Month by Month
Iceland Airwaves, November
Reykjavík Culture Night, August
Reykjavík Arts Festival, June
Secret Solstice, June
Northern Lights, October–April
After December’s cheer, the festive hangover hits. The first few weeks of the year can feel like an anticlimax – not helped by the long dark nights and inclement weather.
This Viking midwinter feast (late January to mid-/late February) is marked nationwide with stomach-churning treats, such as hákarl (fermented shark), svið (singed sheep’s head) and hrútspungar (rams’ testicles). All accompanied by shots of brennivín (a potent schnapps nicknamed ‘black death’). Hungry?
Dark Music Days
A mid-winter music festival featuring Icelandic composers fills Harpa concert hall with lush sounds in January. Get the full program online.
Iceland Photography Festival
This three-day January photography festival has a comprehensive program of everything from lectures to exhibitions and portfolio reviews.
The coldest month in most of Iceland, though everyday life in Reykjavík can seem untouched. The countryside may be scenic under snow, but it's mostly dusk to dark, with only seven to eight hours of daylight per day.
Winter Lights Festival
Reykjavík sparkles with this winter warmer which encompasses Museum Night and Pool Night (late-opening museums and swimming pools), illuminated landmarks, light installations and concerts.
Food & Fun
International chefs join forces with local restaurants and vie for awards at this capital feast. Teams are given the finest Icelandic ingredients (lamb and seafood, natch) to create their masterpieces.
Music, creativity and technology: this festival brings all three together for three days in February at Harpa concert hall. Expect more than 70 bands and DJs from Iceland and abroad.
Winter is officially over, but weather-wise it’s not quite time to celebrate. Still the country wakes from its slumber and activities such as skiing are popular as daylight hours increase.
It's hard to imagine, but beer was illegal in Iceland for 75 years. On 1 March, Icelanders celebrate the day in 1989 when the prohibition was overturned. They need little prompting, but pubs, restaurants and clubs around Reykjavík are especially beer lovin’ on this night.
Easter is celebrated in traditional fashion, and spring is in the air. Days lengthen and the mercury climbs, meaning lots of greenery after the snow melts, plus the arrival of thousands of migrating birds.
Rather ambitiously, Icelanders celebrate the first day of summer (the first Thursday after 18 April) with celebrations and street parades. A case of winter-induced madness? No, it's a nod to the Old Norse calendar, which divided the year into only two seasons: winter and summer.
Puffins on Parade
To the delight of twitchers and photographers, in April the divinely comedic puffin arrives in huge numbers (an estimated 10 million birds) for the breeding season, departing for warmer climes by mid-August. There are puffin colonies all around the country.
May is shoulder season, and it’s not a bad month to visit, just before the tourist season cranks up in earnest. Enjoy prices before they escalate, plus lengthening days, spring wildflowers and first-rate birdwatching.
Reykjavík Arts Festival
Culture vultures flock to Iceland’s premier cultural festival, which showcases two weeks of local and international theatre performances, film, dance, music and visual art.
Hello summer! The short three-month-long tourist season begins. Pros: best weather, near-endless daylight, the pick of tours and excursions, the best choice of accommodation. Cons: big crowds, peak prices, the need to book all lodging.
Seafarers’ Day (Sjómannadagurinn) is party time in fishing villages. On the first weekend in June, every ship in Iceland is in harbour and all sailors have a day off. Salty-dog celebrations on the Sunday include drinking, rowing and swimming contests, tugs-of-war and mock sea rescues.
Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival
The peace is shattered as Viking hordes invade this seaside town near Reykjavík for a three-day festival in mid-June. Expect little by way of pillaging – more like staged fights, storytelling, archery and music.
Some 11 species of whale are regularly sighted in the waters around Iceland. Sightings happen year-round; the best time is from June to August. Whale-spotting boat tours leave from the Reykjavík area, and from near Akureyri, but Húsavík is the country’s whale-watching HQ.
The country’s biggest holiday commemorates the founding of the Republic of Iceland on 17 June 1944 with parades and general patriotic merriness. Tradition has it that the sun isn’t supposed to shine. And it usually doesn’t!
Opening of Highland Roads
The highland regions of Iceland are generally blanketed in snow well into the warmer months. The opening of 4WD-only mountain roads is weather dependent, but generally occurs around mid-June; roads are closed again by late September. The website www.road.is keeps you updated.
