What is New Year's Eve in Iceland like? What is New Year's Eve in Reykjavik like? What makes New Year's in Iceland special? Where are the best parties in Reykjavik on New Year's Eve? Learn all this and more in our complete guide to New Year's Eve in Iceland.
Iceland has, in recent years, become internationally famous for its fun and firework-filled New Year's Eve celebration. Locals take to the snow-covered streets and shoot fireworks right, left, and center for hours on end and then party the night through dressed in sparkling outfits and snow boots. If you're hoping to stay where the biggest celebration in Iceland takes place, make sure to book accommodation in Reykjavik ahead of time. For some extra freedom during your time in Iceland, you can also rent a car and go searching for the ever-elusive northern lights.
- Read about Iceland in December and Iceland in November
- Find out all you need to know about Christmas in Iceland
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 Reykjavik, as they will likely get fully booked.
What do Icelanders Do on New Year's Eve?
- Icelanders will meet up with family or friends to have dinner around 6 or 7 PM.
- Following dinner, around 8 PM locals gather at their nearest bonfire to meet and greet friends and shoot some fireworks.
- Following the bonfire, the streets empty as Icelanders go home to watch a comedy TV show that chronicles the year at 10:30 PM.
- Just before midnight, people flock back to the streets to shoot more fireworks.
- Around 1 AM it's time to go partying, and most people go to house parties, although bars and clubs are also open until the early hours.
This routine takes place pretty much everywhere in Iceland, whether in Reykjavik or tiny villages around the countryside. Reykjavík is, of course, the largest settlement in Iceland and where people are spread out the most. Both Akureyri and Isafjordur have most people gathering in only one location.
New Year's Eve in Reykjavik
Picture by Jonathan Hood
If you're planning to spend your New Year's Eve in Reykjavik, you can expect the following. First of all, be prepared to see a LOT of fireworks. Imagine how many you may see, then multiply that by a thousand.
Icelanders spend a large amount of money on fireworks each year (hundreds of millions of Icelandic kronur), partly because they're obsessed with the colorful 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, both locals and visitors, 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 Flugbjorgunarsveitin or Landsbjorg.
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 Hallgrimskirkja church or Perlan. The area in front of Hallgrimskirkja church, surrounding the statue of Leifur Eiriksson, is very popular with both locals and travelers and is conveniently located downtown next to all the bars if you're heading that way afterward.
Anywhere that's up high with a view over the city is a good location, so the area around Perlan at Oskjuhlid hill is another popular location. Down by the seaside is also a good spot, so perhaps go to Aegissida where a bonfire is lit earlier in the night, or to the Sun Voyager sculpture or Harpa Concert Hall. Yet another option is to see the fireworks mirrored in Reykjavik's lake Tjornin.
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. 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 around 5 AM but they tend to stretch the opening hours a little longer on New Year's Eve.
- See also: Nightlife in Reykjavík
Finally, there's a variety of tours available for New Year's Eve. For example, 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.
Bonfires in Reykjavík on New Year's Eve
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 8 or 8:30 PM and are finished by 9:30 or 10 PM, as that's when people go home to watch the annual TV comedy satire show.
One of the largest ones in Reykjavik, and the most centrally located, is the one by the seaside on Aegissida street in the West part of town.
There are often organized firework displays by the Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams accompanying the bonfires, and sometimes some singing takes place. As this is early in the night and the sky hasn't filled up with smoke from the fireworks yet, it's also possible to see the northern lights if they are out.
As everybody is filled with a festive spirit at the turn of the year, people often dress up in fun outfits for New Year's Eve and put on funny hats or fabulous glitter makeup. Just make sure to wrap up warm as well!
Iceland's New Year's Comedy Show: Áramótaskaup
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 10:30 PM. Nearly every single Icelander watches this, and it has become a common conversation topic at New Year's Eve parties. Was it good? Was it bad? Was it better than last year's show? What was your favorite sketch?
The TV program is called Aramotaskaup, or Skaupid for short. That translates to the New Year's Spoof, or simply The Spoof. 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 at 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.
Each year we eagerly await it, as there is always a lot to be made fun of.
New Year's Eve in Iceland's Countryside
As mentioned earlier, New Year's Eve follows the same routine if you decide to spend it in another town in Iceland besides Reykjavik, except you'll have fewer options of bars to attend after midnight. The above footage is from the town of Keflavik, 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 are the customs 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 by stunning landscapes and a warm hot tub to relax in and watch the stars and a crackling fireplace to get cozy in front of.
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, and ice caves.
It's also worth mentioning that at the turn of the new year, when the sky is not filled with fireworks, it's the best time of year to see the beautiful northern lights dancing in the sky. We have a wide selection of northern lights tours you can explore, whether it's on a bus, minibus, super jeep, or boat, you can find the best way for you to go aurora hunting in Iceland!
And finally, Happy New Year in Icelandic is "Gleðilegt nýtt ár"!
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