I’ve been receiving a lot of e-mails lately where people are asking me for advice on what to do on New Years Eve in Reykjavík. I’ve also been asked whether we’re going to invite people into our home this year, like we’ve done previous years, but unfortunately I’ve had to disappoint people with letting them know that we’re taking a break from that this year. I will be offering two tours on December 31st that you might want to check out (although one is already sold out) but this year we’ll be spending the evening with our families, taking it easy and enjoying each other’s company.
So instead of answering everyone individually I thought I’d just write a post about new years eve in Reykjavík and hopefully more people would find it useful.
Most Icelandic people eat at home with their families and friends on new years eve and it’s uncommon that people dine out in restaurants. Until a few years ago most restaurants were closed on this night because of this. Still today many restaurants are closed on this evening but Visit Reykjavík usually publishes a list of restaurants that are open on both Christmas and New Years. They are however usually late with this list and if you want to eat at the preferred restaurant you should probably contact them soon and make a reservation because they tend to book out.
I know that there are special new years eve dinners available at Perlan and Hilton and more hotels and Nordic Visitor has some program as well but according to those who have been sending me e-mail lately these places are all already booked out.
The custom of having bonfires on New Years Eve in Iceland dates back to the 18th century although it didn’t become common practice until the 19th century. I haven’t really found out why we do this but none the less this is an important part of the new years celebrations for many families. I also think it’s a good distraction for kids that are hyper-excited for the Áramótaskaup and fireworks at midnight.
The bonfires are simple and somewhat unorganized affairs. They are lid up at a specific hour. Then people gather around the fire and some sing while others let their kids light some sparkles and small flares. Some bonfires then end with a fireworks show and then people head home to get settled before the Áramótaskaup starts.
Where to go
The number of bonfires and their locations have been changing a bit in the past few years but there’s usually a list published in then newspapers a few days before December 31st with information about all the bonfires in the city. The most popular bonfire for visitors that come to Reykjavík, and also one of the bigger ones, is the bonfire in Ægissíða. It’s also fairly easy to find and the tour companies offer tours that take you there so that’s probably your best bet.
At 22:30, on the dot, every single Icelander on both sides of the Alps (seriously, the streets of Reykjavík are completely empty and the only thing moving is the imaginary tumbleweed) sits down to watch this satirical sketch show that sheds light on the more comedic sides of the events of the year. This is the most anticipated TV event in Iceland every year (the only thing that comes close is probably when our Handball team is doing well in international competitions or Eurovision) and EVERYONE has an opinion on how terrible or fabulous it was this year. In fact, it’s usually the first thing you are asked when you meet people after the new year: So what did you think about the Áramótaskaup?
Obviously most of the show is in Icelandic so you probably won’t understand much but if you want to experience a real Icelandic new years eve you can’t miss it.
The opening credits from last year’s Áramótaskaup.
Fireworks at midnight
Sometimes when I tell people that the fireworks here at midnight are crazy they tell me they also have fireworks at home. I have however never met a foreigner in Reykjavík over New Years that has ever experienced anything like it. We are in one word crazy when it come to fireworks. Seriously.
Where to buy fireworks
You can buy your own fireworks, sparkle and flares to light up at midnight from the Icelandic Rescue Squads. This is their main source of income over the year and people generally try to support them with buying what they need from them. Or you know, as much as anyone needs fireworks. The rescue squads usually have a stall next to Perlan (The Pearl) and the Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool which is probably the closest locations to where you are staying (given that you are staying somewhere downtown). Even if you are not into blowing things up, New Years Eve is just a little bit better with some sparkles.
The best place to watch the fireworks
There are two places that are most convenient for visitors in Reykjavík to experience the craziness that takes place at midnight. The first one is Hallgrímskirkja and the other is Perlan. Hallgrímskirkja is great for atmosphere, meeting people and the location is great if you are staying downtown. A lot of people also have iconic photos of fireworks with the Hallgrímskirkja tower in the background. What Hallgrímskirkja is not great for though is panoramic views of the city. Perlan on the other hand offers exactly that because you can literally see the whole city from there. This is also a popular place for the tour buses. Don’t worry though, Öskjuhlíð hill is big enough for all of you.
Since the family and I live in walking distance to both we have gone to both places in the past and enjoyed both.
Party into the night
This is where I can’t be of much help – I haven’t been downtown on new years eve since I was about 18 or 19. In fact, I don’t know anyone who goes downtown after midnight on December 31st. Most people either spend the night with family and friends and house parties are also popular. Actually, many of the bars downtown aren’t even open on new years eve. So I don’t know where this image of Reykjavík being this huge party on new years eve comes from.
However, in the last few years Reykjavík is almost as busy over new years as in the summer so there are probably more bars open than a few years ago. If you have any experience of this please give us your insight in the comments below.