Festivities

Festivities in a Distinctive Setting

Whatever time of year you’re in Iceland, there’ll be something interesting going on. It might be a familiar festival in a distinctively Icelandic setting or a charming local custom that might catch your attention. and there are regular cultural and leisure events, indoors and outside, to keep you entertained and busy for your entire stay. Check out these dates in the Icelandic calendar for 2010.

January–May

Cultural season: music, ballet, exhibitions and theatre.

January 22–February 21

Midwinter feast (Þorrablót). An ancient Viking tradition – feasting on “delicacies” such as boiled sheep’s head and rotten shark meat, as well as more edible goodies. Be brave just once a year.

February

Food and Fun. Well-known visiting chefs competing right along with Iceland’s finest culinary masters. The festival is a chance for restaurants to strut their stuff. A delight for the taste buds. See www.foodandfun.is

February 22–24

Bursting time. Fill up before Lent, with all the cream buns you can eat on “Bun Monday” and oversized helpings of salted meat and mushy peas on “Bursting Tuesday.” Then on Ash Wednesday, watch the children dressed up in the streets, singing and playing pranks.

February

Winter Lights Festival in Reykjavík. Dedicated to the theme of light and energy, an exciting public festival celebrating both winter and the growing light after a long period of darkness.

March 1

Beer Day. Beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989, and people celebrate the anniversary in suitable style every year.

April 1–5

Easter. One of the highlights of the musical year, with diverse concert programmes plus chocolate eggs of huge proportions, smoked lamb and a time for families to relax together. The skiing season peaks.

April 22

First Day of Summer. Icelanders welcome the end of winter and start of summer – a national holiday – with colourful parades and entertainment in the streets.

April–September

Trout-fishing season in lakes and rivers around the country.

April–October

Whale-watching season. With thousands of whales just off its shores, Iceland offers more chances of sightings than just about anywhere else in the world.

May

Birdwatching time. Puffins, Arctic terns and rarer migrant birds zoom in from the south, bringing summer with them.

May–June

The annual Reykjavík Arts Festival will be held in May, with a varied programme of cultural events featuring leading Icelandic and visiting artists. See www.artfest.is

May–September

Salmon-fishing season. Clean air and rivers make Iceland one of the best places in the world for anglers. Make sure to book your rods well in advance.

May–June

Festival of the Sea. Based on the old Icelandic tradition of Seamen’s Day, June 6, the festival runs the first weekend of June and honours those who make their living from the sea. However, the festival has been modernised of late. It now includes numerous cultural activities, parades, arts and crafts activities for kids, food fairs, and sailing competitions, and new residents of Iceland are given the opportunity to share their different cultures

June

Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður. More than 100 Vikings from ten different nations get together with about 60 Icelandic Vikings for a weekend of endless happenings and entertainment.

June 17

National Day. Icelanders take to the streets to celebrate independence (since 1944). Colourful ceremonies followed by parades, street theatre, sideshows and outdoor dancing in the midnight sun, all over the country.

June

Arctic Open International Golf Tournament. In Akureyri, just south of the Arctic Circle, tee off at midnight in bright sunshine and play through the night in a marvellous natural setting. For exact date see www.gagolf.is. Open midnight-sun tournaments are also held in Reykjavík and the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). See www.golficeland.org

June 21

Summer solstice. Gatherings to celebrate the magic of the midnight sun on the longest day of the year.

June–August

Marathon time. Fresh air and scenery that’ll take your breath away, including: Mývatn Midnight Sun Marathon (North Iceland, May/June); Highland Marathon (55 km of uninhabited landscapes between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk nature reserves, South Highlands); and Reykjavík International Marathon (several distances around the city in August 21).

July 21–25

Reykholt Music Festival. “Classical music in a classic environment” in the beautiful church in the West Iceland community which was once the home of Saga writer Snorri Sturluson.

July 31–August 2

Bank Holiday weekend. On the first weekend in August, almost everyone goes off to camp at festivals around the country – everything from family events to wild rock festivals

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.

August 6–8

Gay Pride. Gays and lesbians come out in force and style to parade and party in Reykjavík.

August 21

Culture Night in Reykjavík. To mark Reykjavík’s anniversary on August 18, bookstores, museums and galleries stay open into the Saturday night nearest that date; artistic events are staged in the streets and at cafés, bars, and restaurants all over the capital, culminating in a massive fireworks display.

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 they have rounded up from summer grazing in the wilds.

September–December

Cultural season and festivals. Concerts, opera, ballet, drama, visual arts – you name it, it’ll be on the season’s agenda somewhere in Reykjavík. Every year Reykjavík also hosts a Jazz Festival (late Sept./early Oct.), and the third Reykjavík International Film Festival (also late Sept./early Oct.) offers movie buffs a top-notch programme. Both festivals are international events with plenty of celebrated guests.

October 14–18

Iceland Airwaves Festival. This festival is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best alternative music events to go to and garnering praise from the broadsheets and music magazines. Check www.icelandairwaves.com

Christmas

Icelanders go in for Christmas in a big way, with 13 separate Santa Clauses who play pranks and sing in the beautifully illuminated streets. Check out the delicious Christmas buffets and traditional festive-season delicacies such as smoked lamb, ptarmigan and reindeer

December 31

New Year’s Eve goes off with a bang, with the biggest fireworks display you’ll probably ever see – everyone takes part. There are public bonfires, and the merrymaking lasts right through to the following year.