in the center of Reykjavik, with free entrance, but that is all but gone.

There is still exciting nightlife during this time in Reykjavik, but there aren't a lot of events that cater specifically to adults looking to party. A lot of people will party on the 17th, but it's good for you to know that people mostly celebrate the previous night, as they are likely to have the day off on Independence Day. So if you want to check out the famous Icelandic nightlife, then going out on the 16th of June is a great idea!

Other cultural days and festivals have also taken up the party music mantle from the national day. The most prominent one is Culture Night which takes place on the third Saturday of August. Thousands of people flock downtown to enjoy free entertainment all over the city in the form of dance, theatre, music, prose, and much more.

There are also many other festivals to choose from during summer all over the country, offering fun events, music, dancing, and partying. In the fall, you can also attend the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival for great music from both up-and-comers and established international artists.

Summary of Iceland's Independence Day

Woman giving out cake during the independence day of Iceland wearing the national costume of Iceland

Iceland's Independence Day is a joyous occasion that celebrates the nation's history and heritage. With many exciting events happening around the country, it's a great time to visit and get a feel for the cultural atmosphere. So pack your bags, learn the National Celebration Song, and come celebrate Iceland's Independence Day on June 17th with the locals! And as we say in Icelandic, gleðilega þjóðhátíð! Happy Independence Day!

Will you participate in the Icelandic Independence Day this summer? What part of Icelandic culture would you like to experience? Have you visited Iceland before? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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