There are many different annual events in Iceland which attract travellers from all over the world each year. Here is a short summary:
Thorrablot / Þorrablót (Mid-January to mid-February)
This ancient Viking midwinter tradition was originally a feast of sacrifice to the Norse God Thor and is celebrated today with plenty of dancing, singing, and feasting on traditional Viking foods like boiled sheep’s head and fermented shark washed down with Brennivin, the local caraway-seed flavored spirit fondly known as ‘black death.’ Modern day Icelanders don’t normally eat these foods but during the month of Thor, the traditional ‘delicacies’ fill grocery store shelves and restaurants offer special Thorrablot menus. Festivities vary from informal dinners with family and friends to large organized events with entertainment and activities.
Winter Lights Festival (Mid to late February)
Reykjavik is cheerfully lit up for this celebration of cultural events dedicated to the theme of energy and light. Centered around Laugardalur Park, events include anything from ice skating exhibitions to outdoor choral performances.
Reykjavik Food & Fun Festival (Late Feb to early Mar)
Promotions at restaurants throughout Reykjavik bring to light the achievements of chefs and manufacturers of Icelandic gourmet products such as caviar, shrimp, lamb and cheese. Internationally renowned chefs visit the capital and are paired with a restaurant to create a special menu for the week at discounted prices.
Reykjavik Fashion Festival & Design March (Mid March)
Started in 2010, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival provides an arena for new Icelandic designers to showcase their clothing lines and fully express their visions in a cutting-edge event program where avant-garde fashion, music and fun fuse together seamlessly for all to enjoy. Design March presents exhibitions, workshops and events across the city from the world of design ranging from architecture to fashion, fonts, furniture and food.
Bun Day / Bolludagur (February-March)
Two days before Lent Iceland celebrates Bun Day or Bolludagur when homes, restaurants and bakeries overflow with delicately made buns in different shapes and sizes, filled with cream, jam, and drizzled with chocolate or caramel. Children wake their parents early with a colorfully decorated Bolluvondur wand and receive a cream bun for each whack of the wand they can land.
Shrove Tuesday / Sprengidagur (February-March)
The day before Lent is known as Sprengidagur or ‘Bursting Day’ when every Icelandic home and most restaurants flood with the aroma of Saltkjot & baunir or salted lamb meat and peas, a traditional stew-like meal. The name ‘Sprengidagur’ refers to the idea that individuals feast on this hearty dish to the point of bursting.
Ash Wednesday / Oskudagur (February-March)
Ash Wednesday is celebrated in Iceland with a unique custom for children. Ashes are collected into small bags known as ‘Oskupokar.’ As a prank, these bags are secretly pinned onto people’s clothing. The day is also marked with children singing and parading around the streets and shops, begging for treats.
Easter (Late March – April)
On Easter Sunday the traditional meal of roasted Icelandic lamb is served with rhubarb jelly and sugar-browned potatoes. Children and grown-ups alike enjoy hollowed out chocolate Easter eggs filled with candy treats and a Malshatt which is a tiny piece if Icelandic wisdom originating from some 400 proverbs based on folklore, history and homilies. Easter Monday is also an official holiday in Iceland commonly celebrated by families getting together for outdoor fun and relaxation. The Thursday and Friday before Easter are also official holidays.
First Day of Summer (3rd Thursday in April)
According to ancient Icelandic calendars, summer starts early and modern day Icelanders celebrate this national holiday with colorful parades, street entertainment and sporting events.
Reykjavik Arts Festival (Late May)
This two week cultural festival showcases a wide array of concerts, operas, dance and theater performances at local venues including the National Gallery, Harpa and the Nordica House with spin off events throughout the country.
Festival of the Sea / Sjomannadagur (1st weekend in June)
This holiday runs the first weekend of June and pays tribute to those who make their living by the sea with colorful parades, cultural celebrations, seafood fairs and fisherman rescue demonstrations, rowing races, and strongman competitions.
Viking Festival (Mid June)
Modern day Vikings from across the globe descend upon the quaint town of Hafnarfjordur just outside Reykjavik for a weekend of lively festivities in period costume, traditional crafts and staged battles.