Except for the island of Grímsey, Iceland lies just south of the Arctic Circle. Still, around the summer solstice (21 June) it’s possible to view the midnight sun (when the setting sun doesn’t fully dip below the horizon), especially in the country’s north.
This excellent music festival with local and international acts coincides with the summer solstice, so there's 24-hour daylight for partying. It's held at Laugardalur in Reykjavík.
The longest day of the year is celebrated with solstice parties and bonfires (staged anytime between 21 and 24 June), although the Icelandic midsummer isn’t as major an event as in the rest of the Nordic countries.
Iceland’s festival pace quickens alongside a (hopefully) rising temperature gauge and a distinct swelling of tourist numbers. Expect busy roads, crowded trails, packed campgrounds and no-vacancy guesthouses – book ahead.
Horse lovers: the week-long national Icelandic horse competition is held in even-numbered years (the host town is rotated). It's a beloved spectator event and excuse for a country festival. See www.landsmot.is.
Skálholt Summer Concerts
The cathedral at the historic religious centre of Skálholt hosts around 40 public concerts, lectures and workshops over a five-week period from July to August. The focus is on contemporary religious music and early music. See www.sumartonleikar.is.
Clubs dotted across Reykjavík host bands in this long-running indie music fest. It's held over three days in either late July or early August.
The tourist season continues apace, with Southern Europeans flying north for vacation. It's still very busy. By mid-month the puffins have departed (and some whales, too); by late August the nights are noticeably longer.
A public-holiday long weekend (the first weekend in August) when Icelanders flock to rural festivals, family barbecues, rock concerts and wild campground parties.
This epic event occurs in Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, on the August long weekend, commemorating the day in 1874 when foul weather prevented the islanders from partying when Iceland’s constitution was established. Over 11,000 people descend to watch bands and fireworks, and drink gallons of alcohol. See www.dalurinn.is.
Reykjavík Culture Night
On Menningarnótt, or Culture Night, Reykjavikers revel in 24 hours of art, music, dance and fireworks with galleries, shops, cafes and churches staying open until late.
Your chance to get sporty and sophisticated on the same day: this event is held on Reykjavík Culture Night. There are full- and half-marathons, as well as a 10k and fun runs.
Reykjavík Jazz Festival
From the middle of the month, Reykjavík delights in a week dedicated to jazz, during which local and international musicians get toes tapping at venues across the city.
Out and proud since 1999, this celebration of LGBT culture brings carnival-like colour to the capital in early August. Some 100,000 people (the equivalent of more than a quarter of the country's population) come to celebrate from Iceland and beyond
Tourist arrivals decrease significantly and prices drop, making this a good time to visit. The weather can still be agreeable, but summer-only services start to close. Highland roads are closed by month's end.
An autumn highlight, the réttir is the farmers’ round-up of sheep and horses that have grazed wild over summer. Often done on horseback, the animals are herded into a corral where the sorting takes place (participants and spectators welcome), accompanied by much rural merrymaking.
Reykjavík International Film Festival
This intimate 11-day event from late September features quirky programming that highlights independent film-making, both home-grown and international. There are also panels and masterclasses.
Reykjavík International Literary Festival
This venerable festival gathers international writers for four days of free, English-language readings and panels in September.
October marks the official onset of winter, with cooler temperatures, longer nights and the appearance of the Northern Lights.
These spectacular, multi-hued, night-time light displays are caused by charged particles from solar flares colliding with the earth’s atmosphere. You can only see them on dark, cloud-free nights, the best viewing is October to April, with peak visibility from December to February.
Summer is a distant memory. November sees nights lengthening (sunsets around 4pm) and weather cooling, but Reykjavík parties hard, with big crowds gathering for its flagship music festival.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Iceland is just one giant music-producing machine. Since the first edition of Iceland Airwaves was held in 1999, this fab festival has become one of the world’s most prestigious annual showcases for Icelandic and international new music.
A festive atmosphere brings cheer to the darkest time of the year. Christmas markets, concerts and parties keep things bright and cosy, followed by New Year’s Eve celebrations. Note that some hotels are closed between Christmas and New Year.
New Year's Eve
There are festivities aplenty on 31 December, with dinners, bonfires, fireworks (lots of fireworks – these are sold as a fundraiser for the beloved national search and rescue organisation), parties and clubbing till the early hours of New Year’s Day.