Whatever time of year you choose to visit Iceland, there’s sure to be something interesting going on, with regular cultural, sporting and leisure events taking place both indoors and out.

If you would like to time your visit to coincide with a specific event, Iceland Traveller can put together a programme of activities built around your particular interest.  We have endeavoured to make the list below as comprehensive and accurate as possible, but please check with the relevant website before making your booking.

January – March 2017

January 20 – February 16: Midwinter Feast (Thorrablót)

Originally a sacrificial pagan festival, Thorrablót was resurrected in the 19th century as a midwinter celebration at which Icelanders come together to eat, drink and make merry. The traditional menu includes rotten shark meat and boiled sheep’s head, washed down with Brennivin (also known as Black Death!), a potent schnapps made from potato and caraway.

January 26 – February 5: Reykjavík International Games

This annual event welcomes participants from around the world, this year competing in 22 different sports including alpine skiing, figure skating, athletics, badminton, cycling, gymnastics, judo and swimming. Some events form part of an international circuit and/or contribute points to world rankings. www.rig.is

January 26 – 28: Dark Music Days

Established by the Society of Icelandic Composers in 1980 and held in Reykjavik’s state-of-the-art Harpa concert hall, this festival places the emphasis on premiering new and often experimental pieces that reflect the increasing diversity and creativity of the country’s music scene.  Click here to visit the festival’s website.

February 2 – 5: Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival

Specially-created installations and illuminations light up the city during the long hours of winter darkness.  On Museum Night and Pool Night, some 40 museums and nine swimming pools stay open until midnight, free of charge.  Visit their website here.

February 9 – 12: Winter Pride Festival

The 6th annual LGBT Rainbow Reykjavik Festival offers a varied programme of culture, sight-seeing, food and nightlife. www.rainbowreykjavik.com

February 16 – 18: Sonar Reykjavík

Originating in Barcelona in 1994 as a festival of advanced music and new media art, Sonar has since organised more than 50 events in cities around the world. This year’s event takes place on five stages at the Harpa concert hall, including the underground car park! www.sonarreykjavik.com

February 22 – 25: Iceland Beer Festival

In the run-up to Iceland’s annual Beer Day (March 1), this festival celebrates the best of Icelandic beers along with a few North American and Danish ones too. Kex Hostel’s gastropub is offering a beer-orientated menu and local breweries will introduce their products and methods. Festival passes also provide access to an exclusive final event featuring live music, exclusive beers and a special menu.

February 23 – March 5: Stockfish Film Festival

In addition to screening more than 30 hand-picked, award-winning films from around the world, the festival features speakers, expert panels and masterclasses.  See www.stockfishfestival.is/en/ for more information.

February 27 & 28: Bursting Time

Fill up before Lent with all the cream buns you can eat on “Bun Monday” and oversized helpings of salted meat and mushy peas on “Bursting Tuesday”.

March 1: Beer Day

Beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989, and people celebrate the anniversary in suitable style each year.

March 1 – 5: Food and Fun

This annual event features well-known and upcoming chefs from Europe and the USA as well as Iceland’s own culinary masters. Each is assigned to a participating Reykjavík restaurant where they create special menus using only local ingredients. The festival culminates in a competition to see who can produce the best three courses. www.foodandfun.is

March 23 – 26: DesignMarch

From fashion to furniture, graphic design to architecture, this annual festival, now in its seventh year, showcases the best of local design alongside international names at over 100 events held throughout Reykjavíkwww.designmarch.is.

March 25 – April 1: Iceland Winter Games

This celebration of winter sports – including skiing (downhill and cross-country), snowboarding, snowmobiling and the Icelandic national dog sledding championship – takes place in Akureyri, just South of the Arctic Circle. In addition to the sport, there’ll also be exhibitions, DJ shows and concerts. www.icelandwintergames.com

 

April – June 2017

April – October: Whale-watching season

With thousands of whales just off its shores, Iceland offers a greater chance of sightings than just about anywhere else in the world.

April – November: Harpa Concert Hall

If you are looking for a small dose of Icelandic culture, head to Reykjavík’s concert hall, Harpa, for Pearls of Icelandic Song, a short concert of folk music offering “an insight into the history and psyche of a nation that lives on a barren island just south of the Arctic and believes in elves and fairies”. The programme, which lasts about one hour, is performed in Icelandic but the songs are introduced in English.  In How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes, comedian Bjarni Haukur Thorsson offers (in English) a humorous take on the Icelandic human condition and explains how to walk, talk and behave like a native.  The two shows are staged regularly throughout the spring, summer and autumn, often on the same evening.  For more information, click here.

