Annual festivals and events in Iceland
Iceland offers countless cultural and leisure events, held regularly in both indoor and outdoor settings, all year round. Whether national events or local customs, there’s always something interesting going on. Some of the events and festivities in the Icelandic annual calendar are listed below.
January–May • Cultural events season: music, ballet, exhibitions and theatre.
January 06 • The Twelfth Night - Þrettándinn, the last day of Yule: celebrated in a similar way to New Year's Eve, but on a smaller scale with festive dinners and fireworks. Torch-lit parades, bonfires, wonderful atmosphere.
January – February • Midwinter Feast - Þorrablót (Thorrablot), held at any time during the month of Þorri, which begins on the first Friday after January 19 (the 13th week of winter) and ends on a Saturday between the 18th and 24th of February. An ancient Viking tradition involving a feast based on traditional food and drink.
Usually 2nd week of February • Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival, a celebration of light; an exciting public festival celebrating the passing of winter and the return of the daylight; a mixture of events acclaiming arts and crafts, environment and history, sports and culture; entertainment for families, friends, children and guests of Reykjavik.
Usually end of February – beginning of March • Food and Fun Festival: internationally acclaimed visiting chefs compete with Iceland’s finest culinary masters. Absolute delight for food connoisseurs. Reykjavik’s best restaurants; special menus consisting of fresh natural Icelandic ingredients, available to the public at the participating restaurants during the festival.
March 01• Beer Day - beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989; anniversary is still celebrated each year.
Usually April • The Icelandic National Horse Show in Reykjavik - events take place at breeding ranches and horse club locations in and around Reykjavik. The final day features a celebration in Reykjavik Zoo and Family Park where a selection of the best horses and everything related to the Icelandic horse is introduced. “Icetölt” - all the strongest competitors show up for a tölt competition on ice in Laugardalur skating hall.
• Easter - diverse concert programmes - plus chocolate eggs, smoked lamb and a time for families to relax together. The skiing season peaks.
The First Day of Summer, first Thursday after April 18 – a national holiday in Iceland with colourful parades and entertainment in the streets.
April–September • Trout-fishing season - Iceland's glorious lakes and rivers around the country.
April–October • Whale-watching season - with thousands of whales just off its shores, Iceland offers more chances of whale sightings than just about anywhere else in the world.
May–June • Reykjavík Arts Festival with a varied programme of cultural events featuring leading Icelandic and visiting international artists.
1st weekend of June • Festival of the Sea, based on the old Icelandic tradition of Seamen’s Day, June 6, honouring all those who make their living from the sea. Includes numerous cultural and fun activities for the whole family.
Usually mid-June • Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður (Hafnarfjordur). Vikings gather for a weekend of ancient games: sword fighting (by professional Vikings!), archery, marksmanship. Viking style costumes, musical instruments, jewellery and crafts; Viking songs, stories - endless happenings and entertainment.
June 17 • Iceland’s National Day – The Icelandic Independence Day celebrations. Icelanders take to the streets to participate in the festivities that include something for all ages and interests. Colourful ceremonies, parades, speeches held out in the open, including one by Fjallkonan – the Lady of the Mountain, a personification of Iceland. There is also street theatre, sideshows and outdoor dancing in the midnight sun, all around the country.
June 21 • Summer solstice - gatherings around the country to celebrate the magic of the midnight sun on the longest day of the year. Bonfires are lit; lots of walking tours and the Icelandic Pagan Society (Ásatrúarfélagið) has one of their main feasts at Thingvellir.
Usually end of June • The Arctic Open Golf Championship in Akureyri, North Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle in marvellous natural setting - round the clock golf in mid-summer at high latitudes. Open midnight-sun tournaments in Reykjavik.
Usually 1st weekend in July • Volcano Open Golf Tournament in Westman Islands.
Usually early July • Sigulufjörður (Siglufjordur) Folk Music Festival in the enchanting fishing town on the northern coast of Iceland – folk music from around the world; special focus on traditional Icelandic folk music; handicrafts.
