Iceland is initially popular for its natural beauty and landscapes. While the large sandy beaches, high peaks, and long-stretched glaciers deserve all the praise they get from the whole world, several other immensely beautiful and entertaining elements of the land of ice and fire have recently gained a lot of spotlights. Iceland has become enormously popular for its exquisite festivities and celebrations of every festival and event, each one of which is laced with a beautiful show of fireworks. Filled with food, drinks, dance, and banter, festivals in Iceland have a different kind of vibe to them. Tourists have shown an equal amount of enthusiasm and interest as the locals in attending these festivals and becoming one with the culture and traditions of Iceland.
Apart from the traditional festivals which are exclusive to Iceland and its culture, New Year’s Eve is the most loved and popular event in Iceland. The new year is always welcomed with a blast a lot of partying and finally a gorgeous show of fireworks. The whole country indulges in these celebrations while the tourists also come forward and join. There are a bunch of things one can do in Iceland when it’s time for the new year to arrive. From parties in clubs and bars to events, concerts, skits, shows, bonfires, several cultural events, and countryside celebrations, numerous things are available for both locals and tourists to do on New Year’s Eve. Let’s find all about Iceland at the time of New Year’s Eve, what is the weather like, what events you can take part in, and how to have the time of your life when welcoming the new years in Iceland.
The temperature in December stays between -2°C and 4 degrees while the temperature in January the temperature stays around -1°C. There have been times when the temperature has dropped till -10°C but never below it. This simply means that the weather is going to something a winter fanatic would enjoy. Needless to say, if you are spending Christmas in the country as well, it is most likely going to be a white Christmas.
Both of these months do not get a lot of daylight which gives all the more time to continue the nightlife and the fireworks. There are only about 4.5 hours of daylight in these two months on average. The night lasts for an average of 21 hours with daylight showing up late in the morning or noon and its dark again before one knows it.
How does the Party Proceed?
Even if New Year’s Eve is all about partying and merrymaking, there is a certain pattern or a schedule that Icelanders follow even when preparing to party. Friends and family are a part of every celebration.
Friends and family start gathering around 6 or 7 pm. An array of festivities, chats, and merrymaking is followed by dinner and then some pre-party rituals near the bonfire. Some partying goes around till 10 – 10:30 pm and then people head home to catch the comedy show, or watch it at the party.
Fireworks start to show up as midnight approaches and take on full swing as the clock strikes 12 and continue till 1 am. Some people keep on the firework show late till the early hours of the day. The best part of this show is that it is not synchronized. Everyone puts on a separate show of their own and it makes a beautiful show for everyone to enjoy. Most people head to the party after the fireworks. Some choose to go to the clubs and bars which stay open till late in the morning but most of the townsfolk go for house parties.
Things to Look Forward to on New Year’s Eve
Choosing a bonfire to join could be a little tricky given the fact that there are about 15-17 bonfires only in the capital and a total of about 90 if we take the whole country under consideration. But this also means that no matter where you choose to spend the New Year’s Eve, there will always be a bonfire nearby for you to join in. Most bonfire starts around 8 in the night and finishes off by 10 or maximum by 10:30.
It is traditional in Iceland to join the neighborhood bonfire. Although that is something the locals would do and be invited for a party instead of crashing it. One of the biggest bonfires that everyone is free to join in is the seas-side bonfire on Ægissíða street in the west of the capital city. This particular bonfire is the closest to the center of the city and hence can be a good place to be at for the tourists roaming around or staying in the area.
Other top choices for bonfires include Skerjafjörður near Skildinganes street, Seltjarnarnes town in the Valhúsahæð Street, Suðurhlíðar town right down the valley cemetery of Fossvogur, Lambhagavegur town near the Úlfarsfell mountain, and Mosfellsbær town in southwest Iceland near Leirvogur observatory.