April 4 – 8: Icelandic Horse Expo

An opportunity for horse lovers from abroad to learn about the unique qualities of the Icelandic horse in its natural surroundings.   Visit the leading breeding farms and learn about the process of turning a promising youngster into a competition horse.  The Expo culminates in the Stallion Show, one of the biggest indoor events in Iceland.  www.icelandichorseexpo.com.

April 5 – 9: Iceland Writers’ Retreat

The 4th annual event features small group workshops, readings and Q&A sessions (all in English) with renowned fiction and non-fiction authors from around the world. Walks and sight-seeing excursions on a literary theme are on offer and there will also be time to find inspiration to write. Registration costs around £2000, including hotel accommodation and some meals. www.icelandwritersretreat.com

April 6 – 8: AK Extreme

The main event at Iceland’s largest snowboard and music festival, held in the northern city of Akureyri, sees a 16m high ski jump constructed in the town centre from 15 shipping containers.  A downhill competition takes place at nearby Mt Hlidarfjall and local punk and electro artists provide the entertainment across three evenings.  See www.akx.is for more info.

April 13 – 17: Easter

Easter is one of the highlights of the musical year, with diverse concert programmes, plus chocolate eggs of huge proportions, smoked lamb and a time for families to relax together. The skiing season peaks then as well.

April 19 – 27: Reykjavík Chess Open

The 32nd annual tournament will be held again at the city’s spectacular Harpa concert hall. Last year’s event attracted 235 players (including 24 grandmasters) from 31 countries. www.reykjavikopen.com

April 20: First Day of Summer

A national holiday during which Icelanders welcome the end of winter and start of summer with colourful parades and entertainment in the streets.

April 25 – 30 Children’s Culture Festival

Dedicated exclusively to children and young people in Reykjavík up to the age of 16, this annual festival aims to introduce them to a wide range of arts disciplines through participation in workshops and performances.  Visit the Culture Festival’s website for more information about the event.

May: Bird-Watching

Puffins, Arctic terns and rarer migrant birds arrive from the South, bringing summer with them.

Reykjavík Arts Festival (dates to be confirmed)

Iceland’s premier arts festival focuses on new commissions, bringing together the best in local and international theatre, dance, music, literature and the visual arts, presented at leading cultural venues and unconventional spaces across the city.

June – August: Marathon time

It won’t just be the running that will take your breath away in these events set amid spectacular scenery, including: the Suzuki Midnight Sun Run (June 23); Laugavegur Ultra Marathon (55 km of uninhabited landscapes between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk nature reserves, South Highlands, July 15); and Reykjavík International Marathon (August 19). Visit the Icelandic Marathon website for more information.

June 2 – 4: Grímsey Festival

Lying partly within the Arctic Circle, the island of Grímsey is the northernmost part of Iceland. This annual festival highlights the old traditions of the island and offers boat trips, music and seasonal, local food.

June 3: Blue Lagoon Challenge

Reykjavík Cycling Club hosts this event in which participants ride 60km through the rugged and beautiful Reykjanes landscape.  When you’ve made it safely across the finish line, your reward is a soak in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon.  See here for more details.

June 4 – 7: Festival of the Sea

Based on the old Icelandic tradition of Seamen’s Day (June 6), the festival honours those who make their living from the sea.  Every Icelandic ship is in harbour and all sailors have a day’s leave.  The event (see their website here), centred on Reykjavík’s West Harbour, also includes numerous cultural activities, parades, arts and crafts activities for children, food fairs and sailing competitions.

Viking Festival (dates to be confirmed) 

The Vikings settled Iceland in around 874 AD. The specially-built Viking Village in Hafnarfjörður stages an annual festival, where modern-day Icelanders and visiting Vikings from all over the world get together for demonstrations of sword-fighting and marksmanship, traditional music, food and crafts.

June 14 – 17 Akureyri Motor Events

A sand drag track, Formula Off-road arena and mud bogging pit are all to be found at this annual celebration of cars, motorbikes and sports vehicles held in Iceland’s second city in the north of the country.  The show offers training tracks, go kart rental and a campsite for those wanting to stay close to the action.

