What is New Year's Eve in Iceland like? What is New Year's Eve in Reykjavík like? What makes New Year's in Iceland special? Where are the best parties in Reykjavík on New Year's Eve?
Iceland has in recent years become internationally famous for its intense, and firework-filled New Year's Eve celebration. Locals take to the snow-covered streets and shoot fireworks right, left and centre, for hours on end and then party the night through dressed in sparkling outfits and snow boots.
In fact, pretty much everywhere in Iceland, locals follow the same New Year's Eve routine.
Continue reading to get tips on where to watch the fireworks, where to go out partying and learn about Iceland's New Year's Eve culture. Be sure to book a restaurant in advance for your New Year's Eve dinner in Reykjavík; here you can see the opening hours of restaurants during New Year's Eve, as well as museums, swimming pools and more.
No matter where you spend your time in Iceland, the above routine will happen. I have only ever spent New Year's Eve in Reykjavík when in Iceland, but I have it from trusted sources that the same applies in Akureyri and Ísafjörður, only with slight variations.
Reykjavík is, of course, the largest town, and where people are spread out the most. Both Akureyri and Ísafjörður have most people gathering in only one location.
Picture by Jonathan Hood
As most travellers will be spending their time in Reykjavík for New Year's Eve, that's what I will focus on explaining. First of all, be prepared for seeing a LOT of fireworks. Imagine how many you may see, then multiply that by a thousand.
Icelanders spend an incredible amount of money on fireworks each year (hundreds of millions of Icelandic kronur), partly because they're obsessed with the display on New Year's Eve, but mainly because they are supporting the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams that heavily rely on income based on firework and Christmas tree sales each year.
The Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams are run by volunteers, and they often work in dangerous environments and all kinds of weather to help people all around the country that are in danger. Most firework sales are in support of the Search and Rescue teams, but not all of them - so make sure you buy your fireworks from one of them, such as Flugbjörgunarsveitin or Landsbjörg.
People start shooting a couple of fireworks a couple of days before New Year's Eve and continue until the 6th of January - but obviously most of them are shot around midnight on New Year's Eve.
Photo credit Arctic-Images/Getty Images
Although people often just go to their nearest street corner to shoot the fireworks, then there are a couple of popular locations where people gather to watch the impressive display.
Recommended places for shooting or watching fireworks are by Hallgrímskirkja church or Perlan. The area in front of Hallgrímskirkja church, surrounding the statue of Leifur Eiríksson is very popular with both locals and travellers, and is conveniently located downtown next to all the bars if you're heading that way afterwards.
Anywhere that's up high with a view over the city is a good location, so the area around the Pearl at Öskjuhlíð is another popular location. Down by the seaside is also a good spot, so perhaps go to Ægissíða where a bonfire is lit earlier in the night, or to the Sun Voyager sculpture or Harpa Concert Hall. Or perhaps you want to see the fireworks mirrored in Reykjavík's City Pond; Tjörnin.
Whichever location you decide upon, be sure to bring a bottle of champagne, your best clothes (covered with layers of wool or fur, and some warm shoes) and find a party to join! It's also advised to have safety glasses, as anyone is allowed to shoot fireworks on this night (you may see toddlers holding flares or sparklers) and as fireworks are coming at you from all directions, accidents do occur.
After shooting fireworks at midnight people usually go to local house parties. If you know a local and get invited to a party, then be sure to take them up on the offer. Although bars are open until very late (or very early, depending on how you look at it) they may have an entry charge and likely a large queue and a large, very drunk, crowd. Normally bars close at 05:00, but they tend to stretch the opening hours a little longer on New Year's Eve. And there is always an afterparty to be found on New Year's Eve.
There are also sometimes impressive gala parties to attend, Gamla Bíó, for example, hosted a sold out New Year's Eve party at the end of 2016, as well as an impressive gala dinner on New Year's Day with an array of live bands and entertainment. Be sure to look up which restaurants are offering a luxurious dinner menu before you arrive, if that's what you're after, and make sure you book it in advance.
Finally, there's the variety of tours available for New Year's Eve. For example, this bonfire and fireworks tour brings you to one of the bigger bonfires in town around 20:00 and then takes you to a location with a view over the city during midnight.
Or if you prefer to watch the city from afar, you can join in on this New Year's Eve Firework Cruise or this New Year's Eve Celebration at Sea, both of which last for 1.5-2 hours around midnight, and then drop you off back in town to join in on the downtown parties.
There are several bonfires to choose from on New Year's Eve in Iceland. Within the greater Reykjavík area there are around 15-17 bonfires, but around 90 bonfires in the whole of Iceland. Most of them start at around 20:00 or 20:30 and are finished by 21:30 or 22:00, as that's when people go home to watch the annual TV comedy satire show.