The Infamous Comedy Show
You would be surprised to see a country which barely sleeps when events and celebrations are concerned so quiet and deserted that too so close to midnight. The reason is Áramótaskaup, a comedy-satirical show of Iceland that broadcasts only on the New Year’s Eve. This show records almost 90% of the population of Iceland as its audience. You would notice that after spending some time with family and friends near the bonfire, everyone heads back home strictly before 10:30 pm as the show starts at 10:30 sharp.
Áramótaskaup, also known as Skaupið, is a comedy show directed at the top news headlines of the past year and main events that took place. The fun thing is that this particular show spares none. Every single person who made it to the headlines has to get in line and wait for one or some satirical comment, be it the politicians, top hotels, businessmen and women, or the civilians. The ‘no offense’ is pre-applied and everyone understands that. Be it the Pokemon Go craze or the well-flourishing tourism business of the country, Skaupið is out to get everyone and it is hilarious.
Skaupið first appeared on the television in 1966, broadcasted by the main TV channel of Iceland. It has been on a loop since then and has become a tradition of sort for the citizens to watch it on New Year’s Eve. The only con for visitors is that the show is in Icelandic and not English. There are some parts which are recorded in English but that’s about it.
It is no secret that Iceland’s nightlife is now probably one of the bests in the world, especially if you are talking about the capital city. And needless to say, nightlife on occasions like the new year eve is pretty happening and a lot more fun than it is on any other normal weekday or the weekend. Most bars that usually close up around 1 or 2 am stay open till early hours in the morning and people party all night. Most people throw house parties on New Year’s Eve but that generally concerns the locals and their family and friends. If you are a local or happen to make friends in Iceland on your visit and get an invitation to a house party, do not miss it. Icelanders are big on parties and they sure know how to celebrate an occasion.
However, ending up in a bar or a club is no less than perfect either. Although, you will most probably find a long queue, an entry fee, and a heavy crowd in almost every club and bar. As mentioned before, almost every place stays open till late and most of the clubs have an after-party going on. It is best not to crash because that is considered rude in general. But given the friendly and free-spirited nature of the citizens, it is likely that you will be invited to one. Make sure that you mingle and do not forget to have fun.
Gala Dinner at Perlan
If you are someone who would rather prefer to welcome the new year with a bottle of bubbly and fine dining wrapped in a beautiful cocktail dress or suited up in a classy tuxedo then The Pearl is exactly what you want. Perlan or The Pearl is one of the main landmarks of the capital city. The Pearl is a fine dining restaurant in Reykjavík. It is popular for its revolving dome-like structure. It is not only a restaurant but also a historical monument in Iceland.
The Pearl hosts a huge gala dinner on New Year’s Eve. Even though most parties in Iceland do not have a dress code, this particular gala comes with some certain codes. A tuxedo for men and a cocktail dress, short or long, for women, is a must-do. The party starts with a glass of champagne. Seating is optional – you can either sit separately or with other guests, it completely depends on what you choose. Most guests stay till the end of the night till midnight and enjoy the fireworks from the balcony of the restaurant.
This is the biggest attraction of New Year’s Eve in Iceland. The best part about the firework show of the country is that it is not funded or coordinated by the government. Citizens, tourist, and visitors get their fireworks and light them up as midnight starts to approach. People get out on the streets, find a good spot for their light up and set up shop for the event. Most people start moving around 11:30 after Áramótaskaup Comedy Show is over.
The amount of money Icelanders spend on fireworks for New Year’s Eve goes up to about hundreds of millions of kronur (Icelandic) but the best part of this spend is most of it goes to the support fund the Search and Rescue Team of Iceland. This particular team is made up of volunteers who step up and take care of people who are stuck in a situation due to bad weather, road emergencies, and any other difficult position. The team relies on income from the Christmas sales of the trees and the firework sales. But not all the firework sales go to the Search and Rescue Team of the country. Make sure that you buy your fireworks from the retailers and sales working for the Search and Rescue team. It is fairly easy to find these sales. Some examples that can give you a lead are Flugbjörgunarsveitin or Landsbjörg.