June 16 – 18: Secret Solstice Festival

The line-up for this year’s event, on which the Reykjavík sun never sets, include Foo Fighters, The Prodigy and Chaka Khan.  Click here for more details.

June 17: National Day

Icelanders take to the streets to commemorate the anniversary of their country’s independence from Denmark in 1944.  Look out for the colourful ceremonies, parades, street theatre, sideshows and outdoor dancing taking place throughout the country during the long hours of daylight.

Hallgrimskirkja Summer Concert Series

First-class concert organists from all over the world perform at Hallgrimskirkja’s Organ Summer, now in its 25th year.  Three concerts take place each week – on Sundays at 17:00 (60 minutes) and Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:00 (30 minutes).  The iconic Reykjavík church’s Schola Cantorum chamber choir perform on Wednesdays at 12:00.

June 20 – 22: Midnight Sun River Festival

Celebrate the Summer Solstice in North Iceland with an overnight rafting trip down the canyon section of the East Glacial River or enjoy an international kayaking and rafting competition, the first “extreme” whitewater race of its kind in the country.  Live music, good food and drink are also on offer to all those keen to celebrate the beauty of the great outdoors along with a good splash of adventure.  See here for more info.

June 21: Summer solstice

Gatherings take place around the country to celebrate the magic of the midnight sun on the longest day of the year.

June 21 – 24: Arctic Open International Golf Tournament

In Akureyri, just South of the Arctic Circle, tee off at midnight in bright sunshine and play through the night in a spectacular natural setting.  The event attracts golfers from around the world.  www.arcticopen.is.  Open midnight-sun tournaments are also held in Reykjavík and the Westman Islands.  www.golficeland.org.

 

July – September 2017

July 5 – 9: Siglufjördur Folk Music Festival

This 5-day event is held annually in North Iceland, 90km from Akureyri and features mainly Icelandic and Scandinavian performers as well as world music, with 15-20 concerts held in different locations across town.  http://www.folkmusik.is/en

ATP Festival (dates to be confirmed)

ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties) is a London-based organisation that has been promoting “intimate, non-corporate and fan-friendly” concerts and festivals for over 10 years.  The Iceland event takes place at the Ásbrú former NATO base in Keflavík.  See www.atpfestival.com for more info.

July 5 – 8: Eistnaflug

Four days of rock and metal set against the spectacular backdrop of an isolated fjord, 700km east of Reykjavík where the sun never sets. For the line-up and more info, visit the festival website.

July 8: The Golden Circle Challenge

This annual cycle race takes place across three routes within the famous Golden Circle area to suit experienced and beginner riders alike. All rides begin and end at Lake Laugarvatn.

Reykholt Music Festival (dates tbc)

Classical music played in a classic environment at the beautiful church in the West Iceland community which was once the home of Saga writer Snorri Sturluson.  To view photographs of last year’s event, click here.

Early August: Flight of the Pufflings

A sight not to be missed in the Westman Islands off the South coast, when the baby puffins leave their nests and take wing for the first time.

August 5 – 7: Bank Holiday weekend

On the first weekend in August, Icelanders head off to camp at festivals around the country – anything from family events to wild rock gigs.

August 8 – 13: Gay Pride

Gays, lesbians and their supporters come out in force and style to parade and party in ReykjavíkClick here to read more about Reykjavík Pride.

August 9 – 13: Reykjavík Jazz Festival

Dedicated to presenting the best in Icelandic jazz, plus international artists.  To view the line-up, visit the Jazz Festival Website.

August 10 – 13:  Arctic Handicraft, Design & Food Festival

Nearly 100 artists, designers and food producers showcase their wares – including articles made from reindeer hide, fish leather and even lava – at this 4-day event (Saturday is reserved for the food market), taking place in Hrafnagil, a 15-minute drive from Akureyri in North Iceland.  Transport is available from the city.  See here for more details.

August 12: The Great Fish Day

From an eight-metre long barbecue, fitted with 20 gas burners, guests at this free seafood feast, held annually at the harbour of Dalvík in the far North of Iceland, can sample new and traditional dishes while enjoying the various forms of entertainment on offer.  To read more about the Great Fish Day, visit the English language version of the event’s website.

August 12: Jökulsárlón Firework Show

The icebergs in the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon in South Iceland are bathed in colour from fireworks to spectacular effect at this annual event which starts at 23:00. Proceeds from ticket sales (free for children aged 12 and under) go to the local Search & Rescue team.  See here for more information.

