The people of Iceland sure like a good party. And if you arrive here during the summer months, you can almost be sure that somewhere on the island, a festival is being held. This is not an ancient custom, but with the rise in tourism it now seems that every other town around the country throws a festival to commemorate something in the towns history or celebrate a local custom. Then there are a few that just do their own thing. Here are some of the more successful ones and a few odd ones as well:
1. Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum
This is the big one. Every summer on the weekend before the first Monday of August, thousands of Icelanders travel to the beautiful Vestmann Islands of the southern coast for an extended weekend of constant partying. This festival is the oldest in the country, dating all the way back to 1874 when Iceland got its constitution and the country celebrated that the land had been settled for a thousand years. Each year it seems to grow in scale and all the best musical acts come to this festival so you can be sure of a good party. Be sure to bring a “lopapeysa”, the traditional woollen sweater, and some brennivín, or Black Death. Also don’t forget to taste some of the Vestmann Islands culinary curiosities, like Smoked Puffin. The festivities reach the climax when a huge bonfire is set alight along with an impressive fireworks display.
2. Fiskidagurinn mikli
This annual festival in Dalvík, a small town in the North has almost come to rival the festival in the Vestmann Islands, and surely does so when you look at the number of people who show up, and the fact that its just a single day, usually the first or second Saturday in August. The reason? It’s an all you can eat festival of Fish, The Great Fish Day, is the English translation. That means that everybody is invited, free of charge, to visit Dalvík and taste the delicious seafood buffet at the towns harbour. Around twenty thousand people show up each year and in addition to the great food, various fish species are on show and all kinds of musical acts keep the party going into the night. If you love seafood, you should plan your trip to Iceland accordingly and visit Dalvík.
Bræðslan Music festival is an eclectic festival held in the tiny town of Borgarfjörður Eystri, in the east of Iceland in late July. It has been held annually since 2005 and it has the added charm of being quite small. The organizers decided that, in spite of the festivals popularity in Iceland and abroad, it would not grow out of proportions. So, only about 900 tickets are sold each year, so be sure to book well in advance. You will be rewarded with great atmosphere and some of the best musical acts of Iceland. Artists come from abroad as well and acts like Damien Rice and Belle and Sebastian have played there over the years, as well as Icelands’s best known talents.
4. Secret Solstice
The capital Reykjavík gets it’s fair share of festivals as well, but many of them are during the winter or late in the summer. The biggest music festival during the summer months is Secret Solstice in Laugardalur, a leisure area in the middle of the city. Held in the middle of June, it is quickly becoming a bona fide festival of international stature. Many guests from abroad come each year and the acts keep getting bigger as well, with international stars attending.
This is a small artistic festival held in the beautiful town of Seyðisfjörður in the East. The festival has been growing steadily since 2000 and now some four thousand people show up for the final day, as the festivities usually go on for a whole week in the middle of July. Unlike the other big festivals this one focuses on art and offers workshops for aspiring artists, theatre shows and music of course.
5. Síldarævintýrið á Siglufirði
A lot of the small towns around Iceland hold commemorative festivals once a year to celebrate some era in the towns history. The Herring festival in Siglufjörður is probably one of the best known of those. For the past two decades, every year in the first weekend of August, the town transforms into what it once was, the biggest herring-fishing village in the country. Herring was immensely important for Iceland for many years and sometimes constituted almost half of the total export income for the whole country. The “Herring Adventure” lasted from early in the 20th century and until the late Sixties, when the catches dwindled to almost nothing. If you visit the beautiful town of Siglufjörður during the festival you will be transformed back in time and get to relive the atmosphere as it was in the towns hayday.
6. Reykjavík Gay Pride
In the middle of August each year, Reykjavík becomes the Rainbow City. Gay pride holds a special place in the hearts of Icelanders and it is one of the most popular, if not the most popular event in the social calendar of Iceland. Around seventy thousand people descend on downtown Reykjavík to take part in or to watch the colourful parade and the musical acts. That is no mean feat, when you take into consideration that the population of Iceland only counts a little over 300 thousand people!
7. Humarhátíðin á Höfn
As Dalvík offers the whole seafood experience, the town of Höfn í Hornafirði on the southeast coast takes a more specific approach. Here, everything revolves around one thing, Lobster. If you like Lobester, on the last weekend of June, you should make your way to the little town and enjoy the family atmosphere at this long running village festival. Hornafjörður is often called the capital of Lobster Catching in Iceland so it comes as no surprise that the townsfolk have decided to celebrate it with a good, family friendly party. And yes, there will be lots of Lobster related dishes to sample, while you are there.
Last but not least, is the Reykjavík Cultural night. One night (or for the whole day, actually) The capital becomes teeming with all kinds of cultural events, concerts and happenings. This is the largest festival in the country and something that is not to be missed. Stroll through downtown Reykjavík and take in the culture of this vibrant city. And later in the night, you can enjoy Iceland’s top artists on a huge stage by the harbour. The whole thing culminates in an awesome fireworks display. And, if you have not had your fill, the locals will party until dawn.