There are two ways you can enjoy the firework show of the country. You either get to a high point in the city you are at or join in the lighting yourself. If you are a fan of fireworks then you should probably consider buying some crackers for yourself and find a good spot in the middle of the city to fire them up. One thing is sure, no matter which way you choose to enjoy the fireworks, it will be a show that you have never experienced before or will ever get to experience outside of Iceland.
Events That You Cannot Miss
Several events take place on or around New Year’s Eve and Day. If you happen to find out about any of them, it is recommended that you pay a little visit there. Some events that have proven to be worthy are Vienna Concert, Drag performance, and Cabarets at Gaukurinn and Dark Music Days.
Spending the Evening in the Countryside
The countryside is a little bit different from the main cities like Reykjavik or Akureyri but the gist of the celebration is still there. If you are around the countryside on New Year’s Eve then you will pretty much have the same kind of experience that one would have in the big cities. The rituals are pretty similar starting with the gathering of friends and family, leading to bonfires, food, drinks, Áramótaskaup, fireworks, parties, and ends with after-parties.
The only difference you will find between the country and the big city celebrations is the size of the firework display, the number of clubs and bars you get to attend, and the number of bonfires. The rest is pretty much the same. If you are going to spend the eve somewhere in a remote area or a small settlement then go out and talk to the locals. There is always some kind of events, dance, concerts or gala planned in the area which you can join. But if you are planning to escape the hustle and bustle of the town then renting a small cabin can be the best way to welcome the new year with food and drinks.
Best Places to Catch Fireworks in the Capital
No matter where you are at, you are sure to get a dose of the incredible firework display of Iceland but some places still offer a better view than others. Choose the front area of Hallgrímskirkja church that surrounds the statue of Eiríksson both for firework viewing and firing. This particular area will be covered with swarms of people coming out to fire up their stack and welcome the next year. If you want to mingle with fellow enthusiasts then this is the best way to go for it.
On the contrary, if you would like a nice quiet place to celebrate and toast to the new year surrounded by your family then the balcony of Perlan is the perfect place to be it. Kick-off the evening with a fantastic dinner and send off the old year at midnight with crackers. Other great locations include the Harpa Concert Hall, a bonfire near the sea in Ægissíða area, or the Sun Voyager Sculpture of the capital city. No matter which place you choose, make sure that you are wearing warm layers and have a bottle of bubbly handy for the toast.
Get One-on-One with the Lore
Iceland is known for its natural beauty, sure, but it is also known for its undeniable beliefs in elves, fairy, giants, and many other mystical creatures. Every ritual and tradition has a meaning in Iceland which represents how rich the culture is that Icelanders hold. Lighting up of firecrackers on the year’s eve is a way to represent the concept of leaving the past year behind by setting it on flames and moving on to the next. From spooky to spiritual, several kinds of folklore are connected to the arrival of a new year and the dawn of the previous one. One sure way to know more about the Lore is to chat up with the locals when you get to the bonfire.
Planning Your December 31st in Iceland
December 31st will be a busy day for you if you decide to spend it the traditional way like the whole of Iceland. Considering starting the day by visiting one of the several bakeries in the capital – sipping coffee and munching on some fresh baked goods. You can squeeze in a small day tour after that. As the day starts to proceed towards the evening, consider buying firecrackers for the night, a bottle of champagne, and some delicious snacks. Once you are done shopping, put on your warm, heavy jackets and head out to the street meeting the friends that you have made during your travels. As you chat and laugh with locals and other tourists, it will be time to head to a bonfire. Consider deciding beforehand on this one because it could be a hassle if you try to pick one at the moment since there will be so many bonfires around you.
After that, you can either leave early for the gala dinner at The Pearl or get back to your accommodation to watch Áramótaskaupið Comdey Show. If you want to go to dinner in any restaurant on New Year’s Eve then it is recommended that you make reservations well in advance as getting a table impromptu will be a problem on a busy night like this. Get to the main streets in time for the firework show and after that hit any club or party you would like to. Having fun is the key to make your New Year’s Eve in Iceland the best one yet.