August 19: Reykjavík International Marathon

Participants can choose from a full marathon, half-marathon, relay race (2-4 runners per team), 10km race, 3km fun run or the Lazy Town Run (for children aged 9 and under). See here for more details Icelandic Marathon website

August 19: Reykjavík Culture Night

This annual event marks the start of Reykjavík’s cultural year when arts institutions of all kinds launch their programmes for the coming season with celebrations staged in museums and theatres, streets and squares, shops, restaurants and bars across the city.

Reykjavík Dance Festival (dates to be confirmed)

Performances, workshops, installations, lectures, formal and informal discussions, parties, a festival bar and a lot of dancing are on offer.  See here for more information.

Lókal International Theatre Festival (dates to be confirmed)

Staged in collaboration with the Reykjavík Dance Festival, this annual event aims to introduce contemporary performance to audiences in Iceland and connect local artists with fellow performers and presenters from abroad. Their website is at www.lokal.is.

September: Sheep Round-Up

This colourful and lively time, with plenty of song and merriment, is centred on sorting pens around the countryside where farmers herd in the sheep they have rounded up from summer grazing in the wilds.

September 6 – 9: Reykjavík International Literary Festival

Held every other year since 1985, the Festival aims to introduce overseas authors and new trends in literature to Icelandic readers. Distinguished writers who have attended past Festivals include David Nicholls, David Mitchell, William Styron, Isabel Allende, Seamus Heaney, AS Byatt, Günter Grass, Kurt Vonnegut and JM Coetzee. www.bokmenntahatid.is

September 26 – October 1: Icelandic Horse Expo North

The North Iceland round-ups in Skagafjörður, where breeders gather in their animals from the highlands before winter sets in, is a spectacular sight as hundreds of horses appear over the mountain and form a line as far as the eye can see.  The breeders can pick out their own from the herd and escort them to the corrals. In the evenings before and after the round-up everyone gets together to sing and make merry and you will be welcome to join the party.  You can also visit the top breeding farms to learn about the process of training young horses. www.icelandichorseexpo.com/fall-north/

September 28 – October 8: Reykjavík International Film Festival

Focusing on progressive, independent cinema and documentaries, the RIFF’s top award is the Golden Puffin.  Said film-maker Jim Jarmusch: “My experience at the Festival was fantastic. It is an unusual place (to say the least) and the people are gracious, respectful and also a little wild — a great combination in my opinion. I am very happy to have had this experience and to have met so many cool people interested in films, music, literature, elves, and the many mysteries of human nature. Thank you!”

October – December 2017

October 9 – December 8: Imagine Peace Tower

Created by Yoko Ono and dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and the yearning for peace on Earth, the Imagine Peace Tower is situated on Videy Island, just off the Reykjavík coast.  It takes the form of a wishing well from which a tower of light emerges between Lennon’s birthday and the day of his death and at certain other times. The words Imagine Peace are inscribed on the well in 24 languages. The intensity of the light changes constantly as particles in the air fluctuate with the prevailing weather.

Cycle Music & Arts Festival (dates to be confirmed)

Cycle offers a meeting point for pioneering and emerging talent from the worlds of new music, performance, visual and audio art and architecture.   See here for more information.

November 1 – 5: Iceland Airwaves Festival

This showcase for new music was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “the hippest long weekend on the annual music festival calendar”.  Among the international artists to have performed there are Florence and the Machine, The Klaxons, Hot Chip and Fatboy Slim, along with home-grown talent Björk and Sigur Rós. Headline acts at this year’s event include Billy Bragg and rising local star Asgeir.   For more details of this year’s line-up, visit the Airwaves Festival website.

Christmas

Icelanders go in for Christmas in a big way, with 13 Yule Lads who play pranks and sing in the beautifully-illuminated streets of Reykjavík. Check out the delicious Christmas buffets and traditional festive-season delicacies such as smoked lamb, ptarmigan and reindeer.

December 31

New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík is an unforgettable experience.  There are no official, city-sponsored firework displays, but local groups collectively do a fine job with the pyrotechnics and celebrations.  After midnight, bars and nightclubs remain open and the partying continues well into the morning.

Fishing Information

April – September: Trout

Trout-fishing season in lakes and rivers around the country.

May – September: Salmon

Salmon-fishing season begins in May – clean air and clean rivers make Iceland one of the best places in the world for anglers.  Make sure to book your rods well in advance.

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