Icelandic Independence Day (June 17)
Iceland declared independence from Danish rule in 1944 and is celebrated on June 17th because it was the birthday of Jon Sigurdsson who is regarded as Iceland’s champion to the nationalist cause. After morning ceremonies in downtown Reykjavik, afternoon crowds gather around the country for vibrant parades, traditional dancing, street performers, and theatrical entertainment.
Summer Solstice (Jun 21)
Celebrations around Reykjavik honor the magic of the Midnight Sun on the longest day of the year when many Icelanders gather late at night to watch the sun dip below the horizon and rise back up again shortly afterwards.
Arctic Open International Golf Tournament (Late June)
Held just south of the Arctic Circle in the picturesque town of Akureyri, the Arctic Open is a four-day championship golfing tournament open to professionals and amateurs alike. Tee off at midnight in bright sunshine and play through the night in a distinctive natural setting.
Gay Pride Parade (2nd weekend in August)
This family friendly weekend shows the nation’s support for the gay and lesbian community in Iceland. There are several fun activities throughout Reykjavik which is decorated with rainbows as thousands of people gather to watch the highly anticipated Gay Pride Parade.
Reykjavik Culture Night / Menningarnott (3rd weekend in August)
On this enchanted evening downtown Reykjavik is closed to traffic and the city center transforms into a cultural mecca of free exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings, and street theater with every venue in the city utilized. Choice selections of food and drink are served, and the evening is concluded with a fireworks display over Tjornin Pond.
Reykjavik Marathon (3rd weekend in August)
The Reykjavik Marathon is an annual event held every August on Culture Day. This international event hosts over 3,500 participants for a full or half marathon, or three, five or ten kilometer races as well as an informal family race.
Labor Day Weekend / Verslunnarmannahelgi (1st weekend in August)
The first weekend in August is a three-day holiday with everything closed on the Monday. Most Icelanders head out of the city to camp in the wilds, or join in one of the organized events that are held throughout this country. The most popular location is the Westman Islands, where thousands of visitors gather at the campground to hear live bands and party around the bonfires into the wee morning hours.
Sheep and Horse Round-Up (Early September)
September brings the farming tradition of Rettir, an entertaining and interesting process where farmers set off on horseback to gather their sheep and horses that have spent the summer grazing in the highlands. Once the flocks are penned and sorted by their earmarks, the farming communities host spirited celebrations with singing, dancing, and drinking into the night. Visitors are welcome to participate and it is an ideal time to explore Iceland’s backcountry during the colorful fall season.
Imagine Peace Tower (October 9 – December 8)
In 2007 Yoko Ono unveiled the Imagine Peace Tower, a beam of light emanating from a wishing well monument on the coast of Videy Island just outside of Reykjavik. Created in memory of her husband, John Lennon, it bears the words Imagine Peace in 24 languages & is lit each year from Oct 9 – Dec 8.
Iceland Airwaves Music Festival (Early November)
This highly anticipated five-day alternative/indie musical showcase attracts thousands of music lovers from around the world to check out Icelandic and international talent at various venues across the vibrant capital of Reykjavik during Northern Lights season.
Reykjavik International Film Festival / RIFF (Late September-early October)
This 10-day event features a selection of the year’s best in world cinema and includes film classics, premiers, retrospectives, seminars and workshops.
Reykjavik Jazz Festival (Late August)
The Reykjavik Jazz Festival boasts a stellar line-up of jazz and blues artists from around the world playing a variety of styles at local clubs and venues during the last two weeks of August.
Christmas Season (December)
When the days are short, beloved Icelandic Christmas folklore adds to the mystique of the holidays with tales of 13 Yuletide lads, their troll mother Gryla and a killer Christmas cat. City streets around the country twinkle in festive lighting, towns set up their outdoor Christmas markets and restaurants put forward scrumptious smorgasbords. Family celebrations begin on December 24th when many people attend mass before going to a festive dinner, exchanging gifts and dancing around the Christmas tree.
New Year’s Eve (December 31)
New Year’s Eve in Iceland is a spectacular celebration that has to be seen to be believed. Nowhere in the world are more fireworks used on this holiday, when private use of fireworks is legal for this one night only and the entire country sets the skies ablaze in celebration. At oceanside bonfires citizens and visitors alike gather to celebrate with style!