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.
[wptabtitle]January – March 2018[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
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 25 – February 4: Reykjavík International Games
This annual event welcomes participants from around the world, this year competing in 18 different sports including alpine skiing, figure skating, athletics, badminton, table tennis, fencing, judo and swimming. Some events form part of an international circuit and/or contribute points to world rankings. www.rig.is
January 25 – 27: 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 1 – 4: Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival
Specially-created installations and illuminations light up the city during the long hours of winter darkness and celebrate the gradual return of the sun. On Museum Night (Feb 2) and Pool Night (Feb 3), some 45 museums and the main (thermally-heated) swimming pools stay open until 23:00 and stage special events free of charge. Visit the website here.
February 8 – 11: Winter Pride Festival
The 7th annual LGBT Rainbow Reykjavik Festival offers a varied programme of culture, sight-seeing, food and nightlife. www.rainbowreykjavik.com
February 22 – 24: 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 from elsewhere. 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 the final event which features live music, exclusive beers and a special menu.
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”.
February 28 – March 4: 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 at which 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 1: Beer Day
Beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989, and people celebrate the anniversary in suitable style each year.
March 1 – 11: Stockfish Film Festival
In addition to screening more than 30 hand-picked, award-winning films from around the world, the festival features international speakers, expert panels and masterclasses. See www.stockfishfestival.is/en/ for more information
March 6 – 14: Reykjavík Chess Open
This year’s tournament, the 33rd held annually, is dedicated to chess legend Bobby Fischer. An Icelandic citizen in his later years, Fischer was born on 9 March 1943, which means he would have turned 75 during this year’s event. There will be lectures, exhibitions and the chance to visit the playing hall from 1972, his grave, his favourite restaurant and see the original chess board, which is usually kept in the Icelandic National Museum. The tournament will again be held at the city’s spectacular Harpa concert hall. www.reykjavikopen.com
March 15 – 18: Design March
From fashion to furniture, graphic design to architecture, this annual festival, now in its 10th year, showcases the best of local design alongside international names at over 100 events held throughout Reykjavík. www.designmarch.is.
March 16 & 17: 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 Reykjavik event takes place on five stages at the Harpa concert hall, including the underground car park. www.sonarreykjavik.com
March 22 – 25: 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 above the town of Akureyri, just South of the Arctic Circle. In addition to the sport, there’ll also be exhibitions, DJ shows and concerts. www.icelandwintergames.com
March 29 – April 2: 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.
[wptabtitle]April – June 2018[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
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 an 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 3 – 8: Icelandic Horse Expo (South Iceland)
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 – 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 11 – 15: Iceland Writers’ Retreat
The 5th 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 17 – 22 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.
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.
Puffins, Arctic terns and rarer migrant birds arrive from the South, bringing summer with them.
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 21); Laugavegur Ultra Marathon (55 km of uninhabited landscapes between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk nature reserves, South Highlands, July 14); and Reykjavík International Marathon (August 18). Visit the Icelandic Marathon website for more information.
June 1 – 17: Reykjavík Arts Festival
This biennial 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. This year’s Festival features a rare live appearance by American actor Bill Murray who is both singer and narrator in a programme of songs by, among others, Gershwin and Bernstein, and of poetry and prose. Another highlight is likely to be Edda by Robert Wilson, in which one of the masters of modern theatre presents Norse mythology as it’s never been seen before.
June 2 – 3: 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.
June 9: Blue Lagoon Challenge
Reykjavík Cycling Club hosts this event in which participants ride 60km through the rugged and beautiful Reykjanes landscape, finishing at the iconic Blue Lagoon.
June 14 – 17: Viking Festival
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 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.
June 20 – 23: 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.
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: Secret Solstice Festival
UK grime artist and 2018 Brit award-winner Stormzy heads the line-up at this year’s event. The Reykjavík music festival on which the sun never set also features Clean Bandit and Bonnie Tyler from the UK and Slayer, Gucci Mane and Goldlink from the US as well as other international and Icelandic artists. Click here for more details.
21 June – 20 August: Hallgrimskirkja Summer Concert Series
First-class concert organists from all over the world perform at the annual Hallgrimskirkja’s Organ Summer. 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 29 – 30: 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” white water 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.
[wptabtitle]July – September 2018[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
July 4 – 8: 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
July 11 – 14: 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: The Golden Circle Challenge (date tbc)
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.
July 27 – 29: Reykholt Music Festival
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. For more information 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 4 – 6: 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 7 – 12: Gay Pride
The LGBT community and its supporters come out in force to parade and party in style.
August 9 – 12: 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 11: 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: Jökulsárlón Firework Show (date tbc)
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 18: 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 18: Reykjavík Culture Night
This annual free 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.
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 5 – 9: Reykjavík Jazz Festival
Dedicated to presenting the best in Icelandic jazz, plus international artists. To view the line-up, visit the Jazz Festival Website.
September 25 – 30: 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 27 – October 7: Reykjavík International Film Festival
Focusing on progressive, independent cinema and documentaries, the RIFF’s top award is the Golden Puffin. This year’s event features a Werner Herzog retrospective. 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!”
[wptabtitle]October – December 2018[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
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.
October 19 – 20: North Iceland Local Food Festival
Held in the Sports Stadium in Akureyri, this event highlights the North of Iceland as the country’s largest area of food production and offers tastings, demonstrations and local produce for sale.
November 7 – 10: 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. For details of this year’s line-up, visit the Airwaves Festival website.
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.
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.
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.