One of the largest ones in Reykjavík, and the most centrally located, is the one by the seaside on Ægissíða street in the West part of town.
There are often organised firework displays by the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams accompanying the bonfires, and sometimes some singing that takes place. As this is early in the night and the sky hasn't filled up with smoke from the fireworks yet, then it's also possible to see the Northern Lights if they are out.
People often dress up in fun outfits for New Year's Eve and put on funny hats or fabulous glitter make-up. Just make sure to wrap up warm as well!
Before midnight on New Year's Eve people have a nice dinner, flock to bonfires around town and then watch a satirical comedy show on TV at 22:30 (literally everyone watches this and it becomes a common conversation topic in New Year's Eve parties - was it a good one this year, or a bad one? What was your favourite sketch?)
The TV program is called Áramótaskaup, or Skaupið for short. That translates to the New Year's Comedy, or simply The Comedy. It has been running since Iceland's main TV channel started in 1966, and has become an integral part of the nation's celebration of another year passing.
This 50-minute long TV program has multiple short sketches that make fun of the main events happening in the year that passed. Icelanders like to poke fun of themselves, and no-one is spared in this yearly comedy show, especially not the Icelandic politicians, artists or the president.
Above you can watch a sketch that's in English as it is making fun of the way Iceland presents itself to other nations, and how tourists can often perceive Iceland in a rose-tinted way. This sketch is from 2014, at the start of an increased tourism boom in the country. Many other sketches can be found online, but they are all in Icelandic.
In the 2016 edition, the Icelandic 'Viking Chant' was covered after Iceland had competed in the Euro Cup earlier in the year. A fictional Magnús Magnússon has a heart-to-heart interview about how he felt alienated since he was unable to clap along with the Viking Chant rhythm. Other topics include the Pokemon Go craze, political elections, the Panama Papers, cuts to the health care system and a hotel that was found to be charging its customers for bottled tap water.
Each year we eagerly await it, as there is always a lot to be made fun of.
It's not only worth it to visit Iceland solely for the 31st of December. Besides the obvious Christmas celebrations a week earlier, there are also other cultural events that shouldn't be missed.
In 2017 the most notable one was Sigur Rós' Music Festival Norður & Niður, which literally translates to North & Down but figuratively translates to Go To Hell. This was a 4-day music, dance and visual arts festival that takes place between the 27th and the 30th of December. Besides a number of local artists, including Sigur Rós themselves and the Reykjavík Dance Company, international artists such as Jarvis Cocker, Mogwai and Peaches were performing.
Local pop icon Páll Óskar also repeated his biggest show on the 30th of December, an all dancing, all glitter, confetti disco bomb. He performed all of his greatest hits from 1991-2017, aided by LED lights, sticks, balls, life rafts, sofa, confetti bombs, a band of 5 and a whole lot of dancers.
If you're not in the mood for a dancing party but want to dress up in your best clothes and enjoy something more classical, then every year just after the New Year's Eve the Iceland Symphony puts on their most popular show, the Viennese Favourites, or Vienna Concerts. This event takes place inside Reykjavík's gorgeous Concert Hall Harpa.
Or if, on the other hand, you want to go all in with the costumes and roaring entertainment, be sure to check out the cabaret and drag performances at Gaukurinn.
Additionally, a number of smaller concerts take place around this time, be sure to check out our weekly recommendations in our article about the best festivals in Iceland.
Like already mentioned, New Year's Eve is pretty much the same if you decide to spend it in another town in Iceland besides Reykjavík, except you'll have fewer options of bars to attend after midnight. The above footage is from the town of Keflavík, just to give you an idea.
The early part of the evening is generally spent with the family, and after midnight people meet up with friends and go out dancing. If you are staying in a small town, or somewhere in the countryside, then be sure to enquire with the locals what is the custom in that area, and if there is perhaps a planned New Year's Ball or a concert somewhere that you can attend.
But if you want to escape the mad partying and find quiet solitude with just your closest loved ones, then you can rent a winter cabin somewhere surrounded with stunning winter landscapes, with a warm hot tub to relax in and watch the stars and a crackling fireplace to get cosy in front of. Check your options on Bungalo.com.
Celebrating New Year's Eve in Iceland is also the perfect time to go on a winter adventure, so be sure to check out the variety of winter packages and winter self-drives on offer, as you can go and explore beautiful waterfalls, glaciers, ice caves and, of course, the stunning Northern Lights.
And finally, Happy New Year is "Gleðilegt Nýtt Ár" in Icelandic!