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How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Iceland

How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Iceland

new years eve iceland reykjavik

In the last couple of years, Reykjavík became one of the top places to celebrate New Year’s Eve. For good reasons: Icelanders are known to come together on the last day of the year with friends and family, to eat, play games, watch bonfires, and finally see the famous Áramótaskaup on national TV. After the show, most Icelanders will party and celebrate the New Year.

Following Traditions on New Years Eve is essential

Icelanders follow their New Years Traditions strictly to guarantee to be at all the places at the right time. If you visit Iceland over December, you can join in the celebration of Christmas and New Year’s Eve called Gamlarskvöld in Icelandic.

What you need: Pack yourself in many layers of warm clothes. December nights are mostly cold and dark, with icy winds. Plan your night beforehand. If you would like to dine in one of the restaurants downtown you need to make a reservation.

However, most Icelanders will get an early dinner at home. Best to approach 6pm so you can get ready to head out for joining the bonfires.

Bonfires: Burn the old year away

Join others at the local bonfires. They are lit all over town and Icelanders will come together to meet friends and neighbors and even drink one or two beers to cheer to the year ending. Admittedly, it is warm around the bonfires, so you can warm up before heading back.

Make sure you don´t wear your best clothes already. They will not only smell like smoke but also might get a burn from the sparks flying around. Last year in 2019, Alli´s family and I dressed in old clothes to makes sure we don’t ruin our good winter jackets.

new year bonfire iceland
Bonfire at Laugardal in 2019

In the old times, fishermen would clean out their houses and burn all the things they would not use anymore. It is a way of welcoming the New Year and burning away the old one.

Most bonfires are lit at 8:30 pm so make sure that you check how long it will take you to your nearest bonfire location. If you plan to drink, don´t drive. If you stay in the center area in Reykjavík, there will be most likely a bonfire within walking distance.

Locations are usually Ægisíða, Skerjafjörður, by the street Skildinganes 48 – 52, Suðurhlíðar, below the Fossvogur valley cemetery, also West of Laugarásvegur, by Valbjarnarvöllur sports area where we been last year, Geirsnef, Suðurfell and more.

However, there will be no bonfire this year due to the gathering ban during the corona pandemic. Check in with us in 2021 when we update the list of bonfires.

Áramótaskaup – 90% of Icelanders watch it on New Year’s Eve

The Áramótaskaup is Iceland’s annual television comedy special and probably the biggest and most popular program on Icelandic TV. It starts at 10:30 pm. You can watch it online on the website of Rúv, Iceland’s national Tv station.

You will notice the crowds to stream away from the bonfires around 10 pm or even earlier to make it in time to watch Áramótaskaup.

You will definitely need a deeper understanding of Icelandic news over the years and Icelandic politicians and celebrities to grasp the jokes. This sketch show will make fun of all missteps and scandals of politicians and popular people. Best to watch one of the previous shows first.

Last but not least, watching Áramótaskaup with subtitles can help you learn the Icelandic Languages.

Be quick to find a good spot to watch the fireworks

Áramótaskaup will be finished around 11:30 so now you have only 30 minutes to get to your preferred watch-spot. While you are watching the sketch show you will notice that outside the party has already started and rockets going off every few seconds.

new years eve iceland reykjavik
Photo by Jessica F on Unsplash

Icelanders are crazy about their fireworks. In fact, buying them is the biggest funding for the Search and Rescue Team in Iceland. However, in recent years, more voices got loud about fireworks’ negative effects on the environment, animals, and air quality.

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Especially in corona times, we suggest tuning down the fireworks to help relieve medical staff in hospitals, help people with asthma and respiratory conditions, and of course to relieve anxiety and stress from our beloved pets.

If you want to watch the Fireworks in Reykjavík, good places are:

  • Most popular: Hallgrímskirkja
  • Tjörnin the Pond
  • In and around Perlan
  • At the waterfront at Harpa
  • Víghóll in Kópavogur

Basically, every hill will do to get a good view. Maybe you just want to hang around a bar downtown to get a good seat before the masses storm in. Because this is what people usually do after watching enough fireworks. Most bars downtown will open until 3 pm so enough time for celebrating, dancing, and hanging out with friends and fellow travelers.

New Year’s Eve 2020

Instead of lighting fireworks, the people of Seyðisfjörður plan to gather by the lagoon and light candles there.

After a landslide fell on the town last week accompanied by a thunderous noise, most people are not ready to hear fireworks.

On you can purchase digital fireworks with all proceeds going directly to Ísólfur Rescue Team.

For the first time, RÚV broadcast “Polar Beat” a virtual New Year’s Eve party, live from Iceland.

Stay safe everyone and remember to take it slow with fireworks. As mentioned above, you can support the Search and Rescue Team in Iceland HERE.

Steffi & Aðalbjörn
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