May-June–August • Marathon time - fresh air and magnificent scenery, including: Mývatn (Myvatn) Midnight Sun Marathon (North Iceland, May/June); Highland Marathon - 55 km of uninhabited landscapes between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk (Thorsmork) Nature Reserves, South Highlands; and Reykjavík International Marathon (several distances around the city, usually in August).
May-August • Birdwatching time: puffins, Arctic terns and rarer migrant birds return from the south.
May–September • Salmon-fishing season - Iceland is one of the best places in the world for anglers.
Usually last week of July • Reykholt Music Festival - classical music in historic Reykholt – an international music festival held in the beautiful church in the West Iceland community, once the home of Snorri Sturluson. Reykholt festival has earned a reputation as one of the most interesting cultural events in Iceland: classical music, along with Nordic pieces and traditional pieces from Iceland.
Usually 1st weekend in August • Bank Holiday weekend – Verslunnarmannahelgi, shopkeepers’ annual holiday, when almost everyone goes off to camp at festivals around the country; everything from family events to wild rock festivals.
Part of the Bank Holiday celebrations, • The Westman Islands Þjóðhátíð Festival is indisputably the best known festival attracting the greatest number of mainland visitors. Held in Herjólfsdalur (Herjolfsdalur) on the first weekend in August, it’s a 3-4 day outdoor festival where having a good time is everyone´s aim. Weekend packed with entertainment of all description, including the traditional bonfire, fireworks and the famous “hillside sing-along”. The locals are famed for their wonderful hospitality.
Early August • Flight of the Puffling - a sight not to be missed in the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) off the south coast, when millions of baby puffins leave their nests and take wing for the first time.
Usually 1st weekend in August • Gay Pride – Reykjavik’s Gay Pride is celebrated with lots of colour and noise: parades, parties, theatre shows, outdoor festival and other performances can be enjoyed throughout the city.
Usually mid-August • Reykjavik Jazz Festival - superb live jazz by renowned jazz artists from around the world, and great Icelandic jazz artists. Concerts range from traditional to contemporary jazz – a must for all jazz lovers.
Usually 3rd weekend in August • Reykjavik Culture Night has become an essential part of cultural life in Iceland with thousands of people strolling the streets of the city on this exciting and eventful night. Culture Night offers a variety of activities ranging from traditional shows and exhibitions to more unusual happenings.
September • Sheep round-up - colourful and lively time with plenty of song and merriment all around the countryside. Held at sorting pens where farmers herd in the sheep rounded up from summer grazing in the wilds.
Early September • The Reykjavik International Literary Festival - Icelandic and international authors: evening readings, interviews, lectures and panel discussions; exhibitions. Attended also by publishers.
September–December • Cultural season and festivals: concerts, opera, ballet, drama. The Reykjavik International Film Festival (also late September/early October) offers movie buffs a superb programme. Both festivals are international events with plenty of celebrated guests.
Usually end of October - beginning of November • Iceland Airwaves Festival - one of the best alternative music events to go to, probably Scandinavia's largest music festival, Iceland Airwaves Festival is a major annual event in Reykjavik. A big part of the Festival is the official Saturday night party in the Blue Lagoon – not to be missed.
November-April • Skiing season runs from November through April, though conditions are most reliable from February to early April. The major slopes are lighted and have extended evening hours. Southwest Iceland - Bláfjöll (Blafjoll); other notable ski centres are Tungudalur/Seljalandsdalur, near Ísafjörður (Isafjordur) in the Westfjords, and Hlíðarfjall (Hlidarfjall), near Akureyri in North Iceland. Tungudalur/Seljalandsdalur hosts Iceland's biggest skiing event, Ski Week (Skíðavikan), usually end of March/beginning of April.
• Christmas - Icelanders celebrate Christmas in a big way, with 13 Jólasveinar - Yuletide Lads ("scruffy Santas") who play pranks and sing in the beautifully illuminated streets. Delicious Christmas buffets and traditional festive-season delicacies such as smoked lamb, ptarmigan and reindeer are on offer.
December 31• New Year’s Eve festivities in Iceland are legendary! Icelanders are known for their extravagant celebrations of this holiday, with the biggest fireworks display you’ll probably ever see – everyone takes part. Huge public bonfires, and an unbelievable amount of fireworks is set off to welcome the New Year. Partying all night.